Builder Highlight // Jeff Leighton

Posted: Jun 20 2017

We made our way up to Orange, CA to visit our friend and incredible builder Jeff Leighton. Here's a little recap of what we saw and learned from this talented guy. Keep your eyes peeled for his giveaway build at Born-Free 9 this year.

Photos: Lauren Beitel

Q: Where are you from, where are you at now?

A: I am a Southern California native. I was born in the San Fernando Valley which is in the north end of Los Angeles. I went to school in a small town called Simi Valley and lived all around the LA area. 6 years ago I relocated to Orange. 

Q: Do you have any influences that have inspired you? Any mentors?

A: Most of my motorcycle influences come from the 50s and 60s Southern California custom motorcycle scene. Between that era of customs and the late 30s to early 50s class C race bike circuit is where you'd find all of the style cues I use in the bikes I build. 

I have been lucky enough to have met some of the most amazing people because of motorcycles. Dear friends that mean the world to me. On the top of that list and the only person I have ever looked at as a mentor is Frank Kaisler. He has taught me so much and been more then just a friend. 

Q: What music is your go to in your garage if any?

A: My buddy Dave Polgreen, who I share my shop with, and I have some pretty wide ranging musical tastes. So there is a pretty broad list of bands that get played. But I would say my go to thing to listen to would be the entire Oasis catalog. I just press play on their name on my iPod and let all 8 albums play. 

Q: Besides the obvious chopper, what else gets you going?

A: Lately the thing I have been most excited about is going out and racing vintage tank shift Harley's with a great group of friends. But outside of motorcycles my interests get really nerdy. I read a lot of science fiction and fantasy novels. I love Star Wars and have read an embarrassing amout of books about it. I have read the Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones books numerous times. 

Q: We noticed you’ve gotten involved in racing. Can you tell us a little about that?

A: Getting involved in racing has been the most fun I have ever had with motorcycles. I always loved the way old factory Harley race bikes looked but never thought I would do it myself. A few years back Mike Davis bought WL and started taking it out to the Hell on Wheels races. It really lit a fire with a small group of our friends. A handful of us go out and race as much as we possibly can. From flat track, TT, dirt scrambles, drag racing to Hill Climbs we try and do it all with our old rigid frame tank shift bikes. We recently drove across the country to race on the beach in New Jersey at The Race of Gentlemen. It was one of the best events I have ever been too 

Q: How did it feel to win last year at Born-Free? 

A: Winning Best in show and 3rd place in the invited builder class last year was one of the best feelings I've ever had. I never thought I would win something like that. And to be recognized by my peers in that way is really special  

Q: Can you tell us a little about what you’re working on this year for Born-Free?

A: This year I decided to take a break from being an invited builder. But then Mike and Grant asked me if I would want to build one of the giveaway bikes. I couldn't pass up the opportunity. So we did a little brain storming and decided that I should build a bike that really fits into where our interests have been. I am building a 1942 knucklehead in a VL frame. The inspiration of the bike is the factory WR flat track race bikes. It's loaded with rare stock parts, hand made parts and is running one of my Vard MFG front ends. 

Q: Thanks for taking the time to do this interview. Any last words before we wrap it up?

A: I just really want to thank Mike Davis Grant Peterson, and Born Free. They have given me the opportunity to build bikes on a platform that the whole worlds motorcycle community is paying attention too. I have been able to travel to places I would have never thought I would be able to go to and met people from all over the world because of motorcycles. I feel so very fortunate for everything I have been able to do and I don't think I would have been able to do it without their show.

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