blackout motors

Sean Donahue & Blackout Motors


Sean “Speedy” Donahue, to put it mildly, couldn’t believe how friendly and hospitable the people of South Dakota were during his visit. Upon meeting James and Katie Washnok of Blackout Motors, Speedy learned that that’s just how South Dakotans are. Visiting the state gave him an opportunity to see the beauty of South Dakota, from the views at Badlands National Park to the people that made him feel so welcome. It’s that same beauty that make James and Katie grateful and proud to call South Dakota home. 

Sponsored Content

Sean "Speedy" Donahue

How long have you been riding motorcycles? When did you first start riding?

I started riding motorcycles 6 years ago when I first moved to San Francisco, out of necessity. I needed a mode of transportation to get around the city, and parking a car in San Francisco isn’t really an option. First, I tried out an electric scooter share app to get started and found out very quickly that I was ready for something bigger and badder. Enter motorcycle riding class to get my license, and buying my first bike, an old 1990 Yamaha Radian YX600. 

What do you love most about motorcycles?

What isn’t there to love about motorcycles? The ability to grab the throttle and take off down the road is what got me hooked. My experience with motorcycles has evolved over time, but riding motorcycles is an escape from the day-to-day chores of our lives. Without being terribly cliché, there’s a great sense of freedom when traveling on a motorcycle.

What was the most surprising thing about your experiences in Spearfish, South Dakota?

Most surprising is the amount of local business owners. Everyone in Spearfish, and other towns I visited and got to talk with locals, revealed that seemingly everyone owns a business or two. 

What were some of the most interesting things you learned during your visit to Blackout Motors?

I got to learn about the manufacturing and fabrication process at Blackout Motors. I hadn’t seen a similar product before, so I was really interested in learning the ins and outs of their production. Following that, I was lucky enough to help assemble a kit of theirs onto a motorcycle.

Sponsored Content

What are some of the key takeaways from your experiences with Blackout Motors?

1) South Dakotans are incredibly friendly and genuine. Everyone is treated like family. 
2) It’s possible to manage a successful handful of businesses and maintain a budding family.

What are the top three highlights of your trip as a whole?

1) Sunrise at Badlands State Park. There wasn’t a soul in the park, and it was an incredible experience to watch the sun start to creep up and light up the landscape.
2) Buffalo at Custer State Park. I found the herd of buffalo in the park and sat up on a hill—above where the buffalo had settled—to watch the sunset. 
3) Hanging with Katie and James of Blackout Motors. They’re wonderful people that aren’t afraid of hard work, and I’m thankful for the experience I had with them.

On your next trip to South Dakota, what area(s) of the state do you plan on visiting and why?

Next trip to South Dakota will be out to the Black Hills again so I can show my wife Badlands and Custer State Parks. I’d also like to make my way out to Sioux Falls to see what’s happening on the eastern side of the state.

sean donahue
Courtesy of Sean Donahue
Courtesy of Sean Donahue

Blackout Motors

Tell us a bit about Blackout Motors. What does the company specialize in?

Blackout Motors specializes in building motorcycles from the ground up & the customization of big V-Twin motorcycles.  Blackout was born from humble beginnings purely as a passion project of builder James Washnok, who built his first bike in the living room of our home. Upon marrying Katie and taking the business from the living room to the commercial shop space, Blackout has now grown from one kid's idolatry of unique, expressive custom bikes to a family of dedicated professionals with eclectic personal styles and all driven toward one united goal: creating distinct, one-of-a-kind, and quality products for our customers.
Based in the greater South Dakota community, we are proud to have the opportunity to take our passion for this industry along with our love of the craft, mixed with some good ol' South Dakota style work ethic, to the international stage. 
We say “the greater South Dakota area” because all of South Dakota is our home.

Tell us a little more about the extent of your customization services.

Blackout Motors is the building side of our operation. Whether it’s a complete fabrication, beginning-to-end  custom build or taking an existing Big V-Twin American-made Harley Davidson or Indian motorcycle and customizing it to make our customers’ wildest dreams a reality, we do it all. In 2018 we stepped into the mass fabrication of aftermarket custom motorcycle parts—as well as our formal cross-state expansion—when we purchased Baggster from longtime friend and mentor, Chris Malo. Blackout Industries was born, and we went into full production shipping custom motorcycles parts globally.

What elements of automotive (motorcycle) design do you find the most interesting?

