Full Throttle

Photography by Matt McCourtney By Molly McCartney August 31, 2010

Inside a nondescript building on 13th Street in Sarasota is a small showroom of custom sports motorbikes in a wild assortment of designs and vivid colors: lime green, hot pink, bright orange. The bikes look like a group of exotic, robotic butterflies that have momentarily paused. Beyond the showroom is the cluttered office of their creator, Bob Fisher, whose tricked-out two-wheelers are pleasing thrill-seeking fans around the world.

Fisher, 34, a big hunk of a guy with an engaging, gregarious style, couldn’t be more surprised that his passion for super-fast motorcycles has turned into a multimillion-dollar global success. "People come from all over the world to see us," he says.

Ten years ago he was just a kid leasing a 4,000-square-foot shop near Sarasota’s Ed Smith Stadium for his motorcycle salvage and repair business, Roaring Toyz. Then he started customizing sportbikes, a class of motorcycle built for speed and performance, by putting chrome on the wheels and custom painting the frames. He took them to shows, where they quickly attracted the attention of the biking world.

Fisher was soon the focus of biker magazine features and a reality TV show called The Metric Revolution that challenged him and other bike builders to produce a new custom bike in 90 days. Fisher’s motorcycle caught everyone’s attention. It had big wheels, a turbo on one side, a blower on the other side, and "so many LEDs on it you would swear it was glowing from nuclear radiation," according to one enthusiastic review.

Fisher remembers the excitement when people started seeing his creations. "A lot of people customize Harley-Davidsons and build parts for them, but we do Japanese sportbikes," he says. "It’s a style that didn’t exist before we started doing it."

Since those early days—he estimates that his annual revenue in 2000 was about $100,000—Fisher has built a global business with annual revenues of $2.8 million and a clientele that includes celebrities like Grammy Award-winning recording artist Ludacris and boxing champion Jeff "Left Hook" Lacy.

Roaring Toyz now has two locations: the original shop at 2594 12th St., which is equipped with six machines to make custom parts, and a 7,250-square-foot complex at 2171 13th St. with enough space for shipping and distribution, business offices, a storage room filled with parts and accessories ready to be shipped, an assembly area where custom bikes are put together and a small showroom of a half dozen custom bikes with provocative designs in brilliant colors.

The company annually builds eight to 10 custom bikes, each selling for $30,000 to $50,000. But 90 percent of Fisher’s business today is custom parts and accessories—handgrips, triple clamps, kickstands, sprockets and more—that he produces in his machine shop or has produced in Taiwan and other places. He sells the parts either directly or through distributors around the world in Europe, South America, Australia and Japan. Prices range from $25 up to $7,500.

Fisher employs nine full-time employees and "tons of vendors and contractors" in the U.S. and abroad, like the designer in Aruba who does the drawings for the creations that Fisher and his team dream up, and welders, assemblers, painters, web managers and marketing people.

"We have kind of done this by accident," Fisher says, as he describes the evolution of Roaring Toyz from modest motorcycle repair shop to "the world’s leading manufacturer of high and custom sportbike parts and accessories."

His enthusiasm for motorcycles has fueled 16-to-20-hour days for years, which has put him at the top of this niche business. "I learned just going along," he says. "I also read, but I recognize the stuff I don’t know. So I hire people to do that for me, everything from business strategy to bookkeeping, financials and to keep me in check a little bit."

Fisher’s business is expanding this year as he does custom work on European motorbikes. "BMW just developed a new super bike, and they gave one to us to develop parts," he says. "And we just finished a bike for Triumph."

The most frustrating side of the business, Fisher says, is the copycat competition. "It’s tough to be the leader, to engineer and develop all those things and have them swiped from us, because as soon as we develop something, it is copied."

Fisher’s passion goes back to his early childhood in Orange County, Calif., where his family lived in the 1970s and ’80s. "When the kid was two years old, if he heard a motorcycle coming down our street, he was on a beeline heading for the front door and screaming ‘mow-o-cia’ for motorcycle," says his father, Bill Fisher, 57. "I have a photo of him when he was about 12 years old holding up a trophy he had won in a bicycle competition."

