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Jim's Number 1 Customs






Jim's Number 1 Customs


Jim has been a mechanic all his life and is now one of the last of the breed of hands-on mechanics who know classic motorbikes and their parts inside-out.

Jim, together with Sam, run Jim's Number 1 Customs, specialists in the sale, repair and restoration of Harleys and classic British and American bikes and trikes.

In these days of anonymous and antiseptic dealerships, expertise, experience and old-fashioned customer service are the hallmarks of Jim and Sam.

Here Digger talks to Sam about what makes their business tick, about Jim's wealth of experience, about the services Jim's Number 1 Customs offer and about why these classic machines are so popular.



Digger: Hello Sam.

Sam: Hello Digger. 

Digger: How are things going? Hectic?

Sam: Yes, the sun is bringing people out, which is nice.

Digger: My lady and I were at a Mod event in north London yesterday and there were hundreds of scooterists there in the sun. It was great with the music.

Sam: I'm not surprised it was busy. You get some sun and everybody's on their bike, aren't they?

Digger: Please tell us about your background and about your love of Retro, Vintage and Classic motorbikes?

Sam: Jim started in 1976 - his first bike was a 1969 TR6P Saint 650 - an ex-police bike.

Digger: One careful owner?!

Sam: Yes, which he completely stripped and completely re-built . And at that stage he was still an apprentice at a main dealer. So he was very lucky to get his trade. In those days they took it out of his wages a little at a time over a couple of years.

Digger: That doesn't happen these days, does it?

Sam: No that's very true. I don't think the apprentices would get that kind of a deal now. Things have changed. Obviously, being in the trade for what 36 years now, it is a trade for life, isn't it?

Digger: We've also seen the demise of our motor industry and motorbike industry in that time. But don't get me started on that because you won't be able to stop me!

Sam: He grew up as a youngster with lots of people in the family having bikes - British and American, and was always surrounded by some sort of machinery or another. Always helping out and getting dirty and, as a kid, getting in the way. His love just grew for these machines.

Digger: So what about you Sam?

Sam: I grew up on the bike scene and then went sensible for a little while in the corporate world. I was a PA to a couple of financial directors in the film studios over at Isleworth. I decided "No, no, no I don't like this at all!" I bought myself a bike and for various medical reasons ended-up on a trike. And my love just grew from there. Great fun, you're totally accepted by everybody and it doesn't matter if you're young or old or what you are. At the time I was young and in a wheelchair/on crutches and nobody took any notice of it at all.



Digger: You don't get that in the real world.

Sam: No you don't. And I've been in Tescos and people have actually moved me out of the way in my wheelchair to get something.

Digger: Oh dear! It's like an Alan Partridge scene. 

Sam: Yes, but it's true.

Digger: There are some really thick people about, aren't there?

Sam: They just don't see you. Now I'm not in my wheelchair, thank God and touch wood, but in the bike scene I was always treated like a 'normal' human being.

Digger: It's quite ironic isn't it? Because there's a myth that bikers can be menacing and I'm thinking of an extreme like the incident at the Stones' concert at Altamont, but actually those are real exceptions and they're a good-hearted community generally. 

Sam: Yes, I've never had any problems  whatsoever either as a lone female wandering around or on my crutches. My daughter was only tiny when she first got introduced and we have never, ever had any problem. It's lovely and a good scene. There's obviously good and bad in anything you do - I would say with 99.9% of the people, you don't have a problem.

Digger: Can you tell us about the restorations you undertake?

Sam: We do full restorations from literally just a frame and an engine - sometimes not even that, just a frame and a picture. Or even just a picture! Up to rebuilds of British and American bikes and others.

Digger: Is there anything you can't do?

Sam: (Thinks) No. There isn't anything we can't do. I think mainly because Jim is very good at customisation. If somebody wants something to fit his bike then Jim will do his damndest to make it fit that bike. There's always something you can't do but to-date we haven't had to say "No you can't have that."

Digger: And if you can't source the parts then you make them?

Sam: Yes.

Digger: Incredible. How do you go about that? Have you got old catalogues or designs?

Sam: I think a lot of it on Jim's part is intuition. He can look at something and say "Yes I can do that" or "No I can't do it with that part but maybe I can improvise with this." He is very gifted that way and has got such an understanding of the machinery.

