Yaniv Evan is the real deal. This is apparent as soon as you shake his hand and see the grease that permanently resides underneath his fingernails and that has seeped into the lifelines of his palms (not to mention his black t-shirt, jeans, hair, and anything he comes into contact with). As the brain and brawn behind Powerplant Choppers, a Los Angeles based motorcycle shop that builds custom toys with a starting price of what it costs to put an LA kid through a year of private school, the Israeli-born Evan lives and breathes his Herculean machines, and quite literally runs on fumes.
After years of working as a mechanic on hot rods and airplanes, Yaniv founded Powerplant in 2002. With the blood, sweat and beers of he and his motley crew, it has since become one of the most recognizable brands in the business, gaining the attention of the art world and fashion peeps alike. His aesthetic, all hand-painted, bronze patina and Americana heritage, stands out from the sea of shiny new leather and black (or what I like to call the Sons of Anarchy look). Following the grand-opening of his rustic new Melrose retail space, we stole Yaniv away from his garage and asked him a few questions about girls, grease and going fast.
(photos by Rick Rodney)
When was the first time you got on a bike?
Yaniv Evan: The first time I got on the bike was my dad's side car in the '80s. The second time was on the back seat, and that's when I knew it was just a matter of time before...
How did get into building bikes for a living?
I have a small problem: I'm not good with just having something, especially something that everyone else has. I have to be able to say that I made it, and that it's different and better than everyone else's. Now my problem is that every bike has to be better than the last one. So with every bike I build, I battle myself. I think it's a disease. As far as building bikes for a living goes, I don't really know if I make a good living from it. But it's fun as fuck.
You've described the genre of bikes you build as 'nostalgic custom.' What does that mean?
My bikes are influenced by the original pre-war American bikes. They were built with minimal technology, and the tooling that was used back then is now obsolete. Nowadays, I use both old and new machines that help me replicate the look of them old dinosaurs, but with a bit more engineering and strength. Basically, if you look closely at some of the parts, they look antique, but if you see it riding by real fast it looks like a death trap chopper.
I don't really know anything about bikes except that they go fast, look cool, are dangerous, and girls love them. For other people who don't know anything about bikes, why do yours smoke the competition?
Do I smoke the competition? I guess that's the spirit. Well, not to sound arrogant, but there are a lot of copy cats out there. Some do a great job and some can't come close. The key is to come up with new metal shapes, so that nobody can figure out how it was done. The guys that are skilled can figure it out, but they're too late by the time they do. I already did it first.
Your one-of-a-kind creations are more like works of art than modes of transportation. Do you build more for show, functionality, or some combo of the two?
Definitely for riding. P16 is a rider's bike. I, personally, have no respect for show bikes that don't function (trailer queens). I come from the mentality of riding bikes first. I like to go fast. I like to smell fuel and oil.
Your shop, Powerplant Choppers, is kind of a Melrose institution. Can you tell me a few of the legends who've come through to hang and commission custom bikes?
We're not legends 'til we're dead. But some of the characters are Steve Olson, Alex Olson , Scotty Caan, Christian Hosoi, Sal Barbier. All my skater heroes. Then I have a bunch of actors, directors, musicians and garmentos that are very big in their own industries.
How fucking long does it take you to build one of these badass contraptions? What are the key steps?
These fucking bikes take anywhere from two months to a year and retail anywhere from 30K to 200K. It's really all about the attention to detail. They're all handmade, but there's so many ways to make something. For example: one gas cap can take me anywhere from 1-5 days to make. Imagine, there's over 200 parts on a bike, not including the motor, which can easily suck up thousands of dollars and tons of hours.
If you had to guess, how many times has your line of work helped you out in the lady department?
Well, I believe girls love bikes and bad biker dudes. But in my case, the girls love that I'm too busy to pay attention to them, and that I'm more into the bike then I am her... but now I'm giving away my secrets.
Let's say you've got all the time in the world to hit the road with some buds and your bike. Where are you going and with whom?
If I get a chance to ride with my buds, I'm calling Josh Lazie, Joey C, Shawn McGuire, Chris Yvon from Death Squad, and of course, Roland Sands. The reason being – we all ride the same. We have this way of riding in a good formation; we push cars out of the way with our front tires. This doesn't work if we bring too many people, and no new riders get to do this. The destination is usually up north and next to the coast to keep these babies nice and cool.
You just had the grand opening of your beautiful new retail space on Melrose, and debuted a new vintage-inspired apparel line. Tell me a little bit about that and what's on the horizon for Powerplant?
So far my clothing has been a big success people can't seem to get enough of it. The problem is that I'm a one man operation, and I can only make so much. It's a painful job to produce t-shirts and apparel, but my future plan is to collaborate with a clothing manufacturer in LA to design a full line of vintage-inspired motorcycle apparel made for riders by riders.