John Archer is a Harley Davidson motorcycle aficionado and owner of Dos Hombres Cycle in Ocala, Florida. Known by many as a custom Harley builder that thinks outside of the box while honoring the traditional authenticity of the Harley Davidson brand. For over 30 years the bike creations by Dos Hombres have won awards and graced the covers of motorcycle enthusiast magazines across the country.
Harley Davidson Motorcycles
In 1903 William S. Harley and Bill Davidson founded the Harley Davidson brand and it is the oldest continuously operating motorcycle company in the United States today. Harleys were used in the U.S military and by allies in the World Wars for reconnaissance and courier duties. They are rugged, nostalgic, innovative, and designed to last. Often referred to as a HOG (Harley Owners Group), people who love them are loyal to the brand and feel a sense of belonging to others who also ride.
John’s earliest memory as a child was riding around San Francisco on the gas tank of his dad’s Harley, he explains, “Dad set me up there on the tank with a huge pair of goofy aviator sunglasses and we would ride around the Bay area in California where we lived until I was in my teens.” In those days he says he idolized his older cousins Bill and Jim Archer because they were both heavily into motorcycles and he attributes his interest at a young age to wanting to be like them growing up.
John’s dad gave him his first Harley Davidson motorcycle, a 1949 ST 125 pre-hummer when he was around eight years old. John was riding on the streets and highways in Arkansas at the young age of 14. As a teenager, he says he was breaking a lot of bikes and trying to learn how to fix them on his own. Looking back he admits that many of the things he was doing for fun were extremely dangerous and often followed by broken bones and stitches.
As a kid, John’s family moved around the US due to his father’s engineering career eventually settling in Blytheville, Arkansas when he was in high school. In college, he studied Civil Engineering at the University of Arkansas and soon after began tinkering regularly on motorcycles as a hobby. He attributes much of his interest in the ’70s and ‘80s to the group of friends he was hanging around who were socially like-minded. In order to be a part of the group he had to know how to work on the bikes, it was a vital part of being accepted, he explains,
“At that time in life things were pretty different with what we were doing with Harleys today, it wasn’t so vogue like it is now. My social group required being able to build a motorcycle, if you couldn’t do it you couldn’t be part of the group.”
At that time he and many of his friends were riding long distances across the country. Much of what he knows now he learned back then while traveling and having to make repairs along the way. He says during that time he was introduced to a lot of unbelievably good mechanics, many of whom are no longer alive. He has kept in touch with those who are and often reaches out to pick their brain or help when he is struggling with a project. Custom Harley builder Tommy Bayman is one of his biggest mentors and is usually the first person he calls when he needs help.
After bumming around the country for several years on a Harley, John relocated to Ocala, Florida in the mid-’80s. For a short time in the early ’90s, he and a few others taught a three-day class called Chopper College, where they demonstrated to attendees the basics of bike building.
Dos Hombre Cycle
The inception of starting a custom bike shop came about when John and his best friend Richard Reed built a 1947 Knuckle together. The specific Harley-Davidson motorcycle engine is dubbed “knuckle” due to the distinctly contoured knuckle-shaped rocker box valve cover. As he and Richard were building this bike they began brainstorming possible business names and in 1992 they started their custom Harley shop named Dos Hombres Cycle.
Custom Harley Builder
Each motorcycle project starts with a customer idea infused with a twist of John’s creative design expertise. He then searches to find a donor bike for used parts, often having to fabricate specialty items himself. John prefers to preserve the nostalgic Harley Davidson brand while accommodating the build to fit the stature and physique of the customer. He is adamant about making sure that the person riding the bike feels confident and comfortable. Sometimes he has to determine how to use two pieces of components that aren’t supposed to work together, something he says he really enjoys.
After mocking up the motorcycle completely he then rips it all apart and outsources the painting, powder coating, and plating before putting it back together. His usual go-too guys are Rusty Broadhurst of Jen-Co, Dwayne Olsen & Lad Peliman for the paint, and Luke Scanlan for any artistry design work. He encourages people not to paint their frames any crazy colors because of the time involved and the decline in resale value. He also advises against using lighter colors on chassis components because it ends up showcasing the crud and the leaks Harley Davidson motorcycles are known for among enthusiasts.
Today John says many people are interested in the bober-style patina look, which he likes because of the traditional aesthetics and the easy rideability. He refuses to destroy the authenticity of a vintage bike, or create something he doesn’t feel is safe and he is selective with who he decides to work with,
“I have no idea how many motorcycles that I’ve built, not a clue. It’s kind of cool when I’m somewhere, especially in another state and I recognize a bike that I built, all these years and it’s still on the road. It feels nostalgic and it extends my legacy all at the same time.”
As a well-skilled custom Harley builder, John loves it when he discovers creative work by other amateur builders. Sometimes at bike shows he comes across something totally different and unique that helps him find new inspiration. In those moments he finds new ideas with his own designs. Knowing someone built a bike dreamed up in a private garage using what was available to work with really fuels John’s creativity. Like most independant bike builders, he is not a full-time custom Harley builder and has a side gig, he explains,
“There are very few custom Harley builders out there that build bikes full time, if you reach that level, you should consider yourself very, very fortunate. I’m pretty sure if I were to concentrate all my energy on just building motorcycles I would burn out. It is important to me, and I am passionate about it but I also do other things.”
In October of 2021, John’s business partner Richard passed away causing John to change how he wants to run the business moving forward. He plans to be more selective with who he takes on as a client and wants to create bikes he is truly excited about as a custom Harley builder.
