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The Job Interview: Mass. company brings custom motorcycles to Bike Week

Matt Shay, owner of Audiowerks from Tewksbury, Mass., poses for a portrait on a customized 2013 Harley Davidson Road Glide.

(TAEHOON KIM / Monitor staff)

Matt Shay, owner of Audiowerks from Tewksbury, Mass., poses for a portrait on a customized 2013 Harley Davidson Road Glide. (TAEHOON KIM / Monitor staff)

Pedestrians often glance at least twice when they pass the motorcycles that Matt Shay, owner of Audiowerks in Tewksbury, Mass., and his crew have built and brought to Bike Week.

The motorcycles, which are called “baggers” because they have rear saddle compartments, are impressive, both as machines and works of art. Last week, a neon green number on display under the company’s tent featured a massive front wheel, low, hard-top rear bags and a provocative title – “The Evil Leprechaun” – emblazoned in front of the handlebars.

Shay and his team, which specializes in building custom baggers and installing boisterous audio systems in cars, motorcycles and other motor vehicles, have been attending Bike Week as vendors for the past four years, Shay said.

Bike Week, officially the Prudential Laconia Motorcycle Week, wrapped up its 90th year yesterday, and due to some inclement weather, Shay said Wednesday that this year’s rally was leaving something to be desired.

How is the week going so far?

Weather is terrible. This is probably the worst year so far, out of the four. Last year was the best. And it . . . there’s nothing you can do. Sucks to spend all the money to get up here, and it ends up costing you money for the week.

But people who planned to attend still come, right?

Yeah, but they’re not out in the rain. Yesterday was horrible. We stayed open yesterday, but we didn’t do any business.

How long have you been in the motorcycle business?

About five years, like officially motorcycles. I’ve been in (automotive) business about 20 years in total.

Have you always built unusual motorcycles?

Yeah, at first, within the last three and a half years, we started building bikes like that. I’ve always customized stuff at my shop. I used to build all kinds of cool guitars and trucks. We’ve got a full body shop attached to our building. We’re one of the few that do everything except for seats. I’ll make a seat pan, but we don’t stitch. But we literally do everything in-house. I don’t do any engine work, I don’t do service work, I just do audio and make it look great. That’s all I do. All I do now is bikes. My guys still do cars, and they’ll jump on the bikes occasionally just to help me out, but for the most part, I work 60 or 80 hours a week just on bikes.

What’s the attraction for you?

People just . . . people see the bikes . . . everyone wants a better stereo system. The factory stereo on the Harleys is terrible – absolutely horrible – and there’s really not much out there that’s better. So the guys like myself, there’s a couple of us, there’s two of us (small-shop owners) in the country that really do what I do, specifically bagger audio.

Is the reason you put audio systems in the saddle bags because it allows for a better sound?

Yeah, you get a lot better sound in the back. I’d say 80 percent of my customers come in just for front systems. Another 20 percent do the rear and more.

How would you describe Bike Week for someone who’s never been here?

This Bike Week? This Bike Week is like a Boy Scout convention compared to the other ones. Myrtle (South Carolina) is not too crazy but Sturgis (South Dakota) is . . . awesome – the riding is phenomenal, the weather is awesome and there are just so many more bikes.

Is that what makes a rally good? When you have great roads and a ton of people?

Yeah, the more bikes on the road, it’s actually better, because it’s less morons in cars. When you’ve got a ton of bikes, people are actually more aware, like, yeah, it’s Bike Week.

When bikers come up here and don’t know each other, do they typically form friendships quickly?

When they see bikes, like we’ll be parked down on the strip and people will approach us. It’s probably a lot easier to approach us because we have bikes that are custom, and it gives you something to break the ice initially. That helps. But there’s a camaraderie with bikers. Like you see a guy broken down on the side of the road, you stop and make sure he’s okay; see if he needs any help or whatever.

What about the crazy stuff? What kinds of things have you seen over the years here?

Nothing up here. You don’t even see boobs up here.

So this is the tamest of the major rallies, you’d say?

Well, because of the people who ruined it. Before I ever started coming up here it was horrible. I guess they would kick people off their crotch-rocket bikes, pick them up and throw them in the fire and burn them. Oh yeah, I guess it was out of hand, out of hand. People ruined it for themselves. It used to be a good rally – out of hand like Sturgis – and people ended up, just like anything, you keep pushing the envelope until they ruin it. So now it’s . . . you could really bring your kids to this, I think. Like obviously you wouldn’t bring them up to a bar but . . .

Do you sell any of your bikes at the rally?

No, we just do our stereo system. There’s always people who say they want to buy, but not everybody is walking around with $50,000 in their pocket.

Is that how much the bikes go for?

They range. I’ve got one bike, it’s about a $100,000 bike.

How much time goes into making something like that?

Uh, the one on the end (orange) is my personal bike. That was about two weeks. Two to three weeks.

But does that mean you’ve already ordered all the stuff and just have to put it together?

Yeah, mock it all up, do the custom bodywork I want to do. Getting the parts is the key. But for the most part you can build anything in three to four weeks.

So how many bikes do you typically build in a year?

Crazy bikes? Probably four or five. With just basic stretch saddle bags and fenders, probably 15 to 20. Then stereo systems, hundreds. That’s kind of the cash cow. I can do an entire system in a couple hours.

How typical is it for a bike to have an audio system?

It’s not.

Is that changing?

Yes. It’s a small market but it’s a growing market, because everyone really wants a bagger, because it’s the new trend and they’re cool.

How much of it is art for you?

Yeah, it’s more so when it’s a full build. . . . My bikes are the most simple and plain out of most of the bikes that are around. That’s always been my style, even with the cars I’ve built. I like the bikes to look like they could have come out of a factory versus some radical thing that looks like it fell out of a spaceship.

(Jeremy Blackman can be reached at 369-3319, jblackman@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @JBlackmanCM.)

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