November 1, 2017
A man went looking for America and couldn’t find it anywhere.”
That was the tagline that advertised Easy Rider, the 1969 cult classic biker movie.
Since then, thousands have surrendered to their wanderlust to ride the nation’s ribbons of highways on two wheels, in search of their own America.
Champion custom-motorcycle builder Steve Dietzman of Studio Cycles stands ready to outfit them with his rad rides.
Steve Dietzman, a modest 25-year-old, rose to national prominence this year with his custom-built 1968 Triumph Bonneville Chopper. He won the Retro Modified Class category of 2017 International Motor Show (IMS). Dietzman believes his attention to detail and his passion to go above and beyond helped him win the competition.
“I went to [the IMS] for about three years as a spectator, so that motivated me to finish up my bike and enter it in the show,” he said.
Milwaukee’s Royal Enfield (retail store of British motorcycle manufacturer) sponsored the retro Modified Class category. Dietzman won a trophy, a Royal Enfield motorcycle, and a cash prize.
The Compass caught up with Dietzman on a sunny September afternoon as he worked in a workshop near in the Tippecanoe neighborhood. Motorcycles in various stages of completion were staged throughout the shop.
Most of Dietzman’s motorcycles are projects for his friends. He pointed to a Harley-Davidson Panhead, stripped down to the frame, wheels, and fuel tank. “This is my buddy’s Panhead. He got married and started a family at 23, so that’s what happens,” Dietzman said, pointing to the bike’s shell, indicating his friend’s progress on the rebuild has been slowed.
Another friend dropped off a Honda for a full custom build.
On display was one of Dietzman’s most recent accomplishments, a sleek blue and chrome 1979 Harley-Davidson Shovelhead Chopper. The bike was featured in a motorcycles-as-art exhibit curated by Michael Lichter at the 2017 Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. The iconic rally began in 1938 and is held annually in the first week of August in Sturgis, S.D.
Dietzman performed the fine-tuning, welding, and mechanical aspects of the build. The paintwork is outsourced to his buddy, artist Rome Urbaniak. “Some people think it’s my best work yet,” he said, referring to the Shovelhead, “but I don’t think so. I always strive to go above and beyond, always pushing, pushing one step further. I hope my best work is yet to come!” he said.
Dietzman owns five motorcycles, three in driving form. His Triumph Bonneville is his favorite.
Dietzman started riding motorcycles when he was 16. His first bike was a 1969 Honda 350. “My friend and me used to rent a single-stall garage not far from here during high school and we hid our motorcycles from our parents,” he said. “We called it ‘the studio’ because it was tiny. The name carried over to Studio Cycles.”
Dietzman’s parents found out about his motorcycle after one of their friends saw him cruising around Bay View. “After I caught wind of this, I decided to drive my bike home one day. Their response to me having a motorcycle was well received! I believe they knew (about my bike) longer than I thought they did,” he said.
Dietzman is a 2011 graduate of St. Francis High School. The school has a woodshop, but hasn’t had an auto or metal shop for some time, Dietzman said. So during his junior year, he participated in a school-to-work program and studied welding at Milwaukee Area Technical College’s downtown campus.
“I realized I didn’t want to do welding as a career,” he said. However, he immediately connected with the fabrication aspect of welding that he could use it for work on motorcycle frames and parts.
When he sought a deeper understanding of engine mechanics, he took a small engines class at MATC, along with auto tech training.
He built his first motorcycle when he was 18, a 1977 Harley-Davidson Ironhead Sportster. “It was totally stock and (I) made it into a bobber. I changed the frame and everything on it,” he said.
Bobbing a bike involves stripping extraneous bodywork from a motorcycle, including removing the front fender and shortening the rear fender.
Dietzman finds motorcycles primarily via Craigslist.
For his commission projects, clients usually have a general idea of what they want and Dietzman fine-tunes it for them. He gets ideas from social media. He studies photos and considers how to make good ideas even better.
Despite holding a full-time sales position at Fastenal, an industrial supplier, along with his own business, Dietzman still finds time to mentor bike builders of the future through BUILD, a nonprofit educational organization that pairs teams of high school students with bike-builder mentors. The St. Francis High School program started in 2011, during Dietzman’s senior year. He and four other students participated in the program’s inaugural year.
“School was a little boring for me, but to go work on those motorcycles after school was awesome,” he said. “I remember skipping work to go work on motorcycles. That gave me the kick start to want to work on bikes.”
Dietzman serves as a mentor in the St. Francis High School program.
He helps students gain valuable life and interpersonal skills while restoring vintage motorcycles. They start out with a motorcycle chassis that is in rundown condition and turn it into a full race bike. They learn a wide range of skills, including motorcycle design, welding, fabricating, painting, and even fundraising. At the end of the build, the bikes are raced at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wis.
Other high schools that offer BUILD include Bradley Tech, Pulaski, New Berlin, South Milwaukee, Shorewood, and Muskego.
Still in his 20s, the sky, or the open highway, is the limit for Dietzman. While he loves making custom bikes and might expand into a larger workspace with a storefront, he’s keeping his full-time job and will see where the road takes him.
Sheila Julson is a freelance writer and regular contributor to the Bay View Compass.
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