IN less than a decade of existence, Rocket Bobs has gathered more prestigious awards than most bike-building operations might hope for in a lifetime.

They include the Artistry in Iron Master Builders’ Championship at the Las Vegas Bikefest, back to back Best in Shows at Motor Bike Expo in Verona and two Best in Shows and a Best Engineering at the International Custombike Championship in Germany.

By any objective measure, Rocket Bobs can be described as the best operation of its kind in the world, but Pete Pearson prefers to put it differently.

“I don’t like to say that. I like to say that in the world there are probably five top builders and you cannot distinguish between them because of their styles and all the rest of it. That’s the fairest thing to say about the industry I’m in.”

The firm’s name is a clue to Pete’s favourite style of bike.

“We started out building bobbers. Bobbers hail from the fifties and sixties when people would take Harleys and take all the weight off them – bob the fenders and stuff like that – and basically get speed by lightening.

“My background has always been racing, through the eighties and whatnot, so I wanted a take on the Harley custom scene where we built fast bobbers but using modern materials and a modern take on it.

“Customers come to us for anything from a slight tweak, such as a change of mudguard or a tank or just a different stance on the bike, right through to ground-up.”

Pete, whose father ran a garage and raced cars, is originally from Oxford, and studied engineering at university there. He discovered motorcycles at seven or eight, riding dirt bikes on cliffs and dunes during family trips to Cornwall.

“I was nearly ten, I think, when I heard the name Harley-Davidson. I was used to Suzukis, and this name was so alien for a motorcycle that it captured my imagination. I wrote to them. It was pre-Google – I had no idea, and I couldn’t spell Milwaukee.

“I just wrote to Mr Davidson, Milwaukee, USA, asked him for a motorcycle and said I’d pay him back when I was eighteen and left school and got a job.

“I forgot all about it, and one day when I got back from school there was a massive box from Milwaukee. I opened it up and it was T-shirts, posters, everything you could imagine, just a flood of stuff, and a really nice letter saying, ‘Sadly we can’t give you a motorcycle but we hope you do one day realise your dream. Welcome to the world of Harley.’”

He has loved the brand ever since, mostly for what he describes as the unique joy of riding the machines.

In the 1980s Pete had a successful motorbike courier firm, but nurtured an ambition to work on Harleys.

He customised his own machine in 2008, and a manager at Oxford Harley Davidson was so impressed that he asked Pete to remodel an unsold bike from the dealership.

Thanks to a farmer Pete knew, who offered him the free use of the corner of a barn, the project went ahead and Rocket Bobs was born. The move to Swindon came a couple of years later.

Pete’s ethos?

“I listen to what the customer wants but that’s as far as the brief will go from a customer. I won’t take anything else. If they want me to build a bike it’s from me. They can give me a direction to go down but how I go down it is completely my choice.

“It’s a passion. I really get upset when people say I’ve turned a hobby into a business. I haven’t. It’s not a hobby.”