Danny Schneider post-FMX interview
I was introduced to Danny Schneider, by a mutual friend of ours, some time ago. Danny owns a custom bike shop called Hard Nine Choppers and is one of those few legit characters that you meet from time to time in the motorcycle industry. But not only does he build some of the most custom choppers around, he used to be a big time professional FMX rider -- the first-ever in Switzerland to be exact.
Checking out his Hard Nine website is reason enough to want to know more about this guy (some bad words in there though kids), so I decided to catch up with him after he informed me that he'd be coming to Vegas for a bike show later this month.
ESPN.com: So, let's get this straight; before anyone here had even heard of Mat Rebeaud, you were flying in the skies above Switzerland?
Schneider: Well, I was a motocrosser before ever riding FMX, and I was never as good as Mat is. He had been into Motocross and Supercross since he was really young. We were kind of dropping into motocross because of the Crusty movies and did racing for two years, but just like local races and stuff. Then we pretty much just jumped into the freestyle thing with all the baggy pants and s--t. We went to France and started actually riding freestyle motocross doing can cans and heelclickers and stuff like that. We were riding daily and about a half year later Mat Rebeaud showed up onto the scene and just kicked everybody's ass because he had a ramp and a landing at his place and it was the only one in Switzerland at the time. It sucked because he didn't let anyone else ride on that track! (laughs).
France was Manu Troux and Cyril Porte. They were in Crusty like a year before I got into freestyle motocross. We actually went to the first big European event for freestyle motocross -- the Freestyle.ch in Switzerland -- and [Mike] Cinqmars (rest in peace) and Faisst along with Cyril and Manu were there. Rebeaud was there as well, and I was riding along with two of my buddies. That was pretty much the start of freestyle motocross in Europe.
What year was that?
Oh, that's a pretty good question. It was like twelve years ago I think.
Do you remember, was it a wild scene back in those days? It's pretty sedate now and the guys all go to bed early, but it probably wasn't like that back then.
When Faisst and Cinqmars came to Switzerland, they showed up with Bubba, who was the big guy from the Crusty films. You know, we had seen the Crusty movies where they would get all crazy and just destroy everything, and I had been into snowboarding, skateboarding, and BMX scene from back in the day, so I kind of knew how it goes. But as far as parting and raging goes, we were never as bad as the Americans were ... ever.
That's so funny. So, why did your freestyle career end?
Well, I was always training in France because we didn't have many opportunities to ride here in Switzerland. Then one day while riding, my engine pretty much stopped as I was going up the ramp and I hit the ground really, really hard, breaking my ankle in eighteen places.
Yeah. The hospital in France wasn't that good, so they didn't fix it right during the initial surgery. After that I came back to Switzerland and they completely re-did the whole operation, but then I got a chronic bone infection, which I still have, so they couldn't really fix the foot and I couldn't really do rehab. So after six months I had a stiff foot and that was pretty much the end of the whole game for me.
So you still have the bone infection today?
Yeah. So from the age of 21, I haven't been able run and I can't jump ... it's pretty bad. But I have two eyes, two hands, and I'm healthy, so I don't have any regrets. I was always the type of guy who needed to move a lot every day and do a lot of sports, and then one day it just stopped. It kind of screws you up for the rest of your life. In the morning, when I get up, I kind of walk like Captain Hook because the foot is stiff until it gets warm and then it gets better. It hurts every day, especially winter, but you get used to it ... so I'm cool.
So the freestyle career obviously ended, but what made you think about designing and building choppers?
Well when I was riding freestyle, I was cutting down my front and back fenders way before the US guys actually started doing it. I also put Harley air cleaners on the (Honda) CR250's, well before Jesse James started building bikes for [Brian] Deegan. We were pretty much ahead of our time, but if you do s--t like that in Switzerland, nobody sees it. So the building kind of started from there and then Jesse James' Discovery Channel show came out and it really inspired me.
When riding motorcycles is in your blood, you want to keep riding because it is your passion, but if you go and buy a street bike you would kill yourself within two days. So that's why I thought about getting something to cruise and to chill, but I didn't want to ride like a stock whatever -- even if it's a Triumph or a Harley. I just wanted to do something by myself and that's why I bought a bike and rented a little place where I could work. I bought the proper tools and from this point on I just started to build everything up step by step.
Where do you actually get the inspiration to come up with the creations? What feeds it into your brain?
Actually, I never read bike mags because as soon as you start reading bike mags you get inspired even if you don't want to and you'll start to copy everyone elses designs. For the last bike I built -- the BMX-influenced bike -- I was inspired because I was cleaning out my room and found a picture of me sitting on a Redline vintage BMX bike. I felt like I could, you know, make a 60 or 70-year-old Harley like a BMX bike and bring it back to the streets -- do wheelies on it, do like wall rides -- little ones, of course -- and so that was kind of the inspiration for that bike.
How long does it actually take to build the bikes from that concept to when you get the project complete?
