Sometimes our capacity for love is greater than our ability to love. The heart wants what it wants and when it wants, it makes itself known, but what it wants doesn’t always make sense. Even still it wants, sometimes without reason, and sometimes it tugs in contradictory directions, and the act of following one’s heart causes suffering in other areas of life, but such is life, and so is the heart. The heart of 45-year-old custom motorcycle builder and flat-track racer Scott “T-Bone” Jones is hurt after years of conflicting wants, but it’s a good heart, and like any good heart it is wandering and growing, and its capacity for love is great, even if it isn’t great enough to love everything it wants to love.
Jones is the man behind Noise Cycles, and for years his beautifully detailed, high-knee, lane-splitting Harley-Davidsons filled the pages of motorcycle magazines and took home the big awards from custom shows around the world; one of his bikes is even on display in Harley's museum in Milwaukee. Jones' motorcycles are so appealing because he pours himself into every bike that he builds, but that's also why a few years back Jones stopped building custom motorcycles altogether. Motorcycles are his wanting iron mistresses that possess his thoughts, and at times the space between the creator and his creations didn’t leave room for his family, so he sold all of his bikes, all of his tools, everything he could, but even still it didn't save his marriage. “Now I look back and think this is the best thing that probably ever could’ve happened,” Jones says.
A few months ago Jones left his home in Huntington Beach, California—where he lived for over 20 years—to start anew in Greenbrier, Tennessee, where he can move past his recent divorce, work at a mom-and-pop machine shop, sit beside the creek that runs through his backyard, and maybe even ride one of his motorcycles on the street for the first time in decades. He says, “I want to play in the creek, I want to turn over a rock and see a crawfish under it. I want to walk through the woods in hopes of running up on some old barn or something, and I can break the door open and go in and see what's in there. There are roads that are windy, and it's easy to get lost here, and I'm stoked to just put on a helmet and go left or right, and the ride starts as soon as I turn out of my driveway. I think I’m going to be so much happier in this place."
Born in 1975, Jones grew up in Raleigh, North Carolina, and his parents divorced when he was only three years old. “My mom and my real dad used to ride together before I was born,” Jones says, “and my dad would ride me with a big belt around us.” Before high school started Jones went to live with his paternal father on Roanoke Island on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. “There's mainland, which is swampy, and then there's the sound that's a brackish mixture of salt water, and then there's the Outer Banks,” Jones says. “It’s a tourist city that is jumping three months out of the year and the rest of the year it's just dead. It's like a peninsula so thin that the ocean and sound meet every year in a storm ... water comes all the way across, so all the houses are on stilts. Everybody knows everybody, and it was easy to get in trouble.” Jones was a shy, quiet kid who rode a rattle-can custom Honda Rebel to school, but he found rock bottom after he started stealing and using drugs, but then he found God. “I watched my step dad go through that whole transition to becoming a believer. His relationship with mom was never really great, and neither was our relationship, and when that dude changed, I wondered if I should look into it, too, and it definitely helped. You'll never catch me preaching about God because it’s just so I can be a better person, that's why I choose it. I don't point fingers or preach to anybody because who am I? It's like a little glue to keep me together, because otherwise I might shatter.”
Jones also found sanctuary in the straight-edge community, with the knuckles of his right hand tattooed “DRUG,” and the knuckles of his left hand tattooed “FREE.” “I always got sick when I drank, puking after one Zima, and I got into drugs pretty good, too, but then I started going to shows with my really good friend who was a hardcore, straight-edge kid all through high school,” he says. “I went vegan, I went all the way, but I never was militant straight edge, because there are definitely ugly sides to it that give a bad kind of vibe to everybody who isn’t one of those militant, hate-filled straight-edges.” Jones stayed in North Carolina and worked carpentry jobs until 1998 when he decided to move to California. “It was everything I needed it to be,” Jones says. “It was actually keeping me out of trouble because I could do fun things that weren't illegal. When I first got to California I was put on a gang profile, because there was a corner in downtown Huntington that hardcore and straight-edge kids hung out at called ‘hard corner,’ but the hardcore scene kept me grounded.”
Jones got a job building houses in Corona del Mar and Newport Beach, and he met his first wife and married her. Then he got a job at Chica Custom Motorcycles in Huntington Beach, a shop run by the deeply respected bike builder from Kyoto, Japan, Yasuyoshi “Chica” Chikazawa. “That's how I started building motorcycles 16 years ago, making $3 an hour,” Jones laughs as he recalls working in the shop from eight to eight Monday through Saturday, cleaning, polishing, and being an extra set of hands. He got the nickname “T-Bone Brewski” from a local crew of guys who hung around the shop and called themselves the Sinners SoCal, who poked fun at Jones for being sober. “I don't necessarily like it,” Jones says, “but in the motorcycle world that's who I am: T-Bone.”
