If you don’t know about Bare Knuckle Performance, where ya been?! Paul and his crew have been doing some really killer work for quite awhile now!! They build bikes and parts meant to be ridden fast!! They are a real quality over quantity shop and it shows in everything they do! I am proud to call Paul a friend and was stoked he agreed to answer a few q’s….so here we go!
1. By way of introduction for the readers, can you go ahead and introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about the shop?
Jay, let me first say thank you for asking me to take part in this. I’ve always enjoyed watching what you do, and of course catching up with you at events and having a few cocktails.
My name is Paul Wideman. I started Bare Knuckle Choppers in 2003. We started off building chopper frames and choppers, and that has morphed into what we are today. In 2020 we changed the name to Bare Knuckle Performance, just to broaden our appeal. Don’t get me wrong; we are still very chopper. But first and foremost we are motorcycle guys. We love all bikes. We love making them go faster and stop quicker. We love making them look badass. We aren’t scared to cut things up and improve where we see fit.
2. How long has Bareknuckle Performance been in business and how’d you settle on the name Bareknuckle Performance?
The name Bare Knuckle came from just throwing a bunch of names on paper and trying to come up with something that was kind of anti-hero for that day. Many of the bikes of the early 2000s were super fruity and wimpy. I didn’t dig that, and wanted a more FUCK YOU, in your face kind of name. I was deeply influenced by the El Forastero choppers of our area, Indian Larry, Dick Allen, Gary Smith, Iron Horse magazine, and the general roots of motorcycles.
3. Folks may not know your shop was flattened by tornado a few years back. What was that like??? Did you ever think of just packing it in after that?
It sucked. But I don’t like to talk about it. I don’t want pity. I have an amazing life, and I am actually thankful that happened. You can believe in God, or you cannot. I don’t care. You better respect mother nature though. She bows to no one.
4. Let’s be honest, not only do you guys have a bunch of lookers working at the shop, they’re not just eye candy, they’re super talented. You guys make insanely high quality parts. How do you guys come up with the ideas and how long does it take to go from ideas to production?
It is very true that Mike’s stunning good looks can be quite distracting. But somehow we overcome.
Parts ideas come about many ways. We definitely keep our ears to the ground, ask a lot of questions, watch what’s hot, what’s coming up. A part can come from the general riding population’s need for a solution, to our desire to offer something more, instead of just “something”, to cases where we get hold of a bike, ride it a bunch, and come up with a list of what we’d like to see improved upon. If a motorcycle part doesn’t somehow improve on the oem offering, its pointless. There are enough chachkies out there being hocked, the world doesn’t need another.
5. Shifting gears a bit, I know a lot of guys got into bikes at young ages. When did you start riding motorbikes and what got you hooked? What was your first bike?
My dad had a chopper since before I was born. One of my uncles did. I was always around it. My dad sold that chopper when I was pretty young, and didn’t get another for maybe 20 years or so. But the seed was planted. My parents wouldn’t buy me a motorcycle when I was a kid, because they wouldn’t buy me anything except food and clothing, so I had to get my first bike on my own. I started off with half running dirt bikes, and moved up to a basket case 57 sportster. That first HD was a cool little chopper.
6. How’s the bike scene in the St. Louis area? Any killer rides locally?
The bike scene in STL is kinda different. It is known as the stunt capital of the world, thanks to the Street Fighterz. I don’t know if you’re familiar with them, but they were putting out VHS tapes and DVDs 20+ years ago of the crazy shit they do. Many of those dudes, like Sitdown Steve, are now on Harleys, and doing some of the crazier shit out there. So there’s that. The chopper scene here is deeper than any other city- I promise you that. The derake style of chopper is the king. You will see them literally everywhere. It’s pretty cool.
As far as riding, we are pretty lucky. STL is at the convergence of the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers, so we have a lot of great valleys and hills and windy roads. We are also at the northern tip of the Ozark Mountain range, so we get down there pretty often too. I’m not scared to put on 1000+ miles to get somewhere even better though.
