can do. The chatter and noise of tools banging on bikes is punctuated by
the roar of a compressor. Any pause is filled by the hard-edged metal music
playing in the background. No one seems to mind the jarring cacophony.
In four years of working days off, nights and weekends, and bootstrapping the business without borrowing money, Vintage Steele has put 100 of
their rebuilt noncustom bikes back on the road, each selling in the range of
$500 to $1,200. Most have been Japanese, and most are circa 1960–70. They
have also built 10 café racers, which sell from $3,000 to $7,000, still affordable, especially for customs, which commonly sell for $20,000 to $50,000.
Other key parts of the Vintage Steele business model are bike repair and
selling parts on eBay.
Steele, who traded his full-time job mentoring at-risk youth for part-time work “slinging coffee,” likes making affordable transportation, keeping
metal out of landfills and supporting a mode of transportation that uses less
fossil fuel than automobiles.
As for marketing, Steele is social-media savvy. He regularly posts prog-
ress photos of builds to the shop Facebook page, which has more than 1,000
fans. Each post inevitably provokes “likes” and questions. Shop hours are
listed as “always open.”
Vintage Steele’s market, Steele says, is anyone looking for low-cost, re-
liable transportation. The Japanese bikes that he fixes up are particularly
popular with new riders and women because they are light and easy to han-
dle, and at the price, inexperienced riders don’t have to panic as they might
if they dumped a $20,000 bike.
Baby boomers, aka “older dudes,” are another market, says Sarah Rice,
35, an artist who studied at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, earning her degree through Tufts University. Rice designed the company logo (an old-school helmet with “VS” on it), oversees the website and
paints details, like pinstripes on gas tanks. She’s also Steele’s girlfriend.
“My favorite thing is when you’ll have one or two older dudes, and I’m
talking like 50-plus, come in, and you can see that all of a sudden they are
13 years old,” Rice says. “They are just in such awe in this place because it’s
nostalgic and it’s like a clubhouse almost. There’s plenty of older women
who were bikers too that have the same reaction: ‘I had no idea this place
was here. This is so amazing.’ They are so excited to see a younger genera-
tion into it.”
While Steele and John both assume elements of the hipster uniform
— skinny jeans, beards, watch caps, hoodies, tattoos — and café racers are
popular with the young, urban, hip crowd, they bristle at the label.
“We are not trying to be anything. We are just doing what we like to do,”
John says, adding with a laugh: “I just had my first latte the other day. So I
can’t be a hipster, and I didn’t even really like it.”
Steele says, if he’s anything, he’s an “environmentally friendly redneck.”
Mostly he’s just about having fun and sharing that spirit with his custom-
ers, he says.
“Every bike we build just gets better and better and more fun,” Steele
says. “We are not doing it because it’s cool. We’re doing it because we really
enjoy it and people really enjoy them.” A
John is Steele’s foil,
a scrappy sidekick
who seems to
at a frequency so
high one wonders
if a dog could
hear him hum.
In four years of working
nights, weekends, and days
off, and bootstrapping the
business without borrowing money, Vintage Steele
has put 100 of their rebuilt
noncustom bikes back on