Living the Vida Loca

Editor’s Note (5/13/11): Since this story ran in 2009, Vida Loca has gone out of business as such only to be reborn as Dark Timber Art. They’re still painting bikes and now doing even more. Dark Timber Art/421 S. Oak Street/Ector, TX 75439/903-640-5622/903-961-2400

“Here a couple of years ago when all the reality shows about motorcycles, like OCC (Orange County Choppers) and others, were going, a group came down here and wanted some help with a show.

“They said they were going to do a ride each week instead of just showing a shop, and they wanted us to paint a bike for the producer.” Roger Bevins is not a man at a loss for words, so his story ran a lot longer. But before he got to the end, you knew where it was headed. “It never got going,” he said. “It turned out to be another of those pro bono jobs.”
Turning two wheelers into three wheelers and painting dragons on motorcycles might seem like a strange way to make a living, especially in Bonham, Texas, even when you get paid and don’t work pro bono. Maybe that’s why Bevins and his wife, Mickey—“Just like Mickey Mouse,” she said, and he added, “It’s really Michelle Ann”—call their custom paint shop on Center Street, Vida Loca. It means “crazy life.” “My wife and daughter came up with it while we were still in Montana. We’ve pretty much had a crazy life,” Bevins said.

“I got called back into the service in 1980 when we had the hostages in Iran. When I got out, I went into ranching. The next thing I knew, I was managing a ranch in Montana, raising high-dollar race horses. It worked out pretty well. My daughters both went to a one-room school house in Montana, and there’s not many of them left anymore. Their P.E. instructor was an Olympic cross-country skier, and they could ride their horse to school and put him in a little pasture next door.”

From Hobby to Business

The seemingly idyllic life in the Big Sky Country came a cropper when injuries prompted Bevins to find a different way to make a living. He turned a hobby into a business and started customizing motorcycles. He recruited one daughter to help with the body work (“She was the best body man I ever had”) and his wife, who was already an artist of considerable skill, to do the custom painting and decorating.

What with Montana being short on both motorcycles and people in general, the business worked, but only up to a point. Looking for something more, the Bevinses decided to move to Texas where the pickin’s were thicker. Why Texas? Why Bonham?

Bevin’s crazy life started just north of the Red River. “My dad was in the military and my mom was in a wheelchair and worked in Dallas, and they’d split, so I stayed with my grandparents, who had a little goat farm in Yuba, Oklahoma. I knew Bonham as kinda sorta home. We came to town twice a week to buy groceries and go to the sale barn, and when my mother and her siblings—there were five in the family—retired, they moved back here.”

But there was more than the call of “kinda sorta” home. Bevins saw a good business climate for his cycle operation. “Texas has a huge base for custom cars, hot rods, and motorcycles. We figured that just a small percent of the business available here would keep us going. So instead of moving to Dallas where the rent was so high and overhead so ridiculous, we came to Bonham.”

The Bevinses bought a building from Roger’s brother and set up shop seven and a half years ago.

The shop has done well, drawing a steady parade of customers from the Metroplex and other parts of North Texas and Southern Oklahoma. They come for the quick turnarounds and for the incredible custom paint jobs by Mickey.

She’s an artist on more than gas tanks. She painted a mural at the Clyde W. Cosper Texas State Veterans Home in Bonham and takes on other more traditional venues for her talents on occasions. It takes a steady hand to produce the intricate designs and lay down the fine lines and swirls of pin striping, and she still paints them rather than using tape or decals.

Trikes for Boomers

The mechanical end of the business has become increasingly invested in turning bikes into trikes, three-wheelers. “Now the big thing, and nobody wants to admit it, is the baby boomers. That’s where all this business comes from,” said Bevins. “For a while there, a baby boomer would look at a trike with a bag on it and say, ‘Naw, I’m not that old yet.’ Most of them haven’t ridden one yet when they say that.”

That’s what they say, but the reality is that as the baby boomers move along, they are beginning adapt to and adopt a new motorcycle model. “They started with no windshield and no bags. They were tough guys. All of a sudden, as they age a little bit, they decide a windshield isn’t such a bad idea. Then they take the next step to the side bags. (Bevins is talking about the molded plastic compartments for carrying things on either side of the bike’s rear wheel.)

There were three or four cycles in the shop in various degrees of transition from two to three-wheeler conformation. “It’s not a bike, it’s not a car, it’s a trike. It handles differently,” he said. “You get a totally different sensation of enjoyment and relaxation, and it’s safer.”

Over the years, Bevins has repaired a lot of damaged motorcycles for insurance companies. “I had an adjuster tell me that 62 percent of the claims that came across his desk for motorcycles were for bikes that had been damaged by falling over or getting knocked over or blown over. Now the insurance companies love trikes. Trikes are bigger, more visible to cars, and even though there are more and more of them out there, they still stand out.”

The trikes turned out by Vida Loca certainly stand out. The detailing, the colors and the conformation are sure to turn heads. One type of paint Bevins uses is called Chameleon. A website describes it as  “… color-flopping urethane paints that have a very metallic look and incredibly smooth hue-shifting quality. Mystic Chameleon is an angle-dependent optical-shift paint, meaning the color you see will be dependent on the viewing angle.”

The Electric Truck Project

The shop’s latest project is a one-off job for the kids at Bonham High School who built an electric pickup truck. Working with teacher Mike Barkley, they took a small truck and reconfigured it with an electric motor that runs on storage batteries. The truck is painted silver over all, but if it is going to represent Bonhi, it has to have something reflecting the school’s Purple Warrior mascot. Mickey Bevins is taking care of that, adding purple trim and the BHS warrior.  That’s not crazy, even if the Bevinses live a kinda, sorta crazy life.