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The History of Lowbrow Customs: When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro

By Tyler Malinky

Back in the early 2000’s I was riding my 1970 Triumph, my first motorcycle, and learning to work on it. I rebuilt the top end of the engine, and later rebuilt the entire engine and customized the bike. Through all of this I was trying to find parts and information on vintage motorcycles and choppers with limited success. I often would finally order parts and not be happy with what I received, if it ever showed up. I decided that I could do a better job of it and registered the lowbrowcustoms.com domain name and drew the logo. Fast forward a year later and I still hadn’t actually done anything with it, but in 2004 I started off by making a simple website which I coded page-by-page in HTML, with Paypal ‘add to cart’ buttons.

This is the Lowbrow Customs website back in 2005. Way back then this website was considered quite good!

At the time I was a self-employed sign maker, doing graphic design for customers, simple web design, screen printing and lettering work vans, shop windows, making banners and anything else with lettering on it. I used my sign-making equipment and skills to make various motorcycle and counter-culture stickers and a few t-shirts, in addition to finding some of the various chopper underground magazines, like DiCE Magazine. I started carrying DiCE Magazine around issue #3, and early Lowbrow ads can be seen starting around issue #5 or so. This all happened out of a spare bedroom of a duplex in Parma, Ohio. It then expanded to also take up part of my basement. Back in the early and mid-2000’s there weren’t many motorcycle shows to speak of. Not of the vintage chopper variety at least, and not around northeast Ohio. I would load up my 1965 Econoline van (that I had painted flat black with a roller and a gallon of Rustoleum) with a small folding table, a Lowbrow banner and my wares and would head out to small hot rod shows around the Midwest.

My brother Kyle helping work on my 1970 Triumph in the basement of my house in Parma, circa 2002. Kyle started working for Lowbrow in 2009 and is now President of the company.

The first 5 years of Lowbrow I was the only employee and worked evenings and weekends on top of my normal full-time job as a sign maker. Things changed when Kyle, my brother and current President at Lowbrow Customs, moved back from the west coast. I told him I was having success with Lowbrow on a small scale but I really wanted to make a go of it and try and do it full time. I couldn’t pay him much but asked him to commit for a year to see what would happen. His skills balance mine out well and together we are a good team. Since about 2007 Lowbrow had been operating out of the large garage out back of my house in Hinckley, Ohio. It was a converted garage that we dry walled and finished off with heat in each bay. 

Here I am hard at work in the Lowbrow Customs office, circa 2009.
Ye olde Lowbrow garage behind my house, home to Lowbrow Customs 2007-2012.
Kyle packing some orders up to ship out. Through the door is the small bike workshop, and beyond that the office.

We started expanding the parts end of the business, going to more shows, working on our own bikes and starting to work on our first land speed racing bikes with the intent of making it out to Bonneville on vintage Triumphs. Our combined focus helped grow Lowbrow as more and more people started to hear of us via word-of-mouth and ads in mostly underground motorcycle culture magazines and online forums.

DiCE Magazine, Biltwell helmets, Lowbrow shirts and various other items on the shelves back in the late 2000's
Lots of orders being loaded up into Kyle's wagon for the ride down to the local post office.
Welding up a DIY Fender Strut Kit on Poison Ivy back in the day.

I did the El Diablo Run with my friend Greg back in 2008 (me on a rigid ’74 Honda CB750 chopper, and Greg on his wild Yamaha XS650 chopper) and became friends with the guys at Biltwell. Lowbrow already carried Biltwell helmets and the few parts they had at the time, and as we continued to advertise and sell their products we became one of their US distributors. Kyle and I would package orders as they came in and load them in our personal vehicles and drive down the road to the post office to drop them off each day.

The bike workshop. The Triumph on the lift ends up becoming Poison Ivy, my first record-holding Bonneville land speed race bike.
Checking out the riding position on Poison Ivy on the driveway outside the garage. This seems like a lifetime ago.
Poison Ivy at Bonneville Speed Week in 2010. Qualified for a land speed record that year but I bent an exhaust valve on the return run. I went back in 2011 and set 2 records. Photo: Michael Van Parys
Kyle's Triumph race bike at Bonneville Speed Week 2010. He assembled this bike in the Lowbrow office, behind my chair. No records in 2010, however he broke two in 2011. Photo: Jon Glover
My 1959 Panhead chopper in progress around 2011. I finished it that year.
My 1959 Harley-Davidson Panhead chopper outside of Lowbrow Customs HQ in 2017.

