Interview – Scott from H Garage
There’s a famous Australian ad campaign from the early 80s that used the phrase ‘the quiet achiever’ to big up the company it was spruiking. The thought was a simple one – while everyone else went about their business with the maximum amount of bragging and self aggrandisement, they were the ones that worked in the background to make great things happen. In my head, Scott from H Garage is the embodiment of this thought. He’s been a regular on Pipeburn.com since the start, and his builds still get mentions years after their first appearance. He also created his own bike show. Maybe ‘the quiet over-achiever’ would be a more appropriate title.
Can you introduce yourself to our readers?
My name is Scott Halbleib from Louisville, Kentucky. I’m a laid off graphic designer/corporate monkey, now part-time bartender, part-time carpenter, part-time bike builder and part-time show promoter/organizer for Kentucky Kick Down. I’ve always been a designer of sorts. Art classes from childhood through college, then working as a sculptor for 6 years before entering the ad agency and corporate world. Burned out and relishing the idea of being laid off, I’ve been trying to enjoy my work these days.
Where are you right now?
In my garage/basement/shop. My house sits above it and usually smells like gas, paint or cigarette smoke. I started gutting the basement a few years ago as I began working on bikes, trying to make it more conducive to attaining some level of productivity. While I have a good bit of garage envy, seeing homemade bike stands, vintage tool chests and basically Restoration Hardware’s version of a shop space, I now have multiple work areas, 2 bays for motorcycle projects and space for my daily riders. Maybe one day I’ll move everything out for a week and redecorate. But for now, I try to focus on what (sort of) pays the bills.
What’s your background?
Design. Doodling as a kid, art classes at an early age, fine art in high school and college with a degree in Commercial Art. My first real job while still in college was probably the major contributor to the path I’ve taken since the corporate world. Hired by a local sculptor, Doug Russell of Crinkum-Crankum Design Studio, I learned a great deal about working with tools, forming metal, painting and kinetics. On the side, I also worked for his construction company. Once I left and began years or working behind a computer, I continued side work in construction and carpentry. Years later, I would find myself relying on some old lessons he had taught me when it came to customizing motorcycles. He was a true father figure and an inspiration.
What was your first bike?
While I’m not proud, I suppose I will answer this truthfully. My brother and I had a mini bike at an early age and thanks to my stepmother’s poor choices in men, we spent a couple of years on a farm with some dirt bikes and the alcoholic boyfriend. That probably sealed the deal, but I didn’t really ride until I was almost 30. I wouldn’t be here if I had bought a motorcycle in my 20’s. So in 2000 I bought a Yamaha VStar 600 (don’t be jealous). Six months later, after riding a friends Honda VFR home from a local bike night, well above triple digits on the highway, the little cruiser went up for sale and I bought a 1998 Ducati Monster 900. Within a month I was doing 4-5 day multi-state trips and was hooked.
I’ve bought numerous bikes since then, thanks to my high-paying yet shitty corporate job). I ventured into track days and woods riding but I make time at least twice a year to disappear. In 2009 I took my Multistrada all over the country, visiting every national park I could in 20 days. That’s motorcycling to me – hitting the open road for as long as possible, getting as lost as possible and seeing as many places as possible.
Why did you start the shop?
It’s pretty informal but I understand the importance of a brand after working in corporate Marketing for 10+ years. I refer to it as “H Garage” because ‘shop’ sounds a little too formal. It’s not like there’s a front desk with a hot secretary or a display case full of merch and accessories. It’s just my workspace, which is typically shared by my two labs and that’s it. The “H” has significance though – it stands for Halbleib and is my way of carrying on my father’s name (who I lost at an early age). In that regard, I try to do work that I’m proud of.
I’m humbled to be doing an interview for Pipeburn because I am not in the same league as some of these true artisans today. But, I continually try to learn with each build and acquire tools that will allow me to produce a better end product. It’s a tough balance – to design, build and finish off something that you’re happy with while keeping it in some sort of constraints so you can actually recoup some of your labor costs. But I enjoy the work, so I keep trying.
