Writer's Ramblings

Don Gray and the Metric Revolution

Written by  November 30, 2005

I’ve got a little surprise for all of our readers this month, and especially you metric riders. A new biker build-off series is coming our way, and Cycle Connections has a little exclusive for you. The series is entitled Metric Revolution and is slated to begin this winter. The show pits 24 metric builders against each other in competition. The producers chose 10 cruiser builders, 10 sport bike builders, and 4 rookie builders to round out their list of competitors. The show intends to prove that a custom bike does not have to be an American V-Twin to be a true custom.

I have had the great pleasure of talking to Don Gray of Don Gray Customs, one of the cruiser builders chosen for the show. Don graciously allowed me to interview him for this issue, and I jumped at the opportunity. Please check out the Metric Revolution website at www.metrictv.com for information on all of the builders. Don Gray’s website is www.dongraycustoms.com. Check it out to view some of his past builds, and if you’d like, order up some parts to start making a custom of your own.

Don Gray Customs offers a complete line of parts including his own “Bobstar” line of frames to convert your Yamaha Road Star or Warrior into a custom pro street look or a wicked chopper offering any stretch, rise or rake you desire. These frames are also available to fit that big meat out back, up to the monster 300 series.

If you don’t want to start from scratch, Don’s “Bobstar” swingarm bolts directly to a stock Road Star or Warrior frame and allows up to a 250 series tire. An added plus to the frame or swingarm is they accept American aftermarket wheels and axles. Stay tuned as Don has agreed to keep me updated on his progress and provide me an insider’s look at the trials and rewards he will face in the weeks ahead.

CC: What does being in this build-off competition mean to you and your shop?
Don: We’re going to get recognized in the metric business a little more as far as being professionals and a good builder and a pioneer from it, introducing a lot of new stuff.

CC: Have you always been into metric bikes? I know you’ve been building for 30-plus years. Have metrics always been there the whole time?
Don: They have been one of my primary deals because it is more competitive and also more challenging to do something that is “out of the box.” You have to build stuff for it; parts are not available, so it lets me put my skills to work, innovating parts and being able to build one-off stuff.

CC: That leads me right into my next question: Is the aftermarket responding to you as far as builders in general with metric parts to help you along, or are you having to fabricate everything yourself?
Don: Well, I’ve always had to fabricate most of my stuff. Usually I convert a metric bike to where I can use American components. That way it makes the build more versatile on the parts that I can use on it like using American necks and chopping the back end off and using American-size axles so I can run any wheel, any pulley, things of that nature.

CC: Are there any benefits to a metric custom over an air-cooled V-Twin?
Don. Yes, I don’t like to deal with a radiator. The radiator so much is not a problem to deal with as much as the plumbing. I like my bikes to be real clean, tucked in, no exposed wires, as clean as I can make them so that’s just another thing to have to deal with.

CC: What is it about your skills, in your opinion, that helped you be chosen from the list of applicants who applied to be builders on the Metric Revolution series? I saw it was a long list and they chopped it down to just the few that they picked.
Don: It was pretty amazing, wasn’t it? Other than being in it for a long time…. They told me that my bikes were really inspiring as far as clean and very ride-able. Actually they rode one of my bikes and they couldn’t believe how easy it was to ride and handle. All the geometry… I feel my bikes are pretty much like the 70s style choppers but innovating all of the new components that are available and the newer style of frameworks, but it is the same old style that I built back in the 70s.

CC: Do you have an existing parts line now for a retail market?
Don: Yes we do. We manufacture the frames for our Yamaha Road Stars 250 swing arm kits. We make a conversion kit for the Yamaha Road Stars and Kawasakis, etc., that will adapt to American inverted front ends.

CC: As far as a build, is there any particular metric bike that is your favorite platform to start with?
Don: The Yamaha Road Star since we manufacture the frames. It is an air-cooled belt drive. It is a gorgeous motor. It’s carbureted. We manufacture the frames for those. We feel like they were popular, so we went into a lot of expense in developing a jig for it, the CAD program and blueprints, and it is a jig-off frame just like the American V-Twin.

CC: Were you surprised to see Doug Keim in the list of builders you are competing against?
Don: Yes, I was pretty surprised.

CC: It shocked me considering how well he’s known in the American circles.
Don: I’m pretty well known. I’ve never had a problem with pulling one of my metric bikes right up in the middle of a show.

CC: Your stuff is that good; I can vouch for that.
Don: I’ve gotten trophies everywhere. I don’t do many shows now since I’m a professional builder. I don’t feel it’s fair to a lot of the guys that spend their time in a garage like I did.

CC: I admire that. I’m pretty sick and tired of going to shows and seeing stuff…
Don: Yeah, some radical stuff that you couldn’t ride made by professional builders.

CC: Exactly, or somebody will go out and buy something from Bourget or somebody like that and just make a few changes to it.
Don: Right…. And then put it in a show.

CC: Exactly.
Don: My stuff is for me or the guy that cut it down, build parts, special parts for it. I did a 750 Honda that is belt-drive, 250 rear drive, and I was complimented so much on that bike because it was something totally “out of the box,” something you don’t see at every show. It had all the American components on it, but to see an old '71 750 Honda with a 250 rear tire and an inch and a half belt drive, it was pretty “killer.”

CC: I’ve checked out your website and your bikes are absolutely gorgeous. I’ll be real honest with you—I rode a crotch rocket several years ago, but other than that, I’ve always been on Harleys, and I tell you what, you’ve really opened up my eyes.
Don: That’s what I said I could do is open everybody’s eyes to really what these things can be. Everybody, when you say custom bikes, their mind automatically clicks Harley-Davidson, and especially when they see a V-Twin motor, they really don’t even know the difference. I leave the Yamaha tag down at the bottom of my motors, and they’ll just sit there and drool over it and when they get down there you’ll see their mouths drop open when they see Yamaha.

CC: You’ll be surprised how many people, especially now since it has gotten “trendy” who can’t tell the difference between a V-Star and a Harley.
Don: That’s automatically what clicks to them is it is an American bike. They really don’t have an idea what the metric market has to offer. I’ve talked to so many people at shows who have 80,000-100,000 miles on those motors and have never done anything but change the oil and plugs. You can’t get that out of an American V-Twin. I’m a Harley rider—the Titan bike has an Evo motor in it. That’s the bike I ride.

CC: Mine is stock except for a cam in it and S&S. I want to be able to ride.
Don: That’s me. Everything I build is pretty much stock. Unless somebody wants a hot rod, I’ll send the motor out and let somebody else do it. I don’t do hot rods. I’m not into speed. I believe in dependability, and that’s getting there and getting back home safely.
I found Don to be very friendly and open. We at Cycle Connections wish him the best of luck. Don’t forget to check in next month for Don’s update on the Metric Revolution buildoffs.

Story and Interview by Loney and
Stephanie Wilcoxson

Photos submitted by Mark Wilburn