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John King’s Gas and Electric Bikes Are a Fun Way to Explore San Diego

Written By: Amanda Lennox Phantom Bikes

Beach cruisers are a pretty common sight around San Diego’s beaches. But sometimes riders just want a little bit more speed while riding through town. John King of Phantom Bikes solves that problem. In 2009, King started his company by building beautiful, retro bikes with the addition of a gas or electric motor. His bikes have become so popular, even Jay Leno has taken notice and featured King on his show “Jay Leno’s Garage.”

Q: What was your inspiration for building the bicycles?

John King: I was just interested in a new form of travel. I know bicycles have been around for a long time and I’ve always been interested in vintage vehicles. I had an idea and said ‘Let’s put a motor on a bicycle.’ It’s been done before, way before I even thought of it. I started putting them together with a friend of mine and we just started out building these bicycles for fun.

Q: Were motorcycles or biking a hobby of yours?

JK: Motorcycles were kind of a hobby; I have one. So far I’ve collected two vintage cars. Then I just geared the bikes and said I want these to look vintage instead of your run-of-the-mill Walmart bike that has a motor slapped on it.

Q: Where did the 1930s vintage-design concept come from?

JK: I looked online and looked at some old vintage motorcycles and said ‘That’s it. That’s what I need to build.’ And so I sat down and designed the frame. It took me about a year to figure it all out.

Q: What was the most challenging part of developing and creating the bikes?

JK: Designing all the components for everything to fit. I would buy off-the-shelf products and they just didn’t look right or they didn’t fit correctly so I had to design all of my parts and think about what is going to fit in certain areas. That was probably the hardest part of the whole thing.

Q: How long does it take you to hand make everything?

JK: To build the R, it takes about a week. The Electric Vision or the Electric Shadow takes about four to five hours. The gasoline bikes, the Classic and the Ghost 26, we can build in about four hours. We have the parts already made. Basically, you’re pulling them off the shelves, fitting them, and making sure everything’s aligned. Then we ship it out.

Q: What are the kinds of things people might see on these one-of-a-kind bikes?

JK: Oh, it’s so different. Last year, I made a police bike. It was white with police markings on it and had red and blue flashing lights. This year, I haven’t finished it, but it’s a fire bike and it’s bright red, has a rack on the back and ladders on each side. It has a fire hose so you can squirt water out. Everything was done in brass. It’s beautiful. I’m debating whether to sell that one! I might hang on to that one.

 

Q: You were featured on “Jay Leno’s Garage.” How did that come about?

JK: We were at the Barrett-Jackson and this gentleman Justin Bell, a racecar driver, came up to us and asked if we could build one of the R bikes in his family race colors with logos and everything. We put in the order and then he called us and said ‘I want you to make one for Jay Leno. I want you to build him a black, custom bike, one-of-a-kind for Jay. And we’ll get you on his show.’ So we built the bike for him and the next thing you know, the producers from ‘Jay Leno’s Garage’ called me and said we need you in Burbank to do a show, and I was freaking out. He’s a really nice guy, down-to-earth. He rode the bikes around, he loved them. Then at the end of the show, we left the bike in his shop. He said, ‘Hey you guys forgot this one.’ We said, ‘No, that one’s for you’ and we gave it to him.

Q: What is your best selling bike?

JK: Right now, the best-selling bike is called the Vision, an electric bike. The reason why we headed toward electric is because the California laws now are very strict on gasoline bikes. It was just getting kind of crazy. So we decided to go for the electric and they don’t need anything. It’s just a bicycle with an electric motor on it.

Q: Where’s your favorite place to ride the bikes around?

JK: I live in Rancho Santa Fe so I ride it around that area, and then I’m also from Del Mar so I ride all over Del Mar. There’s a parking lot right across the street from Jake’s Restaurant that I owned for 27 years and sold about 2 years ago. So I’m pretty good in Del Mar.

Phantom Bikes
7939 Silverton Ave, Ste 801
San Diego, CA 92126
858.578.7581
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