INTERVIEW BY STEVE OLSON
INTRODUCTION BY STEVE OLSON
PHOTOGRAPHY BY DAN LEVY AND EL MIRAGE
The chosen few… Chosen to do what, one wonders? Yaniv has and will do what he wants… What he does, is the best one can… The results are that of a master… Show me a chopper with the kind of style, craftsmanship, detail, and overall essence of sickness, and I’ll show you my… When things are meant to happen, what comes from it is usually amazing… Yaniv Evan is a perfect example of this being true… So maybe that is what’s meant by the chosen ones…“My preference is Harley-Davidsons from the ‘30s and ‘40s. I love the early flatheads, knuckleheads and panheads. I love those motors. They look amazing.”
Hi. My name is Steve Olson.
And I’m an alcoholic.
[Laughs] You’re an alcoholic. I’m not an alcoholic. I had two drinks last night. That makes me an alcoholic?
Okay. Are we on?
Yeah, we are. What is your name?
My name is Yaniv Evan.
That doesn’t sound very Jewish. Why isn’t it Evanstein or Evanburg?
[Laughs] It means ‘stone’. It means ‘stone cold’.
‘Stone Cold Yaniv Evan.’ You come from Israel?
I was born in Israel. I came out here when I was about eight or nine years old.
Did you ever experience any bombing in Israel?
No, but I found a bomb one time when I was a kid. It was a missile, and I kept it. It was a dud, so it didn’t go off. It was cool. I wish I had it now. I’d put it on a motorcycle.
How big was it?
It was about two feet long.
How did you find it?
Well, back then, it wasn’t as built up as it is today. There were just empty yards in different places. We found the missile and we were playing with it and then the cops came and tripped out on it.
Did that trip you out?
No, that was normal. We’ve been getting bombed since day one.
How was it growing up in that environment?
It was okay. When you’re born into it, you don’t really know what’s going on.
Were you fighting the Palestinians then?
I don’t know, dude. I was eight years old when I left Israel. I just remember riding BMX with my friends. I had a nice bike in Israel.
Did you have good dirt tracks?
[Laughs] Yeah, it was all dirt everywhere.
[Laughs] I’m just asking because I’ve never been to Israel.
Well, back then, we had our house, a neighbor’s house and a few houses down the street, and the rest was just fields. One was a strawberry field. In another field, they grew tomatoes. We used to ride our BMX bikes through the open land. You could do whatever you wanted. Then I moved out here.
You moved to Florida first?
Yeah, we moved to Tampa, Florida. That was cool for a minute. We moved out to LA in 1988 and I haven’t left since.
How was the transition from Israel to the States?
It was weird. First of all, I had to learn to speak English. My parents got us on English pretty early. My brothers and I had private tutors in Israel. They knew we were going to move out here, so they were teaching us English.
Why did you move out here?
My dad was in the film business in Israel. He would always come out here to work, so we just ended up moving here. We came to LA because it’s the film capital of the world.
Were there motorcycles in Israel?
Yeah. My brother had a three-wheeler dirt bike. He used to live in the kibbutz and they had dirt bikes. Every time we’d go there, we’d roll through the avocado fields and race each other. It was like a motocross thing. I was big into motocross. I never had one until I got here, but I always had posters on the wall. I always wanted to grow up and ride a bike. My dad had a 250 Honda, and then a Vespa. He used to take me on that thing all the time because it had a back seat.
So you always liked to ride?
Yeah, I always liked two-wheel motorcycles. The next things for me were cars. My dad always had old cars. At the time, my dad had a ’69 or ’70 Pontiac Lemans. It was pretty cool. In Israel, nobody had those cars. Then my dad had a Firebird and that was awesome. When I moved to Florida, I got into it even more because all of my neighbors used to stock car race. We had these redneck dudes up the street and down the street that had stock cars.
Did you ever get to drive them?
No, but we went to the races with them one time to see them race. We used to sit there while they worked on them all weekend. You could hear those cars from anywhere around.
They’re loud as a tank.
Yeah, it’s crazy. In Florida, my friend Brian and I used to steal our dad’s cars. We were driving when we were 13. You could get away with that in Tampa. The fact that I was driving a car at that age was pretty cool to me. Nobody really taught me how to drive. We had to crash a couple of times and then we figured it out. I always wanted a bike, but I couldn’t afford it. In junior high school, I saved up my money and bought this little rice rocket thing. When I went to Palms Junior High School by Venice, I was the only one in school with a motorcycle, and then it some cholos stole it.
