Roland Sands is a professional motorcycle racer turned bike designer from Long Beach, California. He founded Roland Sands Design in 2005 and has used his myriad of experiences in racing to create unique-looking motorcycles that stand out in the industry.
Roland was kind enough to chat with us about his company, his love of riding, and going to bike rallies such as Sturgis, the biggest motorcycle rally in the U.S.
If you had to explain to a person who knew absolutely NOTHING about motorcycles and bike building about what you do, what would you say?
Roland Sands: If they don’t know anything about motorcycles, I would tell them that’s probably the best thing they can get into for personal freedom and adventure. Jumping on a motorcycle is a life-changing thing. We’re used to traveling around in cars, but you don’t get to experience the atmosphere or world in the same way you'd experience it on a motorcycle. On a motorcycle, you’re out in the open — you’re really experiencing every piece of nature. Motorcycles let you see the world in a new way.
As far as the customization of bikes, just as all of us wanna wear different clothes and make ourselves look a certain way or see ourselves in a certain way, it’s the same thing for people who ride motorcycles and their bikes. A custom motorcycle is like the embodiment of yourself on two wheels as a machine. It’s really a true expression of self, both with the bike and how you put yourself on it.
What does your shop specialize in?
RS: We build badass s**t! [laughs]
I think we are most well known for creating custom bikes that are rideable, that are more high performance than the stock bikes. We have a high-performance aesthetic, and when we do customize a bike, most of the time we try to make it perform better. So it’s not just an aesthetic thing. I consider us to be more of a high-performance shop.
What’s your most favorite memory since opening your own shop?
RS: My favorite moment since I was born was having my child three weeks ago! I had a baby girl. That’s my favorite moment by far.
Your parents rode bikes too. What was their best advice to you?
RS: My dad, when he was younger, he always told me every time I got on a motorcycle that “motorcycles are dangerous. Think about that every time you get on a bike. Remind yourself.” And I do. Every time I get on a motorcycle, I think about the danger, and it makes me focus — it’s not a toy. You look at the road, you look at traffic, you look at intersections, you look at people who may put you in a bad position a lot differently… That’s served me fairly well on the road and riding on the highway.
What should a person know about motorcycle upkeep?
RS: Anyone should be able to change their own oil and tighten bolts on their own motorcycle, but with some people, it’s just better to have a good mechanic around so that your bike’s safe. That said, I don’t want to discourage anyone from working on their bikes. It’s really fun and rewarding when you're successful at it, and you find out your fingers can be used for more than playing with your mobile device. My company offers a huge amount of bolt-on parts that make customizing easy and painless. But if you're going to chop up your frame or rip your motor apart, best to talk to someone who knows how to do it.
What do you miss most about professional racing?
RS: I miss the adrenaline, and I miss the challenge of going out there and pushing to go fast...and just the sheer enjoyment! It’s hard to explain what it feels like to go fast on a motorcycle in a dangerous place. It’s kinda akin to being a fighter pilot, or, you know, doing anything that can kill you.
So, you’ve broken 32 bones in your body — which one was the most inconvenient and why?
RS: From the time that I was 19 years old to 34, I probably had a cast on a third of the time! [laughs] I’ve always had broken bones. The most inconvenient was when I broke both my legs.
You find out who your true friends are because they’re the ones who will pick you up and take you out for a drink in a wheelchair. And, you know, when you got a broken leg, it’s a good time to go to Disneyland too!
What animal do you think would be best on a motorbike?
RS: A monkey. Because they MAYBE could reach the hand and foot controls…and they’re kinda the same size as a human. Motorcycles are made for human beings, so you need to be ergonomically correct to ride one.
OR A TIGER! If you’re doing anything in life that needs to be more extreme, just add a tiger, and then it becomes twice as extreme.
What’s your favorite thing about going to events such as Sturgis?
RS: Sturgis is like the Mecca for cruisers — it’s a pretty wild event! My favorite thing about Sturgis is the roads. Unfortunately, during the 75th anniversary, it’s gonna be pretty tough to ride and so packed with people. It’s crazy, man! It’s a carnival the whole time. It’s like…biker heaven. I get mixed reactions because I don’t like traffic. [laughs]
Tell us your funniest story from Sturgis.
RS: OH YEAH. I got a Sturgis tattoo [one night]. It was a Sturgis tattoo on my ankle. [Then] falling into a pond and walking across the pikes, across [a] lake, completely soaking wet. I was like a trapeze artist.
What kind of music do you like?
RS: I listen to everything. But if you mean Sturgis, we’re talking Molly Hatchet, Cheap Trick, Judas Priest, Quiet Riot, The Rolling Stones, Journey, Kid Rock…and that’s not really what I tend to listen to. I’d be listening to, like, Lorde or Depeche Mode or T.S.O.L. or the Sex Pistols.
It’s pretty crazy, the amount of different music that’s there [at Sturgis] and what people are into… As non-diverse as it is, it’s pretty diverse! You go for the show. You go for the aesthetic. You could sit down on Main Street and just watch the people go by all day. And you are never bored.
Tell us about biker nicknames.
RS: Biker names usually start out with Little John or Big Terry or Crazy Larry or, you know, Pork Chop or Slimy Joe or Johnny Forehead or No-Finger Jake or something like that. It’s usually a reference to a squirrelly thing somebody did and a part of a body or their name. A guy with no fingers is “No-Finger Jake.” You gotta earn a road name. It’s hard to get one. You gotta earn it.
They used to call me Swollen Hands when I was racing. Because my name is Roland Sands...and they’d call me Swollen Hands because I used to crash all the time. [laughs]
What is one misconception that people have about bike riders?
RS: Maybe that they’re all tough guys? Or, uh, bikers are all criminals? Well, most of the time, especially at Sturgis, they’re all lawyers and bankers and people with money. People just go to Sturgis and live a different life for a week! Yeah, we all need an escape. You know, we all live our standard lives at home, and it’s nice to be able to go and just completely lose yourself for a week. And I think a lot of people get that at Sturgis. They can go live a different life, and they can go home and go back to what supports their family.
Roland Sands Design will be at the 75th Anniversary of Sturgis! On August 1, RSD is proud to bring the first annual Built to Ride show to Sturgis City Park. Come check it out!
All photos provided by Roland Sands Design.