“There was lots of liability,” said Brenning, the former Custom Chrome manager. “The bike kits weren’t up to code. If they weren’t up to NHTSA code and they weren’t up to EPA standards, we could have gotten thousands and thousands of dollars in fines.”
Custom Chrome stopped distributing the bike kits.
“After Cerberus assumed ownership of the business and subsequently uncovered potential compliance problems, they quickly decided to discontinue selling parts with any potential problems,” said Scott Avila, who was brought in by Cerberus to restructure the company.
In January 2008, Custom Chrome’s parent company filed for bankruptcy, claiming $190 million in liabilities. Cerberus, which declined requests for comment, sold the assets of the company for $16 million, a steep loss.
A series of injured motorcyclists who had unsecured claims against Custom Chrome said more should have been done to hold the company to account.
“Nobody should be able to sell parts like that and just keep doing what they’re doing,” said Byram, the injured biker from Texas. “I thought when somebody went into bankruptcy, they lost everything — like I did. It’s just not right.”
Doyle went out of business before the bankruptcy. He and his wife, Tanya, now live with their 7-year-old special-needs twins in a 70-foot trailer on family land next to the barn. For years, they have been writing letters to regulators and members of Congress, urging an investigation.
NHTSA wrote to Custom Chrome in 2007, asking the company to describe measures taken to ensure its bike kits complied with safety standards. The company responded in a letter that it no longer produced the kits; NHTSA did not follow up because it considered the issue moot.
The Doyles say they worry that millions of problem parts are still on the roads.
“Imagine how we feel knowing we sold these dangerous parts to people?” said Tanya, a former Army veterinary technician. “We tried to make it right, to make sure people were safe. But no one would listen or investigate.”
Researcher Jennifer Jenkins contributed to this report.