Motorcycles have always played a huge part in Russell’s life. His first few custom builds were based around, of all things, Lambretta scooters! In the early 80’s he was a major figure in the thriving English scooter-scene, although he describes himself as one of the “scooter-scum”. In 1983, after a couple of other custom scooters, twenty year old Russell built the very first ‘Exile’ – a Lambretta chopper to beat all others. It had a coffin tank, twisted forks and a foot-shift, and is still held by many to be the most significant scooter of all time. Around this time Russell took his first 100mph ride on a ‘big bike’ and he was immediately done with scooters. At the very next Scooter Rally he sold raffle tickets for fifty pence (about one dollar) each and on Saturday night he got on stage, drew a number, and gave “Exile 1” to its new owner. A smorgasbord of custom motorcycles followed, Russell’s ride depending on his state of poverty at the time. In 1991 Russell came to the US with $9,000, and the next day spent $8,650 on a ’87 Softail. In 1994, after appearing in a particularly lucrative Marlboro commercial, Russell decided to build a couple of identical customs. He really went to town with the parts design, learning the required welding and machining skills along the way.
A year later, on the first bike’s inaugural voyage, he ran into Keith “Bandit” Ball, the editor of Easyriders magazine, who asked if he could run a feature on the bike. The ensuing interest in his unique parts persuaded Russell to make motorcycles his career. To an ex-pat in the US, the old Exile name seemed both appropriate and ironic, and so, in 1995 Exile Cycles was born. From the outset, Exile has produced the cleanest parts and the toughest bikes with a tasteful minimalist esthetic. Exile Cycles was perfectly positioned to take advantage of both the chopper craze and the economic boom occurring around the turn of the century. And with such a brightly-colored, instantly-recognizable front man it was no surprise that the production companies came knocking. Russell and his crew starred in more of the Discovery Channel’s “Great Biker Build Off” shows than any other builder, as well as the “World Bike Build Off”, “Motorcycle Mania IV” and a couple of seasons of Russell’s own show, called “Build or Bust”. All this exposure has positioned Russell among the most well-known bike builders in the world, and, as such, he and Rachel have travelled the globe as guests-of-honor at various bike Events.
Always outspoken, Russell sums up Exile Cycles rather nicely in his mission statement in the current Exile catalog:
“I can’t believe that it’s been two decades since I launched Exile Cycles from a garden shed in the mid 1990’s. Our mission was “to expose the American people to clean, tough European styling whether they like it or not!” Well, it seems a lot of them did like it and Exile is now a thriving corporation with a rock-solid reputation. We have been a major influence on the custom bike scene as well as the aftermarket parts industry. Remember any bikes you saw in the mid 90’s with huge tires, fat handlebars, smooth triple trees, drive-side brake, 2 1/2″ pipes, etc? Only Ours! Hell, these days half the models in the HD line-up look like they were designed by Exile. We now offer a very extensive range of parts (including bolt-on parts to transform your Harley), plus Complete Bike Kits and built-to-order custom cycles – and we ship to every corner of the globe. We have not compromised our design ethic one bit: the bikes we build now, the bikes we built then, and the bikes we have yet to build, all scream Exile Cycles. These machines are timeless classics, not the flavor of the month. Hardcore, minimal, tough. If you want a brightly colored, over-chromed bike, call some-one else. If you want one that looks like the bat-mobile or some other childish theme-machine, call a therapist – what the fuck is wrong with you?”