Three months after Jones started at Chica’s he and his wife split up, and Jones flew to North Carolina for the summer. He found a ‘69 Triumph TR6 rotting in boxes in a metal shed in the middle of a swamp and started building his first chopper, and he finished the build back on the west coast. Jones and his wife got back together and had a son, but less than a year after the boy was born the couple split up for good. Two months later Scott met the woman who would become his second wife, and after that he left Chica’s and did a tour of local moto shops: Evil Spirit, Kill City Choppers, and Powerplant. He eventually made his way to West Coast Choppers in Long Beach and during his two years spent under Jesse James, Jones started his Noise Cycles blog and slowly began building a reputation by “making people their dream handlebars” with scrap tubing that he pulled from the trash cans at WCC. First he built a pair of Panheads for Dean Micetich of Dice Magazine and Wil Thomas of TriCo., and then he built a fantastic chopper trike for his parents. “I look past the whole bike and zero in on parts,” Jones says. “I don't have to like the bike, but I like a lot of the parts on it ... original parts made to be cleaner. No one will ever see it but me, unless I point it out to you. I want people to stop at my motorcycles, whether they like them or not.”
Photography by Jose Gallinan
Of all of the bikes he has built, Jones talks about his purple cone Shovelhead like it’s the peak of his custom motorcycle career. "That bike started my love of bikes, that's my favorite bike, but if I had the chance to rebuild that thing, in a heartbeat I'd build it better, because I can look at it and just pick it apart," Jones says. “I’m extremely hard on myself, and it messes me up, for sure."
As his reputation grew Jones moved out of his home garage and opened a shop in Santa Ana, where he built bikes for four years, until five years ago when he decided to stopped building commission bikes. “I don't have a shop anymore because I can’t feel comfortable building someone else’s bike in their vision, because the bike has to be mine... and their heart is not like mine,” Jones says. Because of that, and the fact that Jones feels like he can’t sell a bike for even close to what he thinks it is worth, he has no intentions of building for a customer again. Three years ago Jones stopped working on motorcycles all together and took a job as an R&D machinist for SpaceX. “I worked directly with engineers who said, ‘Make this happen, this is what we need,’ and then we just worked from the very beginning sketches. I challenged myself to make the best part even though they didn’t necessarily need a perfect part. I’d get in trouble for taking too long, and they'd say, ‘It doesn't need to look that good,’ but to me it does. The thing with SpaceX is like I could give two shits about space ... you guys really want to go to Mars? Why?”
After he stopped building bikes Jones focused his love of motorcycles into flat-track racing. “I don't think I've come off the track not smiling,” Jones says. “Whether it's with a pro out there that I'm chasing or trying to stay with, or I’m just riding on the track with regular dudes or whatever, I just have fun. If I finish last because I messed up or crashed, I'm bummed at myself but I'm not mad ... I love it.”
Earlier this year, after 15 years of marriage, Jones and his wife divorced. “I tried to save a marriage that had long been gone,” he says. “Not everybody’s come from a broken marriage or been through that and then felt like they've been forgotten about by a parent or something, and my whole thing was to do whatever it took to not fail at that ... every time shit hit the fan or we'd argue or whatever, it went through my head: ‘You can't ... you've got to hold this together.’ I did everything I could, but there was just no more.”
A few days after Jones moved to Tennessee over a dozen tornadoes tore through the state and killed 25 people, and then the COVID-19 pandemic came to America and brought with it new social-distancing guidelines that kept Jones from fully enjoying his new hometown. Then about month ago Jones raced in the “Thunder on the Mountain III” flat-track event in Travelers Rest, South Carolina and after a pole-position qualifier he crashed his Harley-Davidson XG750 and sustained multiple serious injuries, including fractured C1 and C2 vertebrae; a damaged artery in his neck; a broken cheekbone with a fracture from his eye socket to his jaw, compound fracture in his radius and ulna, and a chipped bone in the wrist. “I can barely pull open the refrigerator door or make a fist, and I can’t twist a door knob, and half of my face is still numb,” Jones says, “but what really sucks is that the week after I crashed I was supposed to drive to California to see my kids. Fortunately, my oldest just visited me for a week—we went fishing and go-karting, I took him to sprint car races, and we did what I could, with me being disabled—and soon my littles will be here for a week.”
Even his neck brace on, Jones can’t stop smiling, because he is where he wants to be, surrounded by deep green forests that remind him of his childhood, and he is being cared for by his new girlfriend. He says, “I've come to realize I kind of found me through all this and put effort into getting me better, and I wake up smiling every day now for the most part. My goal is to smile every day and I've done it. Am I bummed that my kids are now in a broken home? Yeah, for sure, but I've been working on myself, and I can tell already it’s reflected positively onto my kids, and I've gotten to the point where I've never been this happy. Yeah, the next chapter of life looks good.”
His is like any good heart: wandering and growing.