Well, that happens.
Yeah, but my mom was happy. She said, ‘Thank God you don’t have that bike anymore. Now I can sleep at night.’ Then I started getting into cars. My first car was a ’64 Mustang. My dad bought it for $900 and I fixed it up.
I had a ’65 Mustang for my first car. It had an 8-track tape player too. I had 8-track tapes of the Ramones, Blondie, Montrose, Black Sabbath and Nugent’s Cat Scratch Fever.
[Laughs] I was stupid crazy into Mustangs at the beginning, but I hate them now. They’re pieces of shit. The A-body frame is a uni-frame, so you can’t take the shell off.
I have to make the reference to the ’68 Bullitt.
That’s a nice car, but the ones you see out here don’t look like that.
You don’t like the Shelby?
I like them because they’re rare, but I don’t like them for me. I got to be a Chevy guy. I hated Fords.
Fords would break down all the time. Then I got a Chevelle and that thing was tight. Whoever built the car did it right. I wasn’t doing my own work back then, but I just started getting into it, you know?
No, I don’t know.
Well, you’ve got an old car. You’ve got a wrench. You can fix it yourself. Sometimes I didn’t have a car for two weeks because I didn’t know what I was doing and I’d taken it apart. I had to figure out how to put it back together. Then I met these guys that lived down the street, Kenny and those guys. They used to drag race in Long Beach. They always helped me out, and then I realized it was easy. If you’ve got a manual, you can fix anything. Parts are available. So I fixed up the Mustang and sold it. Then I got the ’66 Chevelle. That was my second car and it was badass. I wish I still had it.
So you were doing your own work?
Yeah, we stole all of our parts. We used to steal the Rally wheels that were on the Corvettes. In high school, we used to take acid and go to these clubs every weekend. If we saw a Corvette, we’d scope it out and then come by and pop the hubcaps, unbolt all the lugs, and put the caps back on and go to the club. Then we’d come back at four in the morning after the clubs, while everyone was sleeping. We had this dude that would come with us and lift up the car and we’d rip the wheels off and just drop it on the spindles. Sometimes when you’d drop it the alarm would go off, so you had to do it quick. We’d steal the Rally wheels and put them on the Chevelles and Novas.
It was bad. I had bad karma on that. All that shit came back on me eventually, because then my car would get stolen or fucked with. I realized you couldn’t do that kind of thing. So then I’d buy a car. I always had two Chevelles. I had one that was mine and one that I would fix up and sell. That’s how you could fund your own hobby.
How old were you?
You were old enough to vote, but still a kid.
Yeah. We’d go to the Pomona Swap Meets and buy all of our parts. It was cheap and you could get anything for those cars. It wasn’t such a rare thing to have a ’60s or ’70s car. Now the parts cost an arm and a leg. I got out of muscle cars when I saw my friend CC’s ’41 Merc. I said, ‘I want one of those chop tops.’ That was it. I got a ’51 Ford and my friend Junior helped me chop the roof.
What do you think draws you to doing all of this?
I like customizing. It’s cool to have an old car that people don’t recognize. They have no clue what it is. I take all the decals and door handles off. You shave the door handles, clean up the headlight bezels and mold them into the body. You make it yours. You make it unique.
Wait. Isn’t your name ‘Unique’ Evan?
[Laughs] That’s it.
Do you think you’re drawn to it because you’re passionate about what you do?
It’s like pulling up to a car show and you see the same cars with different paint jobs. Well, that never happened to me. Everything I owned was unique. It’s not that I meant it to be that way. It’s just the way it happened. After you sell a car, you’re hooked. You’re like, ‘These guys just sold a car for $10,000.’ You’re getting $20,000 for yours, so you know you’re doing something right, so you just keep doing it. I only sold my cars for big money because they weren’t for sale. I treat every car like I’m going to keep it, and then I sell it. After that, I went from the ’50s cars to the ’30s and ’40s cars. Then I saw this dude at Bob’s Big Boy one night and he had this badass bike that I’d seen in the magazines. He loved my car and I loved his bike. He said, ‘I’ll tell you what. Go for a ride, but you have to kick start it first.’ All his friends were standing there. I said, ‘Okay.’ I was nervous. Everyone was staring at me. I was like, ‘This thing better start.’ He’s like, ‘Three kicks, turn on the switch and then kick it one more time.’ Boom! It started right up. My heart was pounding. That bike was bad. It was like a racer. So I get on and go around the block. I took some extra time, so he would think I’d crashed. Then I rolled back and said, ‘Okay. I’m building a bike. Help me out.’ His name was Mitch Alread. He was like, ‘All right, no problem.’ He started guiding me in what to do and I built my first bike. It was a Triumph. Then it was on.