Tell us about Kentucky Kickdown.
Kentucky Kick Down is a vintage motorcycle show held in Louisville, KY the third Saturday in September. We’re in our third year. It was spawned from the Louisville Vintage Motorworks. The mission is to gather vintage two-wheels enthusiasts as a community to celebrate, educate and further bike culture. Off the record, it’s actually to bring a bunch of cool bikers to Louisville, drink bourbon, cut loose and have a helluva time! What we hoped, and have been successful at, was to corral old restoration dudes, full-on custom builders, as well as the guys with a one car garage and some shitty Harbor Freight tools that just love doing something creative with their motorcycles.
In addition, we’ve managed to grab some of the old-timers and current folks that dig the tradition of old chops and bobbers. It’s a very well-rounded show with folks from as far as Canada, Texas, Philly and other cities all over the United States. We have a Miss Kentucky Kick Down contest, a pool tournament, art show, live music all day, food trucks and an endless supply of bourbon. Everyone should come. Yes, everyone.
You latest build was the Goldwing. After a little time to consider, what’s your thoughts on it?
It’s BAD, like slap your momma bad. Along with the BMW K100, it will be sad to see it go, but this is not a lucrative business for me yet so I just can’t hang onto them. The ‘Wing is low, heavy, loud, and pulls like a freight train. It’s just as raw as I could make it and still make it very rideable. I’ve done a couple of hours in the saddle and while it’s not the recliner it was in stock form, it’ll still cover a lot of miles in relative comfort. Just don’t forget your ear plugs. Who knows, maybe I’ll bid it farewell at Kick Down this year with a smokey burnout like the K bike. It just seems fitting.
What’s next up, build-wise?
I started a Honda XT500 before the ‘Wing and then got side-tracked as the ‘Wing took up a lot of space in my cramped shop. It’s given me time to delve into doing more metal work myself, and design and redesign certain aspects of the bike. It’s got some cool touches. I don’t want to give it all away but I’m using 2 old Aermacchi tanks, one that’s been chopped for the tail section which also contains the muffler. I’m using vintage Astatic microphones for both headlight and taillight housings, a reversed design from the XT500 build for the seat, a lot of metal work and fab on the frame to make it’s super clean, and an old-school Honda racing color scheme which is a huge departure for me, but should look very cool.
Tell us about how you draw your bike designs.
I constantly look at other people’s work. I’m amazed with all of the talent out there. Typically something, or a mixture of a lot of things, or some random object I see or have a dream about can spark the next build. I determine the style of the bike I want and a general theme. I then source the donor bike, get it back to the garage, ride it a few times and tear it down. I then photograph it and spend days, weeks, sometimes even months sketching over the top of the photo, researching parts, gas tanks, fenders, and/or random objects with interesting designs that would lend themselves to a finished product.
It doesn’t always work. I have old drawings for the XT500 that when mocked up weren’t going to allow enough rear suspension travel and still be able to keep the aesthetics I wanted. Back to the drawing board. So when people balk at my humble pricing, I’m always a little surprised. It may be a 30-plus-year-old bike and the sum of all it’s parts may be only $5k, but factor in the countless hours spent on design and research plus all the fabrication hours and yeah, it’ll cost you more than a shiny new Honda ABCD500-800, but you won’t see 5 more of them on your way to work.
What bike are you riding right now?
It’s a mix. My old faithful is a 2007 Ducati Multistrada 1100S – one of the best and ugliest bikes ever built. It got me into customization. I loved the bike but hated the way it looked, so I tore the front end off (6 months after dropping $14 grand on it new), relocated the battery, oil cooler and a ton of wiring and retrofitted a Hypermotard front end to it. I’ve ridden it all over the country. Then I have a Husky TE310 for playing in the woods, but the older I get the more it sits. Wicked little bike around town too though – add backpack and bike part errands aren’t so bad. Then there’s the ‘Wing, which I take out quite a bit. I have the XT500 still too, but with it being for sale I’m leery about taking it out. It’s a great mix of bikes to have in the garage.
