By Diana Olmstead
Quick Throttle readers are very familiar with Zacky’s Custom Rods and shop owner, Keith Wong who has been a loyal advertiser for many years. If you’ve ever had a chance to sit and talk with Keith you soon realize that he’s as down to earth as it gets, no ego, just a cool dude who has a god given talent for designing and building rolling works of art.
Keith came from humble beginnings but his family values and passion have led him to where he is today. Back in 1982 when Keith was 17 years old, he and his family moved from mainland China to the U.S.A. The family of six had $600 to their name, big dreams and lots of love. After spending a brief period of time in Philly they made their final move to Seattle. Keith, who at the time spoke virtually no English, had enrolled in the local high school. It was there that he discovered his passion for cars and motorcycles when he signed up for the auto shop class. He was like a sponge absorbing everything he could from his teachers and his classmates, and he knew then that was the path that he would continue to pursue for the rest of his life.
Just 8 years later, in 1990, Keith opened Zacky’s Custom Rods and he hasn’t looked back since. He was one of the first to build bikes rockin’ air suspension and one of the first to build baggers featuring a large diameter front wheel. He was and is a trendsetter. His custom creations have won dozens of awards locally and beyond, including Best of Sturgis and placing 2nd at the Penthouse Biker Build Off.
His shop isn’t splashy; it’s a gritty working man’s shop so to speak. The walls are plastered with posters of hot chicks wearing next to nothing, a handful of tool boxes, machinery to make custom parts, lifts, a paint booth, and several bikes that he is building from the frame up.
He treats every customer with respect but no customer is more important than the next…. although there is always an exception to just about every rule…
In early July of 2015 a guy walked into his shop with a picture in his hand of a tricked out Sportster, he wanted to know if Keith could customize a Sportster to look like the one in his hand. Keith said “Sure, I can do that. Not a problem”. The guy walked out of the shop and Keith went back to conducting business as usual. A couple of days later the local Harley shop pulled up and dropped off a new Sportster. Keith realized it must be for the guy who had stopped by his shop a few days before. A day or so later the guy stopped by the shop again and asked Keith if he could build a motorcycle chariot for an upcoming music video. He had a photo in his hand of 2 bikes and a chariot from some fair that took place in Germany in the 1930’s. This photo was the basic vision of what he needed built except that they wanted a chariot and 4 bikes. Keith asked him how much time would have to complete the build. The guy told him “3 weeks” and Keith said I’m sorry that’s not possible.
Later that night Keith stopped by his girlfriend Wendie’s house. Wendie often assisted Keith with various office duties so he asked her to reply to an email from a guy named Ryan Lewis, the guy he was customizing the Sportster for and who had asked him about building a chariot. That is when Keith’s girlfriend, Wendie, explained to him just who Ryan Lewis is.
Keith had no idea that Ryan Lewis, the guy who casually walked into his shop, is the DJ, producer, musician and videographer of the popular Seattle based hip hop duo Macklemore & Ryan Lewis. Once Keith realized that these guys were huge in the pop and hip hop music scene he picked up the phone and called Ryan and said “I will do it!”
5 days later, just after the 4th of July weekend, 4 Royal Enfield motorcycles arrived from California and were unloaded at the shop. That’s when Keith realized what he had gotten himself into and he began to think “I have no idea how I’m going to do this and I only have 2 weeks to get it all done. It’s too late to go back now. I have to make it happen, that’s all there is to it”.
Keith said he spent the first week just working on the build design. This wasn’t going to be an easy task as he was not allowed to cut or weld on any of the bikes. Everything had to bolt on and then bolt off after the video shoot so the bikes were as stock as the day they arrived in his shop.
Somehow he had to figure out how to attach 4 bikes together, have them all run, then build a chariot and have the chariot control all 4 bikes. Plus it had to be easy to operate by the flamboyant Eric Nalley of Foxy Shazam, who makes an appearance in the video.
This became quite the feat of engineering. To mount the 4 bikes together, Keith had to hand build and machine all of the framework and mountings. The framework was connected to each bike on their single down tubes, the lower motor mounts and the rear passenger peg mounts. To handle the steering of all four bikes spaced at almost 3 feet apart, he determined he would need to use a beefy steering damper, meant for a truck that connected the framework to the first bike. The forks of the four bikes were all connected using 1/2” rods with heim joints to smoothly turn the forks in unison.
Moving to the chariot, Keith started by building a trailer frame, which rode on 21” spoked wheels, each one running a Harley front disc brake setup. To control the small herd of Royal Enfields, which was to be done from within the chariot, two foot pedals were installed. One for the throttle, connected by cable to the bikes, the other for the clutch. The clutch was hydraulic using master and slave cylinders. Shifting was handled by a Paucho electronic shifter. And of course the reins! Attaching the reins to each of the outside bike’s handlebars, he only had to pull to one side or the other to steer left or right.
The final part of the build was completed by splitting the drivetrain in half so that the bikes could be trailered two by two and then reassembled at the video shoot and then attached to the chariot.
Keith told me he could have never met the tight timeline if it was not for Filipe Magana who works for Keith at Zacky’s and Daniel Smith of Lastats Customs who lent a couple of helping hands on this project.
On Tuesday, July 21st they loaded up the Royal Enfield’s and chariot and headed to their video shoot destination, Spokane, WA where Keith and his crew would spend the next 4 days. Because this build was a secret project it was imperative that no one saw the bikes and chariot prior to the video shoot so that none of the music video elements would be leaked.
Due to such a short timeline and keeping the project under cover Keith never had an opportunity to test drive the chariot and bikes except for a few short feet forward and back within the confines of his shop. Now it was do or die time.
No doubt about it, Keith nailed it! Because there had been no time to teach anyone how to operate the chariot prior to shooting the video, Keith was asked to be on scene to assist, and that is how Keith Wong ended up in the Mackelmore & Ryan Lewis “Downtown” music video. If you look closely you can see Keith on the right hand side of the screen perched upon the outer left Royal Enfield.
Keith told me “This was one of the craziest projects I’ve ever done. It was so cool to be part of this fun experience and amazing music video. Everyone was so kind and down to earth and that includes Ryan, Macklemore, Eric Nally, all of them, they were all cool. Because they are from Seattle they do their best to do business locally whenever possible and it shows in their choice of video location and this build.”
On August 27, 2015, the “Downtown” song and video were officially released. As of Jan 2016 the “Downtown” You Tube video had surpassed 92 million views. The video features Eric Nally, Kool Moe Dee, Melle Mel, Grandmaster Caz, a special appearance by Ken Griffey Jr, and of course our hometown motorcycle master, Keith Wong. I would like to note that the chariot was also featured in a polarizing performance of “Downtown” at the televised 2015 MTV Video Music Awards.
I’ve known Keith since the mid 90’s and I am very proud of his professional accomplishments and his personal integrity. In addition to being an all-around master of fabrication, machine work, paint, airbrushing, wiring and engine work he has a huge heart. Keith has donated to many charity events and has been a longtime supporter of the Children’s Ride which benefits the Uncompensated Care Fund at Seattle Children’s Hospital.
Zacky’s Custom Rods is located at 13700 Aurora Ave N, Seattle, WA. If you are interested in contacting Keith, check out his ad on Page 13 for all of his contact info.
Be sure to check out the “Downtown” video: