Rhonda Hoffman's Color-Changing Custom Honda Magna

The paint job, applied by the owner, changes with the angle of view

Rhonda Hoffman
Rhonda's Honda has got the look with paint done by Rhonda Hoffman herself.Fran Kuhn

Have you seen enough of paint-by-numbers and bolt-on bravado? Rhonda Hoffman has. She’s busy creating truly contemporary customs at Rhonda’s Paint and Body in Richmond, Virginia. She has a knack for color and contour, and her creations are winning awards as well as adoration.

We were as smitten with Hoffman and her Honda as the rest of the crowd in Daytona Beach, Florida. The Magna is a looker with a hypnotic hologram effect. Walk around the bike and the colors shift between eight different hues. It's a rainbow alright, and the pot of gold is one pricey can of paint.

Rhonda had already been in business for two years when she decided to paint her own bike. She was tired of watching all that trick paintwork roll out her door. Although her regular ride was a ’92 Harley-Davidson police bike, she opted for the ’95 Deluxe Magna. “It had the wheels, the motor and the length I liked,” she said. “I also knew, from working on other bikes, that it was easy to change stuff around on Hondas to make stuff fit. They’re friendly that way.”

“I wanted to show off my paintwork,” Hoffman continued, “to show people there was more than just flames out there.” The paint Rhonda chose was a Bass Glasurit from Germany, which costs about $1000 a quart. With that kind of investment you don’t want to make mistakes, so the Magna paint job took her an entire summer of spare time. “I started with a side cover because it was the smallest part I had. I painted it and sat it on my end table so I could just look at it and make sure that’s what I wanted to do.”

She wanted the bike to end up as one complete picture, not something the eye would interpret piece by piece. “The directional wheels on the Magna are kinda curved and pointed, so curves and points became the theme,” said Hoffman. She picked the Corvette taillight, Jardine turn signals and Cobra Slash Cut pipes because they incorporated curves and points that would carry the paint concept beyond the bodywork. She was going for long and low, so a set of Arlen Ness Tail Dragger fenders was sculpted, widening the rear and narrowing the front. Progressive shocks lowered the whole package an inch and a half.

Finishing touches include mirrors by Drag Specialties; forward controls by Jardine; and brake reservoir cover, jetting kit and license plate frame from Cobra. Her plate reads: IDIDIT.

She did that, and a lot more. The Honda may be her current showpiece, but she’s done hundreds of customs since Rhonda’s Paint and Body opened its doors three years ago. Her expectations back then were modest. “I was thinking I’d do insurance work on cars to keep the doors open, hoping to get a few motorcycle jobs here and there. The second month into work I was slammed and it’s been motorcycles ever since. I didn’t turn back. I don’t do cars. I specialize in motorcycles—old, new, custom, repair—anything that has to do with motorcycles.”

It’s hard to imagine that this ambitious Iowan with an infectious laugh almost ended up being an accountant. “I was on the 10-year college plan,” she says, “I knew I wanted to be an artist, but didn’t know how to make money at it.” One day, when she was laid-up in a hospital recovering from a sports injury, she called her parents and said, “I’m going to quit college and go to auto body school.” She hung up on them before they could respond.

The paint on the Magna changes color as you pass by.Fran Kuhn

She never regretted that decision, and before graduation had already landed one of a series of jobs in high-end car repair shops. Following that tour, she had an eight-year stint at Federal Express doing bodywork and mechanical maintenance. It was back-breaking work which, in the end, actually broke Hoffman’s back. It was during this second recovery that she devised a long-term plan to create her own business.

“I woke up one day…went into a paint store and got a job.” Dealing paint, Hoffman noticed that Richmond had a large motorcycling community and only two people doing paintwork on bikes. Both of them were so booked they couldn’t keep up with the workload. She deduced, “If these guys can make a living at it, so can I.” So she went around to motorcycle shops and said, “Hey, I can paint.” The response she got was, “Yeah, right.”

“I finally grabbed this little Honda Rebel for a couple hundred bucks, threw some different fenders on and gave it a little custom paint job,” Hoffman continued. “I took that around and then they said, ‘Wow! You really can paint.’ It just spring-boarded from there.”