We started throwing some events, the first one was there in my backyard in 2008 and was called The Lowbrow Beer Brawl. About fifty people came out for it and we had a great time, with a huge bonfire in the yard, Uncle Scratch’s Gospel Revival playing in the garage, bikes and hot rods all over the place. We also started The Lowbrow Getdown in July 2010, creating a killer annual campout at Nelson’s Ledges Quarry, which is still going strong today. During this time we hired Katy, who is now our VP of Operations. Towards the end of operating out of the garage we even had a bathroom built in! When it got to the point that we were considering putting shelving in the bathroom we realized we needed more space. We also started to get customers showing up from other countries out of the blue.  Apparently they thought we were a larger company and they were not expecting the address to take them to a building behind some small house out in the country, next to an apple orchard. In one day we had customers showing up from both Spain and Japan. This was another sign that we needed to move to more official headquarters, instead of operating a business illegally out of a home garage!

Hot rods at the first-ever Lowbrow party, the Lowbrow Backyard Beer Brawl, which was held in my back yard in 2008.
A couple cool Triumphs in attendance, ready to party.
Uncle Scratch's Gospel Revival put on a crowd-pleasing show.
In addition to burning a giant wood robot full of fireworks we also burned a piano.

Once realizing we needed more room I started looking for a bigger building to lease or to buy. We looked at different places for lease which were essentially big boxes with a roll up door at the end, none very appealing. We ended up finding an 11,000 sq ft warehouse for sale on 22 acres of industrial land in Medina, Ohio for cheap. The owner had bought it at an auction 6 months prior and was flipping it having done no improvements or work on it. The warehouse used to be a truck service building for a large local construction company that had gone bankrupt, and had sat empty the last few years. I got a great deal on it and even got a bank to give me a loan, which was a big move for our small but growing company. We cleaned the warehouse and cleaned up the lot around it and moved everything in over the course of a weekend.

It's a beaut, Clark. Lowbrow Customs' home in Medina, Ohio. Everyone loved that tenth mile long, loose gravel driveway. More than one rider ran out of talent on our driveway and ate it!
The warehouse sat on 22 acres of industrial land, which was old farm land. Little Red, aka 'the donkey trailer', has been a faithful motorcycle hauler for many years.
Double Vision, my dual-engine 1955 Triumph land speed motorcycle which went on to break three land speed records at Bonneville Speed Week. This is the first time the bike had been off the lift. After Lowbrow moved to the warehouse the garage became my bike workshop.

When we moved into the new building is when I hired my long time motorcycle friend, Todd Muller, who is our Head Motorcycle Tech here at Lowbrow and whom many of you know from appearances in Lowbrow how-to technical and part install videos. Back then I thought we had so much room and we would skateboard around the warehouse and enjoy our giant R&D and motorcycle work area, complete with four lifts and all the necessary tools and equipment. Everyone had a bike or two there to work on, and sometimes at lunch time we would go ride dirt bikes around the property, as it was lightly wooded and hilly, with no neighbors anywhere nearby. That location worked well for us, lots of room and no one could find us, which we liked because we didn’t have customer pick-up or a showroom. We shipped all our orders out and worked on designing new products and finding cool motorcycle parts and accessories all around the world and stocking them on the shelves there at our shop.

The main bay stocked full of parts, helmets and motorcycle goodness.
The 'middle bay' which started as an R&D and bike work area, but slowly got overtaken by shelving.
The screen printing operation long ago, before the automatic press was moved in and installed!
Katy on her dirt bike for a lunch time or after work ride on the property.

A few years later and our company had grown, having added more Lowbrow team members to help respond to questions, ship orders, handle graphic design, and all the other tasks at hand. It was time to look at moving again as we were running out of space at the warehouse. The big R&D area had been pared down to only a single motorcycle lift long ago, as the room was needed for shelving for motorcycle parts, helmets, and riding gear. I was on the search and we ended up at our current spot in Brunswick just twenty minutes south of Cleveland, Ohio. We own this building, and having built it out to suit us I don’t expect to ever move again, we have found our home.

Lowbrow Customs headquarters getting dialed in before we settled in, February 2016.
Added a second floor above the existing showroom / breakroom.

