The Dyno Daddy – Aaron Bethlenfalvy interview
January 5, 2018 by kustomkultureaustralia
Pin up from the cover of the 2001 Dyno Kustom Kruisers calendar. Image: Simon Cudby
There are some much loved custom inspired beach cruisers, but arguably many of the most desirable came from the Dyno range by GT bikes. Models like the Taboo Tiki, stretched Roadster, and the official Mooneyes bike all are still highly coveted by bike enthusiasts the world over. Even the base model Dyno frames still remains one of the most beautiful bike frames ever made.
We tracked down Aaron Bethlenfalvy, former Head of Design at GT, to learn more about the inspiration behind some of those iconic models, his subsequent work at Nirve and Schwinn, and what he’s up to these days.
Aaron, thanks so much for taking some time to have a chat with us. Doing some research online I realised your resume includes some of the coolest bike models ever. Personally I’ve owned 6 or so bikes that you’ve helped design. Let’s start at the beginning – what first made you want to get into design?
Hi Hewey. First and foremost, thanks for reaching out and all the kind words. There is nothing more gratifying to me than hearing someone express his or her appreciation for my work. Thank you and everyone else that helps keep my creations alive after so many years.
Growing up I spent my childhood doing three things. Riding my BMX bike, disassembling any mechanical object I could get my hands on and drawing. My BMX bike provided me freedom, disassembling things pacified my curiosity of how things work and drawing helped me escape . Both, however, tended to get me into trouble, as I would voyage beyond pre-set bounds and was seldom able to reassemble the things I took apart.
I’m fortunate that I had parents who told me from a young age that I could be anything I wanted so long as it made me happy. Their encouragement helped me overcome the negative response I was getting in the school system, which saw me as a waste of time due to my poor grades. By high school, I excelled in math and anything creative (drawing, sculpture, problem solving).
And I understand that when you were studying at Ohio State University, for your final year project you designed a bike for the police and engaged GT and Shimano as sponsors – and that lead to you getting your job with GT that started this all?
Cold called both of them! My plan was to use my thesis project as my way to enter the industry I had hopes of entering. It worked. GT offered me the job upon completion.
The bike that started Aaron’s 20+ years in the bicycle industry. A Police Patrol Mountain Bike thesis project from The Ohio State University’s BSID program.
How did the Dyno range come about at GT?
Dyno was a BMX brand that GT had purchased many years ago. They would use the Dyno brand when a price point was too low for a GT or when dealers wanted a certain type of product that wasn’t fitting for the GT image… Et al Beach cruisers. The Dyno cruisers actually existed when I joined GT in 1995. They were your typical retro looking beach cruiser like everything else on the market at that time.
I believe Jeff Soucek designed the first frame. He definitely designed the frame for the Dyno Roadster and I think he designed the others as well. I couldn’t even tell you what the first model was since they existed before my arrival in 2005.
I think a better question is why did GT decide to redesign the cruiser line. The answer is that the current Dyno cruisers weren’t performing very well. If I recall correctly, they were selling less than 4k units per year. With such few sales, they wanted to either kill the line entirely or take one more swing at refreshing them. For comparison sake, Schwinn was the undisputed king of cruisers at the time and they were selling 120K cruisers per year.
A key part of what made the Dyno cruiser range so good are the kustom kulture and hot rod inspired models. What inspired GT to create these models?
When I was assigned the Dyno Cruiser redesign project, I began researching how the bikes were used. Even though they were referred to as “beach” cruisers, they were used worldwide in areas that had no beach. The bikes were being used on pavement more than boardwalks. To me they were just “cruisers”. That simple reclassification in my own mind helped me look elsewhere for inspiration. At that point in time, I had been helping a friend, Tom Schubeck, build his custom cars after work and on the weekends. ’52 Ford Victoria, ’64 Thunderbird, ’64 Rivi, ’32 Ford Pickup… I was engrossed in the Kustom Kulture scene. The Dyno concepts seemed to flow with very little thought required as a result.
