Powerplant Motorcycle Co.: The Art and Community of the Motorcycle

Powerplant Motorcycle Co.: The Art and Community of the Motorcycle

“Vintage cars and bikes. If we’re having a conversation and I hear the sound of a custom motor – I can’t help it. I’ll get stuck on that.” Yaniv Evan, creator-in-chief of Powerplant Motorcycle Co., starts his story with its through line: he is obsessed with old bikes.

Yaniv was born in Israel in 1975. His Dad and two older brothers (he has four total) were motorcycle riders so his “fascination with anything with two wheels” started early. One brother even had a bike with a side car he got to ride in. But it wasn’t just things that roll for Yaniv.

Dad was in the catering business, serving the film industry. Being a chef, working with food, was a passed-down possibility for Yaniv, who loved to hang around on set and work with his father. When a big-name Hollywood producer suggested moving the business to the U.S. in 1983, Yaniv’s family relocated first to Virginia to open a restaurant.

“The people on my block were into stock car racing, so we’d always be looking over the fences at their cars. One day, they let us in,” recalls Yaniv. Anything with a motor was feeding his curiosity and creativity. And troublemaking. At 14, he got his first bike (a moped) and ran his dad’s car into a tree. “I always tore apart things – electrical devices, bikes. I just couldn’t put them back together.”

His uncle was a welder, and he would put the things back together. “Seeing those sparks was the coolest thing ever.” They turned a bike into a unicycle, for example.

The family then moved to L.A. to launch the catering business in the heart of the studios. Yaniv dropped out of school (“hated EVERYTHING about school”), and his dad told him to be a mechanic. The aviation mechanics school at LAX offered Yaniv the unique opportunity to not only learn how to service planes, but to hang out with “old timers who knew their shit.” There were some life-changing take-aways from the six months there. “That world is very exacting and an error is a failure. I’m more about having no boundaries. And, I learned you can make anything you want. There’s a lot of advanced tech out there, but the basics are still the basics.”

Yaniv then apprenticed at an auto body shop. “I wanted to paint my car but needed to learn how to do it.” But he didn’t apprentice with just anybody; it was with Gene Winfield, legendary picture car customizer who created iconic vehicles for Blade Runner, Batman, and Star Trek. Yaniv went for a welding class and staying on for what he needed to know. “I learned everything about cars and customizing.”

The Friday night bike and car show at Bob’s Big Boy in Burbank was, in 1998, Yaniv’s chance to show off what he was working on.  One night, an older timer named Mitch rolled up with a shovelhead Harley (“It looked like it came out of the war!”) that he had built himself. He said to Yaniv, “If you can kickstart it, you can ride it.” Yaniv had never kickstarted a Harley before, but it started. “Now I gotta ride it. I rode it really slow, turned the corner and just parked so I could be alone with it. I studied it, rode it back, and that was it. I needed one.”

Yaniv remembered the mentality from aviation school: you can make anything. And he did.

He’d ride it around, it would break down, he’d fix it, repeat. Then he built one for buddy Scott Caan. “Everything was cobbled together. Nothing was meant to ‘fit’.” It became a hobby he worked in the carport of his near-Melrose apartment. People started seeing the bikes and wanting them.

“It starts with a motor, frame, then wheels.” The bikes are made for the individual. “I don’t even create it. It creates itself. Add water and stay positive.” The key for Yaniv is to picture it – it has to look like it’s going fast at all times.

By 2002, the hobby was out of control. With a day job as a production grip and 5 bike projects, something had to give. He quit the day job, invested in some tools. His first project was from a dentist who dropped big bucks. “I spent most of it on the bike. I was just so flattered.” At a Hell’s Angels charity ride and show, the bike won Best in Show (his ’37 truck was tops, too), and he was greenlighted by the most influential riders on the planet.

Every Saturday and Sunday a bunch of biker dudes would be hanging at his apartment/work space. The neighbors weren’t thrilled. So when a 2-car storage unit opened up behind the Vienna Café on Melrose (the daily breakfast spot for Yaniv and friends), he rented it as a commercial space and made his business legit.

It starts with the motor, which in vintage lingo, is the “power plant” and the perfect name for a business that refashions vintage bikes.

Around 2007, one of Yaniv’s mentors built a similar bike for Brad Pitt which got a lot of media coverage. This shifted the desire for “fancy” bikes to choppers and Powerplant got busy. He expanded to the current address that holds a ton of history on Melrose with the memory of Taang! Records and Wacko. As a long-time Melrose denizen, Yaniv says, “Do you understand how good that feels?”

In the alley, there’s a vibrant, loud, greasy shop creating one-of-a-kind choppers for customers all over the world, from Japan to Italy to New Zealand. It takes 3-4 months to build most of them. The aesthetic is hellraiser Harley. Influenced by pre-war bikes with some old parts and some new parts, they look antique when static and like a bullet when in motion.

With no signs, ads, and only a little PR, word was still getting around. “I’d turn around and there’d be 10 French tourists standing there.” Once he started making t-shirts for employees (“to look like a real shop”), people started requesting them. Thus, the Powerplant brand started by demand.

The clothing line developed to reflect his bike-building philosophy: customize, modify, reconstruct. To create a vintage, well-lived look, he’ll “sand it, put holes in it, drag it behind my truck.”

In 2012, the storefront attached to the shop was vacant. Yaniv couldn’t afford it, but his landlord let him put some bikes and tees in the window. His best friend, a Dutch model named Rudy, did a little modeling which generated some business. But someone else rented the space.

In the meantime, Yaniv was exercising his full creativity. “I paint, do my own leatherwork, stitch seats by hand, carve leather, engrave. I make custom keychains, belts.” He did some metalwork for fellow Melrose business American Rag, crafting the denim bar.

The front store became available again in 2014. His landlord really wanted him in. “I felt like I did when I quit my day job to start the shop.” Eventually, he rented it and built out (of course, by himself) a gorgeous retail space. The apparel and gift line is extensive for both men and women: jackets, caps, pins, sweats, even candles! Sometime this year, with his new business partner Peter, Powerplant is going to morph into a big, new community space, “a place for everyone whether you ride or not, to enjoy the art of the bike.”

Powerplant Custom Choppers
7416 Melrose Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90046
(323) 658-6711
https://powerplantchoppers.com

About Deborah Brosseau

Deborah Brosseau provides audience development services to arts & entertainment, lifestyle, and non-profit clients. She is a freelance writer, providing anything from local listicles to corporate profiles for various online publications. Having first experienced Melrose in the '80s, she enjoys writing about the old school creatives as well as the progressive new ones.