Many guys who design motorcycles get into it during their autumn years, after a long life of hard riding. But for 36-year-old Roland Sands, it was a near-death experience that coaxed him into fabricating. “Yeah, I did something stupid,” says Sands. “I was racing my bike at Sears Point [in Sonoma County, CA] and tapped another guy going around a corner. We both crashed into the air fence at 120 mph. I punctured my lungs, broke some bones, and cracked my liver. You could say it was a pretty colorful way to exit the sport.”
Sands relates this story in his trademark patter, which is a cross between mellow surfer and mordant mortician. Currently the owner of the über-hip Roland Sands Designs, in Los Alamitos, CA, this prize-winning designer was always a kid who took the corners fast. “I was around motorcycles a lot as a boy. My dad, Perry, was a championship racer. Mostly, though, I dug skateboarding, smoking weed, and tattoos. But I couldn’t stop drawing pictures of bikes. When I couldn’t race anymore, I thought, ‘Maybe design is the next best thing.’”
RSD works with major motorcycle manufacturers, such as Ducati, Yamaha, and KTM, and designs motorcycles that are part sport bike, part chopper. Sands covets his tattoos for the same reason he loves his work: Both represent freedom, beauty, and unconventionality. “Tattoos are the skin version of the motorcycle,” says the designer. “They mean you’re an iconoclast. My first piece was the Japanese symbol for speed on my right shoulder. I’ve also got a board track race scene on my forearm, an Indian Hill Climber on my left arm, a skull racer on the inside of the left biceps, with an Avenging Angel on that biceps, too. Someday, I hope to get the Long Beach Bridge on my back connecting my shoulders.”
Sands’s freethinking business ideas are working just fine too. In addition to his corporate gigs, he does singular creations for other iconoclastic types, like the bike he’s building for Mickey Rourke. “I’m making him something pretty unique, a cross between a Cafe Dragster and a Harley high-performance model,” Sands says. “It also involves satin and some other unusual materials.”
Although he’s got other celebrity clients, Sands is too modest a cat to name-drop. Mostly, he’s a dreamer, a searcher, and an inked-up philosopher. “I love what I do,” he says. “But it’s more than that. I’m always looking for symbolic bridges that connect my life and my work.” Hopefully they’re both far from done.