Photos by Brandon Harman | Words by Donny Emler
Perhaps the only thing typical about Roland Sands is the passion he has for riding motorcycles. But Sands is certainly not typical;
in fact, the best way to describe him would be “a fucking loose cannon with a knack for designing some pretty amazing shit.”
He sees the world through his own unique perspective, and his creative nature allows him to do incredible things with that.
I met Sands about 10 years ago, and even though I was from the off-road industry and Sands worked more on the street side of the spectrum, our love for motorcycles and shared enjoyment of cold adult refreshments made for an instant bond between us. After our first Daytona Bike Week—where he continuously abused my rental car and slept in my hotel room because of some complications with his own room (he got kicked out)—I realized that this could be the start to a great friendship. When Sands joined in on our annual FMF Baja Bonanza ride, I was excited because I knew he would add some fun flavor to the already awesome group of guys. That was until I remembered how reckless he could be—one broken leg later (from attempting to follow Jeremy McGrath off of a rock jump at the beach), his inaugural Baja Bonanza had come to a screeching halt.
Hanging out with Sands is like riding a roller coaster that you have never ridden before: It’s all fun and games until that coaster ratchets all the way to the top and then you see just how high that first drop is.
Before you have a chance to back down, you are whirling down the coaster with your head spinning, but when it’s over, you’re ready to do it all over again. A prime example: In 2009, Sands and I had the bright idea to participate in the Red Bull Soapbox Race in downtown Los Angeles in front of 111,000 people. We thought it was genius; with Sands’ design instincts and FMF’s manufacturing capabilities, ours would be a racer like no other. We rolled up to the race with a Delorean-replica soapbox racer and Back to the Future costumes to match, in 100-plus-degree heat. In full character, Marty McFly and Doc Brown descended the steep L.A. street. I felt like we definitely were going to win this race; with Sands at the wheel and me sitting shotgun, we passed the radar speed check heading to the massive bowl turn at the bottom of the hill doing 47 mph.
It was then that I realized Sands had no plans for utilizing the brake system we had installed. In that very moment, I had had enough Sands for the day. Luckily for the judges who were propped at the top of the massive 10-foot caged metal berm, Red Bull had been wise enough to have built a three-foot safety wall, because two grown men hitting a berm at 47 mph on bicycle wheels is likely to spell destruction for anything and anyone in range. After a massive rail slide on the safety wall—and somehow not plummeting to the asphalt floor for a cement nap—we made it. Against all laws of physics and nature, we made it.
After taking in all the adrenaline, I realized that this is just how Roland lives his life. The creative process necessitates risks, and Sands welcomes these risks in turning his mind’s craziest concepts into reality.
Roland Sands has been at the forefront of the modern-day motorcycle garage revival. Nestled away in Southern California, Roland Sands Design (RSD) has been evolving over the last decade into not just a performance design shop, but an eclectic hangout as well.
Sands has laid his skin into the earth in the name of motorcycles, building his own style and brand. Be it asphalt or dirt, Sands has raced it on two wheels. His pedigree is deeply infused with motorcycle culture.
His father, Perry Sands, is the man behind Performance Machine—a design shop that also helped usher iconic style and design into the aftermarket world—and growing up around him, Sands always displayed an eye for style. A former AMA 250GP national champion, Sands is no stranger to racing, winning, and setting track records. This has all played a huge role in shaping Sands as a person and as a designer. Over the years, Sands has built some unbelievable custom machines—bikes that can actually be ridden and ridden fast—for a number of A-list celebrities and other high-profile clientele.
But building custom bikes is just a small piece of the puzzle that is Roland Sands Design. Sands has diversified his business into product design and consultation for the motorcycle OEMs; RSD works with major motorcycle manufacturers to design concept and prototype motorcycles and promote benchmark product in the motorcycle industry and beyond. The company also promotes its own full line of custom apparel.
As a proponent of living life to the beat of his own creative drum, even Sands can get in his own way sometimes, and that’s oddly enough when some of his most amazing designs surface.
Motorcycle culture is flourishing right now, and as so often happens in American society, the motorcycle has come full circle from the early years and once again sparked a major trend, exemplified by Red Bull Media House’s revival of the classic motorcycle documentary On Any Sunday with the major 2014 release of On Any Sunday: The Next Chapter. It’s a trend that Roland Sands and his band of misfits have helped influence by making their mark in style, design, and function. Now is a great time for garage tinkerers to show off their creations. In the past, bikes and going riding were much simpler; the motorcycling of yesteryear was characterized by maintenance-friendly bikes and days of riding right from the garage. Machines of today are the most advanced forms of production motorcycles the world has ever seen—fully equipped EFI, air forks, traction control, and even ABS braking.
But riding a motorcycle is about the inevitable adventure that follows throwing a leg over the seat and twisting the throttle. Enthusiasts all over the world love to ride; it’s a visceral feeling ultimately accompanied by a spark in the soul and a smile on the face.
Roland Sands was born to shift gears and pop wheelies and has been doing so since he was 4 years old. Parents tell their children to dream big and do what they love; for Sands, starting a successful design and manufacturing business was no easy task, but sometimes dreams prevail, and a little bit of recklessness can catapult one idea from mediocrity to pure genius.
Sands continues to share his passion with fans and friends by racing Harley nights at his local speedway, even building custom Mad Max–inspired bikes to compete at and help promote the IV League Flat Track, a “run what you brung” event that encourages racers of all types to come out to the track. RSD has also dedicated countless hours to helping promote the Kurt Caselli Foundation, a group whose mission is to promote safety in the world of off-road racing.
Roland Sands has put his heart and soul into creating a brand with a vision that hasn’t lost track of the simple things that make riding a motorcycle fun. So here’s to Sands and the creative nut jobs of the world. Cheers! I am always ready to ride that roller coaster again!