Precision Builds with Pangea Speed

The Zion Express, one of Andy Carter's custom bikes at Pangea Speed. Photo:

It’s mid-June, and Andy Carter, owner and sole employee of Pangea Speed, is 14 days away from his next big motorcycle show—Born Free 3 in California. The bike he plans to enter, which he calls the Speed Master, sits partially disassembled in the shop he shares with his father. Just a few hours ago, as he stared at the bike with his old man, he realized that this custom project, which he has spent “countless hours” working on, isn’t as close to being completed as he thought. “I’m down to the wire on this bike,” says Carter. “I’m sweating it because I [think] I need to be grinding these mounts and I need to be welding.  But step back, look at the whole thing and I’ve got some major changes that I’m going to do now that it’s all coming together.”

Although Carter has already hand-worked and smoothed out a variety of the custom bike’s components, with some closer inspection (and the help of his father), he realizes that among many changes, the chain guard needs to come down a few inches. “It sucks, but I know it’s the right answer. I know I have to be able to step back and do that,” says Carter. “I have this bad habit of never being satisfied. I’ll always look at a project and think that I can do it better.” Andy Carter is a perfectionist. When you consider that he is the owner of his own custom motorcycle and parts company, Pangea Speed, and one of the major organizers behind the second annual Salt Flat Social, this quality, which he refers to as either an “evolution or a sickness—depending on the day,” is exactly what you’d hope to find.

Carter admits that he is never fully satisfied, but he refers to the Speed Master as a nearly perfect project. “I got paid to do it, and I got all the leeway that I wanted. I could do it however I wanted,” says Carter. “[My client Brett] said ‘build the coolest bike you can.’” For Carter, this hands-off approach from his client is the ideal situation. “I consider this an art. Having a client like Brett allows me to do my thing. [He] trusts me. That’s a huge thing—the trust involved.”

The Speed Master is one of many projects that sits in the Pangea Speed hanger. It is surrounded by a variety of other bikes, all in various states of completion. Some belong to Carter, others like the Speed Master, belong to clients who contact Carter for his expertise in motorcycle creation and design. The Speed Master started as a Triumph won at an auction. The engine is the only thing that remains from the original bike. Carter says that when he gets burned out on a project, it’s not unusual for him to hop over to a different project and do some welding on it. Pangea Speed, which was initially started in 2007 as not much more than a blog, catapulted into a full-time custom motorcycle and parts business for Carter about a year and half ago. “I got fired from my job, and there was a lot of interest in [Pangea Speed], so I thought I’d try it full time,” says Carter. Although Carter has only been able to focus all of his energy on Pangea Speed for a short period of time, he is no stranger to the world of custom items. Carter’s parents owned an industrial design and rapid prototyping company for most of his life. “When I was super little, me and my brother would build custom bicycles, cut our skateboard in half and glue it back together and watch it break in half [again],” says Carter. “We always just sort of customized everything.” The list goes on: go-carts, dirt bikes and eventually race cars. Carter even spent a year in race car mechanic school in California and as an apprentice at a vintage Formula 1 fabrication shop to perfect his skills.

Carter started his first custom bike in 2004. The ’74 Yamaha RD 350 began as a bunch of pieces in two boxes on the shelves of what was, at that time, solely his father’s shop. He initially planned to create a rat bike out of the pieces, but it didn’t pan out that way. “I don’t think I’m capable of making a rat bike. Next thing you know, I’m painting the frame, I’m hand-working a bunch of stuff, I’m building a tail section. It wasn’t a rat bike when I was done,” says Carter. By the time Carter finished the project, he was living in California, had recently finished race car mechanic school and was building hot rods. “Everyone wanted a custom car, but we didn’t have any space, so everyone had these chopper projects,” says Carter. “I brought the RD out there and finished it in my friend’s garage.” Carter says completing the project made him realize how much more fun it was to work on a bike than a car. “An average car project is probably a year and a half or two of full-time work. A bike is half that. It’s a lot less stress than a car,” he says.

