Interview: Roland Sands

Roland Sands
Roland Sands was just five years old when his parents Perry and Nancy, founders of Performance Machine, introduced him to two wheels and a throttle. There was no looking back: Sands raced as a pro for ten years, setting multiple track records in the US and Europe and winning the 1998 AMA 250GP Championship. After racking up 32 broken bones, he traded in his leathers for paper, pencil and a computer. After a stint at Performance Machine as VP of Research & Design, Roland set up his own shop—and quickly became one of the biggest names in the US custom scene.

What was the first motorcycle you bought with your own money? I bought a CR 125 when I was 15. My dad always made me work to keep me out of trouble and I had just enough dough to buy a brand spankin’ used 1987 CR 125. I think I liked it because it matched my Oakley blades. It was taller than I was at the time.

Roland Sands
What do you think is the most beautiful production motorcycle ever built? I’ll have to split this into two: the Desmosedici RR (below) for today, but historically the Norton Manx (second below).

Ducati Desmosedici RR
Norton Manx Model 30
What motorcycle do you despise? The Buell Blast. I hate it more for what it could have been than what it was. With that said, I did have a “blast” doing stand up burnouts on it—so the word hate may be a little strong.

What is your idea of perfect happiness? Wake up next to a beautiful lady. Coffee, a 9am surf with perfect head-high lefts with no-one out. Breakfast Burrito at Nick’s Deli. Build some stuff, lunch, design some stuff. Ride home on the Desmo. Cold beer, dinner, go to bed next to the same beautiful lady. Done.

Electric motorcycles: Yes or No? Yes. When it comes together it should be awesome. But I don’t think electric motorcycles will be financially successful until they can offer a plug-in bike that’s price-competitive to petrol bikes, and comes close to matching the performance. Most people in the US ride bikes for fun: the electric companies can’t lose sight of that when trying to sell a $10K electric scooter.

What is your favorite journey? Moto: the Bass Lake area is a great ride. Done the Cycle World Trek a few times up there, and it’s amazing. Sick single track, usually damp, flat fire roads, a little paved supermoto section. Awesome. Journey: Sturgis is always a really good getaway. There’s tons of ways to get there and a lot of amazing roads and varied terrain and weather. Always an adventure. Canyon: Azusa Canyon. Abroad: hard to beat a motocross bike and miles of open beach road in Costa Rica.

Which ‘everyday’ modern bikes do you think will become future classics? The equivalent of the Honda CB750 or Moto Guzzi V7 Sport, if you like? This is a hard question; all the modern sportbikes are so temporary in styling. They look dated after only a few years, so it’s hard to imagine anything lasting. I love the Desmosedici’s shape and subtlety. It’s so limited though; I think it will be hard for it become a classic, yet the styling is timeless. The 1198 is beautiful, and the original 916 had a huge impact on bike design. It will never go out of style. The 1986 GSX-R1100. Maybe the new XR1200. Depends how long Harley-Davidson sticks with it, but it’s a great bike. I raced one at Brands Hatch and it worked well enough to stick around. (XR1200 Cup bike below.)

Harley-Davidson XR1200 Cup racing motorcycle
Who are your real-life motorcycling heroes? My dad was always one of my heroes. Because of him I grew up around design, turbocharged Hondas, 12-over shovelheads, sand dragsters, dual-engine streamliners and CR 500s. It was hard to not be influenced by all the crazy shit he was working on. Racing heroes: Kenny Roberts, Schwantz, Rainey, Elmer Trett (below), Rick Johnson, and Eddie Lawson. The list goes on.

Elmer Trett
Are you optimistic for the future of motorcycling? Yes. I think we have to really be aware of what technology is going to do for our sports and the machines we ride. I see a path of rapid advance in technology and electronics that will allow us to go faster for less money. Everything is getting so competitive that only the guys delivering the best product at the best price will survive. New materials, less expensive manufacturing, higher performance for less money is what I see. I think that’s good for riders everywhere.

What is your current state of mind? Open. I just moved my shop and we are opening up a retail store in Los Alamitos, Ca. I’m building bikes, designing, and looking forward to new opportunities both in and out of the bike industry. It’s a huge crazy world out there and it’s changing right before our eyes every single day. I feel like I’m fighting to keep up with technology, while trying to keep it analog as much as possible.

I’m excited and horrified at the same time.

Check out the Roland Sand Designs website here.

Roland Sands

  • Crosby Reinders

    whoa, random. The Sands vs Rooke episode of Biker Build-off is on tv right now.

  • iRivas

    I’m glad to see an interview here with Roland. I’ve always been a fan of his ever since I first saw him on biker build-off. He builds some cool bikes and he’s definitely one bike builder I would love to meet. One of his creations, the KRV5 Tracker, is one of my favorite all-time bikes.

  • http://ridethetorquecurve.blogspot.com/ hoyt

    “I feel like I’m fighting to keep up with technology, while trying to keep it analog as much as possible.”

    Good approach and applicable in many ways. Good luck with the new shop

  • Mule

    “Coffee, head high lefts with no-one out, breakfast burrito!” Yea baby, I’m a goofy foot too. So I guess we have 3 things in common! Good interview!

  • KIK

    cool beans

  • el vencejo

    The guy does good work on a range of bikes in a range of styles; he’s not stuck in the rut of “big twin, big rake” school of custom, sadly too many in USA are.

  • Mule

    @Harry, A Blast is a perfectly good motorcycle?

  • Bo Knows

    Great to see a Sands interview. I have been an admirer of his work since seeing it at the NY Motorcycle Show a few years ago. His background as a rider/racer really shows in that his customs seem to actually be able to turn and stop, along with go. I was especially impressed with his attention to detail and the various inlays he does in his finishing. Very classy. Yes, his destruction of vehicles is a little gratuitous, but even that seems more original and genuine, than Paul Sr’s attempt to launch a metric chopper over a ditch via ramp and bungee cord. (and for the record, trashing a Blast isn’t waste of a motorcycle, it’s a public service – building it was the waste)

  • Rocker

    That was a great article. So refreshing to see Roland on here.. Mr Sands, wish you nothing but the best with everything.. You deserve success and realizing your “happiness”… what a super nice bloke… and he’s matured so much.. I remember him on Discovery Biker Build-off… he was smashing cars with forklifts and setting them on fire! hahaha… good times.. but seriously, nice interview and even nicer answers from the Sandsman. Cheers. Keep the shiny side up ;)

  • jeffe

    Goofy footer here too.

    Great interview, some answers are surprising. Sands seems really laid back, which is great to read within this industry since the bottom dollar is often apparent in the personalities of people who’s lives are wrapped up in motorcycles for a living.

  • Trav

    Dude, Erik Buell crushed a blast as a marketing point.. He said himself he hated the blast! If I recall correctly, he went on about it in an interview. He never made that bike for himself. It’s all part of Funding-Hate contractual relationship he had with harley.

    I enjoyed this one. Always liked Roland, and of the bikes of his that do it for me.. they really do it.

  • Tanner

    Nice refreshing interview! I couldn’t agree more w/ him about his perfect day. I don’t know the guy personally but he seems like he’s a genuine dude w/ nothing to prove. He’s not putting on a ‘holier-than-thou’ persona or acting like he’s some motorcycle badass. His racing cred. definitely doesn’t hurt either!