What made you jump from cars to bikes?
Once you’ve done the cars from the ’60s, ’50s, ’40s and ’30s, all you have left are the ’20s with the speed buckets. There’s nothing left after that. You’ve done it all. In 1918, it was wood wheels, so you can’t go any further back. What do you have left after that? You go out on a motorcycle. There’s no roof. There’s more of a thrill in riding a bike. It’s boring for me to drive a car now, so I built the Triumph chopper. My first bike was a really badass bike. I was really proud of it.
How did it all start? You got an engine…
I went to this kid in Pasadena that has this Triumph thing going on. His dad was a major Triumph collector, so he had all of these parts. He said, ‘I can put something together for you. I’ll give you a frame, a motor and some wheels and help you design it.’ I was like, ‘That would be cool.’ People usually want money for that, but he was willing to work with me to build this bike. Then I saw how simple it was to do, but by then my bike was already done. I just kept doing whatever I could. I would change the pipes and the fenders. Then I was like, ‘Quit fucking around. Go do it on another bike.’ So then I built another one. My first customer, Trevor, saw my Triumph and said, ‘I want one just like it.’ He came to my backyard and I said, ‘Okay. I’m going to set it up. I got a 220, a welder and everything to build a bike.’
Wait. You need to go back a little bit.
Well, after high school, I wanted to be a car mechanic because I was always working on cars. My dad was like, ‘Oh my God.’ My uncle was a mechanic and my dad said, ‘He never made any money. He’s always bitching and whining about bills. You don’t want to be a mechanic.’ I said, ‘Yes. I do. I want to build motors.’ He was like, ‘No.’ At the same time, one of my dad’s friends was an airplane pilot. He would repair private planes and make a lot of money. My dad was like, ‘If you’re going to do anything, go work on airplanes. You can make some real money there if you’re going to be a mechanic.’ So I hooked up with the guy and went to work with him a few times. He goes to work at five in the morning tuning these airplane motors. Then he hooked me up with the school at LAX and I dropped out of high school to go there full time. We started with aluminum and learned how to fix aluminum panels and dents on airplanes. You have to cut the circle out and replace it with a piece of metal and rivet it, and then an FAA inspector inspects every rivet. It’s really technical. We were working on these airplanes every day, so I got to learn a lot of metal skills. I liked the metal work even more than I liked the mechanic work. I started playing around with metal and then went to work at this shop.
What do you mean playing around with metal?
I was welding it, drilling it, cutting it and shaping it. We were making airplane wings and stuff. They give you a frame and we’d have to skin the frame with rivets.
There was a whole science to it?
Yeah, but what it really came down to was a bunch of old retired guys drinking and going to this school. They didn’t like my punk ass or something. I didn’t like them either, so I dropped out of that school within eight months.
You lasted eight months?
Yeah, it was a three-year deal.
Was it a trade school?
Yes. Nowadays, I’m glad I went to that school because I learned to use a lot of hand tools the right way. That helps. It comes in handy to know all that, especially now that I’m working with all different kinds of metal.
Where did you work after the airplane school?
I went to Gene Windfield and worked there for free. Gene Winfield is like the legend of building hotrods. He built all of the Hollywood cars with Barris and those dudes. Gene Winfield was their guy back then. He had all of these kids working there and he’d give us the shittiest jobs. We did bondo work and sanded cars. We had to do lead work. He’s known to do lead work and not many people will do it.
Were you doing custom work?
It was custom work only. He built fifty of those cars that were in the movie Cobra with Sylvester Stallone. They crashed fifty of those cars for that movie in that one chase scene. That was back in the ’80s. Now he’s known for his chop tops. He makes custom roofs and chop tops that are removable and he makes the hard tops. That’s his deal. He molds them. He makes his fenders and hoods and molds them. I was working with him for a little bit, sweeping the floors and cleaning up the shop.