In addition to building custom bikes, Carter also specializes in custom parts. “A lot of the stuff I do is helping with projects, but doing the work myself,” says Carter. He recently built a friend a fuel tank, handlebars, a sissy bar, a rear fender and a seat pan for a custom motorcycle project. “I built all that stuff, but he installed it all himself,” says Carter. “Luckily, [he] is pretty cool about trusting my visual styling opinion.” Carter admits that one of the things that burned him out about building cars is the amount of control certain clients would try to exert over a custom build. “It always seemed crazy to me that some old man would come to us, obviously he is coming to us to get the coolest car ever, but then he wants to hold our hand the whole time and tell us what to build,” says Carter. “You don’t go to Picasso and tell him to paint your picture a certain way—there is that freedom that needs to be had.” When it comes to a custom job from Pangea Speed, the only way Carter chooses to work is solo. “I’m not trying to run a school,” he says. According to Carter, the ultimate goal is to establish his parts line enough that it can support him. The parts line currently features items such as kicker pedals, license plate brackets, streamliner bars, zephyr bars, carburetor guards and seat-builder kits. Since everything is handmade by Carter, many of the parts featured on his site, are offered in limited quantities. He says that when the line becomes more established, it will allow him the freedom to build whatever he likes without having to worry about someone dictating to him what the designs should look like.

When describing his ideal design, Carter returns to the Speed Master. Initially, when he imagined this bike, he considered taking the Triumph engine and turning it into a ‘70s chopper, Easy Rider style of bike. “I decided that it didn’t fit the motif,” says Carter. “That engine platform didn’t seem to work for that.” After creating numerous illustrations and lists, Carter landed on the idea of creating a factory ‘40s-looking bike. With some help from a friend in California who works as a clay modeler for Volkswagen, Carter was able to pinpoint his whirlwind of ideas. “A lot of the time, it just feels like you are smashing through a cement wall trying to figure this stuff out,” says Carter. “There is a lot of pressure when you’re not using anything to start with.” Carter explains that the Speed Master lacked the boundaries that come when you are building a bike with pre-designed components. He says that the biggest challenge when working like that is making sure he doesn’t stray from his aesthetic. “I’ve seen so many people just get deranged and build crazy stuff for crazy’s sake, and that’s not what I’m really trying to do,” says Carter. “I’m trying to build crazy stuff that has reason behind it and functions well.” When Carter designs and builds a bike—be it from the engine up or working with factory-created parts—he aims for symmetry, precision and, most importantly, function. If something isn’t well measured or doesn’t work as a whole package, it simply isn’t good enough.

Carter might be a perfectionist at heart, but his attention to detail can’t classify him as anal-retentive. He still knows how to have a good time and is one of the organizers behind the second annual Salt Flat Social. Last year Carter and his friends, who build their own bikes under the names of Short Fuse and Bolts Action, organized the first Salt Flat Social to essentially celebrate Salt Lake. “All of my friends that I ride motorcycles with love Salt Lake,” says Carter. “But there are no really cool bike shows here. Nobody has an excuse to come here. We wanted to do something that would give people an excuse to visit Salt Lake.” The event falls on Friday, Aug. 12—the evening before the world-famous Speed Week starts at the Salt Flats. “It’s a lot easier to get someone from California to come to Salt Lake if they are 100 miles away versus 800 miles away,” he says.

Last year the Pangea Speed party drew about 70 bikes and 200 people—a larger turnout than was expected. The next morning, Carter says approximately 30 people met at Este Downtown and rode to the Salt Flats together to goof around. “It’s fairly low structure. It’s pretty much just hanging out. We don’t want people to feel like there is some sort of expectation,” says Carter. “One of the most annoying things about motorsports in general is everyone feels like they have to fit some kind of stereotype. None of us care about any of that. I just like motorcycles.” Ultimately, Carter sees Salt Flat Social as an unpretentious and inclusive way to show his love for his hometown. In addition to living in California, a few years ago, Carter spent the better part of the year traveling. “I quit my job, and I rode my motorcycle all over the country, just being homeless. I wanted to check this whole place out so I could see if I wanted to move,” says Carter. Eventually, he landed back in Utah. “I feel like Salt Lake kind of gets a bad rap because of the Church, but I’ve had a lot of friends come to visit from out of town and they are like, damn [Salt Lake] is cool,” says Carter.

Although the Salt Flat Social and Speed Week are unrelated, and Pangea Speed doesn’t actually participate in Speed Week, Carter appreciates the annual event. “We’re not really huge into the Bonneville thing. I like it, it’s cool. It falls right in line with everything I’m into. I like the Salt Flats, and I like racing, but none of us are die-hard Bonneville people,” says Carter. Just like last year, Carter says there aren’t any plans to officially participate in Speed Week, but they will be hosting a group ride from Este Downtown to the Salt Flats.

This year, the Salt Flat Social will be held at Short Fuse’s new shop on 988 S. and 500 W. on Friday, Aug. 12. The event is totally free, and Carter and crew plan to include a bike show in the festivities. Everyone is encouraged to attend, regardless of the type of motorcycle that they ride or if they even ride one at all.

The Zion Express, one of  Andy Carter's custom bikes at  Pangea Speed. Photo: Photo: