Ryan Cox

Lost in the Details

Words & photos by Todd Blubaugh

As I studied his motorcycle before shooting it, I couldn’t help but notice how much it spoke to what I know of Ryan Cox as a person: He is a calculated man who considers many decisions before making one.

The first time I saw this 39 was in Palm Springs at the Paradise Road Show. It stood out among the usual suspects not because it was loud (visually), but because it quietly held my attention over the rest of the noise. I knew immediately who had built it. 

Ryan has always impressed me. His bikes are concise – he designs them without gimmicks, and every detail has a noticeable function. This 39 is thus far my favorite, so I called him on a Friday night and asked if I could shoot it. Thirty minutes later, he was at my office dropping it off after a long day of work. Ryan is a wardrobe stylist here in Los Angeles, which makes a lot of sense if you are looking at this bike – he does not cut corners when it comes to the smallest detail. Although his bikes are custom, he builds them to production standards … taking the time and money to find the proper vintage for all his components. Ryan tells me that he can’t help his OCD, but it clearly has its advantages when styling a job or one of his bikes.

His introduction to motorcycles started in the dirt: He was born in Astoria, Oregon, where a lot of his family still resides. Motorbikes were a household item, and his father used to ride Ryan around on his gas tank at age 2. Ryan had a mini bike by age 6 back in 1986; after mowing lawns all summer, he bought a brand-new XR 80 for $1,200 from the Honda dealership. 

Most of Ryan’s formative years happened in Southern California after his family moved to Thousand Oaks. He fell in love with racing dirt bikes, but always kept an appreciation for Harleys  (his father had been an enthusiast since the ’60s). In his 20s, Ryan started turning his attention toward Choppers. After building a pan, a knuckle and even a Triumph, he started looking at side valve motors. A friend he knew and trusted was selling an 80” 1939 UH. Ryan decided to start this project the moment he saw the motor. It took him a year and a half to collect all the parts and another 10 months to build.  He finished the night before David Mann Chopperfest, where the bike received the David Mann Memorial Award (the most prestigious honor of the show). Since then, the 39 won Best in Show at the Paradise Road Show and Best Flathead at Born Free 10. In September, the bike will head to Milwaukee for the 115-year Harley-Davidson anniversary party.

He told me it was never his intention to build a celebrated artifact.  But that’s just what happens when Ryan gets lost in the details.

By the time I finished shooting his bike, I felt like I knew him a little more deeply. I still consider Ryan to be quiet, but now I understand why. Who needs to explain themselves when their work can do it for them?