SIOUX CITY'S CHOPPER MONK
In Sioux City Iowa, famously known as Tom Fugle’s hometown, there is another chopper builder who stays true to the old school traditional way. I have heard his name “BILL MIZE” many times over the years through conversations, magazines, and I've been lucky to see his one of his builds that has forever been burned into the back of my head.
It's rare that Bill ever shows up on any media, and he doesn't have much of a presence on any social media either. But somehow Bill is responsible for pretty much bringing back the 60's style choppers into the norm. He's a bit of a mystery to me at least, so I decided to drive 1700 miles to Sioux City to pay him a visit and find out his philosophy towards building his bikes and who he is.
Bill Rolling to his house on his 1948 Harley-Davidson Panhead.
HOW THE MEETUP WAS SET
I met Jason Phares about 15 years ago when I still lived in Oakland. A very talented guy, Born Free invited builder, and one with a heart of gold. Now he resides in Belle Plaine, KS, with his family and continues to custom build bikes and develop parts.
When I visited him this past fall, somehow the name “Bill Mize” came up in conversation. Jason has known Bill for years, “Bill’s isn’t very visible but his style and taste on everything is choice” said Jason. I've always wanted to meet and photograph him. So, Jason hooked it up and got me the introduction I needed to go visit Bill Mize in Iowa.
It was 4 years since the last time I visited Sioux City. When I arrived at the address I was given, I pulled up to a yellow normal looking house. In the distance I heard a motorcycle. As it got closer I could see a guy on a beautiful all original stock Panhead.
He pulled up and just smiled, I could only assume it was Bill. Just looking at him smiling as he said "You must be Ken!" you could tell right away his old school attitude /vibe, his sense of style and good sense of humor.
Some skateboarding photos of Bill when he was a kid in an old album. In 1972, Bill got his first skateboard. In the 80’s he headed out to Southern California to get the full experience of the skateboarding world. The many photos Bill took includes famed skate spot, pro skaters. They are kept in his house safely along with his memories.
Bill was born in 1960, 60 years old. He started skateboarding in the 70’s, and got his first motorcycle, SUZUKI 125cc, when he was 17 years old and both things changed his world.
This is when Bill Mize”s motorcycle life started, but at the same time he was deep in the skateboarding world. When he was 18, he drove alone to Southern California, and lived there on and off to be in the skateboarding world.
Bill with a friend and Tom Fugle on thier way to Sturgis.
Bill met Max and Jason in 2003 when he rode his Harley evo chopper in Paso Robles, since then I have heard his name through them often with their admiration. In another time Jason and Max visited Bill to go to the world famous Davenport swap meet together.
Since then, their friendship continued, now that Jason Moved to KS, they have been collaborating on bike builds and fabrication. In some magazine’s I interview, when Bill was asked what he wanted to be when he grow up, he answered “Jason Phares”.
Bill’s first Harley was the 1959XLCH he got it in the 90’s and he was hooked. Since then it has been non-stop but his specialty is the 60’s style choppers. Learning from the past as well as creating his own aesthetics. Details and choice of parts is subtle yet thought out, and bill does not get swayed by the fad, because he is the fad.
Bill might not be the most famous chopper builder in the US, but he is responsible for reviving the 60’s style old school choppers. He's an extremely humble man who never self-promote himself, and wouldn't accept most magazine interview offers he received over the years.
I was very happy that I have finally got to meet Bill Mize. It was a real honor to have the chance to photograph some of his creations and really observe this chopper monk in his own surroundings.
Bill in front of where Tom Fugle's house once was telling a story of something that happened in the street.
December 18th, 2016, chopper world’s forefather Tom Fugle passed on. The house that Tom lived for decades is only a few minutes drive from Bill’s house. The last time I was there, I was with my editor Gonz from Tokyo.
We visited Tom in October of 2016, exactly 2 months before his passing. When I got there with Bill, the house was already demolished by the city this past fall in 2020. I felt as if there was a hole in this universe where once Tom’s house stood.
A cool photo of Tom in one of Bill's old albums chillin at a gas station having a full throttle.
The garage below Bill’s house is where he keeps and builds his bikes. When he needs to weld or machine stuff, he goes to the machine shop where he has been renting a space in downtown Sioux City.
There he has an access to much bigger tools. On the wall, there is a photo of Bill racing on his SUZUKI at the track minutes before he crashed. Bill’s favorite El FORASTERO, young “pegleg Dave's" photo with his autograph.
The small garage under Bill's house.
A really great photo of Bill racing.
Bill in the back corner of his garage.
In Bill’s garage, glass case, shelves and on the wall there are filled with bill’s treasures and trophy items. AK47 on the coat rack, Dave Mann’s shades, and badges and trinkets he made with Tom.
David Mann's shades!
The rest of Bill’s house which he shares with his wife Mollie and their two cats are furnished with mid century modern pieces with style. Bill is also fluent in Japanese, he can say “NEKO(cat)”, and “KONEKO(kitty)”. Bill has been passionate about road racing on his bicycle over the years, he still trains for races continuously.