That's a pretty good question because I never really have an entire concept in my head when I start a bike and I can't draw up a concept either. I can't draw out the whole bike. I start building with an idea in my head and keep adding to it every day. I go back to bed, think about a bike, can't sleep and then something will pop up in my head -- like how I want to do a gas tank or how I want to do an air cleaner, so I run to the garage and just do it because I have a specific piece in my head. If I didn't work that way I would just forget about it by the next morning. So to answer your question, there is no specific length of time it takes to build a bike -- it varies from bike to bike.
So you will just get up and randomly build bikes in the middle of the night?
Exactly, yeah and that's pretty annoying for my girlfriend and the people I live with, but it's the only way I can do it. Otherwise I wouldn't be able to do what I do, you know?
What do the people in your town in Switzerland actually think of the stuff you do? Like when you come rolling out on some crazy creation.
Actually, they didn't really realize it until recently. In Switzerland, everybody stays home at night and eats chocolate and cheese (laughs). They're not really into this stuff -- they're all riding stock Harleys. Swiss people buy a lot of bikes and ride a lot of Harleys, but they never really noticed me at all. I didn't go to big shows. I would rather go ride with my boys. But when Swiss people see a bike of mine -- one of my creations -- they love it, but they would never buy it because it's a little too crazy for them in that little country.
But you finally escaped and had a little fun in Sturgis this summer, right?
Yeah, that was crazy. I thought it would be a little bit different because it's the US, but it's the same thing like in Switzerland. I mean it's amazing to see thousands of bikes -- that's impressive -- but the people are still the same, so I have to focus more on the Cali side where young, cool people live because even the Sturgis people would never buy a bike from me.
How did you actually do in the World Championships competition?
I did pretty good. There was a time I really thought, "I could win this," but it is judged by the builders. So if certain builders don't like you, you don't do well. It's kind of politics going on there. But my bike won at the JMP competition, and was chosen from 250 other bikes -- that was even a better than finishing third place in the World Championships.
What's up next on the bike competition scene for you?
The next one is Vegas -- it's called Artistry in Iron and it's at the Vegas Bike Fest. That's definitely the next one I'll do and then I have to go back to the garage and start to build new bikes because I haven't built anything for like the past three months. That's actually a big part of it. You have to come home go to the garage and stay there for like ten hours a day, and just get something done. I enjoy that more than just running around the world and going to big shows, you know?
Do you have any crazy inspirations for the next bike?
I've got a vintage Triumph flat tracker, which I bought out of a museum in Chicago and I'm going to try and rebuild it as it was back in 1958, because it was a bike that was really used in the flat track World Cup. I finished the engine in a week or two and I just worked on it all day today. That's the last piece to do and then I'm done. After that I'm going to do a 1948 BSA, which I can buy really cheap from a friend of mine. This one is going to be a completely custom project from the ground up. Everything is in pieces so I'll do the framework on that one, and pretty much everything else. That will probably be the biggest project I've ever had.
You should do a Swiss-themed bike like a Swiss Army Bike -- like a bike version of the famous Swiss knife.
[laughs] I hate Orange County Choppers! The freakin' themed bikes -- they just piss me off. And now everyone keeps telling me, "Oh, you made a theme bike out of a BMX bike," but it's not. It's not a theme bike. I'm not the typical Swiss guy, not really into all that Swiss Army thing and the cheese and the chocolate. Technical-wise, the knife in the bike would probably be a cool idea, for sure.
So the tough thing for you is getting recognition outside of Switzerland, because at the end of the day this is a business, right?
Definitely. I mean I work two jobs -- I work at my Dad's place, he owns a paint shop and I work pretty much at night and at weekends in my own shop. It's kind of starting to pick up a bit. I started last December with the Mooneyes show in Japan, which I was the first European to be invited there. Then every magazine just started featuring the BMX bike, so from that point on it was getting a little bit out there in the world, but it's still not as recognized as it could be. It takes a lot of time and when you hit it big one year it doesn't mean that you're famous or sell a lot of bikes. It takes so much more. That's good though, it keeps you focused, keeps you working hard and makes you better at your craft.
So the idea is to get your name out there and build it up for the future, right?
I'm not really planning to stay in Switzerland forever. My kind of dream is to move to the States, but that will take like $60,000 to get set up right. You need a garage, you need a truck, you need a car, you need a place to live, you need the tools, you need the welders ... you need everything. You can't just move with five grand in your pocket. That's just not going to happen, you know?
Well, it definitely sounds like you've started to make some good moves, so I guess I should say "good luck" in Vegas.
Thanks. That show will feature the 20 biggest names in the US and for me it'll just good to be there and an experience it for myself. Who knows what will happen though, we will see. Maybe it's better not to win because you just get lazy at the top. I think it's even better to be fourth or fifth because it forces you to keep working even harder for next year.
Note: The DMX bike that took 3rd at the World Championships is currently doing the rounds on tour with the Rockwell Watches rig and can next be seen at the Dew Tour in Salt Lake City.