When was this?
That was in 2000. Then I met Junior and Senior and swindled my way into their shop. I had this ’50 Ford and wanted to chop it. Junior said, ‘I’ll do it.’ I said, ‘I want to help. I’ve been doing it here, so I can do it at your place.’ He said, ‘Okay.’ His dad hated me for a while. He didn’t hate me. He was just rude. He was like, ‘What the fuck? You put this 516 wrench in the wrong toolbox. Stay away from the toolbox. Don’t touch it.’ He called me a headache.
[Laughs] Did you learn anything from them?
Yeah. I didn’t get to touch shit until one day they were going to this big show in Paso Robles. They said, ‘We have to leave at 5am. Finish your car yourself and meet us up there.’ My car was in pieces and we were supposed to follow each other, so I didn’t make it to Paso Robles. While they were out of town, I stayed there in the shop and used every tool they never let me touch. I filled in all the holes in the car.
Who is Junior?
Junior is James Bruns. They build some of the most amazing hotrods with their own style. The dad is like James Dean. He’s 60 some years old with tattoos. The shop is called Bruns’ Custom City. They have a three-generation thing going on. It’s Junior, Senior and the new baby. Jimmy is the son. He helped me out. He was cool to me. His dad was a dick to me for a little while and then we started collaborating and doing some shit. I was coming up with ideas. Normally, when you work at a shop and you have an idea, the reaction is that they don’t want to hear it, but we built some cool shit with my ideas and it worked out really good. We got trophies and first place. We did bikes and hotrods.
So the old man started out being a dick, but then realized you had some good ideas?
Later on, I realized that he liked me the whole time. His daughter goes, ‘The fact that he’s giving you that attention and being a dick to you shows he likes you. Look at what’s going on. You’re here using the shop. You’re working here. Therefore, he obviously likes you.’
He was stoked.
Yeah, but it took a long time. What I’m trying to say is that not many people get the opportunity to do this.
What’s a long time in your opinion?
That is a long time. How do you start building your own bikes?
Well, I got my own shop. The freedom of having your own shop is great.
Why do you like to ride?
It feels good. I was always into bicycles since I was a kid. Everything I ever had, had spokes on it. I don’t do the mag wheel thing. I had bikes, BMX bikes and always had to do something custom to them. I didn’t know how to weld then, so I’d have someone do it for me. In Israel, my uncle had a place where he was making gates, so I had him weld this custom frame for me when I was six years old. It wasn’t ride-able, but it looked cool as shit.
It was like an art toy. The geometry was off. It was wobbly.
How did you get into your shop now?
Well, this place is the original shop that I opened. It’s called Powerplant Choppers.
What does Powerplant mean?
It’s the supply of power cranked out of the tower. If you’re riding a bicycle, you’re the powerplant. If you’re flying an airplane, the powerplant is the motor that’s driving the propellor. If you read old magazines from the ’20s or ’30s, they used to advertise motorcycles, ‘See these powerplants!’ Instead of saying motors, they said powerplants. So I built my bike at Eddie Madrid’s who knew bikes. We had a welder, a machinist and a dude that did the motor and wiring for us. There was me with all of my crazy ideas for handlebars and pipes, so we put those Triumphs together. I can’t take all the credit because it was Junior, Senior and Eddie too. Then I got on the bike and rode it around and everyone was shitting bricks like it’s the best thing they’d ever seen.
Which bike was this?
It was my green and black ’67 Triumph. We made it into a rigid frame, chopped it, added Z bars and did a springer on it. Now I can do that with my eyes closed, but back then, I didn’t know how to do that shit. So I rode it around and everyone was like, ‘How much? Can you get me one?’ So I picked up my first order. I was building my friend Gator a bike and then this guy Trevor came over. He said, ‘I’ve got this 500 Triumph and I’ve never done a 500 before.’ I said, ‘I’ll do it.’ So I built him a nice little bike. That one took a while because nobody was helping me. I was at my house next to Starbucks in the backyard.
Then you got the shop?
