The odds are that if you’re in to two wheels as well as four, you already know who Roland Sands is. If you don’t then all you need to know is that he’s a Californian who’s established as one of the most sought-after designers and builders of custom motorcycles (and clothing) in the world. He’s also a Goodwood veteran, having taken part twice in the Festival of Speed and this week I had the chance to chat with him about bikes, his heroes, FoS, the challenges of his work… even cars, all accompanied with some of his finest work.
‘All my heroes were racers,’ Roland begins. ‘Kenny Roberts, Eddie Lawson, Wayne Rainey, Jim McLure… the list goes on. My dad worked with some of these people building wheels and brakes for their race bikes and I became friends with many of them. I really respect these guys because they’re cool people as well as legends on the track.’
It was on the track that Roland enjoyed a nine-year professional career before moving into the design and building of bikes. In that time he was at the sharp end of the AMA 250GP rankings, won a championship in 1998 and raced in the British Super Cup series on a works Honda. I asked if he misses the racing. ‘I do still thrive on that adrenaline,’ he admits, ‘but nowadays I’m just as happy to drink a pint and watch my friends battle it out! I’m 40, I have a baby on the way, priorities are changing… These days I’m more in to riding for fun and having a good time than racing.’
After recognition from the likes of Chip Foose quite early on in his building career (he was awarded the Chip Foose Design of Excellence award in 2004) he took part in Discovery Channel’s Biker Build-Off TV show, which helped to grown his reputation outside of America. The idea was to take two leading builders and have them construct bikes from scratch in a very short space of time. In 2005 he was voted by his peers as Rookie of the Year and in 2006 he was crowned champion. So does he miss it? ‘I miss the community aspect. All the builders had connections through the show and it really elevated what we were doing and pushed the builders, too.’ And the tight deadlines? ‘Oh I don’t miss those… or the production! I really just want to work and filming gets in the way of doing that.’
Even without the camera in his workshop, customising bikes brings enough issues on its own. ‘It’s difficult to trim down all the ideas I get into something that’s also cohesive as well as fun to ride and that looks the part. There’s never a lack of inspiration though. I try to keep in mind that simple things end up being the most beautiful and timeless. That’s my end-goal; to build something that has staying power.’ Judging by the reaction to Roland’s work across the world, I’d say that he’s well on-track. As well as being stunning to behold and standing up to close scrutiny in terms of detail, each bike he makes looks like it wants top be ridden even more than it demands to be looked-at. ‘I like that blend of performance and style,’ he continues. ‘There’s still a lot that hasn’t been done, or if it has been done then it could be done better. I’d love to see more Eighties superbikes …’
With his star rising in the west, it was inevitable that an invitation from Lord March would bring him back across the pond to FoS in 2006 and 2011. Roland didn’t disappoint – pulling a series of stand-up burnouts and bagging the Sportsman of the Event trophy as a result, first time over. ‘That was just epic!’ he enthuses. ‘Both years I really enjoyed myself and got to hang-out, ride and party with a lot of friends – old and new. I’d love to ride at the Revival meeting. I’ve wanted to do that for years but I haven’t been invited yet (Competitions Department, are you listening…? – Ed) If I did then I’d be there like a shot!
Asked of his taste in four-wheeled machinery, it’s soon clear he takes it very seriously. ‘Well I drive a Mercedes-Benz CLK Black Series that I absolutely love. I’m building a ’65 Ford Galaxie at the moment as well. I really like raced-out sleepers – cars with just enough flare to show their true colours. Maybe just a set of slicks and black beadlocks peaking out of subtly-widened arches. I love anything racey and vintage – Eighties rally cars, Mini Coopers… all that stuff.’
What with his desire to race at the Revival, his love for vintage cars and crowd-pleasing, we’d love to see Roland Sands at the Revival… or perhaps the 73rd Members’ Meeting for that matter? Hmmm, maybe we could get him to build a Goodwood bike and bring it over? Something with a Vincent Black Shadow motor in it? Right, how’s our 2015 budget looking …