Bob Fisher remembers "riding bicycles 15 hours a day as a kid" and competing in bicycle stunt riding throughout California. When he wasn’t on his bicycle, he was at the neighborhood bicycle shop.

"I was constantly in the bike shop, so they finally put me to work," he says. He was 10 years old and earning $6 an hour. "They started teaching me how to rebuild the hub, lace up the spokes, so I started learning my craft in terms of building and rebuilding with bicycles."

By the time he was 15, Fisher had saved enough money to buy his first motorcycle, a Yamaha. "I took it apart and chromed it and polished and painted and then sold it for a bigger bike in bad condition, and polished and fixed that one up and sold it," he says.

His parents had divorced by this time, and he was splitting his time between their two homes, using their garages as his workshop for motorcycle repair and customizing.

"My father was not all for it when I bought that first motorcycle," Fisher says. "That gave me the incentive to keep going. He told me no, so I did it twice as hard."

Bill Fisher today says he couldn’t be prouder of what his son has achieved. "He is one of the pioneers in customizing sport bikes. He developed a following, and then Kawasaki came looking for him to do their bikes. I never saw anybody work so hard to start a business. He did it himself. Nobody gave him a dime," he says.

Bob graduated from Harbor High School in Orange County in 1992. He soon moved to Sarasota to be closer to his father. He worked for the Winn-Dixie warehouse on Clark Road driving forklifts and moving boxes. In his spare time, he began to buy motorbikes, fix them up, paint them, sell them and use the money to buy more. He worked on the motorcycles in the kitchen of his apartment, since he had no garage.

He also got interested in racing sportbikes.

"Motorcycling is something that gets in your blood," he says. "It is a sickness that people have, and I can’t think of a way to explain it other than it is something, once you have ridden motorcycles, especially raced motorcycles, that creates endorphins in your body. People compare it to all kinds of sex and drugs and other things. There isn’t much out there as pleasing as going fast on a motorcycle."

Fisher has raced at all the premier tracks—Daytona 200, Road Atlanta, Road America in Wisconsin, to name a few—and he has won countless titles and trophies. He has also crashed a couple of times and suffered some serious injuries.

But his biggest problem with racing is his size. At 6 foot 1 inch and 200 pounds plus, he is too big to race motorbikes. "If I was smaller I would probably be in Europe racing professionally," he says. "But like jockeys who ride horses, the size of the rider determines how fast you can stop, turn, accelerate. Smaller guys have a tremendous advantage. Had I been 5 foot 6 to 5 foot 8 and 145 to 160 pounds, I would be a champion, but my size and weight have made it really difficult for me to compete."

Nonetheless, he persists. And he is a "phenomenal racer," according to fellow biker and racer C.J. Czaia, a Bradenton attorney who sponsors a racing team known as TeamHurtByAccident and who owns a Fisher-customized Suzuki motorcycle with a law theme. "The Supreme Court is painted on one side and Lady Justice on the other side," Czaia says.

Fisher and Czaia, 50, met in the early 2000s at a Daytona 200 race in which they were both competing. "Bob started dead last in a field of 60 and by the second lap he was leading us. I accused him of cheating," Czaia says. The governing body of the sport actually tore apart Fisher’s bike to look for illegal parts that would help him go faster, but the bike was clean. Now good friends with Fisher, Czaia says, "To this day, I accuse him of cheating, but it is a joke now."

Fisher’s special skill in racing is his corner speed, Czaia says.

"If you can drive out of a corner, you get to the next corner quicker," he says. "Bob has incredible corner speed. He can drive hard out of the corners." But that isn’t enough for Fisher to overcome the disadvantage of his size. "It’s like a short guy trying to be a basketball star," Czaia says. Then why not race riding the bigger Harley-Davidsons? "Because Harleys are for guys having a midlife crisis who want to cruise around without a helmet," Czaia says. "Harleys aren’t racing bikes."

Fisher, meantime, has more than made it in the world of motorbikes.

"He turned his vision into a multimillion-dollar business," Czaia says. "He is like a rock star. Sometimes when we go to the race tracks, people ask for his autograph."

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