Senior thesis pays off for motorcycle customizer

Publish Date: 
Oct 1, 2012

ASHEVILLE, N.C. – A student’s senior thesis at Appalachian State University has turned into not only a full-time job, but a cottage industry.

Hugh Owings was working a drone job after graduation when he decided to have some parts made that he had designed for his senior thesis bike. He documented the transformation here, and requests poured in.

“I sold out of parts in a month,” Owings told the Ashville Citizen-Times. “It just blew up from there.”

That was about two years ago. Today, Owings, 32, and two employees — Tevan Morgan and Bryan Pulliam — make parts at Hugh’s HandBuilt. His sales have more than doubled since he started. He wants to teach people to do their own work, create new products and have fun.

“I get much more pleasure seeing people make something themselves, rather than doing it for them.”

Owings works only on the Yamaha XS 650, a popular choice among home restorers. The college bike was the first motorcycle he’d ever built, though he had worked on car engines and dabbled in metal fabrication and welding.

“It’s kind of like getting a plain piece of notebook paper. It’s something you can do anything with,” Owings said. Owings also sells DIY kits, but  Hugh’s HandBuilt is known for rephasing engines.

“We can modify internals for engines. We change the firing patterns” to create higher RPMs and a smoother-running engine, Owings said. “That’s what put us on the map.”

Posted by Holly Wagner