But the impact of motorcycles upon Conley’s history is eminent. From his youthful rides upon the seat of a dirt bike to his wedding day departure with his new bride saddling the seat of his first custom-built Kawasaki, Conley’s life seems to have been welded to the frame of the metric motorcycles he builds. In his workshop office, across from his daughter’s playpen, sits a leather couch, which he admits was a purchase designed to accommodate him when late nights grew into mornings.
“Sometimes I lose track of time,” Conley said. “By the time I’m finished with a bike, I’ve got over 100 hours into it, easy.”
But that is a conservative estimate, Conley said, since there is no real way to calculate how much time the project wanders around in his head before he ever picks up a tool. Such a time investment is hard to balance, Conley admits. While his top-end bike has sold for around $35,000, the average bike sells for about a third of that, a figure that leaves little room for profit.
“It really hurts your business because it requires so much time,” he said of the custom design and building of motorcycles. “Once you finish one, if you figure it up, you make about $3 per hour.” But the challenge, not the money, is what played the biggest role in his decisions about bikes. Though he was not the first to embrace the metric arena, his creativity is what he said separated him from the others.
“I just really liked seeing what I could come up with,” Conley said of his labor-intensive beginnings. “I’m a little more daring than some of the other people. Those guys were just doing it to make money and I didn’t really care about money at the time.”
Ironically, the lack of money is what forced Conley into the world of metric motorcycles to begin with. He had always wanted a Harley, but as a computer science student at Seminole State College, it wasn’t in the budget. At that time, Conley said the foreign bikes were just coming out with some Harley look-alikes. So, he settled for a $3,000 Kawasaki Vulcan 800.
Entranced by the image of a tricked-out Harley within his mind, Conley said he wanted his bike to look fancy. The lack of parts, however, barricaded his goal.
“I started going to bike shows and stuff to see what other people did to their Harleys. I wanted to do it to my bike, but nobody made any parts for it. So I was having to take the Harley parts and adapt them over to what I was wanting,” said Conley. “That was something that people weren’t really doing at that time.”
Armed with the self-taught welding and sheet metal experience from the rebuilding of a rusted out Chevy truck, Conley went to work modifying his bike. He made a lot of mistakes and did some things he now regrets, but those obstacles were all part of the path leading him to where he is today.
It wasn’t long before his custom work gained appeal. He soon landed a part-time job at the Shawnee Kawasaki dealership.
“I was supposed to be building custom bikes but all I really ended up doing was assembling new bikes,” Conley said.
Conley worked at the dealership long enough to meet his wife. He then set up shop in his dad’s one-car garage in Tecumseh behind the woods where coyote howls instilled fear in him as a young boy. Coyote Customs was born. Having decided Japanese bikes were better than Harleys, Conley became one of only a handful of people in the country specializing in metric motorcycles. With each bike, his reputation grew, although sometimes not so warmly.
“I’d go to a bike shop and they’d see a little punk kid ride up on a metric bike and they didn’t like me too much. I’ve just now gotten to where they accept me a little bit,” Conley said.
But acceptance is a modest description of Conley’s fame. In addition to the multiple awards at bike shows and the wall full of framed magazine features, Conley has captured the attention of bikers across the nation. Many have shipped him parts, which he has modified and shipped back. His designs brought to his door bikers seeking custom parts and businessmen seeking manufacturing agreements.
Having outgrown the Tecumseh one-car garage, Coyote Customs now operates from an Oklahoma City warehouse and a website at www.coyotecustoms.com. Coyote Customs designs can be found motoring through the streets across the central and east coast. In the next few months, Conley said he will be building the first Coyote Customs bike for the west coast, which will find a home in California despite the “chopper exacerbation” sparked by the popular “American Chopper” television show.
Conley looks for a future where Coyote Customs will become a commonality among metric motorcycles. Like the unique gas tank he designed, which has become almost a hallmark for Coyote Customs, Conley said he now builds motorcycles with the intention of fabricating pieces that can be later manufactured as a Coyote Custom bolt-on part for the metric enthusiast.
On the highway of bikers, Harley Davidson motorcycles may still be the standard by which other bikes are judged. But the road is taking a turn. And leading that turn, peering out between the fat handlebars, is Jason Conley and his Coyote Customs.
Article published in 2005.