American Exile in London

Prior to 2004, most people in the world, even the biking world, when asked about Exile Cycles, went quieter than the bar in the Slaughtered Lamb. Now, though, ex-pat Brit Russell Mitchell’s company and bikes are among the most famous on the planet.

Pictures: Garry Stuart


You see, in 2004 Russ and Exile Cycles participated in the Great Biker Build Off TV programme for the Discovery Channel, in which he went head-to-head with Eddie Trotta from Thunder Cycle Designs in Florida. Strangely, although his bike actually lost the competition, and the trike he built against the Detroit Brothers the following year lost out too, more people worldwide have probably heard of Exile Cycles than have heard of the other two companies combined.

Len Rinaldi is an ex-pat Yank living in London, who’s been riding bikes for 20 years. He watched the original TV programme back in the day, and was blown away by the Pure Sex Dragster (named after Russell said it was ‘sex on f**king wheels’) that Exile built for the challenge. One day, he promised himself, he’d have a custom motorcycle and, when he did, it’d be one of those bikes that’d so blown his mind that day. Many years later, he was in a position to do exactly that, and so made the phone call to SoCal. Having only seen Mr M on the TV, he kind o’ presumed that he would be of the rock star breed, so he was very pleasantly surprised when the man actually answered the ’phone himself and has, subsequently, returned every phone call or email within 24 or 48 hours whenever Len needed to reach him: “He’s very hands-on, a perfect gentleman and very professional business person to work with, and I highly recommend building a bike with Exile Cycles.”


After a fair few conversations, he ordered exactly the bike that’d so impressed him all those years ago – an Exile Pure Sex Dragster, just like the one that Russell, Dave and Dylan’d built. Well, not quite exactly like it, actually; that one had a 124 cubic inch engine (2032cc) from Exile’s preferred engine suppliers Total Performance (, whereas this bike ’ere has a (slightly) more modest 121-inch motor (1982cc) as they don’t make the 124 any more. It still puts out 120bhp at 5,500rpm and 125ft-lb of torque at 3,900rpm, just 2bhp and 5ft-lb less than its discontinued bigger brother. Apart from that, it’s the same; Exile-spec Daytec frame, spoked front wheel, solid rear with 230 tyre, clip-on ’bars with internal throttle and billet grips, minimal seat and rear muddie, eight-inch over front end with milled yokes, Exile-made Sporty-style tank, black paint and Scotchbrited alloy. You can see why, can’t you? When you have a design as classic as this, why f**k with it?

The build went fairly smoothly and, end to end, it took about six months (they only build them in a month for the telly, y’know), and Len described the wait as “like waiting for a baby to be delivered.” Understandably he says he got more and more impatient as time went on, but Russell was great at sending him pics of the build to try and keep him satisfied. Eventually it landed here in Blighty and from the moment he took delivery of it, he was utterly smitten. The only real hassle he had was getting the DVLA to accept its name; it really is called ‘Pure Sex Dragster’, but they wouldn’t allow the word ‘Sex’ to go on the logbook so it’s officially registered as ‘Pure Dragster’. He laughs, “I guess it’s true – Brits really are uptight about sex…” Naa, Len, that’s just the Welsh, don’t tar the rest of us with the same brush!


So, the big question, what’s it like to ride? Well, the best word he can use to describe it is ‘mechanical’ – it’s a rigid-framed chop with a solid-mounted two-litre v-twin engine, so it was never going to feel as smooth as a production bike. It is fun though, he says: “You need to pay attention and you need to work at it a bit – it’s different to my Harley which is more like sitting on your living room couch and rolling along!” That hasn’t stopped him putting the miles on it though; he’s done the Distinguished Gentleman’s Ride on it, and ridden it to the Wake the Lakes Rally in the Lake District: “Three hundred miles on a rigid frame is a bit of work, but it was great on the open road,” he says.

“The thing I love most about the bike is the simplicity of the design – less is more… and I only wish I had 10 quid for everyone that’s asked to take a picture of it! Please thank Russell and the crew at Exile for a great experience and a great bike – who would’ve believed a Brit living in America would build a bike for a Yank living in London?”


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