The original concept rendering for the Dyno Kustom Kruisers “Motoglide”. The production bike ended up nearly identical to his original vision. Fireball tires, ghost flames, billet grips, ape hanger bars and a Shimano 3 spd hub.
This is ’51 Ford was Aaron’s first car build – chopped, shaved, nosed, decked, lakes pipes and air bags. Safe to say customising with an eye for style runs deep in his blood!
The Dyno calendars have achieved a cult like status. Surely pulling together a dozen themed pin up photoshoots for that was one of your more fun jobs?
Without a doubt! Gorgeous woman, super sick Kustoms…it’s hard to believe I was paid to organize and execute it!
Let’s focus on a couple of specific models. How did the Taboo Tiki come about?
We had a graphic designer named Kevin Hertfelder who knew VonFranco. Upon seeing the Dyno Kustom Kruiser concepts, Kevin suggested reaching out to VonFranco for a collaboration model. Kevin established initial contact and the first VonFranco model was the orange pinstriped model, which was a great success, but we had every intention of only making a limited quantity.
Year two we needed a new VonFranco model and the Tiki was a clear choice. VonFranco’s house and studio was adorned with Tiki EVERYTHING. Nothing would be more “VonFranco” than a Tiki model. We brainstormed with VonFranco around this theme and came up with a general direction (name, details, specification, etc). I drew up the concept illustration for approval of Sr. Management and VonFranco. Once approved, VonFranco began to create the artwork for the tank and chain guard while I worked on sculpting the tiki head for the fender lamp. I communicated all of the final schematics with our manufacturing partners in Asia and about 5 months later we were reviewing our first article samples.
The Taboo Tiki is one of the coolest Dyno models. VonFranco is seated in green, and Aaron is actually the squatting pygmy.
Aaron designed this model as a replacement for the original Taboo Tiki collaboration model with VonFranco, however the original model sold so well there was never a need to replace it. This model paid homage to true island style and featured bamboo fenders, wicker rear basket, tiki hand grips and a tiki torch head lamp.
Another seminal model is the Mooneyes Dyno, what’s the story behind that one?
I approached Chico at Mooneyes directly. I had met him a few times when I was at their facility purchasing parts for my ‘51 Ford and figured it couldn’t hurt to pitch the collaboration to them. I walked in and showed him my concept illustration and he was sold immediately. It was a great way for them to leverage their bicycle Moon Disks and a great way to help us legitimatize our commitment to the Kustom Kulture scene.
Aaron’s original concept rendering for the Dyno Kustom Kruisers “Mooneyes” cruiser. The model ended up nearly identical to his original vision. Superslick tires, mooneyes artwork, billet grips and flat track bars.
The Mooneyes model looks especially amazing with their legendary discs installed. Image: Mooneyes USA.
A few short years after we launched the Dyno Kustom Kruisers the company went through some hardships. Ultimately, the company was sold to an investment company that already owned Schwinn. They replaced all of GT’s upper management with Schwinn people that felt like the Schwinn brand should be the only ones selling cruisers so they killed the Dyno Kustom Kruiser line.
With the Dyno Kustom Kruisers gone from the market, many brands jumped on the “Hot Rod Inspired” cruiser band wagon, but I just didn’t feel like they were hitting the mark. When I joined Nirve, we felt like there was still opportunity in the segment and I approached Chico again. I think the Nirve Mooneyes cruiser did even better than the Original Dyno version!
The Nirve branded Mooneyes cruiser. Image: Mooneyes USA.
Speaking of Nirve, you designed their now widely copied chopper frame. What’s important to you when designing a bike like that?
There are three things that need to converge to create what I call “The Trifecta of Excellence”. First, you need aesthetic appeal. Making something “look cool” is the by-product of visually communicating a very specific message. Proportions, color, stance, etc all play an important part. Second, you need functionality. All choppers on the market either didn’t fit the target consumer or had a horrendous ride quality. The geometry creation of the Nirve Switchblade chopper was a very involved process that combined anthropometrics and numerous test mule frames. Third, you need to hit the right price. If you’re priced too low, the perception will be that the product is inferior. If you are over priced, it will have abysmal sales. The Nirve Switchblade chopper had “The Trifecta of Excellence”
Aaron’s handmade prototype of the Nirve Switchblade chopper. He was determined to build a good riding, ergonomic, raked out chopper and this was the result.
