Motor Cycle USA March 12  2004

Custom Builder: Thunder Struck
By Lucas Burt

If one could pay his dues with patience, then Mark Daley of
Thunder Struck Custom Bikes would be debt-free. If being the new kid on the block means bringing nine years of experience and a lifetime of passion to the table, then Daley might as well have moved in to town yesterday. And even though the owner of Thunder Struck Custom Bikes is still feeling the electricity of his last success, he knows that lightning can and will strike the same place twice.

Daley, who started out working in an auto parts store and rebuilding hot rods in his spare time, is experiencing a level of success most people only dream of. But it wasn't handed to him on a silver platter. He had to put in hours of virtually unrecognized labor just to get his business off the ground.

"I worked everyday until 5 o'clock and then went home to my shop and worked until 2 or 3 in the morning trying to build a customer base," Daley explains. "I would then go back to work at 6 or 7 o'clock the next morning at the parts store. I did that seven days a week for two years. I almost killed myself (not literally)."



As the constant late nights turned into early next mornings, Daley decided he had paid his dues and finally quit his job of 15 years to open his now thriving custom bike shop in Medford, Ore. Of course this Southern California native didn't immediately jump into building complete custom choppers from scratch. He started off by beefing up Harley-Davidsons and adding chrome accents to make the bikes stand out. "I do a lot of maintenance to them that makes them run fast. I also bolt on goodies like pipes, air cleaners, carburetors, big-bore kits, bigger pistons, barrels, and anything else that gives them a little more grunt," describes Daley.

He uses this less exciting side of his business to supplement his true passion of actually designing and building custom choppers. "The Harley stuff is great and has made me a good living, but when I can stop changing oil and start beating on a piece of metal to make it look like something, that's when I get excited," says Daley. "I can work a 10-hour day from early in the morning until seven at night on the Harley stuff, walk over to a chopper and work on it for another four hours just because I'm stoked to work on it. It keeps me driven."

Thunder Struck's most recent display of passion, a bike called Rage, took the award for Best Radical Custom at the 2004 Easy Rider Bike Show in Portland, Ore. This labor of love also brought Daley face to face with two of his icons, Billy Lane of Choppers Inc. and Paul Yaffe, both of whom frequent the Discovery Channel's The Great Biker Build Off. Daley not only took home the trophy in his class, but also received congratulations from the two famed bike builders.

Rage definitely stands out in a crowd, featuring a 113-cubic-inch Patrick Racing engine, Typhoon carburetor, Baker 6-speed transmission, and a Daytech-Thunderstruck frame. Daley also made sure it would travel smoothly by adding an air-ride system. This allows riders to slam the bike down so it looks sleek when the bike is parked, then lift the frame off the ground with its on-board compressor and airbags when it's time to cruise. To finish off the masterpiece, Rage was painted silver with blue graphics by Dennis Epple of Grants Pass, Ore.

Thunder Struck's most current project is building a custom bike for former Portland Trailblazer Bill Smith, who just happens to be a little over 7-feet tall, testing Daley's talents at design and fabrication. It's no small feat to make a bike for a 7-footer.

"When he sat on my bike he dwarfed it because he's just so big, and my bike was built for me. So realized I would have to build him something longer. In fact it's seven inches longer than the average bike," Daley points out. "It also needed a big fat tire on the back so he would feel in proportion to his bike. We had to make everything bigger so he would feel comfortable on it."

Even though Daley envisions and builds choppers with names like Rage, Lethal, and Paranoid, he's still a man with a sense of community. For the past eight years Thunder Struck has put on a bike show in downtown Medford as a charity event for the Boys and Girls Club of Jackson County. This show features more than 100 bikes that range from metric cruisers, to street bikes, to custom choppers. Daley even added a category for quads at last year's event.

"I show off all of my stuff and anything that I've built for someone else. The average guys can also come in on their Harley that they've done a lot of work to and show their stuff off as well," explains Thunder Struck's man in charge. "Not everyone can afford these $60,000 bikes, so we want to have stuff that people can look at and relate to."

Like many other custom chopper builders, Daley is in the process of building a spec-series of motorcycles. By running a short production line, the cost of building each bike can be reduced, and Thunder Struck can pass those savings on to its customer.

"I'm just starting the process," Daley says, adding they will cost around 30 grand. "Most of my bikes tend to fall between 50 and 60 grand with all of the custom fabrication. I'm trying to build a bike that might not have all of the bells and whistles like molded seats and stuff like that, but it will still be a real bitchin' bike for around $29,900 to $32,900. Xtreme Cycle Design is building the two chassis for me right now and hopefully they will be done in three months. I already have people waiting to see them. That is going to open a whole new thing for me."

When the smoke finally clears, Daley will still be in his shop chroming out Harleys and dreaming up new designs for even more radical creations. And Thunder Struck Custom Bikes will continue building rolling masterpieces that Mother Nature herself would be in awe of.

Want to learn more about Thunder Struck Custom Bikes? Check out this quick Q&A.

MCUSA: Will you still be doing more traditional custom work on Harleys?
Mark Daley: Yeah, that will still be a big part of my business. The chopper and hot rod thing has just always been where my passion is. That's where I love to thrive.

MCUSA: The custom bikes look bitchin,' but what do you do to them to make them comfortable?
Mark Daley: It depends on the customer. If they specifically ask me to build them something that they are going to ride for thousands of miles then I will make the seat more cushy and comfortable. But really, choppers are made to look cool; they aren't made to be comfortable. You can get both out of them, but on average they're good for a couple-hundred-mile ride and then you'll want to get off them and give your legs a rest. Most people just want something that's fast and that looks bitchin' – something that looks like it could be seen in a magazine.

MCUSA: Is there anything you do that you would consider to be you niche or trademark?
Mark Daley:One of the signature things I do now is paint my handlebars and head lights, and sometimes I paint the fork legs down low. I'll paint them to the color of the bike. My seats also blend and melt into the bike. Other people do it to a point, but when the bikes up in the air and the air ride is up, there might be a gap under the seat. But when you lift mine up you don't see any gap at all. I like to bury everything I can in the frame, like wires and cables – anything I can hide so that it doesn't look like it operates I love doing. The sleeker, the smoother, the better. My bikes need to look like a fine piece of jewelry, like you took time to do every little detail. I like to make sure that no matter where anybody looks on the bike they can't pick it apart. Any angle – I don't care if it's from underneath, on top, from the left or right – I don't care where you look at it from, I just want to make sure it looks good, like a piece of art.

MCUSA: Where can we expect to see your art next?
Mark Daley: I got shot to be on The Speed Channel while I was in Reno, so I'm going to be on television in May or June of this year. I will also come out in Street Chopper magazine on that same bike (Rage) in a couple of months, too.

Motor Cycle USA March 12  2004