South Charlotte

Motorcycle restorer creates biking magic

When the International Motorcycle Show roars into Charlotte next weekend for the first time, one local has something special to show off.

The event, Feb. 24-26 at the Charlotte Convention Center, will feature gravity-defying stunt riders, a vintage motorcycle exhibition, seminars from industry giants and "the world's largest" custom-bike-builder competition.

But leave your preconceived notions about rough crowds and motorcycle gangs at the door.

"Before you envision leather vests and ponytails, let me be the first to tell you that kids and teenagers actually make up a good amount of our show attendees," said show spokeswoman Lauren Williams of Driven Public Relations.

The Smage Bros. Stunt Show, a group that rose to fame after becoming finalists on the NBC television show "America's Got Talent" last summer, will wow crowds with their signature moves, including wheelies, two-wheeled obstacle courses and bunny-hopping their trial bikes over a friend.

But for one Monroe resident, the custom-bike competition is the real draw.

Darrell Murphy, 63, who goes by "Murphy," is the only individual from south Mecklenburg or Union County to enter the competition, and one of only 10 from North Carolina.

After two years of spending hours every week in the two-car garage behind his house, Murphy's project - a 1998 Honda GL 1500C with a six-cylinder engine most people would think came from a car - is valued at about $50,000.

"It runs so smooth you can balance a nickel on the edge of the motor," said Murphy, who credits Honda for the well-made engine.

Murphy's latest creation soon will be featured in StreetFighters Magazine, a motorcycle publication in the United Kingdom. He's put $35,000 to $40,000 into the bike, and nearly nothing looks the same as when he bought it cheap in Hawaii several years ago.

Murphy makes most of the parts himself. He molded his own plastic, designed his own upholstery and set up his own exhaust system. He made turn signals, installed LEDs in the back and added little features no one but him would notice.

And contrary to popular practice, he actually spends a lot of time de-chroming. Murphy said his focus is "on the performance and handling."

"Chrome don't get you home."

Murphy entered his Honda in the motorcycle show's freestyle custom-bike competition, where the only regulation is that the bike has to run and stop.

Many of the people competing are professionals who travel from show to show with their bikes to advertise their businesses.

"Most of those aren't made to be ridden," said Murphy, who will ride his motorcycle to the show and wipe it down after arriving.

People are always asking Murphy where he gets his need for speed: "From my mother," he replies. "She used to drag race horse and buggies on the way home from church."

Murphy grew up in a poor family in Ohio with 13 brothers and sisters, all born within a 20-year span. If they wanted something, they likely couldn't afford it, he said. So they would build or weld it themselves.

Murphy worked on his first car at 10 years old, cutting school to help his older brothers install a bigger motor in a used car. Soon after, he rode his first motorcycle.

His brothers took him to a stream filled with rocks and uneven ground. He fell a lot. But he learned how to ride.

Murphy has worked as a machinist, a welder, a goldsmith, TV producer, drag racer, obstacle-course rider, motorcycle salesman and repairman.

In more than 50 years of riding, Murphy has never been in a biking accident, but he was in a life-altering car accident in his early 30s. A car hit him from behind, sending him into a power-line pole and nearly splitting his torso in two.

When the medics came, his left arm was detached from his body and his entire rib-cage was exposed. The doctors said they would reattach Murphy's arm but that he'd never be able to use that arm or hand again.

At his doctor's suggestion, Murphy moved to Hawaii for the temperate weather, which was kind on his joints.

After 17 years in Maui, Murphy and his wife moved to Monroe a few years ago to be (at least a couple thousand miles) closer to their grandchildren in Ohio.

Against dismal odds, Murphy's motorcycle restoration has actually helped him regain feeling in his left hand. He customizes his bikes so he can predominantly use his right hand.

Restoring or custom-making a motorcycle can costs a couple thousand dollars to tens of thousands, said Murphy, depending on the owner's wishes. "(I'm) only limited by wallet and imagination." His most expensive project to date is his 1998 Honda.

In his lifetime, Murphy estimates he's probably worked on 300 to 400 bikes (90 percent of them Hondas) and on about that many cars, too. Only one was new.

His two-car garage and work station is a little empty right now, however; he recently sold six bikes. And he always sells them.

"There's no sense keeping one," said Murphy. "They just collect dust. The fun is in the restoration."

Though he'd love to win the competition, Murphy mostly wants to display his creation. "To me, it's a sculpture," said Murphy. "Some people play golf or surf. ... This is my recreation. And when you're done, you can ride it to work."