Riding Fast, Taking Chances: Roland Sands Explains

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Roland Sands grew up around motorcycles and racing in southern California. His father Perry is a Motorcycle Hall of Famer who earned his stripes running Performance Machine, which he ran for decades making parts for V-twin enthusiasts. Roland is a 45-year-old father of two who has just as many broken bones as trophies on his shelf, and as the figurehead for Roland Sands Design is uniquely positioned to evangelize fun on two wheels. We spoke recently about his view on the scene and what the future holds for motorcyclists.

FOX: WITH PERFORMANCE MACHINE AS YOUR FOUNDATION, WHAT PRESSURES DO YOU FEEL HAVING YOUR NAME APPEAR ON NEARLY EVERYTHING YOU’RE INVOLVED WITH THESE DAYS?

ROLAND SANDS: I separate the individual from the product as well as I can. Product can mean just about anything with my name on it including racing and events. Anything we’re involved has to be a little different, hopefully a little cooler and with a little more in return that expected. That’s what we shoot for. If I looked at it like ‘everything with my name on it is a direct reflection of me personally’ I’d probably freak out. In truth it’s a heavy weight, but I have thick skin and I’m good at leaving the work at the shop when I get home and shut off. Kids make that a necessity.

“IN TRUTH IT’S A HEAVY WEIGHT, BUT I HAVE THICK SKIN.”

Roland Sands

FOX: BROKEN BONES ASIDE, CAN YOU THINK OF ANYTHING NEGATIVE INVOLVING MOTORCYCLES?

ROLAND SANDS: I hate seeing my friends get hurt and it happens on two wheels. We lost Carlin Dunne last year at Pikes Peak. He was a true two-wheeled warrior who was also a great ambassador of the sport and did it for the right reasons because he loved it. With the danger comes the thrill and the challenge; it’s really the fuel that has pushed humanity since we looked over the next hill at the sea beyond and decided to have a go. Motorcycles are that challenge accepted. Facing your fears and experiencing life on the edge. Some like Carlin take it to the hero level and occasionally pay the price. It hurts but it reaffirms the challenge.

FOX: WAS THERE EVER A TIME YOU DIDN’T HAVE MOTORCYCLES ON THE MIND? COULD YOU IMAGINE A WORLD WITHOUT INTERNAL COMBUSTION ENGINES?

ROLAND SANDS: I think for a long time it was motorcycles or girls. Now the girls are my two young daughters and they are more work than any motorcycle ever was, but more rewarding as well. Motorcycles don’t hug you and tell you they love you, but like kids, they’ll scare the crap out of you occasionally and we all need a little bit of that.

“ONE OF MY FAVORITE THINGS IS TO SEE SOMEONE INSPIRED AND USING THEIR BRAIN TO CREATE, BECAUSE I KNOW THE SATISFACTION OF SEEING YOUR VISION TURN TO REALITY.”

Crazy as it is, I could imagine a world without gas powered machines. But I’ve always been a bit of a futurist. I’d be okay never going to a gas station again. I think a world where we all supply our own solar power and there’s backyard workshops retrofitting electric motors to vintage bike chassis is in our future. They’re already doing it with cars. No matter what happens though, there’s always going to be someone fiddling with everything and making it unique, faster and better. That said I love motors and I’d be sad to see them go, but if it means a healthier planet for my kids, I’m in. But I don’t think motorcycles are the place to start.

FOX: YOU’VE MENTIONED THE WISE ADVICE FROM YOUR FATHER AS LAYING THE GROUNDWORK FOR SUCCESS. HOW DO YOU INSPIRE YOUR TEAM IN LOS ALAMITOS TO KEEP UP AND DELIVER ON YOUR VISION FOR RSD?

ROLAND SANDS: My dad always pushed me to work and play hard, so I owe him my work ethic and the attitude of delivering more than expected. I’ve tried to surround myself with people that do the same and the team at the shop all carry that mentality. One of my favorite things is to see someone inspired and using their brain to create, because I know the satisfaction of seeing your vision turn to reality. If I can be the catalyst to make that happen for others, then I’ve had a good day. As far as how that happens, I want the crew to have creative freedom and as much input as possible; if I can be 100 percent not involved and it turns out awesome then that’s a win and the crew stays stoked.

FOX: V-TWINS CONTINUE TO BE THE LIFEBLOOD OF YOUR BUSINESS. WHAT IS IT ABOUT THEM THAT STILL TRIPS YOUR TRIGGER?