We are right near the highway, have a huge parking lot where we host our free Lowbrow Swap & Meets, a killer showroom for customers to check out parts and pick up orders, and more room than necessary (currently) for all the parts, helmets and gear that we stock here at Lowbrow. Our warehouse used to be owned by a bingo company and was used to store pallets of paper bingo cards. Now it is home to the entire Lowbrow team, working on new parts for your bikes, shipping out orders, planning events (such as Fuel Cleveland) and producing tech articles and videos. I love this company and am passionate about what we do. I started Lowbrow to create a company and run it how I think all business should be run, doing the right thing, caring about what will be happening twenty years from now, not just next month. I am excited to see what comes next! If you read this far then thank you. It is people like you who help make this a reality. Thank you for your support of our little world.

The completed Lowbrow HQ. It didn't really hit me how amazing this building and move was until they installed the sign and I saw it lit up at night. Legit!
The crew that makes it all happen at Lowbrow Customs. These are the people who genuinely care about taking care of you and making sure you have an amazing experience. We all want to make sure you get the best and coolest parts for your motorcycle possible, at a fair price, and with the best service available. Oh, and the dogs, they just want to eat and run around. Thank you for your support!

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43 thoughts on “The History of Lowbrow Customs: When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro”

  • Am I the only one in tears after reading this?? (If yes... then I'm totally NOT crying. It's just dusty in here.) I've witnessed so many of these changes through Katy's experience working with you, but it's pretty powerful to read your whole story from the beginning. You guys are the most passionate and hardest workers I know (and the heroes of cool). I can't wait to see what you do next.

    Reply
  • What an amazing, profound, inspirational and beautiful story.
    Well done...Very well done indeed!!!

    Reply
  • Glad to have been there pretty much from that start. It's been amazing to see how much you've grown the company. Some days I do miss the small message boards full of friends

    Reply
  • Kustom Jeff Dailey November 21, 2017 at 12:20 pm

    It's been great to watch the company grow. Getting to meet Tyler and Kyle at the Dixie Roundup and other parties is always fun. Knowing that y'all hired Mikey to handle the photography assures me that you're an open minded group. :-P (sorry couldn't resist). I still have some of those early lowbrow shirts from years ago. Good Luck and keep on doing it right my friends!

    Reply
  • Keith T Robinson November 22, 2017 at 6:49 am

    killer!

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  • Thanks for sharing this! I love the "little guy" stories and you Malinky brothers have been very helpful with my questions about my noobish bobber build (going on 6 or 7 years now, but I'm finally gaining momentum this winter). I look forward to stocking up on stuff for this build and you gents are the first place I look. My dad and I started this project but he died of cancer about a year in...left me with a tack-welded hardtail frame and a mention of your business and I'm glad he did. Now my brother and I are finishing it. :) I look forward to sending you my paycheck and keep up the great work!

    D

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  • You are The American Dream.
    God Bless America.

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  • From parts to the Lowbrow Get down. I have bought so many things and enjoyed the people around. Awesome story! Many more to come AKA Animal

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  • You're not alone Amy, I cried to. Thumbs up Lowbrow!!

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  • Beautiful Story! I love success!!!!
    A word to the wise. Hard work pays off!

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  • American Dream come true! Great for you guys. I've only ordered a few things in the past but I'm building another chopper and I'll be using you guys for some parts. Happy for all of you at Lowbrow!!

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  • Well done Tyler, you have good stuff which we purchase from Christchurch New Zealand. All the best for the future.
    Regards John

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  • Man this is inspiring. You guys had my back racing back in the day. Will never forget.

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  • I'm using and liking your products a lot. Can't wait for the David Bird hard tail to get here and hook it up to the '78 XLCH. 4" stretch and 4" drop should nail it just right...You guys keep providing the goods so we'll keep building some kool rides.

    Reply
  • I very much appreciate what you guys do and the way you do it. I have 2 gift cards in my wallet that you donated to The Orygun Run raffle that I need to use.
    Thank You very much, Tim

    Reply
  • What a truly inspiring story. You and your team have done so much for our culture. I've been riding vintage chops since I was 16 (many many years ago) I have used some of the parts you carry, and been extremely impressed with the quality. Keep up the great work.

    Reply
  • Thank you for the parts and stickers!

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  • Quite a cool story! I started following you guys a long time ago but never realized how much time went by and how many changes! Congratulations guys and girls! You are well thought of up here in Canada even if the cross border fees are horrible.

    Reply
  • Its a shame i'm on the other side of the pond. I'd be visiting and buy more stuff from Lowbrow. As a machinist i can appreciate your cool parts. I love articles like this, great to see your progress develop, long may it continue.