Yeah, the neighbors would bitch because it was becoming a hang out just like my shop is now. Around the same time, my friend Rudy told me to go around the corner because this guy was hanging up a ‘For Rent’ sign up at this place. I got that spot and made a garage out of it. I had two lifts, a welder, and a little office. It was a cool, little place to bring people to see your bikes, but then it got too small here. We had so many bikes going in. Then we had to start dealing with the city and pull a tax permit and a city permit. Next thing you know, I’m running a full-on business. I had to buy a name and copyright it. I had a friend help me out. We figured we could make some extra cash. We’d spent $1,700 on a welder so we might as well use it. We started welding all kinds of shit. We were working on cars and bikes. We did some movie props, too.
Who was your friend?
Bjorn was the first guy that worked with me.
How did you start getting notoriety for your bikes?
It just went from one person to another, word of mouth.
How long does it take you to build a bike?
There are two things that I do. There’s a bike for money and a bike for passion. The one for the money, means you have to take in repair work. Some guys want the nice stuff, but it doesn’t happen overnight, so you have to do something to pay the bills. You get a mechanic and bring in a few jobs that they can fix. Repair work is easy. It’s mostly gaskets and busting your knuckles on some nuts and bolts. That’s the bolt-on work. There’s bolt-on work and custom work. When I do the custom work, there’s no way to tell how long something is going to take. You start building something as a vision, and then sometimes you have to change it. Nothing leaves the shop until it’s perfect. Sometimes it takes days or weeks. That shit doesn’t pay, but I continue to do it. My friends would bring their friends and I can’t let a friend have a shitty bike. So I’m like, ‘Let me do this for that, and I’ll do these things to make it cooler.’ I don’t want to sound conceited, but they like that I make their bikes cooler than they were when they came into the shop. In between those jobs, there’d be one nice bike that I’d build for myself. That bike would get a magazine spread or I’d take it to a show and win a trophy. That’s how I started.
What is the classification of bikes that you build?
They would be ‘nostalgic custom’. They’re not choppers really, although I love choppers and base all of my bikes on what a chopper should be. The definition of a chopper is to actually chop the bike frame. You can’t just cut the fender and say it’s a chopper. You have to get into the frame. The silhouette of the frame and the way it sits on the ground is the main powerplant. Then there’s the silly shit like the taillights and license plate brackets, so I do shit like that too.
Where do you get your concepts for how you design and build the bikes that you build?
[Laughs] How do you come up with your ideas?
I’m really influenced by the methods of how they built stuff in the ’20s and ’30s. For example, they did furnace brazing. They didn’t have welders like they have today, so they would tack weld everything and put it in an oven and furnace braze it in mass production. They’d heat the metal up to a certain degree and it solders it. It’s quick. Everything is welded in one shot. You don’t even see the weld. It has perfectly good seams. With my stuff, I hide the welds. I grind them up, put an imitation lift around the welds, fill it in and at the end of the day it looks like it was furnace brazed. It looks like a casting and a tube pressed together. That look is really hard to achieve. So that’s what I’ve been doing. I’ve been focusing on using those techniques. Obviously, we don’t have all the tools they used to use, but I want it to look like we used those kinds of tools. That’s part of my secret. That’s my thing that I do versus other builders.
So you like to build Harleys?
My preference is Harley-Davidsons from the ’30s and ’40s. I love the early flatheads, knuckleheads and panheads. I love those motors. They look amazing.
What makes a motor amazing looking?
I love the shapes. I love the concept of how they make them. And they work. They poured the cylinders and the oil would feed through the cylinders and keep it cool. It keeps the top end oiled. The fins on the motors have progressed too. They used to have these fins on the motors and then later they used aluminum. Everything started getting rounder and prettier looking. These are other ways that the engine stays cool too by using aluminum. Metal was different back then. It was twice as heavy. When I see a knucklehead, it just has real written all over it.
You also incorporate new things like new brake systems.
Yeah, I do. I like to fix up the brakes like the ones I see on Italian or Japanese bikes. They just have more character. They have shapes. They’re not machined aluminum. That look is played out to me. Everything has to have a unique shape, including the bolts. I even use hardware that’s rare. You just don’t find flathead screws on my stuff. I use aircraft screws with stainless steel bolts. They’ve got 12 points and look really good. With all of that, you can have one serious bike. When you go to these bike shows, every bike has one cool thing on it. With my bikes, I want everything on the bike to be cool. There’s no end to how much cool shit is on the bike.