Interview: Denny Berg of Cobra Engineering

Denny Berg of Cobra Engineering
The highlight of the recent Indianapolis Dealer Expo, that yearly gathering of America’s motorcycle aftermarket industry, was a 20-bike display in the Cobra Engineering booth. Almost all were the handiwork of Denny Berg, chief fabricator for Cobra’s Special Projects Division.

Berg moved to California from his native South Dakota in the 1970s, intent on making a name for himself in the So-Cal chopper scene, only to get caught up in the growing cafe-racer movement. He worked at various shops, opened his own and started a Yamaha SR500 hop-up business. Along the way, customs and specials remained a constant, and when Cobra started its Special Projects skunkworks in the early ’90s to develop showbikes and R&D parts, Denny was a natural choice for the operation. He’s been there ever since.

What was the first motorcycle you bought with your own money? It was a white Honda 55 Sport (below). I was 14, just got my South Dakota learner’s permit and could drive during daylight hours. I had a paper route, mowed lawns and shoveled snow to earn the money.

Honda 55 motorcycle

What do you think is the most beautiful production motorcycle ever built? This is going to sound stupid, but I’ve thought a lot about this. It was a 1969 Honda SS125 twin, the first new bike I ever bought. It was Metallic Blue with Cloud Silver tank and fenders. I wore out the dealer’s brochure that spring until the snow melted and I got to ride it. I wish I still had it, I can close my eyes and still see the bike…

Honda SS125

What motorcycle do you despise? That’s easy! It was a customer’s ‘68 BSA 441 Victor. First, the thing kicked back and launched me over the bars. When I tried again, the kickstart gear stripped and I sliced the inside of my right leg on the oil-tank cap. I still have the scar!

What is your idea of perfect happiness? Nothing is better than welcoming a new (or used) bike into my garage. I’ll spend hours walking around, sitting on, or just sitting quietly in a lawn chair next to the new bike, staring at it.

Below: Denny Berg’s Honda CL750 Scrambler, built for Cobra in 2010.

Honda Scrambler

Electric motorcycles: Yes or No? Yup, it’s gonna happen. Can’t wait!

What is your favorite journey? I’ve had lots of interesting trips, but I still like to hop on one of my bikes and simply “cruise Main Street” after work or on the weekend.

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? I’m surprised at my answer here, too, but I think the latest rubber-mount Sportster fits that bill. I have an ’05 XL883 and though it doesn’t have all the latest tech, it feels like riding an old classic, only better.

2005 Harley XL883

Who are your real-life motorcycling heroes? I’ve met a lot of my real-life heroes—never thought I would when I was reading about them in magazines. I met Arlen Ness about 35 years ago in Sturgis and then again when I worked at White Brothers. Arlen and Corey’s bikes have always been favorites of mine, especially the early ‘Frisco-style bikes of the ‘70s. My Heroes List is endless, there’s been so many builders I’ve admired and could only hope to build bikes as good as them. I think I’ve ripped-off ideas from all of them!

Arlen and Corey Ness

Are you optimistic for the future of motorcycling? Yup, motorcycling has always been a work in progress and we change with it, not always learning from our mistakes, but it has always been a great ride.

What is your current state of mind? I’m thankful that I’ve managed to make a career out of my hobby. I never had to get a “real job” and I’m happy about that at this stage in my life.

With thanks to David Edwards. Check out Mr Berg’s handiwork below: Knuckster, Trakker and Super Chief.

Cobra USA "Knuckster"
Cobra USA "Trakker"
Cobra USA "Super Chief"