KANKAKEE | Keith Kibbons doesn't just make lemonade from lemons. He can turn a potential disaster into a work of art.
The 35-year-old mechanical genius from Bradley has been expressing himself in various forms of transportation since 1999. And two months ago, he moved his artist workshop, Kustom Kreations by Kibbons, to its new home at 980 N. Washington St. in Kankakee.
Inside the garage, the artist's work includes a customers' 1970 Camaro, sure to be a future car showstopper. On the other end, there's a four-door pickup truck that Kibbons describes as "jacked to the moon." It's now getting some special paint features.
But out in front of the shop sits the one-of-a-kind motorcycle that tells the story of Kibbons' escape from serious injury.
"It was a 2004 Harley-Davidson that I made into my own personal bike," he explained. "I like to take my (7-year-old) son Neiko on rides with me. And I don't feel safe with him on the back. So, I found a sidecar.
"You don't see many custom bikes with sidecars, but I went up to Michigan to find this one. It's Swedish. I think it was made in 1960. It was out in the yard at this place, with a tree laying on top of it."
Kibbons finished his dream bike, but then began his nightmare. He hit a deer while riding 55 mph on Warner Bridge Road in September 2012.
"It came out of nowhere. I hit it and it came across the side of the bike, away from the sidecar. It really tore up my knee," he said. "But it didn't knock the bike over because of the sidecar."
Still there was some serious damage. And both Kibbons and the bike spent some time in rehabilitation. Today, he's walking without a limp and the new paint job on the repaired bike is without equal.
"I wanted it to show like it was still ripped open and you could see the like 'bio-mechanical' parts under the 'skin' of it," he explained, adding that he gives all the air-brush painting credit to a friend he flies in from Maryland.
Kibbons got started in the automotive business working on cars at the used car lot his dad, Richard, ran on West Station Street. He later worked on cars, trucks and bikes in his own garage, and now employs two full-time staffers at the new location.
And though Kibbons doesn't have the resources to compete with cable TV's celebrity motorcycle builders, he did bring home some of the top awards from the recent bike show at Chicago's McCormick Place.
So even if his masterpiece is complete, Kibbons has other creations, like the "graffiti machine." This low-rider was built from a 1997 Harley, which Kibbons' covered in graffiti as if it were a subway car in the 1980s.
And what's next?
"It's up to what my customers want now. I've always got more ideas coming, but I've got to make a living, you know," Kibbons said.
"So, what can I do? It depends on the customer's budget. You give me an open checkbook and I can give you the baddest bike you've never seen before."