She hocked everything she had, found a shop, and bought as much state-of-the-art equipment as her credit would allow. The gamble paid off. By combining her love of art and motor-cycles, Hoffman found a way to beat the system. The only accounting she’s doing these days is her own.

Rhonda started riding motorcycles when she was 10 years old and on her way to receiving the antidote for a bad case of horse fever. “We picked the horse out, bought the tack and were actually on our way to pick the horse up. And my dad looks down at me and says, ‘Mini-bikes don’t eat hay when they’re in the garage.’ That’s how I got into motorcycles. We turned around in the middle of the road and went to the Honda shop.”

“They used to call me Crash Hoffman because I’d just turn the throttle wide open and go ’til I crashed.” That’ll happen when your height forces you to launch from between milk crates. When she was 11 she competed in an off-road rodeo and scored a faster time than everyone else on the obstacle course. But the judges withheld the overall trophy because she was female, a lowly Powder Puff. “My dad raised holy heck,” Hoffman says.

Rhonda’s dad, a car enthusiast and drag racer, roused her affection for manipulating metals. He would buy vehicles, fix them up, and paint them in the garage “back when that was normal,” she laughs. “We’re talking a long time ago.”

Those years seemed to have given her more than grease stains. She’s eager to share her inspiration with her customers, but always encourages them to participate in the design. “I try to ask questions so they tell me what they want instead of me telling them what they want. Stuff isn’t going to work on every motorcycle, so I always start with what bike they ride and their favorite colors. Then I tell them to look at magazines, look at cars, look at lines and colors everywhere.” Only after this thoughtful interaction does she make suggestions or, in some cases, reinterpret the customer’s ideas.

“The first drag bike I did was for a friend. He brought over the body and we talked about what he wanted on it. But he was drawing out something like all the other racers had. I asked him to go into the back room and I laid out a banner design that flowed with the bike. I invited him back out and he just smiled and said, ‘yeah.’ That year his bike won best-appearing bike in a field of 500 motorcycles. Now I’m doing two other drag bikes.”

Rhonda likes to keep things varied, so her business is comprised of approximately 25 percent restoration, 25 percent custom work and 50 percent damage repair. “I’m really into vintage stuff now too…[like] old sidecars. I’m fairly good at metal sculpture,” she continues, “so I can resurrect old, bent fenders…patch and weld…I do it all.”

With the Magna left to turn heads, Hoffman is concentrating on a few new projects of her own. She bought a BMW R1200C and has some definite ideas for customizing it. She says she wants to give it some attitude. “It looks like a lazy day cruiser…I want it to look like a street fighter.” She already has BMW’s low bars, and plans to move the peg mounts back to complete the more aggressive riding position. The seat has to go; she sees a sporty cowling where the backrest currently folds down on the rear fender. After that she’ll attack the paint and bodywork.

In addition, she’s working on a mold for an aftermarket fairing. “I think it needs a little bit more color up front, so I’m designing a Lexan® and paint combination.” Rhonda has assured us that she’ll let us know when the fairing is ready. She’s also hinted that she may build and sell fenders for the BMW at some point in the future. Speaking of which, Rhonda has hung a “for sale” sign on the Magna. It can be yours for $8000—and yes, that includes the amazing paint.

Another treat still under wraps is a chopped Triumph Bonneville 650 custom. “My theme on that right now is retro/techno. It’s got the classic ’71 Bonnie engine and chrome spoke wheels, but I’m going to do some real far-out and high-tech stuff. I just haven’t decided what front end to use. I’d really like reverse forks off a sportbike.”

One of Rhonda’s most recent make-overs was given to a brand-new Triumph Thunderbird. “He wanted flames like his ’70s Triumph had.” She sent him home with more than that. “I flamed the tank, fenders, side covers and his helmet.” The paint she used was another Bass original, this one with a 3-D effect that changes from red, to gold, to orange.

Thankfully, there isn’t a Powder Puff class in the paint-and-body world, at least not one with rules. Rhonda Hoffman has conquered—the proof is in the paint.

This article was originally published in the August 1998 issue of Motorcycle Cruiser.