This feature originally appeared in Gnarly Magazine print issue #19. Buy a Copy.
An Eye for Elevated Design with a Heart for Speed
By Jeff Alexander
As a successful and well-celebrated ambassador for moto culture, Roland Sands remains humbled by the continued recognition from his peers. Notably earning the coveted Chip Foose Award of Design Excellence and, most recently, Quail Motorcycle Gatherings’ Legend of the Sport Award, Sands remains driven to push the boundaries of moto culture, even if he no longer competitively races.
“It’s always an honor to be recognized, but I don’t consider myself a legend. The world of motorcycles has been a lifelong passion, and as a designer and fabricator, executing creativity is still empowering,” said Sands.
Sands initially earned accolades as a racer, but he was faced with the difficult choice of continuing to risk sustained injuries or redirecting his passions to other areas of moto culture.
“It was certainly a tough decision to retire from racing and transition to kustom motorcycle designs. Racing was my lifestyle and meant everything to me. I did feel a big withdrawal when I made the decision,” reflected Sands.
Kustom motorcycle design work was not a seamless transition for Sands, as he stated project deadlines can have just as much pressure as racing. Driven by his undeniable commitment to moto culture, Sands stressed that fighting idleness and keeping the creative spirit alive are daily motivators. Hailing from California, the birthplace of kustom kulture, Sands witnessed the continuing evolution of the subculture but was quick to state the racing world and kustom world were divided.
“Those two worlds did not interact in my experience growing up. On the surface, there are the obvious similarities but not everyone is driven by the same goals or express their passions the same way. As time went on, these worlds are a lot closer. You see Harley guys digging dirt bikes and there seems to be a lot more multi-sports people and people that own more than one bike. It’s good to see,” said Sands.
Sands’ creative drive is evident within his kustom builds. Tactfully paying homage to classic designs while fabricating modern, performance enhancements, he began making his mark and the media took notice. He reflected on his stint on Discovery Channel’s Ultimate Chop Biker Build-Off. As a rookie, his vision and determination ultimately earned him an award.
“Though that was many years ago, it still means a lot. How many people can say they were able to have that experience? The timelines for those builds were tough and we were genuinely building a custom bike in just a matter of weeks. It was an amazing experience, but what people don’t see onscreen is how we were putting up to 18-hour days on projects! My vision was racer meets kustom chopper and I felt at the time, nobody was doing that. I had the vision and I knew it would be wild and fun to ride. That was all the motivation I needed,” laughed Sands.
Today, he runs Roland Sands Design out of Long Beach, California. He continues building kustom bikes and offering today’s riders the newest gear and apparel. His kustoms still incorporate his racing aesthetic, but his recent completion, Peyote Puffer not only pays homage to classic kustom kulture, it also celebrates his father, Perry.
Perry originally owned the Peyote Puffer, a ‘46 Indian chopper, but during a speed run in 1969 outside the Golden Sails Hotel, he crashed due to front wheel bearing failure. The bike was slowly resurrected but such a good story is deserving of a fun ending.
“That was a fun build! My father and I had rebuilt that chopper during the pandemic. He originally had it when he was 19, but he crashed it and somehow the frame disappeared for years. We knew a guy that collected all sorts of stuff and weird projects and turned out he had it! He reached out to us because I think he recognized the original bike from an old magazine; we were looking for that frame for years!”
Sands debated how he wanted to resurrect the chopper. Return to old school techniques of his dad and simply reassemble after a thorough going-thru, or enhance the bike and ultimately elevate the design.
“I don’t half-ass anything, but we kept staring at the frame, making sure it wasn’t bent and then ensuring the motor we were using would fit back in. At that point, we were like, ‘Let’s just go for it!’ and use the skeleton of the bike but bring it back to how it was. Of course, working to make sure all was right and could easily be rideable,” laughed Sands.
The bike’s original frame was used, and the paint was left in a true relic style. After countless hours, the Indian was completed and after several tests, it was time to kick it over.
“That was an amazing, full-circle experience. It was great working together and bringing the bike back to life, but maybe the frame is slightly bent, as the bike wants to go a little right,” laughed Sands.
Perry Sands was finally reunited with his chopper and even returned to the infamous route at Golden Sails Hotel to test the bike. After completing Peyote Chopper, Roland was approached by Buell for a new collaborative project.
“Buell approached me about designing a performance bike. I’m confident in myself and my crew and knew we had the chops to create performance bikes, but nothing is easy, no matter how skilled you may be. We worked to elevate what a super cruiser is because a cruiser is generally about style and comfort; we flipped the script,” said Sands.
The result was the Buell Super Cruiser, a tire-burnin’ 1190 SX motor mated to an FXR chassis. Designed to improve handling due to the swingarm being directly mounted to the frame, Sands’ super cruiser produces 180 horses and only weighs 450 lbs.!
“Trying to improve the chassis design and make an offset v-twin motor fit was challenging. The idea was to make it seamlessly blend with a road race motor and give it the feel of a bigger bike. It has cruiser elements, but it really performs! It looks like a proper FXR and I’m really proud,” concluded Sands.
Buell already completed 1800 pre-orders and plans to release the super cruiser in 2025.