Welcome to the Cantina!
This interview with Steffan from Zombie Performance is the first in what will be a regularly published series here on Moto Cantina. We’ll pick the brains of the folks behind the companies, shops, and builds you love and share their thoughts here on the blog. – innanetmatt
Zombie Performance has been a household name in choppers for the last couple years, turning out incredible bars alongside some unique parts like cable guides and some rad little “EFI plates” that let you run a late-model Sportster fuel pump on any gas tank. Steffan at ZP was kind enough to answer some questions for the Cantina recently.
MotoCantina: What got you interested in motorcycles?
Zombie Performance: I used to be into old cars and hot rods. When I moved to Oregon I had to sell everything and was living in a tiny apartment. No garage, carport or even a driveway and all my tools were at my day job. I
eventually bought a motorcycle and its been all two wheels ever since. I had a couple bikes when I was younger. They were fun but I never took them seriously and didn’t have my endorsement. I’d ride dirt bikes from time to time but they were not my bikes so I only went when I was invited.
I eventually bought a motorcycle and its been all two wheels ever since.
MC: What was your first motorcycle?
ZP: My first motorcycle was a Honda Cx500 my dad gave me then I turned 16. It mostly sat around because I was afraid to ride it much with out an endorsement in California. Old cars were my thing back then so I was never motivated to do anything with the bike.
MC: When did you start ZP , and what were some of the setbacks that you overcame to get to where you are now?
ZP: Zombie Performance has been operating as we know it now since 2010. I was doing 2 Stroke engine porting before that hence, “Performance” being in the name. 2010 was the year I bought my first bender and started building handlebars. It wasn’t long after getting the bender that I shifted gears and focused on only handlebars.
I think the only real set backs were my motorcycle accidents but with the huge amount of support I received from my customers, friends, and fellow business owners Zombie Performance pulled through it all.
Set backs………? I guess I’m always learning. Learning the In’s and Outs of operating a business. Learning to keep up with production and demand. I’m always honing my customer service skills. It’s really and endless battle working for yourself. You have to manage your time efficiently. Multitask as much as possible with out compromising on quality or customer service. There are many things that go on in the background
that most people never see. As a one-man shop I’m in charge of doing EVERYTHING. I don’t really feel like any of these things are set backs though. Its just par for the course with owning and operating a business. I think the only real set backs were my motorcycle accidents but with the huge amount of support I received from my customers, friends, and fellow business owners Zombie Performance pulled through it all.
… “you can only bend tube in so many ways”. […] only if everyone is using the same tools. I’ve been modifying my tooling non stop for the last 5 years.
MC: What kind of machinery and tooling do you use to get such awesome results?
ZP: Currently, I have 3 benders. All of them have been heavily modified along with custom dies. I wanted to be able to bend tube unlike everybody else and I think that has really been the key to making sure my handlebars are as unique as possible. People always say “you can only bend tube in so many ways”. This is true only if everyone is using the same tools. I’ve been modifying my tooling non stop for the last 5 years. Most of these handlebar designs are now able to be bent up from a single piece of tubing. Most people who build bars (myself included in the beginning) bend multiple pieces up and then weld them together to look like a single tube. By being able to put 6 bends in a single 46in piece of tubing and keep the bars 8in tall has been unheard of before even by cnc equipment. This also allows me to keep my pricing lower as it reduces the amount of work and time needed to build a set of handlebars. I feel like its an accomplishment, but probably one that is only appreciated by myself. Ha Ha. Other than that, Its just a Miller TIG welder and my lathe. All my other tooling is for side projects and general fabrication outside the handlebar industry.
MC: With all the varied styles of bars you make , do you have a personal favorite?
ZP: Honestly, I love all of them. Every bike and rider requires something different. If anyone is like me, my bike changes all of the time. Its seems like every time I find the perfect combination, I change something and then I have to change the bars again. If I had to narrow it down to one set I’d probably say the Wingus Bars. They are comfortable, look awesome, and seem to work on just about every bike. I’m pretty sure I have run a set of Wingus bars on every bike I have owned at some point.
