Lexington man claims more national recognition for building beautiful motorcycles with his hands
Lexington, SC (Paul Kirby) - For Richard Wright of Lexington, making beautiful machines by hand is not only a business, but a passion. Recently, Wright once again brought home another national award for building a beautiful, custom, one-of-a-kind motorcycle that by any standard is world-class. He won the 2017 Easyrider Magazine’s Bagger of the Year, a custom built motorcycle award, during their recent Charlotte show.
Wright grew up in Lexington County where he attended Lexington High School and the Lexington Technology Center. There he studied welding and auto body repairs. As a teen, it was already evident to a few who knew machines what and extraordinary artisan lived within him. It wouldn't take long for those with an eye trained to spot mechanical beauty to start realizing what a successful man he would become.
While in high school, Wright built his first custom pickup truck, a small S-10 Chevrolet that he stuck a huge motor in and gave a custom paint job. That project won him his first award for custom building and set him on a path of success, prosperity, and happiness doing what he absolutely loves.
After high school, it was only natural that Wright pursue his passion for working on machines by going into the auto body and painting business. First, he worked at Eagle Aviation at the Columbia Metropolitan Airport, a slight deviation from cars, where he painted multi-million-dollar aircraft. Later, he made a career move to Reeley’s Body Shop in West Columbia where he continued to hone his skills repairing car bodies that had been in collisions.
In 1995 Wright opened a small auto body shop behind his house on Mac Circle near Pine Grove and Red Bank repairing cars of all types and practicing his custom painting skills on just about anything folks wanted to customize, personalize, or made to look better. Wright recently said during an interview, “It will stay still, we’ll paint it.”
In the past years, he has literally done just that. He has painted Lear jets, Lamborghinis, Scarab racing boats, antique and late-model cars and trucks of all sizes. He has even been commissioned to build custom vehicles that require special paint and body work for national corporate sponsors like Frank’s Red Hot sauce.
One of Wright’s passions is custom motorcycles. By custom motorcycles I don’t mean a stock bike with aftermarket parts bolted on. To Wright, a custom motorcycle has each piece lovingly shaped by hand.
As each new bike is built, it flows from a vision he has in his mind out through his fingertips and into what becomes a real piece of art. When each bike is complete, it’s just that, a custom, hand built work of art; a machine that comes to life with sleek flowing lines, gleaming paint, and a heart of mighty iron that growls and produces plenty of horsepower; horsepower that eats up the pavement as it pounds the highways and byways wherever Wright points it.
The bagger style bike he built for this year’s Easyridershow took tens of thousands of man-hours to produce, but for Wright it was a labor of love. It was something he did because the creative process makes him happy. It’s who and what he is, a master builder and fabricator.
It’s ironic that he’s building baggers and winning with them. Wright confessed to me that he used to hate that style of bike!
The winning entry has a 30” custom cut front wheel with a single sided front hub; a one of a kind for bikes.This is a radical departure from the normal dual-sided front forks that most motorcycles have.
In the rim, there are small skulls applied by hand in a technique Wright described as tattooing. The wheel sports a slim disc brake that’s almost unnoticeable as it follows the inside of the massive front wheel’s circumference.
The tire itself appears almost as an afterthought. It is hardly noticeable at the ends of the interlaced black chevrons or diamonds cut into the custom wheel itself.
From the highest point at the front of the bike, the custom-built fairing splits the wind as if it weren’t there at all. It reminded me of the nose of a super predator; a Great White shark’s head with slashes down both sides like gills. Honestly, if you glance at it, you'll catch yourself expecting those slashes to move as if the menacing machine breathes; it’s alive!
The entire bike rakes towards the back in long graceful lines that reach toward the asphalt at the point furthest to the rear. Wright explained that the flow and the lines are so important to him. They go from the front to back in a magical, artistic way he has conceived in his mind.He honestly sees the mechanical bike as a human being; a living, breathing, flowing thing that has a shape that is both form, function, and beauty.
The massive turbo charged, chrome laden, Harley Davidson motor devours air and gasoline to produce raw power. The rider perches on a custom seat of charcoal gray leather and does his best to hold himself in place with handlebars unlike ones that are found on any other bike.
Wright and the staff at his shop, The Chop Shop, fabricate all the parts, seats, bars, fenders, and more in house so that they are just as he sees them in his head. Wright explained he was a little OCD and feels as if he must have his hands on every part for a bike to come out like he envisions.
The long sweeping rear fender looks as if it surely drags the ground, but the hydraulic suspension raises it just enough to clear.
The bags on each side of flow with the rest of the design. Their lids are equipped with hydraulically actuated openers that raise them by remote control.They seem to integrate perfectly with the bike so that they too have beauty, form, as well as function.