    Reply
  • Thanks for sharing your story.
    I am glad you guys are there for the professional and amateur builders alike. (like me)
    I have bought a few parts from you, and have also had an opportunity to talk to Todd for some technical advise.
    Looking forward to seeing you at Bonneville again next year.

    Merry Christmas and all the blessings of a Happy New Year!,

    Bonneville Starter Doug

    Starter

    Reply
  • Wow! What a great a story. I am really glad I buy stuff from you now. Well, more so than I was before. You have a great website and product selection. Thank you!

    Reply
  • Great success story! You're company was integral in helping me locate the parts for my first (and only) build. Glad I helped, with my own small purchases, grow the business of some very legit dudes! Keep it up. Giddy up!

    Reply
  • Man, it is so cool to see people doing what they love and are passionate about. It shows in all you guys do, A true love for bikes and the good times related to all on two wheels. Just wanted to say thanks for the time you put into the Fuel show. It was an almost spiritual journey for me, seriously. I left recharged with a renewed drive to live life every day, not just when it fits a schedule. Keep up the good stuff!
    Idea... burn out pit in the loading dock next year??

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  • What a great story to a really cool group of fellow bikers! Just keep the dream alive...

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  • Thanks for all you've done , and will do. Will be getting more XS parts this year.

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  • I’ve been a huge fan of the shop for many years. I fowllow mostly via emails and or you tube video. Any chance I get I order my parts and gear from you all, motorcycles play a huge roll in my life and I appreciate we you have gone with your talents and knowledge. I live way over in the west coast in the mountains of Oregon, however hope to very soon join up with you guys at one of your epic events. Totally dig your style dude, keep up the great work and happy holidays to all you!!!

    Reply
  • Wow, Amazing to see how far ya'll have come!

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  • Love your story here it is one of success.
    I've bought a few things from Low Brow and hope to buy more.
    Currently have 69 tiger getting painted right now, 78 FLH and a 2012 sofa

    Keep up the good work

    Reply
  • Great story, i found your shop around 2005 when i was in search for sportster tshirts and patches, i still have and wear them! I use a lot of parts from you by Motorcyclestorehouse and i still tag lowbrow in my Instagram posts. Keep up the good work!

    Reply
  • Awesome story guys! It's nice to know the American dream is still alive. I've always had great experiences dealing with you over the years and I expect many more to come. Maybe we'll run into each other one day, til then, good luck and God speed!

    Reply
  • Unique; Classic; Authentic...site! Glad I found before I run out of $

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  • thanks for all your great products over the years that I have been riding bikes ... it all started with a clapped out 65 Bonneville t-120 from craigslist..it had the name of "sewer pickle" engraved in the leather on the seat mainly for the reason that it was a lovely shade of shit brown paint... anyway,living in a semi remote area of the mountains in Colorado your website helped bring my bike and vision to life

    thanks,jeremy

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  • my own triumph sported a lot of parts from Lowbrow and its good to see your company get the success that it deserves all the best to you all for Christmas and the new year ,

    Reply
  • Wow! What a ride for you all. Great read. We to started with an idea to have a better motorcycle event. 4yrs old now. First year 60 people came out. Hot and cold in July. Last year over 3,000 . Thanks for being a Sponsor last year. Keep up the great work!!

    Reply
  • Love your story. A true american success story. Love it all from working on triumphs, xs650's, sporty's and big twins. I used to be an H-D mechanic, well , I guess I still am, just not currently working in an official dealership, hahahahaha. Love the salt flat saga also. My only current bike is a 1996 Sporty and live in Hawaii, long story. Hey keep the dream alive.

    Reply
  • So happy to be part of this crew! Love seeing all the photos from the beginning!

    Reply
  • If the good damn weather in the Northeast ever stops sucking complete a*! crack, I'd love to ride out to Ohio for one of your shows. Provided you have get togethers....

    Reply
  • Mike McCluskey June 1, 2018 at 1:21 pm

    I just ordered 2 4 inch solo seat springs. I'd like to say congrats on your accomplishment for your company. I had three that failed for reasons out of my control. Motorcycle and small engine repair, leather work and a electronics repair shop. The only good thing that came from it was I never took a loan to get started so I never went bankrupt and only ended up with the tools I'd bought. I'm under a doctor's order not to ride a motorcycle but being I'm a stubborn old fart and I never listen to him anyway, I will still ride until I can't get my leg over the seat.

    Reply
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