7. I know you went on Bear’s Motorcycle Sherpa trip tp Nepal – In fact, the most hilarious video clip I have seen was Darren riding with you nuts to butts over that suspension bridge – I watched it about a million times and laughed every time …..How was that trip? It looked amazing particularly with that crew.
It was INSANE. I can’t even begin to tell you how amazing that was. From Bobby and PJAY constantly chirping, to Danger Dan keeping us laughing, it was a blast. The riding was intense, and the scenery unlike anything. But the people made it for me. I was lucky to go with 4-5 people I already call friend, made a couple new friends, and of course spent the entire trip with my best homie, Darren.
There’s a funny back story to that suspension bridge video… I had no idea, but Darren had a little phobia over the suspension bridges. I hadn’t even considered it being tricky, mostly because I hadn’t given it much thought. Mind you, this isn’t because I’m a better rider than Darren; I’m not. Darren is hands down the most accomplished rider I have ever ridden with. It was just a thing for him, ya know? So we had already crossed a handful of those suspension bridges, and towards the end of the trip we came to the tallest and longest one in the region, maybe the world, I forget. Darren was all stoked to ride across it, and further overcome his fear. The bridge simply went from one side to the other, and then you came back. It wasn’t part of the route. Darren asked if I was going across, and I declined, as I just wanted to walk out and get some photos of the views. Then I said “unless you want me to ride with you.” It was totally spur of the moment. At the beginning of the video you can see me say something, and Darren kinda laugh and shake his head. That’s when I mentioned maybe we should’ve practiced this beforehand, and he found that funny. I wouldn’t have ridden on the back of that bike with anyone else. I couldn’t trust anyone else. My seat was literally at the height of the top cable. If we had gotten in trouble, I would’ve been of the top rope like Jimmy Snukka.
8. A lot of shops and trends have come and gone over the years. What’s a trend past or present that really grinds your gears?
The fat tires of the past made no sense, as they were not truly ridable. Same for the big wheel baggers. Say what you want about choppers not making sense- there isn’t a big wheel bagger on the planet that will keep up with my FXR chopper in the corners or canyons.
Making other people listen to your shitty music drives me insane. Guys- no one cares. Turn that shit down.
I’ve never liked fake patina. I’d rather see a bike earn its patina. Anything fake, really. Doing shit for social media instead of your passion for motorcycles is stupid. People should be punched in the mouth more often in general, but especially for being fake. Keep our passion pure.
9. Other than motorbikes, what do ya like to do with “spare” time?
Mostly motorbikes. Seriously, aside from playing with my dogs, I will be on a motorcycle if I have any spare time. I love hitting the road for a long trip all by myself. I’ll cruise out to see my homies in Colorado a lot. That’s a fun 2 lane ride. I mess around with old trucks a bit too.
10. What advice can you give to anyone out there wanting to open a bike shop or even start up their own business?
Don’t take “no” for an answer. Other people are lazy. They will tell you no because making “yes” happen is difficult. Be prepared to do it all yourself.
11. Thanks for your time, Paul. I really appreciate ya. Any parting words…Does Bare Knuckle have any upcoming events and how can folks get in touch with ya?
Yeah man, we have a new YouTube channel up. We are putting a lot of effort into that. We absolutely love our shop, so we want to share that experience with you all. You’ll find general jackassery on there, as well as product info, and eventually instructions & how-tos.
We will be at Cycle Showcase STL February 11-12, and Mama Tried the following weekend in Milwaukee. We will be releasing our new Pan America lines in Milwaukee. We are super stoked about that.
Thanks again for asking me to be part of this! It’s been fun. Catch you soon my friend! FTW- Paul
Here are some links to follow what Paul and the crew are up to! Go check em out and give em a follow or what ever the kids do on the interweb these days!
Company site : https://bareknuckleperformance.com
Bare Knuckle IG: https://www.instagram.com/bareknuckleperformance/?hl=en
Mike’s IG: https://www.instagram.com/9fingerfabrication/?hl=en
YouTube Channel: https://www.youtube.com/@bareknuckleperformance
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