The deep crimson paint is nothing short of amazing. It sparkles and shines, but it does more than that. It entices your eye to look at it from another angle. You can't help but twist your head to see its perfect sheen from some other direction. There are no flaws; it’s a step above perfect!
As beautiful as his bikes are, Wright is equally intriguing. He has a constant glimmer in his eye and a grin ever present on his face. His attitude is born from a man that absolutely loves what he does every day. You just know he’s happy, content, pleased with the hand life has dealt him the minute that you meet him.
His step is fast paced, and as employees in the shop, there are more than a dozen working daily, approach him with questions or issues, he pauses for just a moment before answering. Then he does so quickly and in few words. You can tell he’s operating from experience, from a built-in knowledge without any need to stop and ponder on all but the most complex questions or decisions.
As have most businessmen who have been in business for any length of time, Wright has faced troubles that have sometimes cost him big. There always have been, and always will be those issues or encounters in business. He’s dealt with dirty dealers, theft, incompetence, people with only their own interest at heart; that’s just a part of it.
The difference with Wright and some others is that even when he refers to these instances in conversation, you can tell that he’s not let those sad occurrences slow or get him down. He’s accepted these as lesson learned and moves on. In the hour or so I spent with him, I never once saw him lose his smile. He always moved with that pep in his step. I never once saw his attitude sour; he’s just generally happy with his surroundings and his life.
Daily, he’s surrounded by artisans, craftsmen, people he enjoys working with. These people have the same love for cold steel, bright, interesting, exotic colors, and warm leather. People who speak his language, the type of people who can almost see the visions and designs he has in his magnificent and creative mind. Those people add to his happiness.
Certainly, there’s more to Wright’s life than his work. He has a beautiful wife who he adores. She is loving and supporting, but she stays behind the scenes and out of the limelight. He also has an adoring daughter who is attending a local college. He thinks that eventually she’ll be in the shop with him too, but said he wants her to experience life a little first.
He loves his godchildren as his own. He’s built a custom stroller for one, a hot rod of course, and you can tell he and his wife will spoil a child with love when they have the chance.
Wright also rides many of his expansive collection of motorcycles regularly. This “wind therapy” makes him happy; it sort of blows his cares and worries away as he pilots his works of art. It doesn't hurt that these sessions usually include him being surrounded by family and friends.
His office is always full of friends as well; you can tell he has more than a few. He’s just easy to be around and to know; someone you’ll like immediately. In just a few moments, I couldn’t help but feel as if I just wanted to hangout and be a part of the crew too. All these friends add to his quality of life; they make The Chop Shop seem like a club more than a garage at times.
With this last and greatest national win, Wright has come to a point in his business where he can get almost anything for one of his machines when he can bear to let one go. Now, the super-rich, people like pro athletes, and captains of industry say, “this is what I want,” when they bring a concept to him rarely asking, “how much will it cost?”
As a case in point, Ron Parker, who currently plays as a safety for the Kansas City Chiefs in the NFL, recently had a car delivered to Wright. This Olds is in line for some custom work.
He also built the Frank’s Redhot Ultimate Truck Sweepstakes trucks. These were given away in a nationwide sweepstakes several years ago. These are extremely high profile vehicles whose owners selected Wright for his skill and the quality of his product, not for the price of his custom work.
In the coming months, Wright and his team are starting a quest to win the nation’s top award for custom car builders also. The Don Ridler Memorial Award at the Detroit Autorama is the pinnacle for custom car fabricators.
Past Ridler builders, and the cars they have won with,include Dwayne Peace’s 1955 Ford Thunderbird, Jerry Pennington’s 1968 Corvette, Fred Warren’s 1937 Ford Aero Coupe, and Chip Foose’s 1965 Chevy Impala that won in 2015. When Wright brings this one home, and I have faith that he can, the game will change for the “Chop Shop” crew forever.
Wright plans to enter a 1957 Chevy Delivery, much like a Nomad wagon, but with metal panels where the windows would traditionally be. He’s already gathered some parts and has begun working on the project as the ideas come to him.
One thing I can assure you; once he reaches the top of the mountain as a custom car builder, Wright will still be the same man he is at his core. He’ll be most happy in the Chop Shop, right in the center of Lexington County. He’ll be working with his hands on an English hammer forming a piece of metal. He’ll still be thrilled to have a paint gun in his hands performing an intricate and beautiful dance to music only he can hear. The colors will flow seamlessly, almost if by magic, across a part of a car or the fender of a bike. He’ll be happily building something beautiful and unique with his hands.
You can see Richard Wright’s creations in his photos on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/richard.wright.564. You can also find his shop at 210 Mac Circle in Lexington, SC or at 342 Oakvale Dr, in Easley, SC. He can be reached by telephone (803) 808-6968.