Not many custom bike builders can see a castle from their shop – let alone the Windsor Castle, the oldest occupied castle in the world and one of the homes of the Royal Family. But that’s exactly the view from outside the Run Riot shop – an up-and-coming British builder of stripped-to-the-core customs that break more than a few rules along the way.
Founded by Ryan Walker and friend Rob Cross, Run Riot traces its name to some joking around they did with names in high school and the roots to Ryan’s incessant interest as a kid in tearing things apart to see how they worked. Unfortunately, he didn’t always put them back together.
“My dad was a carpenter so I always saw him building things. I was more curious to see what was inside anything I could get my hands on. Unfortunately, most of what I took apart as a kid stayed that way and my bedroom was typically full of spare pieces lying around.“
Eventually, Ryan learned to put those pieces back together, which led to building BMX, and mountain bikes. Contraptions, Ryan says, that drew more than a fair share of attention, but also gave him a base from which to start building motorcycles. In fact he completed his first build before he could even ride. It made sense since cars in the UK were too expensive then and still are today.
“We bought a Kawasaki Z305 when I was still 15. We got it into a friend’s van and drove it over to my parent’s garage. We immediately started cutting it up into bits and experimenting with different angles. Everything that could go wrong with it, did, but that’s how we learned.”
Much of Ryan’s focus at Run Riot is on the metal work – frames, sheet metal and welding. While some of that is self-taught, he learned the basics as an engineering apprentice working at Heathrow Airport outside of London. Rob helps with some of the metal and fabrication work, but primarily handles the mechanics. Philip ‘Squeak’ Minkinnen does all of the operational and finance work, as well as the online element. The shop is also periodically inhabited by two or more friends who do odd jobs and work on bikes as they can.
The majority of bikes you’ll find in Run Riot’s shop are older Japanese models because they’re relatively cheap and easy to work on. You might find an occasional Triumph or Harley, but nearly all of the bikes that come into and leave the shop were made in the 70s and 80s in the land of the rising sun. The result is a happy group of merry motorcycle makers who manage to create bikes that are about as stripped down as you can get. Speedo, turn signals and side mirrors – who needs ‘em?!
“If you can avoid getting caught, it’s not a problem. The laws in the U.K. are a little iffy, so if you are pulled over, it’s probably because you broke some other law, and the police are more interested in giving you a ticket for that than seeing if your bike is legal.”
Oh, if it were only that easy in the U.S.!
While Ryan’s been building bikes for about 10 years, he’s still open to being influenced by a multitude of outside sources. In fact, his minimalist style came about from a trip he took several years ago to Japan.
“The idea there is to have no distractions. Strip away everything to only what’s necessary. You’ll see that in the bikes we build. But I also look at the work of serious engineers – guys who want to do everything properly.”
The common factor here is a reflection of Ryan’s own interest in making sure his builds convey a sense of quality and an extreme attention to detail. “I don’t want it to look like we just took a bunch of old bikes, stripped them down and put some new pieces on them. It’s crucial that our bikes look as good as they perform.”
Which brings us to how the custom scene in the UK compares to the one in the U.S.
“It’s hard to put a finger on it – climate makes a difference. Lots of people like riding in the U.K., but you’re usually riding in rainy weather. Laws have also changed here – there is a longer theory (written) test, plus more complicated practical (riding) tests, and age restrictions. You can’t ride just any sized bike when you first get licensed. All of this is almost phasing bikes out because of how restrictive it’s become. So the bikes that are getting built here tend to be smaller and cheaper.”
Ryan says when his friends who don’t ride see the bikes Run Riot builds then they start getting interested in having one. It’s a way for him to help keep motorcycling alive and growing in his own country.
But before you get the impression there’s way more seriousness than fun going on here, he starts telling me about a recurring trip he, some friends, and the rest of the crew at Run Riot have been taking every year since 2010.
They buy little 125s, get them running, and then see how far they can take them on the mainland. Ryan said the first year they didn’t even make it to the south of France – too many breakdowns. The second year they made it to Spain. The next year they got to Belgium and back. This year was a breakthrough – Croatia.
“We picked these bikes because they’re easy to work on, and since you can’t go fast you stay off the main highways and stick to side roads. That means you also see more and tend to stop more frequently. We literally camped wherever we found ourselves when it started to get dark, and we ate whenever we got hungry. There’s never a plan.”
Though at 26, Ryan has a lot more build years under his belt, he’s still learning and has no intention of stopping any time soon. What helps is the loyal following that has supported Run Riot through some times that would have tried the more experienced.
The garage Run Riot operates out of now is the result of that network of friends and loyal supporters who chipped in over a couple of years to help build it on an empty lot. That empty lot was their idea of a move up after initially operating the shop out of the garage owned by Ryan’s mother. She, by the way, is pretty supportive of his chosen obsession – his father…not so much.
“My dad had a friend who died while riding a motorcycle, so he’s never been too keen on what I do.”
As for the future, Ryan says he would like to see Run Riot develop a small product line. One that would help other people get into the custom scene themselves.
“For anyone who wants to do this, I’d tell them to not let people tell you it can’t be done. Build what you like. Don’t build for trends. Find parts of bikes that inspire you. Stick with what you want to do and build the bike for you.”
As they say, a man’s home is his castle and perhaps Ryan’s view of one of the most famous continues to inspire him to build his bikes and his business his way.