Photos courtesy of Suzy Pilaczynski
For over the last 15 years, Suzy Pilaczynski had been steeped in the arguably less glamorous side of the motorcycle business – helping operate California’s Old-Stf Cycles and making custom and replacement parts that are often overlooked by the uninformed public. Parts and products that include oil lines, air cleaners, gaskets, seals, voltage regulators and belt drives that keep early-model Harley-Davidsons alive and kicking.
But that all changed last year when, on a whim, Pilaczynski entered Biltwell’s People’s Champ competition at the Born Free show, never having built a bike before. It all worked out for her as she took home the Born Free award and is currently building her second bike for Born Free 12, which is slated for late June. (Hopefully all this corona madness is behind us by then and people can freely get weird in the Southern California sunshine.)
Pilaczynski’s creative process can best be defined as ongoing and evolving, especially as the bike takes shape and she redesigns parts or creates new ones to get everything as close to perfect as possible, a tall order when it comes to any custom build.
“I kinda fly by the seat of my pants,” she told Thunder Press, “usually in several directions at once. I always have a lot of ideas, so usually I have to try to narrow down my options first.”
Pilaczynski taught herself how to use 3D CAD software to visualize those ideas and combine elements. And she finds ideas in the most random places; everything from home hardware, fashion accessories, graphic design, vintage bikes and more have influenced the design of her parts and the bikes’ aesthetics. She is drawn by bold colors, unique color palettes and geometric shapes. ’70s, ’80s and Art Deco also play a factor.
Her first build graced the cover of our April, 2020 issue, and it’ll be interesting to see what comes of her second one, Pilaczynski’s take on a 1940 Harley-Davidson UL 74 Flathead.
The problem for most builders who are also manufacturing parts for customers is this: time is not a luxury that can be afforded. Although that has been starting to change. Pilaczynski traveled to this year’s Mama Tried show in Milwaukee, which was unfortunately cancelled last minute as the Governor of Wisconsin put in place social distancing protocols to curb the coronavirus outbreak.
“We’ve been trying to make it to more [shows] recently. We’ve always had a good time, but it can be difficult being away from our shop for too long,” she said, which we are sure any dedicated wrencher or parts-maker can understand.
Luckily, Old-Stf Cycles is that quintessential American “mom and pop” shop where everyone in the tight-knit Pilaczynski clan has an important role to play.
“We’re pretty much all involved in the decision making, and we collaborate on ideas and designs,” she said, adding that a lot of her time is spent on the creative side of the business.
Making money doing what you love. Ain’t that what we all dream of?