AFT Customs, Miller Provide Unique Opportunities That Enable Women to Pursue Their Passions — for Bikes and Welding
Miller works with metric bike shop AFT Customs to share welding knowledge and resources for motorcycle applications needed in building bikes. Recently product manager John Swartz helped prepare AFT Customs owner Jim Giuffra and employees Cyndi and Kristin for their welding certification test for non-structural sheet metal fabrication (Code AWS D9.1).
About AFT Customs
For as long as he can remember, Jim Giuffra has had a passion for bikes. At some level, Giuffra has been involved with motorcycles his entire life, although it wasn’t until 1977 that he officially started working on motorcycles for other individuals. It began for Jim at Spinetti’s Bike Shop in Jackson, Calif., which at the time, was one the largest multi-line dealers in the nation. During the next decade, Giuffra worked tirelessly to become factory certified by all the leading metrics including Honda, Kawasaki, Suzuki and Yamaha.
Giuffra and fellow biking enthusiast Ron Abel founded Jackson, Calif.–based Amador Fine Tune (AFT) Customs in 1987. The full-service bike shop specializes in customized metrics, a relatively new approach in bike fabrication.
“Not every bike is sized to fit every rider when it leaves the manufacturer,” Giuffra explains. “Most bikes are designed for the ‘average’ guy so we see our role as making a bike fit the individual rider better. “We’ve been successful by paying attention to the smallest details and customizing fabrication to match individual personalities by creating detailing that makes metric bikes stand out from the crowd.”
Successful they are — and the proof is in the pudding. AFT Customs has racked up more than 70 awards over the years, including two World Championships, one in 2005 and another in 2008 a the World Championship of Custom Bike Building in Sturgis, S.D. The group has also been featured in more than 70 magazines worldwide.
Both Giuffra and Abel possess incredible craftsmanship skills, uncanny vision and a huge talent for fabrication. Their designs revolve around three primary objectives: style, performance and functionality. These visionaries draw inspiration from all areas of the motorcycling industry, including cruisers, sport bikes and motocross.
According to Giuffra, the goal of AFT Customs is to help bike enthusiasts create the metric bike of their dreams. “The bike owner is very much an important part of the build process,” he says.
Also influential to the process are the eight female employees of AFT Customs.
Cyndi TIG welds at Miller's headquarters in Appleton, Wis. as part of her welding certification test for non-structural sheet metal fabrication (Code AWS D9.1). Achieving AWS D9.1 certification qualifies her for a variety of sheet metal welding applications, including gas tanks, oil box, fenders, and adding tabs to a bike.
Women, Bikes and Welding
Soon after AFT Customs was established, Giuffra and Abel began hitting the trade show circuit, a marketing strategy that successfully increased awareness of their business. Having attended bike shows in the past, they were keenly aware of the role that women played in helping exhibitors to promote and sell products to attending motorcycle enthusiasts.
But as Giuffra explains, many of the women lacked knowledge of the products and processes they were promoting on behalf of exhibitors. Giuffra thought that with a little instruction and some hands-on experience, female spokespersons would easily be able to speak on a higher level about the products and work to create designs that previously, they only admired.
It was the recognition by Giuffra that some women he knew also had a passion for meticulously designed customized bikes that prompted him to establish AFT Customs Modeling Agency in 2004. The business division provides women with paid modeling opportunities within the Power Sports industry as well as access to resources, equipment and training for customizing one-of-a-kind metric bikes.
In addition to working at industry events, these women work part time building bikes in the shop and have expanded their skill sets to include fabrication and welding.
“Initially the gals were only helping with basic assembly, but it wasn't long before they also became more involved with the fabrication process. A year after working around the shop, they became heavily involved in the build process, and a year later, many had started to MIG weld.”
Now, the women work on every phase of a metric bike customization and complete upwards of 70 percent of total fabrication under Giuffra’s supervision.
“They build world-class custom bikes – in addition to their day jobs mind you – and are definitely in a league of their own,” said Jim. “These women are passionate. Simply put, they walk the walk and talk the talk.”
Welding Skills Play an Important Role
Building a bike requires fabrication, so learning welding processes and a variety of applications was a natural progression. For assistance, Jim turned to the manufacturer of the welding equipment he relies on to create his seamless designs, Miller Electric Mfg. Co.
AFT Customs owns a Diversion™ 180 TIG welder, Spectrum® 375 X-TREME™ plasma cutter and a Millermatic® 140 MIG welder, equipment that plays a crucial role in achieving the level of craftsmanship required for producing each customized bike that hits the street. But Miller also works to provide its partners and customers much more than capable, precise and reliable equipment.
Miller, always looking for opportunities to provide partners and customers with much more than equipment, jumped on board, eager to lend support.
Product manager John Swartz has been working with the AFT Customs team to share welding knowledge and resources over the past year and recently helped prepare AFT staff members for their welding certification test for non-structural sheet metal fabrication (Code AWS D9.1). Achieving AWS D9.1 certification qualifies welders for a variety of sheet metal welding applications, including gas tanks, oil box, fenders, and adding tabs to a bike.
“Quality welds by themselves are usually enough proof of a welder’s skill,” and while certifications are not always required as part of working in a shop, Swartz says, “proof of certification is empowering and confirmation these women are responsible for the high-quality builds on display.”
Swartz added, "They have put forth the effort to understand motorcycles in general and explain the creativity and thought behind their customization designs. The ability to attain the same degree of welding certification reinforces their parity with male colleagues in the industry."
Giuffra, along with AFT Customs certification candidates Cyndi and Kristin, recently traveled to Miller headquarters in Appleton, Wis., where a certified welding inspector conducted the certification. Using a Diversion 180 to complete the test, they were provided with two flat pieces of 14-gauge, cold-rolled sheet steel — 3 inches wide by 6 inches long. They performed the test using a groove weld, as this certified them for both groove and fillet welds.
All three passed their certification test with flying colors.
Giuffra and Abel have provided these women with a working climate that encourages participation and ownership by all, where everyone has a voice in the incredible bikes they create together.
"My biggest reward will come years from now when we all look back and say we did something we were very proud of, made history and built world class bikes for AFT Customs.”
It doesn't get any better than that.