Louisville Magazine

JAN 2017

Louisville Magazine is Louisville's city magazine, covering Louisville people, lifestyles, politics, sports, restaurants, entertainment and homes. Includes a monthly calendar of events.

Issue link: https://loumag.epubxp.com/i/767403

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Page 81 of 96

LOUISVILLE MAGAZINE 12.16 79 DESIGN "There's anything and everything in this shop," says Chad Francis, the 41-year-old owner of Retro Wrench in Old Louisville. Its tagline: Ride Old Bikes. And the long garage brims with old bikes, the outer walls lined two rows deep with vintage Yamahas from the 1980s, Triumphs from the 1960s. More are parked in the center, just ahead of the bay door. In fact, there are only two gaps in the sea of motorcycles: the workspaces of the joined businesses on South Seventh Street — Retro Wrench, a vintage bike repair shop, and H Garage, a custom-build shop. The oldest bike here — maybe the oldest Francis has seen in the four years Retro Wrench has been open — is a 1949 Cushman motor scooter, American-made. "It looks like a snail," Francis says, his hands stained with grease. A tank-like metal shell houses the back end of the Cushman. The engine lives underneath the refinished seat, the only noticeable update to the exterior. The paint is flecked, dark and gritty. "It's called patina," Francis says. "Some people love patina and they don't want to change it." Francis repairs all bikes. There are Vespas and motorized bicycles. Even a couple of kid-sized bicycles lean against their kickstands. "Every part comes off, every part gets rebuilt," he says. A typical restoration takes nearly 200 hours, not including hunting for replacement parts. Working on vintage bikes means memorizing various analog setups: BMWs, Triumphs and Hondas are all wired differently. "There's no tronic," Francis says, as in "electronic." He can't plug in a computer and find an error code. "Basket cases are the worst," he says. "Anybody who brings in eight to 10 boxes" — sometimes literally a basket of handlebars and exhaust pipes, a motorcycle jigsaw puzzle — "and says, 'Here's my motorcycle.' And you're like, 'Huh?' Once we got a shopping cart full of parts. And it's still a shopping cart full of parts because it's 200 hours and $15,000 for a full restoration on a Triumph." The adjoining H Garage is where Scott Halbleib customizes bikes. "We can do anything," the 45-year-old says. "We can do 1972 or 2016." Halbleib rescued a 1978 Honda Gold Wing that had been parked in a barn for nearly a year, removing and cleaning or replacing every part, adding stainless-steel accents to the inner wheels and body. "That bike could have sat there for another 50 years," he says, "but now it's in Germany, and some dude's riding it around." Francis and Halbleib (along with Jeff Gill, a friend and vintage auto mechanic) took their know- how — and not much else — to Los Angeles to compete on Esquire TV's Wrench Against the Machine, a competition series that gives building teams 72 hours to repair and customize motorcycles. They went in blind, a tarp draped over the bike — a1978 Honda CX500 — until the countdown started. "They had a big clock on the wall and we just worked and worked for 22 hours a day," Halbleib says. They'd take two-hour naps on mattresses in a back room. "We had a rental truck, so we had to drive around L.A. traffic just trying to find parts." (They didn't win.) Francis says his most-used tool is his brain. "Trying to figure out how all this old stuff is put together and how to put it back together in the correct way, or how to put it together in a new way that makes it look better," he says. His uncle gave him his first: a 1986 Honda Spree motor scooter. "That's what got me into bikes," Francis says. "It broke and I had to fix it."

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