“Dirty Bikers” – Take it as a compliment! [Dirty Biker Design Co’s Brad Flanagan]

When I fell in love with riding, as a passenger, I didn’t have a lot of responsibility on the back of the bike.  I watched for animals, got to look all around, became a self-proclaimed photographer, and made sure I didn’t fall off.  I enjoyed making the effort to look good on the back of the bike.  I quickly expanded my attire to include little functional gear, but a lot of hot-looking pieces.  So, when I went to bike nights, I often didn’t find many t-shirts I wanted to add to my collection.  Some of them shrank to one-fourth their size after the first wash, and others seemed drab (to me) – so I didn’t really pay much attention to the shirts vendors offered.  Last summer, at Thunder Nites in Newton, a t-shirt caught my eye – “I [heart] Dirty Bikers”!  I approached the vendor and asked many questions to make sure it wasn’t going to fade or shrink immediately.  The vendor was impressively transparent, and I walked away with a shirt I made my own (a few cuts and ties).

Fast-forward a year – I got a like and follow from @dirtybikerdesignco on Instagram.  I returned the follow, to realize, “this is where I got my shirt!”  I saw his three-quarter t-shirt, which brought me to the online shop.  While I wanted three of everything, I started off with three shirts.  The online experience was quick, painless, and I received my order confirmation and commitment of shipment updates.  A few business days later, I was in love with my new gear.  One of the many things that caught my attention?  Brad Flanagan sent a signed, personalized note of his appreciation of a new customer – nice touch!  Any time I messaged DBD, I heard back almost immediately with enthusiastic answers to my questions.  I wanted to pick his brain.  So, I did.

I had the pleasure of sitting down with the wizard behind Dirty Biker Design Co. – Brad Flanagan.  After meeting up with him, I can attest to his humility, strategic thinking, and passion.  When you look at the online shop, you’ll see for yourself that his collection is focused and intentional.  However, the word “focused” doesn’t translate to a small, targeted audience.  Brad’s Bachelor’s Degree is in Drawing – experienced in pastels and painting.  Brad knows what will take you back to the 60s, 70s, and 80s.  He has a great understanding of the styles you usually find among the different groups within the riding community.  Marketing is in his wheelhouse – including a background in online marketing – and, it shows.

I knew I loved “Dirty Bikers” on my gear, but I was curious as to how it got there.  Several years ago, while riding, someone rolled down her window to impart her wisdom of the biker community, by stereotyping them as “Dirty Bikers”.  Well, Brad remembered that.  Although I didn’t think to ask, but as his business grows and more people want to be wearing DBD, I am sure he tips his snapback to that lady for the great idea of a solid brand name!

Now, I could write for days as I transcribe the audio recording from our interview.  I could tell you the fabric blends by product, the process of a blank canvas transforming into wearable art, and all the stats Brad is tracking to know what is working and what is not.  But, what I really got out of intently listening to him – was his passion.  As an artist, he was able to take that to another level a couple years ago – turning it into a business that is growing and headed to great places.  This isn’t some guy who recalls screen printing during a high school art class, came up with one idea his friends loved while they drank beer in the backyard, and just found different clothing and keychains to print it on in different color schemes.  He knows the ins and outs.  He spends time on learning more – whether it be about what sells to whom, how much heat is required to get an awesome design on a wicking shirt, or listening to podcasts of “greats” such as Danny Dreyer.

Brad mentioned his wife and daughter a lot – you could tell he was a proud husband and papa!  So I wondered how he manages it all, knowing DBD is a side-gig at this time.  While the time investment is seasonal following the peaks of our riding season in the mid-west, he makes time on evenings and weekends, when possible.  He keeps himself busy with bike events, all over, including Mama Tried – an exclusive invite-only event.  I am convinced he may not sleep because he is cranking out new ideas, managing each customer order with individual appreciation, and rapidly responding and engaging in the dog-eat-dog world of social media.

I wasn’t quite sold that this was entirely a one-man gig.  So, I had to ask who’s helped along the way, assuming he wasn’t modeling his own shorties, and taking selfies in the garage.  Look for yourself, but there are gorgeous models with artistic eyes behind a camera.  Brad’s fostered some amazing friendships throughout his life.  So, his first photo shoot was in California.  After living in LA for several years, he was returning and reached out to a friend, Walter Chisholm, who was happy to do a shoot.  As new designs are ready to release, I can’t imagine it’s easy to hop on a flight to LA, so he’s connected with talented friends in Iowa to keep the great shots going.

