Russell Mitchell: Exile Cycles Bike Builder
It’s been one heck of a ride for the Exile Cycles bike builder.
Russell Mitchell’s life reads like the saga of a comic book hero. Adorned with permanent artwork and his signature bleach-blond hair, the founder and president of North Hollywood’s Exile Cycles can attribute his status as top bike builder to the winding story line of rebellion, dumb luck, and a touch of wishful thinking that seems too fantastic to be true. Born in the West England farm village of Frampton on Severn, Young Russell’s childhood interests transitioned from skateboarding to modifying mopeds to an eventual pursuit of veterinary medicine. “I never had any particular passion for helping animals,” says Mitchell. “I just knew that girls were into veterinarians. But when my principal told me it would be a terrible career path for me, I went for it strictly out of defiance.”
Proving his principal wrong, Mitchell pushed through university and graduated to a life in the big city of London. Diving headfirst into The Big Smoke’s glam-punk scene, the circumstantial surgeon found his nights increasingly chock-full with music, debauchery, and, of course, those vet-loving women, one of whom—a model—would enter her new beau into “Mr. Wonderful,” a lighthearted beauty pageant that Mitchell would, of course, win. “The whole thing was the biggest joke,” laughs Mitchell. “Yet the next day this bloke comes up to me at the market saying, ‘I know you, you’re Mr. Wonderful!’ It wasn’t until he ran off that I realized it was Boy George.”
Oddly enough (or maybe not at all), his foray in sophomoric modeling put him in the proper company for a shot at the real deal. Off to America, he found the work lucrative at times, yet anything but steady. After a Marlboro commercial spot made his pockets a bit fatter than he’d been accustomed to, he reignited his early love of bike building. Mitchell, who had almost driven himself broke on an ’87 Softail, took another risk and crafted twin custom choppers, one of which caught the eye of Easyriders editor Keith “Bandit” Ball. Agree- ing to a feature, Mitchell listed his contact information at the fictitious Exile Cycles, and a business was born. “The calls just started rolling in,” he chuckles. “I thought, Well, I better do something with this!”
Now the entrepreneurial head of a thriving business and self-proclaimed father of the raw, simplistic, matte-sprayed aesthetic that has taken the motorcycle world by storm, Mitchell’s main focus is pushing the limits of design and innovation. An alumni of the “chopper build-off” TV era, he doesn’t seem to miss the spotlight. “Things became so oversaturated,” he says. “Every network needed a bike show, and you’d have guys doing real, solid programming, and then you’d flip the channel and see the OCC clowns [American Chopper] and their soap opera.”
As for the artwork, that’s one aspect of Mitchell’s life not left to chance. Aside from a covered-up eagle he had defiantly etched during university, his dragon turned bodysuit was put on hold until just the right artist came along. When he discovered tattooist Greg James—now owner of Tattoos Deluxe in Sherman Oaks, CA—Mitchell finally knew it was time to pursue another vision. “The first time I spoke to Greg, I told him about this dragon I had seen done by an artist in London. He told me, ‘Well, why don’t you fucking go there to have it done?’ I guess I caught him on his period that day, but things have been super ever since,” says the veterinarian turned model turned bike builder turned entrepreneur turned human canvas. Super, indeed.