Bill and his wife Mollie.
Bill and Mollie have some really nice Mid-century pieces.
MEMORIES OF TOM FUGLE
When Bill was growing up in Sioux City, he used to see EFMC members riding around town and at service stations. He had been around them as an adult since the early 90’s, especially Tom Fugle.
These photos were taken when Bill, Tom and other guys rode together to Sturgis one year. Bill and few other guys were riding Panheads, Tom on an Evo chopper. Tom didn’t care and did 90mph the whole way leaving Bill and the guys in the dust, making them having to play catch up to Tom.
Tom in the badlands.
On any given day, Tom would call Bill to his house and say, ”what are we doing today? Should we make a belt?” Or anything else over the years. Those days would go for years, but one time Tom was concerned about what legacy he would leave behind, having his whole life devoted to building and riding choppers.
Last ten years of his life, the younger generation had learned about Tom Fugle, and his devotion to choppers were recognized around the world. He was invited to shows all over US, Europe and Japan so at the end, I think Tom was happy.
Tom was the founder of the El Forasteros.
While I was shooting Bill, he showed me where Tom went to high school, the house where Tom grew up. There is another house behind Tom’s house, which Tom’s family rented it to Tiny’s family. That is how Tom met Tiny, and that led to starting EFMC together later on.
On the same property facing back to the alley there is Tom’s old garage where he probably kept his first Panhead in there. Amazingly the old man who owned the Harley dealership who sold Tom’s first Harley is still alive in Sioux City.
BILL MIZE'S MOTORCYCLES
PANHEADS, IRONHEAD SPORTSTERS & YOKOHAMA
Bill at HRCS in Yokohama in 2006 with his Panhead chopper.
In 2006, Bill was invited to HRCS in Yokohama, Japan with his Panhead chopper. Bill’s taste in paint has evolved from colorful paint jobs to recent simple troublefree black paint.
Here's another Ironhead Sportster build by Bill.
Another shot of the green Panhead that got to go to Japan.
1948 H-D FL / NARROW BIKE
This 48FL narrow bike reflects Bill’s style the best. F21/R18 wheels set up sets up a good balance on the overall narrow aesthetics, along many details to see. Choice parts is selected on this bike without being standing out alone, especially Tom Fugle’s seat and pipe with s that Tom would say “blow minds”.
Bill's favorite year motor and his main ride, the 48 quartet.
That skinny seat.
In the past 30 years, Bill built many different HDs. Where he arrived was the black Panheads in a wishbone frames.
Nowadays the world of custom choppers is dominated by old school choppers, but back then in the early 2000s is was so called new school, Hi-tech, or those fat tire bikes. They were celebrated by TV shows and media in general who vacuumed more money into the industry to create more crazy expensive custom bikes.
Around the same time, the old school choppers were a thing of the past besides from the support from a small fraction of believers. Around that time in Sioux City, Bill hung with EFMC members and in his garage he quietly faced his builds. In 2006, he was one of the first custom builders that got invited to the Mooneyes Yokohama show with his custom Harley Panhead chopper.
Near Tom Fugle's old school.
1948 H-D FL / Split Tank
This split tank creation was inspired by Kiyo’s Garage’s knucklehead. It uses a 1948 genuine wishbone frame with a VL fork. The F19/R16 wheel setup and the black split tank create the silhouette. Jason Phares helped with the fabrication and the seat is from River Seat Company. Bill said the concept of this build was a crossover between a stocker and a chopper.
Simple and classy
Very clean and the styling is on point.
Those split tanks are really doing it for this bike.
You guessed it another 48 panhead.
1948 H-D FL / HIGH-PIPE
This 48FL also has an OEM wishbone frame along with an I-Beam fork. It’s the narrowest build out of Bill’s four 48FL. The wheels are F21/R19 with 7/8 handlebars and Schwinn risers. Another mind blowing pipes reminds me that of the XLCH high pipes. The tuck and roll seat is by River Seat Company. It’s a bike built for long trips.
Two into 1 high pipe.
Each Panhead a little different then the last, its own flair, and its own iconic look.
Crusty in all the right places.
Bill's gotta thing for cats.
Doing it before anyone else.
1948 H-D FL BRILLIANT BLACK
This 48FL Special Sport Solo still has factory original paint called Brilliant Black.” The spot lamp, the windshield, the wheel caps and the saddle bag were made by Lock-Tite, a factory that made genuine accessories from 1945 to ’48.
One kick and let'r rip.
All original paint.
Just an incredibly beautiful stock Panhead.
Runs like a top.
even has the OG warning label.
Photos and words by: Ken Nagahara
MORE PHOTOS FROM THE VISIT
What looks like a small garage outside, is spacious enough to hold all 4 of Bill's 48's and he still has room to add some.
A treasured patch in Bill's glass case.
Bill's an avid cyclist. He loves anything two wheeled.
Coming out into the daylight.
Some of Bill's decor in the garage.
More on the walls in Bill's garage.
A closer look at the trophy case.
Having some coffee and chatting about some memories.
More of Bill's Mid-century Modern design in his house.