James: My favorite element of the design process is bringing a vision to life, from taking it from a drawing on a cocktail napkin, the rendering process, and finally seeing the finished product as a whole. I truly enjoy creating parts that could be the key piece to setting someone’s motorcycle apart and making it truly theirs. It’s magic when our vision comes together to complete the vision for their finished bike. The part that makes the owner feel their bike is complete—that’s a great feeling! 
Katie: I work primarily with the esthetic side of design in both building and fabrication, from finishing touches and appealing angles & lines to color scheme and adding high-end details to customer requests. I also really enjoy working with outside elements to add special touches to our custom builds; my favorite so far being our custom one-off Coach Leather motorcycle seats. (Yes, I cut up Coach bags to make two matching motorcycle seats – and they are a huge hit!)

What are some of the benefits of being located in both Aberdeen and Spearfish, South Dakota?

We have always considered the entirety of South Dakota to be our “hometown.” James grew up in eastern South Dakota and Katie was raised in both East and West River. Some may think a 400-mile commute from office to office may be excessive. For us, it’s just windshield work time with a great view! South Dakota is a special place in that there is seldom a community you enter where you don’t have a friend or acquaintance – and if you don’t have one of those upon arriving, you most like won’t leave without acquiring one. For us, the “commute to work” across the state is also a chance to see and catch up with friends and clients along the way.  The only downside is we have a really tough time with South Dakota’s playful rivalry of East River vs. West River because we love them both so much. 

How has Blackout Motors had a positive impact on the community?

We have worked hard since our founding of Blackout to focus on giving back to our greater South Dakota community. We know we couldn’t do what we do to the extent that we do it from just anywhere. We started Blackout eight years ago when we were both in our early 20’s, and we now operate, compete, and sell to a global market. We know 20-somethings can’t make that happen in every part of the county. We feel blessed at the opportunities afforded to us by South Dakota’s outstanding pro-entrepreneur business climate, and we feel it’s important to give back to our community and encourage others to achieve their goals, just as we were encouraged and empowered by our community to achieve ours.
We volunteer year-round with programs like Junior Achievement, the BIG Idea competition, Shriners International, our local and state Chambers of Commerce groups, 1 Million Cups, and other community groups to encourage the growth and strength of that business climate. We have also been fortunate enough to work on some very special motorcycle build projects for different organizations and charities around the state and region. Those builds are some of the most special to us and hold cherished memories, knowing the work went toward some of the best causes. 

What was the most interesting thing about meeting Speedy Donahue?

It was fantastic to meet Speedy and get not only his input on the motorcycle industry as a whole, but also hear his perspective and perceptions of South Dakota. He was blown away by the hospitality he had received in his time in South Dakota. He asked us on a few separate occasions in our time together if all South Dakotans were really THIS NICE? He commented on how, even at the airport, everyone met him with a genuine smile – the hospitality and welcome he received at the hotels, restaurants and attractions were all authentic, and everyone was happy to see him and make him feel like part of the family. All we could do was reply with a smile. “What? They don’t do that where you’re from? That’s just South Dakota Hospitality! -We are genuinely proud of our home and want to make all feel welcome here!” There was a great sense of pride in knowing he was enjoying our home as much as we do!

What insights or perspective did you hope to gather by meeting Speedy Donahue?

Speedy spent the day in our production, R&D and fabrication shop. He got to see firsthand how we design, build and produce aftermarket motorcycle parts. Then, we were able to give him some hands-on experience with building by having him assemble a completely customized Blackout Baggster Harley Davidson Street Glide, which he then got to take out on a ride through beautiful Spearfish, South Dakota. The best part of our day was when Speedy said, “I can’t wait to tell my wife I got to drive a motorcycle I built!” That is what we live for! The pride and satisfaction in not only helping people see their vision for a custom motorcycle come to fruition, but watching and helping them make that dream a reality themselves! Driving it through the beautiful Black Hills doesn’t hurt either! 

katie and james
Courtesy of Sean Donahue
sd mountains
Courtesy of Sean Donahue
Illustrated image of three bison grazing in Custer State Park. The Needles rock formation is visible in the background.
Order Your Free Vacation Guide

Find our Travel Guide, state map, and other free publications to aid in your travel planning.

Dignity: of Earth & Sky Statue Chamberlain South Dakota
Sign Up for the E-Newsletter

Receive monthly inspiration about places to see, activities to try and upcoming events.

Newton Hills fall hiking
Discover South Dakota's Great Finds

Earn prizes and discounts as you explore off-the-beaten-path attractions on your next South Dakota adventure.