One of the happiest reunions in The Walking Dead Season 6 was Daryl Dixon (Norman Reedus) getting back his motorcycle and crossbow, the beloved possessions that were stolen from him by Dwight and Honey. The loss of his bike and his signature weapon had made Daryl grumpy since they were taken in “Always Accountable,” and the fact that he had trusted, and even tried to help, Dwight has caused him to doubt his entire philosophy about how he deals with his fellow survivors in the walker apocalypse.
Bottom line: in both a practical and a symbolic sense, Daryl’s DIY-ed bike is a major part of who he is. And because Daryl is such a major part of why TWD fans love the show so much, Yahoo TV wanted to know more about our hero’s ride. Thanks to The Walking Dead prop master John Sanders — the keeper of every prop, vehicle, weapon, and object that helps establish the incredibly detailed world of the series — here’s the scoop on the bike’s beginnings, how the Honda Nighthawk platform was modified very specifically to fit Daryl’s needs, and its importance to the show.
Daryl’s bike was created by Classified Moto, custom bike builders in Virginia. Is it true that Norman brought them to the show after having them build a bike for his personal collection?
I believe that is true. I came into it a little bit after that, but I believe the original story is that he used Classified Moto [to work] on a couple of his bikes, and then they built him a bike. Then he mentioned them to [showrunner] Scott Gimple and, I think, [executive producer] Tom Luse. Classified started building a bike, which took about four months. It’s a fantastic combination of pieces and parts that Scott Gimple, the people from Classified, and Norman himself had input on. It’s a real treat of a motorcycle. We love it.
Is there more than one bike?
We have two original bikes. One is the one we use all the time. One is a backup bike, and now, this year, we have a stunt bike that we built for different things you’ve seen in the story in Season 6. Michael Purvis does all our maintenance on the vehicles in the show, including the motorcycles. He built the stunt motorcycle himself. Michael is very good friends with Norman. They keep each other up on what they’re doing. Any instances where something comes up, they usually discuss it. Every prop — constantly I’m worrying about it. But I know there’s good people working on everything to keep them running, and I know our actors are proficient in [using them]. The system is fantastic that we have going, and I hope that we continue to work that way.
Which bike are we seeing most often on screen?
Most of the time [when] you see Daryl riding, he’s on the number one bike, which is the original bike brought to him. We tested it, [Norman] rode around on it, and it has always stayed the number one bike.
Norman’s going to star in his own motorcycle road trip series for AMC; he has a lot of riding experience and knowledge himself. Did that allow you to do things with Daryl’s bike that you might not have with an actor that didn’t have any experience riding?
Definitely. A lot of times you see a guy riding a motorcycle be towed a lot more, whereas Norman can actually ride this motorcycle. He’s very proficient riding motorcycles, ever since the very beginning, when you see him early in Season 1 riding a motorcycle, and he’s ridden [one] all the way through. This motorcycle, we did a few things… like the wider tires on the bike. You can go on or off-road and Norman still rides the bike, even though there were some more dangerous aspects to it. We kind of curbed the danger by adding wider tires, a lower frame, a smoother, electric start — all those kinds of things that help somebody operate a motorcycle in the condition of the apocalypse.
Does Norman do most of the motorcycle riding for Daryl?
Yes, indeed. Most of the time you see Daryl on the motorcycle, it is Norman on the motorcycle. Occasionally, if we do some stunt, we can’t hurt our actors, and we’ll have a stunt rider. And if there’s a stunt, we’ll use the stunt bike, because, obviously, we don’t want to have a chance of something happening to bike one or two. One of the things I really love about this show is we really do practical effects and practical stunts like you would see only on big, giant features normally. But, because it’s The Walking Dead, the way we work, and the way our actors are so proficient with what they’re doing, you see them drive cars, they can drive the motor home, you see them ride the motorcycle, shoot the guns, shoot the crossbow, use the katana. It’s really a very practical show, and it’s great that our actors are so on top of this to be able to do that.
Do you think Daryl’s bike has sort of a steampunk vibe?
A little steampunk and a little café cruiser, café light. It has the steampunk kind of front-end pieces, put together pieces and parts, and it has some cool steampunk colored parts on the side of it. Yeah, I agree with that.
What, in terms of creating the look of the bike, was most important?
When Scott was talking to Classified, a lot of the notes I saw, and the pieces and parts that we talked about, were that you wouldn’t have recognized it as an everyday motorcycle. We were supposed to believe in the story, when Daryl was introduced to the garage in Aaron’s house, with all the motorcycle parts, that Daryl built this [bike]. I think the idea was that it’s kind of a Frankenstein motorcycle, so you wanted to have that look like each part was [taken] from something else. And I think that was achieved by, like you said, some of the steampunk look that’s in it.