ROLAND SANDS: I’d say that focus is shifting. It certainly is on the apparel side as we reach out to all aspects of two wheels. But the V-twin space is also shifting into a more high-performance customer, which was unthinkable 10 years ago. I feel like we went from one of only a few companies pushing performance on the V-twin side to every company using performance to market their products. These days if you’re not wheelying, burning out or flat tracking you’re not in the V-twin business any more. CRAZY.

FOX: OLA STENEGÄRD HAS BEEN ONE OF YOUR CLOSEST INDUSTRY HOMBRES AND CO-CONSPIRATORS FOR MANY YEARS NOW, BEGINNING WITH HIS STINT AS HEAD DESIGNER AT BMW MOTORRAD AND CONTINUING IN EARLY 2018 WHEN HE JUMPED OVER TO A SIMILAR ROLE WITH INDIAN. FOX ENJOYS ITS RELATIONSHIP WITH INDIAN AS WELL, SO IT GOES WITHOUT SAYING WE’RE BOTH EAGER TO SEE HIS HANDIWORK. WHY DO YOU THINK YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH VICTORY AND NOW INDIAN HAS BEEN SO SUCCESSFUL?

ROLAND SANDS: Indian and Victory at the end had high-performance aspirations and we were the right partner to explore those spaces. They’ve been willing to take risk and put their brand on the line many times. Pikes Peak, Project 200, the Evel Knievel jump with Travis Pastrana on live TV, the Super Hooligan Championship, it’s all been crazy ideas that the guys at Indian have jumped on and stayed the course. Not many OEMs would take those risks, but when you’re facing the biggest bully in the school yard you have to take some risks.

FOX: 2019 HAS BEEN THE FIRST YEAR FOX AND RSD HAVE PARTNERED ON SEVERAL PROJECTS, A COUPLE WHICH WILL DEBUT AROUND THE STURGIS RALLY. THE COLLABORATION ON OUR FTR1200 RACE SHOCK SEEMS TO BE CATCHING PLENTY OF ATTENTION. ARE YOU PLEASED SO FAR?

ROLAND SANDS: The FOX shocks work! If the riders are stoked it says a lot about the product and the future of the RSD x FOX products. We know we can build great suspension together for all facets of riding and that’s exciting.

FOX: SPEAKING OF INDUSTRY RELATIONSHIPS, HOW DO MOST RSD BIKE BUILDS EVOLVE? ARE YOU SHAKING THE TREES WITH MANUFACTURERS, OR ARE THEY COMING TO YOU?

ROLAND SANDS: We have some great customers as well as OEM collaborations and occasionally I build a bike for myself as well. But it all starts with an idea, whether that’s a render or a conversation.

FOX: HOW AND WHEN DID THE GENESIS FOR A NATIONAL SUPER HOOLIGAN CHAMPIONSHIP BEGIN? WHO WAS INSTRUMENTAL IN LAYING THE GROUND WORK TO MAKE IT HAPPEN THAT FIRST SEASON?

ROLAND SANDS: It all started in Las Vegas. We had the first Super Hooligan with the Superprestigio of the Americas and had 50 Hooligans out to race the National. It was insane. The Hooligans kind of stole the show and the vibe was great and we just continued on.

Cameron Brewer has been key in keeping the series going as well as Dan Hartloff and the rest of the crew. But it’s really been the riders who make the show what it is.

FOX: WHILE WE’RE TALKING ABOUT THE CARNIVAL ATMOSPHERE THAT IS THE SHNC, HOW BIG WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE THE MUSIC PORTION OF THE MOTO BEACH CLASSIC AND ITS SPIN OFF EVENTS BECOME?

ROLAND SANDS: At Moto Beach the music aspect, it’s huge. Our mentality has been ‘let’s throw a party where a motorcycle race breaks out!’ It’s the good-times mentality we try to keep at the surface. It’s serious but we try to keep it not serious, if that makes sense. We want everyone to hang out and BBQ, drink some beers and listen to music after the races.

FOX: WHAT SORT OF MOTORCYCLE SCENE DO YOU THINK YOUR TWO YOUNG DAUGHTERS WILL EXPERIENCE WHEN THEY COME OF AGE? DO YOU PICTURE MENTORING THEM INTO THE FAMILY BUSINESS, JUST AS YOUR FATHER DID 30 YEARS AGO?

ROLAND SANDS: I’ve already got them on Striders and Stacycs. My two-year-old is pushing her Strider with her feet up. The four-year-old is riding the Stacyc; it’s wide open.

Maybe some punk rock Sci Fi electric concept bike shop? They’ll probably be teaching me about all of it in the next 10 years.

// rolandsands.com