The Hall-of-Famer: Rick Fairless
By Craig J. Heimbuch
“I’m a dreamer and I never could have dreamed of this,” says Rick Fairless. His face backs up what he’s saying. It’s got one of those looks on it, one of those ‘I cannot believe this is happening, I’m completely amazed’ looks. We’re standing in the Victory Motorcycles tent in the small Black Hills town of Sturgis, South Dakota. All around us roars the noise of the world’s largest motorcycle rally, carrying through the thick summer air and echoing off the low-slung mountains.
And yet, talking to Fairless, it’s as if the barometric pressure drops in his presence, the temperature eases — a force field of cool in a hot, loud place. An hour earlier, this Dallas-based custom motorcycle designer was inducted into the Sturgis Hall of Fame, the kind of acknowledgment people outside this close-knit community of enthusiasts, this rolling herd of passionate motorcyclists, might not understand. But here, in this place at this time of year, it’s a very big deal. And it seems to put Fairless in an introspective mood. Or, perhaps more to the point for a man who makes tie-dyed motorcycles to match his t-shirts and lets his long sandy-gray hair flow in the breeze behind him, an even more introspective mood.
“I’m a storyteller at heart,” says Fairless. “Every bike I make tells a story.”
He’s brought a Victory Motorcycle with him, but not like a Victory you have ever seen. It is bright and festooned with hundreds of tiny images of famous cartoon characters stretching from the 1960s to some that would be familiar to my five- and nine-year-old sons. It’s called ‘Natasha,’ which reveals Fairless’s penchant for bad girls and specific references. (For those who don’t know, Natasha was one of the “evil bad guys” from “The Rocky & Bullwinkle Show”).
Who thinks of this stuff?
Rick Fairless does and that’s what makes him special. When he looks at a bike, he doesn’t see the engine or the wheels. He doesn’t see the things that should be chrome or the potential for accessorizing. Instead, he’s like a Renaissance sculptor who can look at a block of granite and see the figure aching to be released from captivity. He sees the potential to tell a story.
“I like to do things that interest me,” he says when I ask if he’s ever concerned that he’s stepped too far outside what riders might consider expected or acceptable. “I always have. If I’m not doing something that’s interesting to me, I lose passion for it and if I don’t have passion then I’m not happy.”
Take the column he writes for a motorcycle dealer publication. The magazine, which offers advice on sales tactics and maintaining healthy bottom lines, is what you might expect from a trade organization — except for Fairless’s stories. Right next to an article on prospecting for customers, he’ll write an imaginary letter from his future self in heaven to his 12-year-old self offering advice on dealing with regret and cautioning him to listen to his heart.
“I’ve never been afraid to be different,” says Fairless. It’s the most obvious thing he says in ten minutes. Different is not only a way of being for Rick Fairless; it’s a statement of purpose. It’s who he is and, while his style may not be your speed, it’s hard to deny that he is a gifted storyteller, whether he’s doing it with a pen, a motorcycle or standing in the shade on a hot August day talking to someone who bothered to ask.
Different, in his case, is worthy of enshrinement, worthy of accolade, worthy of the hall of fame.
For Rick Fairless, different is the dreamer’s dream.