From the time he was eight years old, Venice resident Gard Hollinger has lived and breathed motorcycles.
It all started for Hollinger — today a professional custom motorcycle builder — 40 years ago with a neighborhood kid who had a minibike.
Hollinger would watch the kid, intrigued, as he went up and down the cul-de-sac doing “wheelies” — a stunt in which the front wheel of a bike or motorcycle is raised so that the vehicle is balanced on its rear wheel.
“I’d sit there watching him, enthralled by this little minibike,” Hollinger said. “My mom and stepdad, all they heard was ‘minibike, minibike, minibike.’ I fell in love with motorcycles.”
With that, his parents got him a purple Taco minibike — and the rest is history.
“I was one of those kids that was obsessed with it,” Hollinger said. “In the back of math class when I was supposed to be understanding algebra, I was drawing pictures of motorcycles.”
After 25 years in the motorcycle business, Hollinger has certainly made a name for himself, building and customizing bikes for a long list of celebrities, including Arnold Schwarzenegger, George Clooney, Bob Dylan, Laurence Fishburne and Dennis Hopper.
Today, if you can’t find him at his Venice home hanging out with his wife and dogs, he’s surely at his bike shop, L.A. County Choprods, in Gardena, which he calls his personal workspace, where he “can hide out and be uninterrupted.”
For the second year in a row, Hollinger has been invited to “Artistry In Iron Master Builder’s Championship,” an invitation-only competition that features 20 of the world’s top bike builders.
The championship will take place at the Las Vegas Bike Fest, a motorcycle rally that brings over 40,000 bikers from around the nation, Thursday, September 27th.
Hollinger’s bike will be on display Friday and Saturday, September 28th and 29th, for all to see — and he’ll be around to talk and sign autographs.
“He’s a good guy,” says Pam Schwartz, promoter for the Las Vegas Bike Fest. “He’s an excellent, very creative person, which is one of the reasons why he was selected to participate in Artistry in Iron.”
Hollinger said he feels honored that promoters have asked him back to the event for the second year in a row.
“They must appreciate what I do,” Hollinger says. “It’s not only a very prestigious event, but it’s fun because it’s in Vegas. It’s sort of low pressure. What’s cool about it is that all the judging is done by your peers. There aren’t that many contests like that.”
Hollinger, who raced motorcycles professionally for a few years, will showcase a bike that he has built from scratch and has literally spent thousands of hours perfecting.
While Hollinger builds all kinds of motorcycles, some of his bikes have a recognizable style that he calls “retro-modernistic,” where he “modernizes” a bike from a certain era, say the 1960s.
But for Hollinger, this event isn’t about winning.
“I don’t build things to try to win contests,” he said. “I just bring something as an opportunity to expose my art.”
Hollinger was selected from a running list of about 300 motorcycle builders around the world, said Schwartz.
“Each time we see someone, perhaps in a magazine, maybe on TV, maybe they’re winning other bike shows — we basically just keep an eye on them and watch their work,” says Schwartz. “We just watch the industry for builders that are doing new and creative things and that’s how Gard was originally selected.”
The winner of Artistry in Iron will get a $20,000 prize and will be featured in Hot Bike Magazine, which wouldn’t be new for Hollinger.
He has been featured in many motorcycle magazines, on TV shows including ESPN’s Chopper Nation and Speed TV’s Build or Bust, and in an American Express commercial, among other things.
“It has been interesting to experience some degree of notoriety, and fortunately I’m not a young guy,” Hollinger says. “I think I’m fairly grounded and I don’t take it too seriously. I think it’s flattering and kind of fun.”
Fun it is for Hollinger, who doesn’t plan on leaving the motorcycle business anytime soon.
“Life is short and you only have so much time,” Hollinger says. “You’ve got to do what it is you’re moved to do.”