What’s your ultimate new bike?
I have a friend and we’ve been chasing this dream for years! I don’t think there is one. But if I could only have one right now, I think the Tiger 800XC. I like to ride. I think if you own a motorcycle and you haven’t done a trip that takes you through at least 3 states, then you should have to sell your motorcycle. So what would get me the furthest, the fastest, the funnest? I think right now, that Tiger. The new Honda Africa Twin looks interesting though – that’s the practical side on me. The ‘I wanna be young again’ guy says a Honda NR750 or Ducati Desmosedici. They’re not really new though, so let’s say the Ducati Panigale. A track day on one of these would be the tits!
What’s your all-time favourite bike?
Come on! I don’t see how anyone can answer this question. Mainly because I think about this from a design standpoint and with that being said, I have favorite parts from different bikes and even then I couldn’t pick just one engine design, gas tank shape, etc. I’d choose parts from the old Brough’s, Vincent’s, BMW’s, hell even the old Harley board trackers I saw at the Wheels Through Time Museum to Graves dirt bikes. Or maybe I’d pick one of Kenny Roberts Yamaha racebikes like the OW48.
OK. Vintage bike: it’s seriously impossible, but if I had to pick something right this second I’d say a 1926 Brough Superior SS80. It’s just beautiful in every aspect. Current bike: Hazan’s supercharged Ironhead; the guy’s work is amazing. The engineering, design and craftsmanship – wow. And a realistic bike – my old weathered Multistrada; we’ve traveled almost 50k miles in the last 8 years. We have a bond.
What’s the Kentucky custom/cafe scene like? We imagine Harleys are pretty dominant there…
Harleys are dominant in the U.S. period. I find it unfortunate – I’m not saying there’s no reason to buy a Harley, but there’s a lot of great motorcycles out there. It’s the culture that bugs me. The last bike show I went to, they were raffling off an HD cutting board! Seriously? We have a significant vintage bike group here – the Louisville Vintage Motorworks. That keeps things interesting. You can see a lot of cool old bikes roaming the streets. We have a couple local vintage shops – RetroWrench and Magnum Cycles – which is invaluable for someone who’s considering owning a vintage bike.
Wanna make it your own? We’ve got fabricators, upholsterers, welders, painters and a handful of other custom bike builders. It’s a pretty progressive city, so I think it’s following the trend in the sense that people enjoy the motorcycle culture and the experience of things on two wheels, but either can’t afford something modern or appreciate the feel of something vintage.
What’s next for H Garage?
Food stamps. Nah, I’m kidding. It’s tough to say. Being self-employed is great – but it sucks. It’s a struggle to get your work out there, be compensated for it, determine where to put your time and what avenues to venture off on that might bring in some additional revenue to keep the lights on, or really just to keep from going back to the confines of a cubicle and a 9-5. I’d love to figure out a way to bring another person on ( I don’t like working by myself all the time) and quit my other part-time jobs. I can’t kick 2-3 bikes out a year because 40% of my time is spent elsewhere for consistent income. That being said, I have this show to get off and another bike to finish. If one of the bikes sells in the meantime and the Kick Down goes well, then maybe I’ve bought myself another year. Or maybe I put the H Garage logo on some wooden cutting boards. Who wants one? Just $129 each.
As for what I’d like to build, I was leaning towards a supermoto because I love riding them. But that changes like the wind these days. I recently saw a pick up truck at a car show and just because of the wheels, I decided I wanted to do another bobber. But I also keep saying, ‘I want to do my own take on a full-on hardtail chop’ too. A.D.D. is a bitch. I’ll always have more ideas than I have time. I’ll ponder it and probably do one of the latter, mainly because I know there’s more of a market for it and it will be perceived as more valuable.