When I first met him – here comes a guy who rode up on his bike, has a wallet chain, tattoos, and clearly gets “the two-wheeled life” with the designs he puts out (and I am wearing as I meet him).  To this small-town, Iowa girl, I assume he’s been on two wheels since he could walk.  It was great to be able to relate when it comes to our memories of first riding – there was a little fear in us, both.  Brad grew up in Northeast Iowa, where it was customary to have a dirt bike or some other two-wheeled contraption.  However, he didn’t have one.  So, it was a little scary and thrilling, when his babysitter let him hop on with her, while she went on a beer run (sounds like we had the same childhood babysitters, Brad).

As I talk with riders, I love hearing which memory they choose to share that is most prevalent in their memory bank.  It’s usually what they remember as the first time they got the “itch”.  While Brad didn’t get his first bike when he was six (he’s going to have to take that up with his parents), he started by dropping about $800 on a Suzuki – which hindsight showed him was a bit small for his stature (his words, not mine).  Since then, he’s upgraded to his Street Glide.

Now, I need you to prepare yourself, as you continue reading.  If you’re anything like me, you’re going to be envious.  I had to ask him about one of his best rides, so far.  And, boy, did he pick a good one.  Brad and his wife went riding for their honeymoon.  Wait, don’t stop there – I know…awesome – but, it gets better.  They trailered the bike and made stops along the way, with all kinds of great rides.  But, what sticks out, is when they stop at Yellowstone, camping in a safari tent and surrounded by the mountains.  They realized traffic is stopped due to a heard of bison.  At one point, they are riding alongside the running bison (bucket list:  check!).  Brad checks with his wife to make sure she’s getting video, to which she confirmed.  Later on, she sadly admits, “I hit the button once, and it stopped.”  At least she got one picture of it!  I’ve been there and had nothing to show but about 2 seconds of video recording my lap before I got it aimed and accidentally stopped it!

***I think this is where I need to stop and say:  If there are any future prospects – you will win me over with a ride in Yellowstone.  However, I don’t want to be on the back.  We can each ride our own, or you can sit back, and lean on my sissy bar.  You can find me on Bumble.***

I got to share a lot with Brad too.  And one was about all the amazing followers who have claimed me to be any sort of inspiration, talked about wanting to learn to ride, and inquiring the best way to learn – as a female.  So, I asked Brad what his advice would be to you, ladies.  While I haven’t directly quoted him a lot in this entry, I must do so now:  “When I was younger, I was a little more of a douche guy than I like to admit.  Now, I would say I am in no position to give advice to women about anything.”  I was thoroughly impressed, and almost speechless (I said, “almost”.)  So, I prodded for a little more, and he said that he would say to you, “Try it.  It’s one more thing that women can do that men can do. …there’s no disqualification.”  I could not agree with his words more, ladies.

I kept returning to how impressed I am with Brad’s focus on customer appreciation.  In my opinion, that is key for new businesses, but it’s even more critical as they grow (and harder to sustain).  Brad shared some of the awesome touches he did for customer appreciation in the beginning – he created a pin to hold your shades or hoodie drawstrings, and gave it to his first-time customers.  I was enthralled with this genius contraption.  I can’t tell you how many times I get on the road and experience the death whips of the plastic-coated ends of my drawstrings.  When I got my first online order, not only did that note impress me, I was ecstatic to find a bandana of appreciation (which I’ve sported a couple times now, and love).  That’s what it is all about, to me.  Making sure a customer knows that their business matters and is appreciated – not like they’re only another number helping them hit their revenue goals.

I encourage you to check out his online store.  As cool evenings increase in frequency, my top-recommendation is the Tattoo Dirty Biker Skull Hoodie.  I have all kinds of hoodies for riding.  This is my all-time favorite – thick, great material, and an awesome design.  In his transparent style, he calls out that this fits snug – he was right, so go one size up and you’ll love it!

May your ride be smooth, your gear Dirty, and your drinks stiff!  Cheers!

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