Joy Ride

Work, play and pizza at Coastal Empire Moto. Words by Alexis Orgera. Photography by Mike Schalk.

Visit Coastal Empire Moto on any given day and you may find a toddler bouncing around the front office, a French bulldog riding passenger on a motorcycle, a traveler detailing her cross-country loop, a local architect talking shop after work, or a neighbor getting a weld repair on his truck’s grill. Or you may find three guys standing around a naked motorcycle frame, contemplating their next move. It just depends on the day.

It began in the spring of 2016 when these three men from different walks of life, drawn together through a shared passion for vintage motorcycles, took a huge risk and opened a vintage motorcycle shop on Bull Street. Each of them will say they just wanted to fix, build, and ride motorcycles, but what they created in the process looks like a whole lot more.

Aaron Reed, Mike Garcia, and Ronnie South expected Coastal Empire Moto to be an epicenter for adventure: a starting point for weekend dirt bike trips, group rides around the Lowcountry, and evening get-togethers at the shop featuring music, bikes, and Big Bon Pizza. What they didn’t count on was the community of young enthusiasts drawn to the guys’ passion for the craft and who are, likewise, drawn to the unique adventure of learning to take an engine apart or clean a carburetor for the first time.

Mentoring SCAD students through their senior projects or encouraging one of the permanent interns has become just as much a part of shop culture as the continuing adventure of getting 45-year-old motorcycles running again.

Ready to ride.
All the best bikes come out for events, like this one with Big Bon Pizza.
Coastal Empire Moto has created a haven for vintage bike lovers.
Bonnie and Josh “The Kid” Maclean tuning a Honda CL175. Josh was the shop’s first intern, and years later, he’s still there.
SCAD senior Julia Wheatley, one of the shop’s interns, applies a marbled paint effect to the tank of her 1969 Honda CL350.
Pizza and motorcycles from above.
With a myriad of project bikes on hand, this little trail bike hangs around awaiting its turn.
Three SCAD interns – Mia Hacking, Kat Gentleman, and Julia Wheatley – disassemble Kat’s 1972 Yamaha XS650, the focus of her senior thesis based on adventure commuting.
SCAD student Raphael Lopez on his 1972 Honda CB750, the quintessential Cafe Racer: stripped of anything it doesn’t need to go fast.
Final clutch adjustments on the ’69 Cafe Racer.
Aaron, Mike and Ronnie admire a recently completed 1969 CB350 Cafe Racer, built for a customer in Los Angeles. This bike underwent a complete restoration and modification, including a freshly rebuilt motor, new paint, wheels, custom exhaust and vintage racing cowls.
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