I’ve featured motorcycles from Austin Vintage Cycle a few times in the past, but this story really begins at this year’s Quail Motorcycle Gathering.
When I was there, I shared a couple of photos of some of the excellent work done by AVC, and it caught the eye of a reader in Massachusetts. Long story short, said reader is now having AVC restore a 1977 Ducati 900SS and I’m just excited I was able to make the connection.
I spoke with Ford Strei, the founder and co-owner of Austin Vintage Cycle, and I was absolutely fascinated by his story, how his shop started, and the standards of his work. These are the kinds of people you’ll like – they don’t just wrench on bikes, they take ‘em out and enjoy them:
I figured you’d enjoy the tale as well, so sit back and enjoy his answers to my usual questions:
1.) How did you get started with motorcycles – how did you learn, and what was your first bike?
I became fascinated with motorcycles as kid in the 60’s watching my uncle ride and getting to ride on the back of his Honda 360 (with extended exhaust pipes which rose up vertically at the rear of his bike!) The passion and thrill has never left. When I talk to really old guys who are still riding, I can’t help but think that motorcycles are a part of what keeps them going.
2.) What bikes do you currently own?
I currently own a lot of vintage bevel drive Ducati’s (imagine that!) and my go fast ride is a Ducati 999S.
Chris Martin (the shop foreman) is in about the same boat, some vintage Ducati’s, BSA’s and a modern sport bike when the need arises. Now if dirt bikes count, we both love anything from the 50’s on up and have a small track at the shop which usually settles any trash talking.
3.) What’s your favorite piece of gear?
My favorite gear is helmets…I figure that you should wear a loud helmet so they see you coming. I don’t have a collection yet, but may start one. I wish I still had my first Bell full coverage helmet. Purchased by my mother when she dropped me off to pick up a brand new Ducati in 1975!
4.) Assume for a moment that money is no object, and importation laws aren’t a problem. What’s the next bike you’d buy, and what would you do with it?
Since any bike rider knows, you can’t have just one bike…I would like to restore a 1940’s Indian to ride
5.) What’s the most memorable motorcycle trip you’ve ever taken?
My most memorable motorcycle trips are all from the same place: Colorado and the area around Silverton. For many years a group of us who all raced together would spend a week or so in the summer riding dirt bikes up and around the peaks of the San Juan mountains at full tilt.
6.) Do you listen to music while riding? If not, why? If so, what are some of your favorite tunes to listen to while on the bike?
Not a big fan of any distractions while riding. I don’t even wear ear plugs, I have to hear it and feel it in order to focus.
7.) Many of us dream of restoring one bike, let alone starting a shop in the field. What made you take the jump from an idea to starting AVC?
Austin Vintage Cycle was something I started for two reasons:
1. I love these bikes and wanted a business where I can participate and have some fun at the same time. I love the thrill of the hunt in finding these old bikes, and I love the process of seeing them brought back to life.
2. My long time friend and partner in this business was available to be engaged full time. He was meant to do this his entire life and never had the opportunity. This is now his time to shine and show his talents as the master mechanic that he is. There is no one I would rather have or even consider as the lead man here at AVC.
8.) What are you looking for in a project before you decide to take it on?
The projects we get excited about are the full restorations, we really don’t want to be a service shop. What gets us excited is any cool, iconic bike from the past that has been sitting for decades. It is like playing Sherlock Holmes with these old bikes…trying to figure out what, where, and when things were done to them. At the end of the day, it is satisfying to take something that is neglected and rusty and bring it back to the condition of originality.
And then there are the test rides, to make sure everything is working and rolling properly. Who can resist that?
9.) What would you do differently if you were starting over again?
I would not do a thing differently. We started AVC small and slow. We wanted to show the world what we can do and we are now getting that opportunity. We will always be a smallish shop that has time to talk to our clients and keep them engaged in the restoration of their motorcycles.
10.) What can we expect for the future of Austin Vintage Cycle?
In the future, I want AVC to have a small museum in-house where customers can just come and hang out and admire some old iron from the past.
We plan on doing the Quail Gathering again next year, and the Harvest Classic in Luckenbach, TX is on our list for this fall.
I want to participate at COTA in Austin next year for Moto GP as I think it would be fun for all the Ducati owners that attend to be able to see a full lineup of the bikes that got this little Italian company started.
We are also considering sponsoring a rider in some of the vintage racing that is happening. Any young hot shoes out there want to interview?