Bob Owens is one of the best kept secrets in Genesee County for Harley Davidson history, motorcycle repair skills, selection of parts, Champion Trike Kit upgrades, and the rebuilding of bikes from the ground up. There are only a couple of things which Owens does not do in his shop, and that is chrome and paint. Owens enthusiasm for his business is evident, not only in what he says, but in how he says it. His passion for his work is evident as he explains how loyal his clients are and how some of them have been with him for over 25 years.
“We try to use local or [American-made] parts when available, but sometimes they just don’t exist,” Owens explains. At any given time, Owens Bootleg Cycle has about 10-30 bikes in waiting to be fixed by his staff of three: Paul, Vickie and Owens, himself. His love for motorcycles began when he was quite young, watching his father, Bill Owens, who raced Harley Davidson sprint bikes. Here he is pictured at age two and a half on top of his father’s Zundapp Motorcycle. Then later, when he was nine, Owens followed in his father’s footsteps and started racing his own bikes in competitions.
After graduation from high school, Owens worked for Mobil, delivering supplies to local area gas stations. Later, he hired into Buick where worked for 12 years on the assembly line. When he was laid off from that job, Owens wasn’t sure what he was going to do, but eventually, through some racing connections of his father’s, he applied for and got a job with Dennis Atherton at ABC Harley Davidson in Waterford. “That’s when I realized what I really wanted to do. I couldn’t believe I could actually get paid for doing something I loved!” Owens exclaims. “I was able to ride and fix motorcycles all day long for seven years, and life was good.”
In 1993, Owens moved back to Burton, returning to work on the assembly line at Buick, but this time, he only lasted eight months because he was miserable. He missed working on bikes. So Owens called his old boss, Dennis Atherton, who referred him to Bert Cummings at Cummings Harley, and he was able to get back into the industry he loved so much. This is where Owens really honed in on his skills and learned even more about customer service and the bike repair business.
Then on January 5, 2005, right in the middle of the worst economy Flint has seen in years, Owens Bootleg Cycle was born. “People thought I was crazy, but I knew it had to be done,” he says. Owens operated out of a warehouse, which he rented for several years -- until the building next door became available - which he then purchased in 2009. Right after he moved into his new building, he retired from racing his bike after 38 years. However, he still enjoys going to the races each year. At one particular Grand National Flat Track race in 2009, Owens invited a photographer who was there on behalf of a Japanese racing magazine to come over to see his place, and the man was so impressed, he published an article about Bob Owens and Owens Bootleg Cycle later that same year. Today Bob Owens is known for his uncanny skills in detecting what is wrong with his clients’ motorcycles. Even after clients move away, they still ship their bikes in a crate to Bob Owens when their motorcycles need repairs. He has many clients in Las Vegas, Florida and even Canada, to name a few. Many of the bikes his clients own have only had Bob Owens work on them. Owens Bootleg Cycle is also a sponsor of Bikes on the Bricks, which is held every year in September in Downtown Flint.
Owens also specializes in converting existing motorcycles into Trikes for his clients. One client, in particular, was suffering from mobility issues and thought they signaled the end of his riding career. His doctors had told him that pretty soon he would not be able to ride at all. He was having trouble shifting gears with his leg, and his balance was not good, so it was not safe for him to be on the bike. “As [this client] was telling me the story about how sad he was to give up what he loved [so much], it got me thinking about what I could do to modify his bike. You see, these Trike Kits are pretty cool; they allow people to keep riding longer because [the riders] don’t have to balance on two wheels anymore. Plus, I knew I could add an electronic shifter so [the man] could change gears with his hand on the handlebar instead of with his leg,” Owens explains. As anyone can imagine, this was the answer to a prayer for his client, and word about the Trike Kits traveled fast.
Today Owens Bootleg Cycle is the local distributor for Champion Trike Kits.
OWENS BOOTLEG CYCLE | 1055 S BALLENGER HWY | FLINT, MI 48532 | MONDAY - FRIDAY 10 AM – 6 PM