Thunder & Lightning Cycles
By Claudia Woodman | Photos By Circe Baumgartner
America used to have a lot more independently owned stores, wonderfully ornery characters with amazing beards, and people who knew how to do things with their hands. South Broadway in Englewood is where the American dream of entrepreneurship still has a pulse. Somehow people are making a living doing what they love and doing it well, being comfortable in their own skins. Many who like unique, custom built items, require expert work, or need the materials to create things themselves already know about this stretch of road.
Thunder & Lightning Cycles at 3986 South Broadway has been in business for about two years. Todd Gust, a/k/a ShovelHead Todd, and Knuckles, who may answer to Brian, own and run the store with the capable help of Malinda Kropsch as well as a staff of mechanics. Working at Thunder & Lightning requires some mad skills. Mechanics who they employ are required to know a lot about motorcycles but there is the opportunity to learn much more on the job because Todd knows his business. He goes by ShovelHead Todd for a reason. He is extremely serious about providing quality work to customers in a timely manner. He is also serious about fun- this is a fun group of people!
Todd is from North Dakota. He used to be an auto mechanic. He has been on hundreds of runs. Before the store opened he would go on 25 or so a year. Now he goes on fewer. For the uninitiated, a run is a large group motorcycle ride where many miles are covered. Todd has owned 12 or 13 motorcycles- mostly Harleys, though he has also owned dirt bikes and a Honda drag racing bike. Knuckes is from San Francisco. Malinda has been riding on the back of motorcycles since she was 3 years old. Her dad tried to keep her out of the motorcycle universe to no avail. After spending some time in the corporate world, somehow motorcycles hooked her back in, so she works at Thunder & Lightning as the Office Manager and continues to ride on the back of Harleys. Everyone I met at the store has a lot of great stories. Some of these entail being run out of town by groups of concerned citizens as well as youthful adventures on the other side of the law, frequently entailing police harassment. If you spend more than a couple minutes in the store you will leave much wiser.
Thunder & Lightning Cycles specializes in Harleys though they work on other motorcycles as well and have parts for them. Many of the parts are made in America though some have to be imported. The store takes up a sizable chunk of a strip mall, with several rooms. There are motorcycles under construction as well as some that look pretty ready to go. There are seats, parts, leather vests, leather jackets, and helmets on display. The customer base is mostly people who are very serious about riding and also includes the occasional Hell’s Angel or weekend warrior and quite a few women. Thunder & Lightning does repairs and has a MIG welding setup. Some customers need maintenance work done. Others are building their own motorcycles or restoring classic ones.
Sometimes customers want to watch work being done so they know how to do it themselves. Sometimes this is tolerated. For detail work, though, it is not allowed. Doing wiring , for instance, requires heavy concentration and no interruptions. Todd has a wiring technique that is different from the official Harley wiring technique. It is much more streamlined. Bugging him when he is working on that is a terrible idea.
Many people like motorcycles for the freedom it gives them. Of course riding motorcycles can be a lone wolf activity, but kindred spirits like to meet. Other biker bars in the Denver area include Lincoln’s Road House, Piper Inn, Susie’s Bar & Grill, Eck’s Saloon, the Buffalo Rose, and Hiccups Sports Bar. Some biker bars in the Denver area allow colors and some do not. For some, it depends on who is working. There are numerous motorcycle clubs all over the country, and then, there are the parties. If you can’t ride a motorcycle without carrying a 20 pack between your legs, well, you need to practice. Todd is experienced at carrying a keg on his motorcycle and has had to do it a lot because competence is a trap.
Todd is a gentleman. He washed all the grease off of his hands that could be washed off before he shook my hand. Though he resembles a biker Santa (sans belly) with his blonde hair, blue eyes, reading glasses, and bushy white beard and mustache I did not sit on his lap. I will, however, take a ride on the back of his Harley soon since life is short and I am pretty sure he won’t try to scare me too badly. There is no seat on this motorcycle, perhaps, I am told. This will be interesting. Apparently Harleys are also known as Milwaukee Vibrators. Todd claims they are better than any plug-in.
Thunder and Lightning Cycles 3986 S.Broadway. Englewood CO