I know the guys from Classified also created a few external parts that went over the actual parts of the motorcycle to keep it fundamentally operational, but still have this cool kind of steampunk, kind of café cruiser, racer style. Everything from the front-end to the covers on the engine to the way the lights are all on the front grill of the bike. Then, of course, the way they mounted the crossbow in the back. And we mounted a bag underneath, that Classified built two feet under the bike, so it would have something like a backpack, a gun-holding kind of extra piece on the bike, so Norman could seem like he had more things with him. We like to do that a lot on the show, have some kind of secret compartment where things can come out, [make] believe things are available to the [characters].
That’s the bag Daryl pulls the little carving, Dwight’s little carved man, out of in “Twice as Far,” right?
Exactly. That bag is two triangles that fit underneath the seat, but clips in, and it comes off and is like a saddlebag. It can go over Daryl’s shoulder, and it has two compartments on the side of it and two little pouches inside of that.
You mentioned the crossbow mount on the back. I think that’s one of the most distinctive design features of the bike. You sort of don’t know what it is until you see the crossbow on it, but it looks cool just as a detail, those little knobs.
When they were [building] the bike, when I talked to Classified about it, Classified was very concerned about things that we would need on the bike. That’s why the crossbow being able to fit on there and being able to come off pretty quickly, to shoot, happened. We actually sent the guys at Classified, in the off-season, the actual crossbow from the show, so that they could build a mounting system for it. The same thing happened with the bag that went underneath the bike. They knew they had to have something like that, and those guys were very into the show, so they knew how functional things had to actually be. They built the bag, hand-sewed the bag out of canvas. Everything was built to be really functional and to keep the body operational, so Daryl can get on and off the bike and reach for the crossbow, all in one smooth motion. I think they did a great job and accomplished that really well. I think Norman loves the way it’s set up, too.
Did that make you nervous, as the prop master, to let the crossbow, something that important to the series, to Daryl’s character, out of your sight for any length of time?
Oh, yes. Oh, yes. [I have] long conversations with anybody who touches anything from the show, especially if it’s in play on the show. Lots of insurance forms, lots of locked cases, lots of signed-for deliveries, lots of NDAs, trying to make sure [people] don’t talk about or show anybody or have any pictures taken with any of the objects. We rarely, and I say rarely as absolutely rarely, let any of those props go and be touched by other people, other than actors and prop people on the show, for that very reason. John [Ryland] at Classified Moto understood the situation. They absolutely kept it totally quiet. I don’t think anybody heard about this motorcycle until it actually hit the screen. The way they were able to cloak and dagger and shadow the whole thing so nobody knew, and built all those parts so perfectly… hats off to Classified Moto for that work.
Was that the biggest challenge of that project, just keeping it under wraps, with so many different people involved?
I definitely think that was the main concern for AMC and for everybody involved. I don’t know when all the storylines are going to be introduced, but we have to build things ahead of time, obviously, so we really have to kind of hold it all together to make sure that nobody lets the cat out of the bag until Scott Gimple and AMC say, “Okay, this is how we’re doing it.” In the story sometimes, I don’t know whether Scott knows exactly when things are going to happen, because they take months, and months, and months to build. Keeping them a secret from the fans so he doesn’t have to be under any [restrictions] to write is the key. It has to stay super secret so nobody knows when we’re going to introduce things on the show.
Norman rode one of the bikes onto the stage at the Season 6 premiere at Madison Square Garden last fall. Was it one of the actual Daryl bikes?
Yes, indeed. He rode the number one bike. We shipped both bikes up to New York. One was in the lobby. We shipped, actually, the original first bike from Season 1 to Season 2, too. We had a big thing with the shipping company, making sure there was one guy with the bike the whole time, and again, making sure nobody could take pictures with it. Nothing was released before we did it, that way, for the premiere, it would be a big secret that Norman would ride the real motorcycle up onto the stage for the fans. It was a great introduction to the Madison Square Garden festivities, and one of the most fun things that I have ever done.
And again, I’m sure, very nerve-racking, lots of details to lock down for you as the prop master.
Oh, many, many details. One, keeping it under wraps. Two, when we got there, I made sure the motorcycle was there and that everybody who was in charge of the motorcycle got there and was ready to go. The floor they laid down was this black plastic, and right before the motorcycle was going to come out, one of the guys slipped on that floor. I went over to the guy and said, “This is going to be a problem for Norman riding the motorcycle,” and they were already laying carpet down from the entrance to the stage to make sure that he could ride to the stage safely. Everything went off without any incident. Everything was fantastic. It’s because people worked together to make it happen, and that was awesome for me, that something like that happened live for the fans, on the floor at Madison Square Garden.
I’m guessing Norman was totally into doing that.
Oh, yeah. Norman loves that kind of stuff. I think he is one of the fan favorites for a reason, because he’s just as big a fan, I think, of what he does as anybody else.
Watch TWD’s Josh McDermitt breaks down THAT scene, and hear what Norman Reedus did in its honor
The Walking Dead airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on AMC.