Digger: And your role Sam, you're the customer-facing side, the management and admin and accounts side? Or do you also get an opportunity to get your hands dirty?

Sam: I get my hands dirty as well. (Jim shouts out some teasing scorn in the background) Definitely under Jim's tuition. We are a good team, although I do the admin and that kind of stuff mainly. Talking to the customers.

Digger: Where are they coming from?

Sam: They're coming from all over. We've had Americans ring us and say they're coming over and they need this and need that and can we arrange to fix their bike while they're over. So it really is very, very varied.

Digger: How popular are the trikes?

Sam: It used to be about 30 or 40% of the business but it has dropped off. People are still buying them.

Digger: Just trends and fashions, I suppose?

Sam: Possibly. If you've got the choice of a trike or a car in rainy Britain and you've got a family and things are tight then obviously you're going to go for the car.

Digger: I used to love the motorbike and sidecar and it's such a shame they're gone.

Sam: You say they've gone - there are still some around. We've got a customer who is very passionate about his.

Digger: They weren't made street-illegal or anything? I haven't seen one for such a long time I thought they'd been outlawed by health and safety or something.

Sam: They're not illegal, just not fashionable. 

Digger: You're too young to remember George and Mildred aren't you?

Sam: No, they do the re-runs on TV.

Digger: He's got the old motorbike and sidecar. What sort of feedback and comments are you getting about your service and the bikes you sell Sam?

Sam: The customers we've got, we keep. And we've picked up a couple of new ones this week, which is always good. And we get a lot of referred business from friends of satisfied customers. People do tend to stay with us, we know their bikes inside-out and they probably came to us in not an ideal state in the first place. We have done quite a lot of extensive work for them usually. A new customer came to us today because he didn't want the corporate look of a dealership where the floors are so clean you daren't walk on them. He wanted to see the person working on his bike so he could discuss face-to-face with that person what he wanted his bike to look like. And they're not getting that from the main dealers - there you're talking to executives who don't know the difference between an exhaust pipe and a tyre lever. And we do have quite a few of those customers actually who want to deal with the person who will be looking after their baby. And where they can get the opportunity to say "I don't like that" and "I quite like that" and they want to know what we're going to be using on their bike. They want to make sure that it's taken care of as they would.

Digger: Good old-fashioned service I think it's called.

Sam: Yes, it is, you're right, it is good old-fashioned service and people are asking for it.

Digger: What advice would you give to the novice looking to be the owner of a Retro bike?

Sam: I'd ask what's their background and why do they want one? As you know yourself, they're not something that will never need something doing to it and having an older bike is a commitment. Whether it's a new bike made to look old or you go for an older bike, there is a commitment there.

Digger: It's possibly going to break down more than a modern bike and also it's going to be more of a challenge to ride as well.

Sam: It is more of a challenge but I disagree about the breaking down. One thing that Jim does do which I haven't seen anywhere else - if there's a newer or a technological way of doing something on the bike, be it starting or whatever, he will use that technology if he can and if it's better. So that, for argument's sake, it makes the bike start straight away first time unlike its predecessors. He's quite interested in that side so, with the customer's agreement, he will do that.

Digger: I suppose there are a few purist customers who want everything to be totally authentic and original. And there are others who are realistic and if it doesn't change the look but it's a better way to do it then do it the modern way.

Sam: Exactly. Bikes break down, cars break down and lorries break down and you can't account for that, but if there is a better way of doing it and the customer's happy with it then that's surely the better way to prevent problems.

Digger: I saw a programme about the opening of the motorways network in the 50s and 60s and it reminded me that cars and bikes used to be 'run in'. We'd have a sticker at the back saying 'Running In - Please pass.' The vehicles then were not built for motorway speeds or long distances and were forever breaking down.

Sam: They were and I think people are more aware of that - especially because we do the rebuilds and we tell them "You need to run it in, just be gentle for a while." Come back after x amount of miles, we'll have a look and make sure everything's okay, do your next set of miles and make sure everything's okay. And people do understand if you explain to them why - "you've just had a new engine or gearbox and you need to run it in and be gentle and these are the reasons why". Jim is very good at imparting that.  If the customer then wants to do 100 m.p.h. in third gear then that's up to them.

