Black… bold… classic styling… never quite in style, but absolutely never out of style. These are the best adjectives I can apply to Exile Cycles, perhaps the truest of moderately mainstream motorcycle manufacturers functioning today. The brand is as extension of its owner and creator, Russell Mitchell, a tattooed no-nonsense builder who elbowed his way through the industry at a time when most everyone else was distracted by the flashy stylings that graced most magazine covers and reality tv series. To Russell’s mind, and many of us hardcore riders, it was a wave that needed a slap to the back of the head. And Russell was just the guy to do it.
Born in Britain, Mitchell found wheels at an early age. From skateboards to bicycles and Lambretta scooters, this one-time veterinary surgeon turned model/actor found himself on US shores in 1991 with $9,000 in his pocket, of which he immediately blew all but a few hundred on a Harley Softail, and immediately started making it over in his personal aesthetic. A few years later, his pockets brimming with cash from appearing in a Marlboro ad, Russell jumped in with both feet and built a pair of custom rides from the ground up, taking special care to rethink some concepts of even the smallest parts so that simplicity stood out to the eye, even if actual design elements to achieve that look were far more complicated to fabricate. I’m reminded of the early hot rods that Boyd Coddington built, with no door handles and timeless curves. Anyway, as luck has it, Russell took his new creation for its first ride and happened across Keith Ball, editor of Easyriders magazine. It didn’t take long for Ball to see that Mitchell was a visionary with serious metal working chops, and he offered the bike a featured spot in the publication. The next year was 1995, and Exile Cycles was born.
I think the first bike I remember seeing was the Mad Max. Its flat black paint and brushed aluminum trim caught my attention, but it was the proprietary internal throttle design and assembly that made a splash. No one else was offering this, and it became one of the first break-away hits of the Exile line of signature parts, now a complete catalog that can allows Harley owners to customize their own badass version of the Exile creed. Still, Russell and his crew are best known for their full customs, where almost every part, from frame to headlight, is made in-house. They operate out of a 20,000 square foot shop in California, where such trivialities as a showroom don’t exist and visitors are not tolerated. These are workers dedicated to a task, despite celebrity brought on by appearances on shows like “Biker Build Off”. In some respects, Russell is a conundrum — he is low-key about recognition, but very outspoken and direct. He sports a shock of spiked blond hair and a full suit of ink, but isn’t encouraging to be pointed out in a crowd. His bikes stand out and demand attention, but are only painted black. But when you put it all together, there is a definite symmetry between all the parts that combine in a very intuitive way. The man, and the machines he builds, are totally and refreshingly unique. – Mark Mormar