“There are a lot of fads out there now like the big wheel dresser craze with nutty stereos and painted like an Easter egg, those do absolutely nothing for me. It’s funny, a lot of the stuff that was cool in the 60s and 70s is coming back around again. I guess it’s a lot like fashion. All those guys that threw away all their old chopper parts in the early 80s, like me, are regretting it now because they bring in a ridiculous amount of money online,” John shares.
John occasionally works on British bikes, but the only motorcycle that he failed at completing in his long career of builds was a Triumph 650, and says it almost drove him nuts. He admits that his creativity is inspired by boredom and the need to be doing something all the time. He will dream up something in his head and loves the reward of seeing it come to life in his work as a physical product you can experience.
John currently owns nine bikes, many of which are his own custom builds as well as a few scooters. Over the past several years aside from building motorcycles, John has also been working on some personal projects building hot rods. He has a 1930 Ford Model A that he built several years ago, and his current project is a 1949 Dodge truck. “Occasionally I get lost when it comes to four wheels, but I’m having a good time doing it. I’ve got a great mentor, Jim Sutton, who helps me a great deal,” John admits.
When he isn’t building Harleys or working on a hot rod he says he loves sailing, which he feels is a bit of an oxymoron to motorcycles. John has never had to go out and find work, he doesn’t have a website, has never advertised, and does not pass out business cards yet people hunt him down through word of mouth or find him through his Instagram page.
Over the years John has had some minor bike spills but in 1999 at the age of 39, he almost lost his life in a terrible motorcycle crash when he t-boned the car of a woman who pulled out in front of him. He was laid up for more than six months, had to have his face and hand reconstructed, and still suffers from pain caused by that accident. Five years later one of his best friends died in a motorcycle accident and John admits those two events changed his life but not his love for riding, he explains,
“You know, sooner or later, something’s going to happen. When you’ve ridden a motorcycle as long as I have and as many miles as I, it’s just the nature of the beast. If it happens to you in a car, you don’t quit driving.”
John acknowledges that those events changed his perspective on how he looks at life today, what he wants to accomplish, and the importance of the time he spends with others. Before the crash, he admits he was pretty wild, lived on the edge, indulged in a lot of unhealthy behavior, and associated himself in some really rough circles. With age and maturity, he is thankful for all of the crazy adventurous memories from riding cross country to the friendships he made. He only wishes he had been more appreciative in the moment during special times not realizing how important they would be to him today.
John shares one of his most memorable cross-country adventures from when he was younger,
“I rode my Harley to Alaska but stopped in Prince Rupert because I didn’t bring any Canadian money. The teller at the bank saw my bike all packed down and offered her family’s homestead for camping off the Alaskan highway, up a gravel road nearby. I set up my tent there and crashed after riding all day. In the morning when I got up, the sun was coming up and I could see a whole herd of caribou moving around about a mile below, it was almost spiritual. I thought man, how cool it would be to live here, to grow up here and see this on a regular basis. It was just a fluke that she offered the place to me but it is still one of my most memorable moments while traveling alone.”
After 29 years of operating Dos Hombres with Richard in the same location, John relocated in January of 2022 and plans to build bikes on his own at a slower pace, scaling down on the amount of work he wants to do. He believes the biggest hurdle with his passion as a custom Harley builder is that there is not enough time to allow his creativity to flourish without the urgent need to meet a deadline. He is being more selective and only wants to take on projects he is genuinely excited about.
The longest build John has done took three years to complete in 2004 for his friend Richard and it was featured on the cover of Cycle Source magazine. That bike later ended up being sold to someone in Orlando and then somehow found its way to England to someone who later contacted him out of Seattle. He admits that the life of a custom Harley builder is exciting and he loves that part of his legacy as a creator.
John says that the time a custom build takes depends on the components, especially if they are not intended to work together. Figuring out how to make those dynamics work properly, locate parts, or create something from scratch can be time-consuming. Realistically if he has everything for a build he can easily complete a bike in three weeks but that is not usually the case. He often spends time online or at swap meets looking for parts or reaching out to friends across the country to find what he needs, if he can’t find it he has to create it.
Unfortunately, there are times when John has to abandon an idea because it simply will not work. When he gets stuck he takes a break, walks away from it, and goes out for a ride often sparking some of his best ideas. He explains that riding motorcycles is the primary reason he does custom work,
“The creative end of building bikes is just a sidebar to my enjoyment of riding motorcycles. People that have known me all my life will tell you that motorcycles were always my thing, for as long as I’ve been on the planet, pretty much.”
Most people will admit the Harley-Davidson brand is nostalgic and cool. John is very proud of the bikes he has created and collaborated on as a customer Harley builder over the years. He has enjoyed attending iconic events like Daytona Beach Bike Week in Florida, and Sturges in South Dakota. His work has been showcased in magazines like Cycle Source, Easy Rider, and Outlaw Biker as well as highlighted in TV shows. When asked if there is anything he hasn’t learned yet he expresses his interest in learning how to fly but admits that he doesn’t think anyone would be crazy enough to join him.
If you would like to know more about John’s work you can visit his Instagram page.
The Creative Push Artist Interview Vlog On YouTube
Watch my artist interview with custom Harley builder, John Archer on YouTube.
Diary Of A Storyteller
There is also a story I did on John and Dos Hombres from 2013 on my SOP site!
The Creative Push Podcast
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