When the economy bottomed out, fabricator Steffan Ihrcke switched from chain saws to handlebars and built a far-reaching following.
Story by A.P. Weber Photos by Thomas Boyd
On the one hand, Steffan Ihrcke looks every bit like the biker and machinist he is. On the other, he could almost pass for a scientist.
With barrel chest and prominent tattoos, Ihrcke also sports a somewhat studious look — black-framed glasses over keen, steely eyes.
His workshop is modest; a garage off Highway 99 that shares its site with local school buses. He has no storefront for his business.
In fact, it’s safe to say the vast majority of Douglas County residents don’t even know his shop exists and that they have a world-class fabricator — a genuine artist in the international custom motorcycle industry — in their midst.
Ihrcke started his business in 2010, calling it Zombie Performance for no particular reason, other than the name was an attention-getter.
“Originally I was building custom chain saws and stuff for local loggers and for people doing competition chainsawing,” he says. “But that kind of crashed out because of the housing market crash. All of a sudden, all these loggers were out of work and nobody was spending any money. The logging competitions were so few and far between it didn’t justify focusing the entirety of the business on it.”
As a motorcycle hobbyist in a down economy, Ihrcke figured he’d have to get resourceful. He bought a bar bender, with the idea of experimenting on his own bike. It soon got to the point where he was changing out his handlebars every week or so.
When he would post pictures online of the unique and innovative designs he’d come up with, people would offer to buy them.
“Within a couple of months, I started getting custom orders,” Ihrcke says.
That was enough to motivate him to leave behind the smallengine work to focus on this one niche, to become the “handlebar guy,” and to become the best one out there.
Chopcult.com is a website that connects custom motorcycle enthusiasts worldwide by offering free want ads and forums, among other things. The forums are a sort of marketplace of ideas, where the best of the best naturally rise to the top. As editor for the website, Lisa Ballard is in a unique position to keep her finger on the pulse of this highly creative community.
“The most significant thing people look for in handmade parts is top quality,” she says. “And Steffan delivers with every order.”
There’s a lot of work involved in custom handlebars.
“Every time I get an order,” Ihrcke says, “I’ve got to take it from raw handlebar stock, cut it to length, clean it, bend it, notch it, weld it and turn it into the final product.”
His customers are willing to wait up to four weeks for Ihrcke to produce their one-of-a-kind bar, and he says he’s had some strange orders over the years.
“The most significant thing people look for in handmade parts is top-quality, and Steffan delivers with every order.”
-Lisa Ballard, editor, Chopcult.com
“When I first started, everybody was really into the weird stuff — the weirder the better,” he says.
One of his customers wanted to convert a sportster into a dirt bike, for example. As long as it’s safe and doesn’t defy the laws of physics, Ihrcke says he’s happy to manufacture handlebars for whatever project comes his way. But he’s the first to point out that “styles change. What’s cool now may not be cool a couple months from now.”
Because he’s not really a retailer but, in fact, a manufacturer, Ihrcke can stay on the cutting edge of the industry and customers don’t have to settle only for what he happens to have in stock.
“I spend a lot of time talking to people and figuring out what they’re going for,” he says.
These days Ihrcke is adding machines to his shop, doing metal artwork and developing new skills to expand Zombie Performance’s service offerings, all while still shipping custom handlebars around the world.
When asked about the most surprising place he’s shipped to, he puzzled over the question momentarily before naming Brunei, a country in Borneo.
“I had to look that up,” he says.
He wasn’t the only one.
To shop or learn more, visit zombieperformance.com.