Digger: And see you in a couple of days' time for expensive repairs!

Sam: If you educate customers, which we try to do especially with the older bikes, then you don't tend to get problems.



Digger: What are the best and most rewarding things about what you two do?

Sam: For me personally, and this hasn't changed from the very beginning, it's somebody bringing their bike in with a bit of a dream and saying "I'd like it to look like this" or even "I'd like it to perform better." Or when they bring it in not working and we do all the bits that we have to do, we are very clear and detailed on our invoices about all the specific things that need to be done and so the customer knows exactly what's happened. And then for the customer to get on their bike and ride away - often we get them to do just a block to make sure they're happy and they come back and they are beaming, absolutely beaming. And that is it for me.

Digger: Geographically you're in a good spot for people to find you...

Sam: We are. We've got the M25 one end and the M3 the other end, we're not far from the M4 so geographically we are in quite a good place. People can get to us from all around. There are some good bed and breakfasts here if people are coming in for a service they can leave it here and get it sorted and pick up when it's ready. There's lots of ways we can accommodate our customers and that's what we try and do.

Digger: Why are Classic bikes, such a big thing in so many people's lives?

Sam: Memories and nostalgia. A combination of all that. Remembering riding your old bike when you were seventeen and eighteen. You worked on it yourself in those days. When they went wrong in those days people still knew how to fix it. Now it's all done with computers. 

Digger: Does that mean that it can be more economical to buy a classic bike than a modern one?

Sam: Yes, I think it could be sometimes more economical to own a classic bike because you're not having to go back to the computer. And also if you can get somebody like Jim who are old school, who had proper apprenticeships and they understand what the parts of the bike do.

Digger: Are you guys going to get an apprentice at some stage?

Sam: We did have an apprentice and he's now decided that it's not for him because of skin allergies to the oil so he's gone onto design. Jim has had apprenticeships as he came up through the trade and we also had apprentices who've gone on to other things. It's always possible we might have more but for an apprentice to be here he would be bombarded with lots of different things. At the moment once Jim goes, there isn't anybody to take it on. But that's not going to be for a few years yet.

Digger: He's nowhere near ready!

Sam: It does cross your mind as you build up all this business.

Digger: Yes, that's why I asked because I have people promoting on my site who are doing vintage gramophones or jukeboxes and most of them, once they're gone the business is gone although a couple do have youngsters coming through taking on the skills which is great.

Sam: Once Jim's age group are gone, there's not going to be the craftsmanship there because the apprentices aren't being trained the same way or having the same detail. They knock out mechanics in two years now. I can remember Jim saying that the old timers thought that five years wasn't enough to train a mechanic and now they're trying to do it in two.

Digger: Just in a generation we have seen so many skills gone. 

Sam: We still do the whole lot here.

Digger: There aren't many people doing that so you should be able to charge a premium Sam. So, what are your plans for the future?

Sam: Hmm. Keep going forward and see how the economy goes.

Digger: You're riding the economic downturn at the moment and doing well, so you should be well-positioned when it does pick up again.

Sam: Well, I hope so. We have seen business drop off and seen The Internet becoming more dominant.

Digger: Thank God for The Internet, I suppose, because it opens up a lot of potential new customers.

Sam: Yes, in some ways it is a Godsend and in other ways not - it would  appear, for example, that the more money you spend on your web and Google ads the better you are.

Digger: It is taking away local business.

Sam: It is. It's a necessary evil and we've got a website which I try and update every month. But if it's a choice between getting my hands dirty here and running the business and doing something on The Internet then The Net usually loses out!

Digger: Yes. A lot of people tell me the same thing. Well Sam, thanks to you and Jim for letting us know about the business.

Sam: Thanks Digger.




Welcome to Jims Number 1 Customs website.

Independent Harley-Davidson & British motorcycle specialist. Customs, servicing, spares & repairs

I am an independent Harley-Davidson specialist who caters for ironheads, shovelheads, panheads, knuckleheads as well as twin cams and evo's of course.

I also have an interest in British bikes and can and do work on them as well.

I am a fully-trained mechanical technician who is old school in so far as if you can fix it or fabricate a modification then why buy new?
Our online shop is still being added to so please come back and see us.



Workshop:  01932 563010

Mobile:  07789 722442






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