A lot of guys grow up being captivated by motorcycles. Some like bikes so much, they make them their lifelong hobby. Others love them to the extent that they make them their livelihood.
A group of men who fall into the latter category run a business in Houston. Known as Hog’s Breath Cycles, it’s well known to the region’s motorcycle crowd because it’s the only place within an hour in any direction that can change a tire on a Harley Davidson or modify an engine on a Honda.
Hog’s Breath was the brainchild of its three of co-owners, Houston native Ryan Flowers and brothers Michael and Howard Weakly, who grew up in Mexico, Mo.
The trio met while attending the University of Central Missouri in Warrensburg. When their college days were over, they took jobs in various fields, but maintained a strong interest in the world of motorcycles.
As an end result, Hog’s Breath was born in 2005. After returning to the town where he grew up and graduated from high school, Flowers ran the operation for the first couple of years at its original location on U.S. Highway 63 south of town. Michael Weakly eventually changed his career path, moved to Houston, and joined in on a regular basis.
When the business grew to the point that more space was needed, the current location near the city park was acquired late in 2009. The store’s main focus is service and repair, although some bikes are sold and customization of virtually any sort is available, from adding luggage racks to complete tear-downs and rebuilds.
“Anything custom is neat, because it’s something you haven’t done before and it’s fun trying to make it work,” Michael Weakly said. “But we’ll do anything that rolls through the doors; ATV’s, metric bikes, mules – there are even a few scooters in town that we work on.”
A recent addition to the Hog’s Breath staff is another Houston native, Dustin Carter. Carter first connected with the store while still in high school when he did a job shadow day with Flowers. He went on to attend Linn Technical College and spent more time at Hog’s Breath as an intern.
Carter worked for a while at a bike shop in Lebanon, but prefers his current situation.
“I was glad when the offered me a job here,” he said.
The clientele Hog’s Breath serves is as varied as the equipment they ride in on.
“Most of the Harley guys are retired or close to retirement,” Michael said. “The younger guys mostly ride metric bikes – your Kawasakis and Yamahas and things like that.”
“I’ve always said motorcycle people are like raccoons,” Flowers said, “we’re distracted by shiny things. We’re all like that – we want to know what’s the newest, the fastest and the best. It’s kind of different with ATVs. Nobody really needs a bike, but we have a lot of farmers who rely on their ATVs and they have to have them every day to get their jobs done.”
Servicing so many motorcycle models from so many eras has given the Hog’s Breath staff ample opportunity to form opinions about them.
“I like older stuff,” Flowers said, “I always have. The new stuff is fun to work on because it’s nice and clean, but the old stuff to me has more character, and there’s always a story. Motorcycle people always have the best stories; we have some guys who come in and bought their bike new 35 years ago.
“But like Mike would tell you, some older stuff can be a pain. Like 1980s vintage bikes – you cannot find parts for them. They’re made out of ‘unobtainium.’”
Each member of the Hog’s Breath bunch tells a similar story about loving motorcycles from a young age, and being glad to have the opportunity to work in the field.
“I’ve been into motorcycles since I was five,” Michael Weakly said. “When I got out of college, I had a good job and started buying bikes. I had a degree in computer technology, and I was the guy in the computer room with the hum of the servers going on all around. But every day was like a fire. There was always panicking and you’re constantly under the gun to get something fixed. I got tired of it and I just wanted to get out of the computer thing for a while.
“I still love computers, but when you take your hobby and make it your career, that’s pretty cool.”
Howard Weakly is currently employed in California, building gas-fired electric power plants for Calpine, a Texas-based, independent power producing company. He recalls how what he and his cohorts enjoyed doing during their own time ended up leading them into the motorcycle business.
“The way it started out is it seemed like every weekend we had someone’s bike in the garage working on it,” he said. “It got to the point where we figured we’d try it as a business venture. It started out at that little place, and it’s just grown from there.
“The economy has made it interesting here of late, but we’re still here and I know that there are a lot of other people who aren’t. A lot of independent bike shops – and even dealerships – have gone under.”
While he remains a project manager with Calpine for now, Howard’s heart lies in Hog’s Breath.
“My part of this right now is with business advice,” he said. “But I do own a home here in Houston and the idea is to get back here. Whenever I come in to help Michael and Ryan I’m like free labor. It’s like ‘come on down and grab a wrench.’”
Flowers had a few different jobs while living in Kansas City, one of which gave him experience in the motorcycle industry, working for a Harley Davidson dealer.
“I’ve ridden bikes since I was four,” he said. “The first thing I did when I got my first job was buy a Les Paul Gold Top and a brand new motorcycle. I really had my priorities straight.”
After spending time in Wyoming, Las Vegas, and then tiring of life in Kansas City, Flowers moved back to Texas County and went to work for a friend in Licking. It wasn’t long before the Hog’s Breath idea became a reality.
“We had always wanted to do some sort of business, and I saw the need because there was no motorcycle shop around here,” Flowers said. “We started on a shoestring budget with just me, and my dad would help me out when he got off work every day.
“It grew from there.”
A certified Harley Davidson service technician, Flowers is on the verge of making a career move that will take him to Springfield, as he becomes part of the staff at a new Honda dealership that will soon open there. The move will make way for Howard to become more involved at Hog’s Breath.
“I hate to leave, but at the same time the business does fine and Howard’s wanting to come back,” Flowers said. “It’s only fair to give him some time to do this, and if me going and taking another job will allow him to do that, great. No ill will; it’s hard to walk away from something you started from the ground up, but I’ve been doing his for eight years. And they’re my friends and it’s in good hands.”
Hog’s Breath representatives will bring their mobile dynamometer (a machine that measures horsepower, torque, and air/fuel ratio) to several motorcycle events around the Ozarks this year, including gatherings at Springfield, Eminence, and Lake of the Ozarks.
For more information about Hog’s Breath Cycles, log onto www.hogsbreathcycles.com or call 417-967-0660.