We visit Classified Moto in Virginia to hang out with John Ryland and see what he's been building.
In an unglamorous, industrial part of Richmond, Virginia, rumbles a unique and artistic custom bike shop which transforms old salvaged parts into new beautiful machines. At the end of a gritty street scattered with abandoned buildings and empty lots is a long, worn-brick building, built in the late 1800’s to house carriage horses. No sign, but this is where Classified Moto calls home.
Inside the dark stable, the hum of industrial fans shook the ground. High square windows leaked light on thick wooden beams, and raw metal gas tanks. An assortment of bikes in various stages of completion stood in old stalls scarred from horses kicking.
A middle-aged man with shaggy grey hair and a kind smile emerges and greets me with a firm shake.
This is John Ryland, the founder and creator of Classified Moto, and this is his new shop. After years of being crammed in his home garage, Ryland moved into the workshop less than a year ago and is already running out of space.
Growing up in Williamsburg, he said, his father was never mechanically inclined, so neither was he. It wasn’t until he moved to the Virgin Islands in the early 90’s and bought a 1976 BMW in 2002 that he picked up a wrench. Finding a mechanic to work on an old car was tough, so he enlisted a friend to teach him everything sparking his endeavor into building machines.
Ryland humbly admits he has only been riding motorcycles for five or six years. Unable to find a motorcycle on the market that intrigued him, he salvaged some old bikes and recycled the parts to build his own. “I hadn’t really seen that many bikes that excited me, so I wanted something other than what a 65-year-old guy wants,” Ryland said. From his garage, while working a full-time job in advertising, he built something that was not only rideable and street worthy, but a strikingly handsome moto.
In 2010, Ryland built his first Classified bike. It was a 1980 Yamaha XS850 shaft drive with a rusted race stripe on the tank. He chuckled shaking his head, remembering it was later taken apart for customer bikes.
Ryland's machines, regardless of their scrambled pieces and customized differences, are all Classified bikes. They have clean and simple lines, sporting nickel plated tanks and custom tailored seating for a classy vintage look. Each Classified bike is fitted with a signature set of gold inverted forks renewing the old with a distinct and modernized presence.
Old bikes with new forks, Vance and Hines pipes, sticky tires, and contemporary rear suspension outline the Classified Moto standard.
Custom bikes are not the only thing Classified Moto creates with Ryland’s excessive collection of salvaged bike parts. Some bits and pieces are welded together to make artistic household items such as café tables, lamps, and ashtrays. The most popular design, which has sold more than 900 to date, are his lamps, fashioned out of recycled shocks and rotors.
Like a true artist, Ryland says he enjoys designing the most. Creating ideas, taking old parts and putting them together to build something useful and beautiful is his passion; whether it’s a motorcycle or a lamp.
But it’s more than just art for Ryland. This is his living.
“I’m happy to admit that if Target wanted to take my logo and sell it in their stores, I’d do it in a heartbeat,” he said. “That gives me time to focus on all the fun stuff…"
It wasn’t until Ryland got laid off from his advertising job that Classified Moto became his full-time gig and sole source of income.
“I’m totally glad they did it,” says Ryland. “It was nice back then because I also had a job, but then this became my living which changed everything.”
Uneasy with his new career he reached out to Matthew Crawford, author of “Shop Class as Soul Craft.” It was impeccable lucky timing for Ryland. Crawford was about to be interviewed by CNN on the subject of pursuing a personal career focused on individual passion. Instead of doing the interview himself, he pointed CNN directly to Ryland.
“Right after that we got a lot of interest. A lot of people knew me as the guy who got laid off and started a motorcycle shop. But now it has moved beyond that,” Ryland said. “We try to be in the right place at the right time, but then so much is just accidental...”
Photo courtesy of Cafe Racer TV.
Success has continued to grow with Classified’s signature bikes. Ryland recently completed a custom Honda XL600R for actress Katee Sackhoff which was documented on Velocity Channel’s Café Racer series. The sequence illustrated the transformation of the original 1980’s enduro into a modern sport bike. Demand for similar bikes got so intense that Classified took orders for six customer bikes built to emulate Sackoff’s.
Despite Classified’s success, the bikes, like any art, have their critics.
Ryland says, “The more people see them the more scrutiny you get and the more I have to neutralize comments like, ‘You nuked the performance.’ 'Modern day forks vs. 30 year old forks' I think is a good thing."
Ryland agrees performance is important, but his passion lies most is the design and creation of something unique he can call his own.
“I like the idea that it’s not a cafe racer, it’s not a scrambler, it’s just Classified.”
Photos by Anna Neumeister, Classified Moto and Velocity Channel.