The more I looked into your design history, the more cool bikes I uncovered. A Boyd Coddington bike done with Nirve. Concept bikes like Hot Wheels, Budweiser, Jeff Gordon/NASCAR etc. Any particular models, either produced or concept only, that you really loved?
Hmm. I have a lot that I love. I think my favorite’s would be:
1. The Harley Davidson Limited Edition I created for GT. (Production)
2. The Dyno Kustom Kruiser Kiddie Trailer. (Hand fabricated Prototype – Concept)
3. The Nirve Chupacabra Concept Chopper (Hand fabricated Prototype – Customized Production Switchblade)
4. The George Barris Kustoms models for Nirve. (Meeting and becoming friends with George and his family will forever be one of the highlights of my career)
5. Paul Frank Line of Nirve Cruisers. (Paul is one of the most genuine and creative people I’ve ever had the pleasure to work with)
6. The work I’m doing for Ruff Cycles in Germany (no one has seen this yet and I can say is that it destroys my prior Kustom work!)
The 100% hand fabricated hot rod kiddie trailer prototype. Sculpted in surf board foam, fiberglassed and set on top a custom chassis with two 20″ bicycles tires. It featured a removable Carson Top, leather tuck -n- roll upholstery, wall to wall carpet, wolf whistle horn and a massive trunk space for diapers and beer.
Seen here is the handmade prototype of the Nirve “Chupacabra” concept chopper. The entire bike was made in Aaron’s little one car garage in Huntington Beach, Ca. The features included hand formed tank, billet wheels, custom disk brakes, custom springer fork, billet grips, shimano 8 speed internal hub activated by jocky shifter under the seat and paint work by the legendary Hot Dog Kustoms. “I love this bike. To this day it’s on display in my living room!” says Aaron.
“Collaboration projects rule. They’re a great way for designers to break mental walls that begin forming after years of repetition within the same industry. Seen here is the Kopper Kart inspired Nirve cruiser I proposed to the legend of Kustomizers George Barris”.
While this interview has focused on the beach cruiser side of your career, you’ve also done a lot of design work for regular bikes?
This list would be too long to write out. I have designed products in the cycling industry for just about every category. Complete bikes, components and accessories…
When Aaron started at GT in 1995, one of his first projects was to design a replacement BMX stem. “I felt that the old school GT Mallet stem was iconic GT and wanted to create a modernized version of it. The final result was the GT Piston stem. They were available in Micro, XL, XXL and cruiser sizes initially and later a zero offset Freestyle variation. 100% CNC machined in the USA from extruded 6061-T6 bar stock by TOMI Engineering in Santa Ana Ca.
The Schwinn “Rocking Cruiser” prototype Aaron designed. Seen here is the prototype sample from the production facility (hence the poor photo and mismatched grip/saddle color). Sadly, it never saw production for internal political reasons.
These days you’ve gone independent and run Alpha Dog Design. What kind of work do you these days? And how can people follow your work?
I’ve continued to do a lot of contract design work for the bike industry. Sadly, 99.9% of what I’ve been working on over the past few years can’t be shown as I have strict non-disclosure agreements with my clients. As I’m able to release content, I post it to my Instagram page www.instagram.com/alpha_dog_design (note where many of these pics came from). I welcome new followers!
Brands that I’ve worked for since starting Alpha Dog are: Felt, Schwinn, Electra, RockyMounts, Bafang, Niner, Astro, GT, Detroit Bikes, Elbrus Cycles, Schwift Cycles, AirFom, Gammax, Haro, Priority Bikes, Protanium BV, Ruff Cycles and TransArt.
Aaron thanks so much for your time. As I said I’ve owned a handful of bikes that you’ve designed, so it was awesome to have the opportunity to learn a little more about them and yourself.