Artist Spotlight: "Big Jake" of Mad Scientist Industries

For every successful shop, there once stood someone in their garage or shed surrounded by the tools that fueled their passion. In the winter of 2016, Raleigh Motor was invited to present our story at a local event here in the Triangle called, RTP 180. After our talk we had the pleasure of meeting such a person. 

Looking back, it was a really exciting night for us. It was the first time we had been invited to an event to present our story. After the short talk, we met several folks who wanted to get involved in the project. It was a pretty great moment to be honest, and re-affirmed our idea of bringing together builders, designers, and makers to create a something truly unique. It was also one of those moments where you wish you had thought a bit harder about having an answer to the one question we received from every person we spoke with. How can I help?

Unfortunately, our project bike was simply not in a place to have everyone jump in. At this point, we were just getting started. We had a stripped down frame, a torn apart engine, and a loose vision for what we wanted the final bike to be. Converting our 1971 Honda CB350 to a mono-shock was the only clear next step in our minds. Luckily for us, there was someone in the crowd who could help.

Enter, Jacob Ladd from Mad Scientist Industries.

We first noticed Jacob lingering behind a handful of people waiting patiently to talk with us about the project. At 6’7”, he’s a hard person to miss. A few moments later, we shook hands for the first time. He introduced himself as “Big Jake,” which of course we thought was perfect. We talked about his work as a fabricator and Harley enthusiast. And while chopping a small CC Japanese vintage motorcycle wasn’t something he thought would capture his interest, he was new to the area and looking to do more fabrication work. We were happy to oblige.

We’d had actually been told by several people that converting a Honda CB350 to a mono-shock wasn’t a good idea, some even said it was impossible. When I told Big Jake about the pessimistic responses we had received, his only response was, “anything is possible.” We knew right then, this was our guy. 

Flash forward several months and the impossible has become a reality. Big Jake did the math, did the work, and turned our Honda CB350 in a sleek mono-shock version of it's former self. We could not be happier with how the conversion turned out and the quality of the work that went into it. It's strong, stable, and we can't wait to move into the next phase of the build.

Just as we shared our story that night in RTP, we thought it only right to share Jake's. We threw a few questions his way after the conversion was complete to dig in on how he got started with metal fabrication, his experiences with chopping up a Honda CB350 for the first time, and the future of Mad Scientist Industries. It went a little something like this.. 

ABOUT JAKE

Tell us about yourself and your business.

Mad Scientist Industries is a side business I run on the nights and weekends out of the garage at my house in Spring Hope, NC, about 30min east of  Raleigh.  During the day, I work in RTP in the agriculture sector, with my main area of expertise being in fermentation of microbes. Along with being a side business, MSI (Mad Scientist Industries) is a creative outlet for me where I can utilize other skills I’ve picked up through the years. My main area of focus is on metal fabrication and sheet metal shaping relating to classic cars and motorcycles.

When did you get started with metal fabrication? 

My first exposure was when I was a kid, my dad would do some occasional welding around the farm repairing miscellaneous equipment as needed. In high school, I worked part time for a concrete company and they needed some repair work done on some of their tools, and I told them I knew how to weld. Looking back, I was definitely in over my head, but my welds never broke, and no one ever died. I was immediately drawn to the work, because it encompasses a large number of technical skills, but is also engaging mentally due to the need for creativity and problem solving skills. Plus you get to play with fire!

How long have you been fabricating?  

That job was my first experience with metal fabrication as well, so about 20 years, but I’ve been more serious about it for the past 5 or so.

What is your favorite thing to fabricate? 

My first love is actually sheet metal shaping. It’s a really challenging skill to master. However, I like pretty much any project where I can add an artistic flair and can focus on things like flow and shapes that are pleasing to the eye.

What's your favorite part of the process? 

I like the problem solving needed to make parts do what they need to mechanically, but also be ascetically pleasing.

What's your favorite type of project? 

I’m definitely a hard-core chopper and hot-rod guy, but I’m also toying with the idea of moving into some industrial type furniture where I can combine some of my other skills including woodworking and leather work. I’m also interested in exploring some architectural stuff. The industrial and farm type or reclaimed wood furniture is very popular right now. I’ve got some ideas bouncing around my head on some interesting ways to combine the two styles.

What's next for Mad Scientist Industries?

Well I am currently in the process of moving to a new home/shop. The new garage will quadruple my space and give me a little more room to take on bigger projects.  I’m working on refining a manufacturing process for a building set of aluminum saddle bags I plan to put into production next year. They are styled after a vintage “Bubble Bag” that were a popular aftermarket additions to Harley-Davidson’s in the 1950’s. They have a great design, and I think will work well with the 70’s style choppers that are popular right now. For guys that ride their choppers daily or on longer trips, it should give them a little dry storage space on their bikes without looking terrible.  

I recently purchased a CNC plasma table to use in the fabrication business, but in 2019 my wife and I will be using it as a basis for a new, as yet to be named, home decor business focusing wall art, signs, wine racks, fire pits, and the aforementioned furniture. We are currently working on some original designs that are a little different than a lot of what is currently being offered. I hope to produce some interesting pieces that have some great design elements and a bit of a twist, the kind you might expect from a mad scientist.

ABOUT THE BUILD

What interested you in working with a Honda 1971 CB350?

Well I love motorcycles in all their forms, and the idea of a collaborative project highlighting folks around the Raleigh area seemed like a good one. I’m pretty new to the area, so I thought it would be a good way to get plugged into the community and get my business off the ground. 

What was your initial reaction to converting this bike to a mono-shock cafe? 

When Mike said he’d been told it couldn’t be done, it got my juices flowing since I like a challenge. After doing a bit of research, there are plenty of examples of people and other companies that have done it. However, most of them appeared to be done poorly and/or without any consideration of functionality. 

What were your biggest challenges? 

Getting the shock right was the biggest issue. Since the budget didn’t allow for a custom built shock, I needed to find a shock from a stock bike that would work well, and then design the suspension around it. Based on the approximate weight of the bike and rider, as well as the geometry of the suspension, I was able to estimate the spring rate needed for the bike. From there, it was a matter of mocking the bike up to ride height with the new swing arm and rear hoop to find the physical measurements that I had to work with. Once everything was measured up, a couple of hours of searching the internet turned up a potential match, in a shock from a 2003-2004 Yamaha YZF-R6. The stock spring rate was close to what was needed, and it physically fit into the space I had to work with.  A used unit that was in good condition was purchased from eBay, and then I had to make it all work.     

What did you learn throughout the process? 

This was the first café bike I’ve built so really sitting down and learning about the style and seeing what companies and products are out there was cool.  I’m far too large to ever ride one of those bikes, so I’ve never had much occasion to really explore the bikes being built and the companies that build them. 

Would you do it again? 

Absolutely. I’m excited for you to get it on the road and get some feedback on how it rides, and learn what I can improve to make the next one even better.