Dustin Kott – Motorcycle engineer shares his passion for the ride, the build and the fight to remain authentic

by | Sep 26, 2016 | Cover Story

When Dustin Kott looks at a motorcycle, he sees past the sum of it parts to the history, the life, welded into it bones.  He sees an opportunity for self-expression, a vehicle for freedom.  For a man who finds identity on the seat of a bike, a motorcycle is a chance to not only tell a story – but build one with his own two greasy hands.
Seated in front of a bike in his shop, Dustin methodically put the finishing touches on a build as the bluegrass sounds of Chris Stapleton kept time.  He grabbed a cloth rag from the back pocket of his faded Levi’s and wiped down the body of the bike.  Wrenches and screws lay strewn on weathered tool benches around him, and a bike hung on chains from the ceiling.  In front of him, a framed poster of James Dean quoted the actor’s propensity for living in the present moment, as subtle remnants of the past smattered the other walls and surfaces of the shop.  A ragtag batch of forgotten, discarded bikes stood in a line in front of the open garage door.  Reflecting the sharp summer sun, even the bikes seemed to lament in the heat.
He never thought he’d be here, but now that he was, there were few reasons in the world worth losing that dusty old shop.  Dustin had found his purpose – and the world agreed.
“None of this is intentional,” he says, breaking a long pause in his narrative as if struck by the most important point:  His business, Kott Motorcycles in Newhall, came about by pure accident.  “I really have nothing to do with this success other than the willingness to put my boots on every day.”
Dustin got his first dirt bike when he was 12 years old, and he took it to the highway just as soon as he could get away with it.
“For me, that motor just made the world feel like a big place,” he recalled.  “It instilled in me a passion, an idealism, for the freedom of the ride.”
Nothing compared, however, to the first time he rode a bike he built himself.
“Every motorcyclist has like six different leather jackets because not one of them has it all,” Dustin explained.  “When I built my first bike, it felt like I finally found that perfect leather jacket – like it was exactly what I was trying to say.”
Despite his innate, undeniable passion, Dustin took his sweet time coming to the realization that this was his life’s calling.
“I’ve worked every job you could possibly think of: truck driver, lifeguard, bartender, construction worker,” he said, the intensity rising in his voice.  “But with this, I know exactly what to do from start to finish.  I know what I’m saying, what I’m doing and why it’s going to work.  It satisfies every part of my male psyche: the heavy lifting, the hard work, the danger – the expressiveness.  When I’m done with it, it’s going to have a heartbeat, a believable story.  It’s functioning art.”
For Dustin, the motorcycle is an extension of his identity, a way to express what he values without using words.  His bikes are tenderly handcrafted, steeped in history and built from a pile of parts and scraps that would have meant nothing without the mind and passion of an engineer.  And when it finally comes time for that first ride, his bikes take that story out on the open road.
“Fonzie wouldn’t have been Fonzie without his motorcycle,” Dustin recalled of the Happy Days character.  “Think of all those infamous shots of James Dean on his Triumph.  It’s an extension of identity.  It represents the adventure in between.”
When urgings from family and friends finally got the better of him, Dustin began building bikes.  A simple hobby slowly evolved into something more, and by the time Dustin looked up to notice, the world had, too.  Bike blogs, forums and social media started buzzing with excitement over the mysterious Kott Motorcycle.  The calls started coming in, and a few close friends challenged Dustin: “Let’s make something with this.”
From live action video to website to marketing and promotion, friends helped Dustin move from hobbyist to businessman, a cap he is still extremely uncomfortable wearing.  Overnight, his first promotional video attracted more than 250,000 views, and the phones got busier.  Demand led to work, and Kott Motorcycles was officially launched in 2009.  Today, Dustin can barely keep up with the interest individuals and the industry express in his work.
“It finally became a way to carve out a living for myself,” he said.
Dustin had unintentionally discovered a market that was looking for originality, authenticity and that seductive feeling of eras past.  Half restoration, half creation, Kott Motorcycles are sourced from the ever-popular vintage 70s Café Racer.  Because those bikes are no longer factory supported, Dustin makes a lot of the parts from hand, using other discarded parts or reshaped scrap metal, custom fitted to match the bike.
“No two are alike,” he said.
Once an order comes in, Dustin begins by surveying the bike, finding inspiration and sketching a design.  When he’s satisfied, he starts the build – frame first, motor last.  Providing the bike with more than a makeover, he improves the functionality of the bike and fits it to the rider, adjusting for height and weight.  Each bike takes about six months on average to build, and Dustin turns out about 10 to 12 bikes per year.  The hours are demanding; the labor is a grind.
“I still learn and challenge myself,” he said.  “There are times I fail at my designs, and it’s disheartening because they fit perfectly in the scrap pile.  But it’s always been trial and error – I can get all Howard Hughes in here after a while.”
But to Dustin every bit of work, sweat and frustration is worth it if it means protecting the integrity of his brand.  It’s a fear he has to consider as his business threatens to grow past him.
“I refuse to grow in such a way that I lose control of it,” he said.  “I’d rather hit a ceiling and limit my profit margin than follow the traditional business model and compromise.  When I decided to do this for real, I was very cognitive of the fact that I was trying to develop longevity and not a fortune.”
Dustin paused to rub his grease-stained knuckles.  Surrounded by weathered machinery, scraps of metal and creative opportunity, Dustin was in his element.  He needed nothing more than an old AC unit and vintage Honda CB.
“If I had to throw a match in this thing and burn it all down tomorrow, it would still be a success to me because it happened.”
For more information, please visit www.kottmotorcycles.com.

photos by Renee Bowen
hair & makeup by Jami Cox

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