Custom Choppers, Locally Crafted

High Plains Customer Cycles starts turning out hand crafted motorcycles in the Flathead Valley

By Justin Franz

When you look at High Plains Custom Cycle’s scratch-built chopper glistening in the summer sun, you could be forgiven for thinking it was made by a few old grizzled garage pros. In reality, the stretched-out custom motorcycle is the first offering from a new Bigfork-based company, headed up by Eric Zarn and Ron and April Morrison.

Although the company is currently being run out of their homes, Zarn and the Morrisons have big plans for the business and hope to grow into a new space once orders start to roll in. They said their biggest selling point is price. While most custom choppers can cost nearly $90,000, High Plains Custom Cycles plans on keeping their prices to a third of that.

“We want people to know that they can have one of these bikes and not have to pay $90,000,” Ron Morrison said. “If you can dream it, we can build it.”

Choppers are custom-made motorcycles that often feature a longer frame and stretched out front-end. They can be customized in a variety of ways so that riders can make their bikes stand out from the off-the-shelf variety. Choppers first began to appear in the middle part of the 20th century and gained popularity with movies like 1969’s “Easy Rider.” Some key features of a chopper are the stretched handlebars and the tall “sissy bar” located behind the seat.

In the early 2000s, the bikes again garnered attention with reality television shows like “American Chopper,” which followed a family of bike builders in New York. However, while shows like that brought choppers back to the mainstream, it also brought demand and increased prices, according to Morrison.

Morrison and Zarn were both working at Sonju Industrial a few years ago when the two men started talking about their dream jobs. Both of them had previously worked on motorcycles but never had the capital to own sleek, shiny choppers they saw on television and movies. That’s when Morrison said his dream job would be building motorcycles. When he brought the idea home to his wife April, she scoffed at it. After all, none of them had the time nor the money to take on such an endeavor. But Morrison and Zarn began working nights and weekends on designs and frames and eventually formed the company. But they didn’t actually finish their first bike until recently. Building a bike from scratch is an expensive process, but another reason for the lengthy process was they wanted to get it right. Zarn said they made about five practice frames before actually building a bike.

“It took a while before we felt comfortable slapping an engine on one of those frames and making it a 700-pound reality,” he said, gesturing to their first custom cycle, called the “brass knuckles” bike. “It looks mean and it sounds mean.”

The first bike is currently priced at $35,000, although future ones will be marked about $10,000 less. One of the reasons for the higher price is they don’t want to sell off the only example of their work just yet.

When someone does order a bike from High Plains Custom Cycles, Morrison, who serves as the head designer, will sit down with the customer and talk about what they want to include and design it with a specialty computer system. Once they come up with a design the customer likes, the building begins.

“We want people to get exactly what they want because they are dropping a big chunk of change on this,” Morrison said.

Morrison and Zarn also said they plan on using local vendors and suppliers whenever they can.

“We want to try and keep it in the valley,” Morrison said.

For more information visit www.highplainscustomcycles.com.

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