Harley Road King. They rolled into a Dunkin’ Donuts to take a break and
saw motorcycles lined up on the other side of the road. “I love the old-style
bikes, the old Japanese and British and Italian bikes,” recalls Peter. “When I
saw the bikes parked outside the place, I had to check it out and see what was
A few months later, Vintage Steele owner Josh Steele was building Ho-
dina a café racer, a style of bike that has its origins in Britain in the ’60s. Light
and sleek with flat seats and dropped handlebars, they were built to race along
a predetermined course starting from a café and aiming to return before the
song that was playing on the jukebox was over. Part of Vintage Steele’s busi-
ness is taking bikes from that era, not necessarily British, and remaking them
into café racers, as they did for Hodina with a 1975 Honda CB750.
Hodina, 51, who works for the Connecticut Department of Correction
in building maintenance and has a collection of a half-dozen bikes, was sold
on how affordably he could get a custom bike and taken by the general vibe
of the shop.
“When I met these guys and saw the enthusiasm they had, I said, ‘Oh, I
gotta try this,’” Hodina says. “They have a lot of ambition, and they have an
Vintage Steele evolved out of what Steele calls “a hobby that got way out of hand.” He and Chris John started the shop in Steele’s garage four years ago.
The two are committed to resurrecting motorcycles from the scrap heap
and transforming them into low-budget transportation or customizing them
into café racers. Steele prefers his nomenclature, “resurrection,” as opposed
to the industry term, restoration, because to him, restoration implies a high-priced, collector’s bike, which is not their niche. Vintage Steele’s motorcycles
are priced from $500 to $7,000. The high end of their price range for custom
bikes is around the starting price point for many new, entry-level motorcycles.
Steele maintains there’s no comparison in terms of the materials and styling
of the older bikes. Vintage bikes, particularly the café racers, have the head-turning factor that new bikes don’t have, he says.
Steele is a tall 30-year-old, low-key with a quiet intensity and warmth
that belie his fearsome exterior: a burly brown beard, earlobes with port holes
in them the size of nickels, and a tattoo that says “hurt” along the arch between his thumb and forefinger on his right hand.
John is Steele’s foil, a scrappy sidekick who seems to emanate energy at a
frequency so high one wonders if a dog could hear him hum. He is 23 with
blond facial scruff that suggests a beard and his name tattooed on his neck in
Arabic. He works at Experienced Goods, a thrift shop that supports Brattleboro Area Hospice.
Any first-impression intimidation factor with these two quickly falls
away when one realizes they both laugh — all the time, at everything, including each other and themselves.
Five years ago, neither Steele nor John envisioned becoming bike builders.
Steele was working with at-risk youth as a community mentor and riding a moped. John was finding trouble as a teen with self-ascribed “pretty crazy ADHD.”
out of landfills
a mode of
that uses less
fossil fuel than
Steele’s shop is a United
Nations of bikes, with
classic brands from around
the globe. Most of the
machines brought to new
life have been on the planet
longer than Steele has.