MC: Do you have any other products in addition to bars?
ZP: Currently I build Weld-In EFI plates for late model fuel injected Harley Davidsons. Its a fuel pump mounting flange that people can weld into a custom fuel tank for their bike and be able to keep their fuel injection. Its set up for the Sportster fuel pump but Big Twins can use them if they convert to the Sportster pump.
I also have some Aluminum Narrowing Fender struts for Shovelheads. These are a mid length fender strut that also narrows the back of the bike up. I figured the swing arm Shovelheads needed some new age options.
There’s nothing like eating a home made tri-tip pizza and drinking a home-brewed Belgian inspired beer in your own home.
MC: Can you tell us a little about your brewing and coffee bean ventures?
ZP: I brew my own beer. I also love cooking and I think the two go hand in hand. Being able to create amazing food and drinks are pretty rewarding. More so now than ever since it seems like everything you buy is made with crazy chemicals. All in all its cheaper and tastes way better. There’s nothing like eating a home made tri-tip pizza and drinking a home brewed Belgian inspired beer in your own home. Now that I don’t run the shop out of my garage I try to make my home environment as comfortable and rewarding as possible. I got wary of going to work everyday, eating out or half assing a dinner.Only to wake up in the morning just to do it all over again. I need something more in my life and this is how I achieve that.
The coffee is a whole other thing. I have a passion for good food and drink so it should be obvious that coffee is included. That being said I”m not the one roasting the coffee. Dave with Top Off Coffee is doing the roasting. I’m just collaborating with him for the types of coffee we like to drink and roast. Its all fresh roasted to order so it doesn’t get much better than that.
MC: Speaking of brewing, we think of our site as a dive bar, where people hang out, drink and talk bikes. Do you have a great dive bar story you would like to share?
ZP: I usually cringe at the words “dive bar” but only because “dive bars” usually only serve shitty carbonated barley water and are usually covered in some kind of bodily fluids. That being said I can appreciate a local watering hole. I don’t go out very often but when I do I usually go to a local brew pub here in town called Drapers Draft House. Its kind of like the TV show Cheers. There is a lovable surly bar tender, a multitude of tasty guest and locally brewed beers, familiar faces and accompanied by vinyl records spinning all night. Its probably boring to someone looking for a vodka smash and brawl but its genuine and just the speed I like to travel.
MC: What is your take on the chopper building scene going forward?
ZP: I think this is a loaded question!
Honestly I think the motorcycle building scene is a little lost right now. By “chopper scene” I’m guessing you mean the people that build and work on their own bikes and not the style of bike? If so, it definitely seems like there is less of an interest in building bikes. In my small corner of the world it looks like I’m seeing a lot more people buying off the shelf mega-catalog parts and calling it good. Maybe the home builder scene is just underground again….? That could be a good thing, but I do miss the days where people chopped up what ever they got their hands on just for the hell of it and created something unique. I think these things come and go. One month its cool to build a Triumph, then a Sportster, then its a Shovel or Ironhead, then its cool to look like your a motorcycle tough guy from a tv show. Personally I don’t care what people ride just as long as they ride it. I think being able to learn to work on your own bike is part of the experience and as long as you make that attempt to service, build, and make the bike your own then you have achieved motorcycle ZEN. It’s funny to see people bash on one motorcycle brand or model or tell other people what they should or shouldn’t be doing to their bikes. I guess for those people the attitude is more important than the ride. To each their own I guess. Like anything, people will get out of it when ever they put into it and we all can’t be “Chopular”. I’d like to see people get past the fads and just make crazy stuff again. Everything doesn’t have to be perfect or period correct. Just have fun with it and who gives a shit what “Angry Johnny Keyboard Warrior” has to say about it. I used to get tons of crazy custom orders from people, but not nearly as many. I think all of these creative people are out there…only hibernating “like bear”. I’m Looking forward to seeing what the next evolution in the motorcycle industry will be. I’m glad I can be a tiny footprint in the mass scheme of things and be able to see all of these changes. It’s pretty rad when my customers send me picture or their builds. It’s evidence that not all is lost in the chopper world.