Zacky's Custom Rods: Interview with Keith Wong

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Zacky's Custom Rods

The Sound RIDER! interview with custom builder, Keith Wong

From the moment I walk into Zacky's Custom Rods, in Seattle, it's clear that owner Keith Wong knows his craft. With accolades from both local and national competitions, including a "Best of Sturgis" in 2003, trophies and blue ribbons literally spill from the walls.

Standing in front of a current project, Keith's experience takes over as he details a frequent occurrence. It seems that the bike before us was built by a well-meaning individual, who unfortunately just didn't quite know what he was doing. Projects like these, which can easily go for more than $30,000, end up at Zacky's, sometimes having not traveled more than 50 miles from the original builders shop.

It's a fortunate place to be as Keith has been at this, for more than 15 years. Getting his start in friend Tracy Zacky's garage ( who built fishing rods at the time), Keith has dozens of builds under his belt and an enthusiasm for custom work that is evident in the fact that his daily rider is a 30" big wheel chopper.

I sat down with Keith in his Aurora Avenue shop, to discuss his business, how to initiate a custom project and some of his favorite builds from the past.

***Authors Note: Without altering the message, the following interview has been edited for space and clarity***

SR!: Obviously you build complete bikes, what other services do you offer?

Keith Wong: The only thing that I don't really do is engine tuning.

SR!: But you will do things like custom tank fabrication?

Keith Wong: Oh yeah, just make one off and all that stuff . . . painting, airbrushing and fabrication.

SR!: If somebody wants to get a custom bike built, what's the best way to pitch the idea to you?

Keith Wong: Usually I sit down with the customer, figure out what style of bike they want, the overall frame and dimensions . . . and design the bike together . . . Basically you tailor a bike to fit that person.

SR!: So do people bring in drawings to you or pictures of other bikes that they want you to use as a starting point?

Keith Wong: Pretty much anything. From time to time I'll throw a few of my ideas out there and then there are things that I'll go "This is not going to work" . . . it's such as fine line between a bike that you can ride every day and the looks. And if you're pushing it too far . . . there is such a thing as a "trailer queen" . . . safety is also a main concern. (Some people) will say, "I've seen it in a magazine" and I'll say "well, it's in a magazine, how many do you see riding out there?" . . . To me it's not always necessary to have fancy and expensive parts to make a nice bike, it's the style of the bike, the design.

SR!: What's a (price) range for a custom bike?

Keith Wong: I wouldn't say range, I would say starting out . . . probably the cheapest one we can get away with is 12 to 15 grand.

SR!: And I'm sure the sky's the limit?

Keith Wong: . . . Exactly.

SR!: What is the strangest thing that someone has requested you to do? Is there anything that stands out?

Keith Wong: If anything, someone wanted me to take like a Honda Rebel and customize it . . . and I'm like why? . . . I say sure, but it's only worth like two grand and you want to spend thirty to make it happen?

SR!: Favorite bikes from the past?

Keith Wong: The funny thing . . . it's every new bike that I feel that way. Because it's different than the last one, but somehow, people always come and say, "that's the best bike you have ever done" . . . Do I have a favorite bike? I guess the sentimental value . . . the first bike that I ever built, the dragon bike . . . And then the Shelby bike . . . The Shelby bike's more of something that, you get an opportunity to do something with somebody like the legend . . . it's, Carol Shelby himself. And then last year the Seahawks bike. See, we built that bike before the season even started. You know when I'm building it, I'm like "what if we win the Super Bowl this year?" That's what's going through my mind . . . I don't know, there are so many to choose from.

Photo: The Seahawks bike was a favorite with motorcycle show attendees during the Northwest Motorcycle Exhibit in Seattle in early 2014.

SR!: Do you have an everyday bike that you ride?

Keith Wong: (Pointing outside) That Big Wheel . . . People say "oh don't you get a high speed wobble on the big wheel?" I say, "It's exactly the opposite", it's as simple as this. The old days when they designed their bikes, I mean I've done a little studying on racing, the old days they used big wheels because it's more steady in high speed . . . Same thing when you go down the street with a scooter wheel versus a stock Harley wheel, which one is more steady? It's a bigger diameter. (Keith then discusses how suspension technology has changed this, noting that ultimately it's what the bike is built for.)

SR!: You grew up in China. I'm curious what kind influence . . . exposure did you have there to motorcycles as a kid?

Keith Wong: Well, the mailman in China…

SR!: But those are like, what? 150 CC?

Keith Wong: Yeah, 80 or something like that . . . And the military used the old BMW ones . . . We had a few bicycles, but when you see a mailman on a motorcycle, it's like "wow!" . . . Back maybe in 78? When China finally opened up and all of the sudden these Honda's and Suzuki's and Yamaha's imported from Japan and their about 125 and 80 CC and I was like "Wow, that's the coolest thing" . . . My Grandfather petitioned our family to this country and I said, "Man when I go to America, I gotta have a motorcycle". Yeah my first motorcycle was a Honda 350.

SR!: Do you miss it? Do you want to get something like that back in the collection?

Keith Wong: Umm . . . I don't think…you know it was one of those kind of pieced together kind of things . . . But that's where kind of everything started.

Story and interview by Derek Roberts/Fall 2014

Zacky's Custom Rods is located at 13720 Aurora Ave. N. In Seattle Washington.

Hours are 9-6 Monday through Friday or Visit

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