nashville tennessee, motorcycle garage, custom motorcycle shop
Draft Agency

Niche Motorcycle Specialist MNNTHBX

It stands for "Man in the Box."

About 50 yards down a one-lane road in a suburb of Knoxville, Tennessee, there’s an olive-green warehouse where three middle-aged men who once had “cake” government and corporate jobs now make a living playing with kids’ bikes.

It all started with a Honda Ruckus that Greg Hatcher purchased in 2010.

"Kevin was a postmaster, Grant had a cush job in credit processing, and I was working for the state as a health inspector, making good money with a meat thermometer," recalls Greg Hatcher, the man behind MNNTHBX (read "Man in the Box"), a parts company that specializes in niche bikes like the Honda Ruckus and Grom, Kawasaki's Z125 Pro, and KTM's RC390 and Duke 390.

“We’re in a goofy, fun business, but we take it seriously,” says Hatcher, whose energy and enthusiasm have not only spawned a prosperous business and a popular annual ride event but have swept up his friends Kevin Estep and Grant Lawson—as well as the employees of a local machine shop, T-shirt shop, and production house—in the process. MNNTHBX is a snowball made up of alternating layers of fun and success, and Hatcher is the nucleus.

It all started with a Honda Ruckus that Hatcher bought in 2010. “I just wanted something to ride at the lake, to get coffee and the paper,” he says. At the time, Hatcher and his two machinist friends were big into standup Jet Skis.

“I’ll pull up a stool and stare at a bike and look at bolt holes and just try to come up with parts”

“I was moonlighting making parts for the skis, and it wasn’t long before I designed a few parts for my Ruckus, just to make it unique,” Hatcher recollects. “And pretty soon people on the forums were asking to buy stuff. The parts were really popular, and suddenly I was losing money going to work. It occurred to me that not a lot of people accidentally start a prosperous business, so I quit my state job and rolled the dice on the self-employment thing.”

Fit and fast spoken, Hatcher isn’t interested in making “cookie cutter” parts or items that are already on the market, so he relies on his ADHD-fueled imagination to come up with new components. “We’ll have some idea for a fun project we want to do then we try to figure out what parts we can develop for it,” Hatcher says.

nashville tennessee, motorcycle garage, custom motorcycle shop, MNNTHBX
Top: The shop's smallest bike, a Rocker mini BMX, awaits its next victim. "Small bikes are just pure fun," Hatcher says. "We've all ridden literbikes and motards and that stuff, but there was always some ego in it. On a Ruckus, you're not trying to impress anybody. It really takes you back to riding minibikes as a kid." Left: "There was a while last winter when it was running 15 hours a day for a month," Hatcher says of his 3-D printer. Dubbed "Gib" after one of the fabricators at GDM "because they can both make anything," the printer was hard at work when we visited the shop, but it wasn't printing prototypes. "Oh, that's just some stripper chick. I downloaded the file last night," Hatcher says with a laugh. Right: Bolt-ons like valve covers, license-plate mounts, headlights, CVT covers, and footpegs make up a large portion of MNNTHBX's business, but Hatcher et al also sell big-bore kits, performance camshafts, and exhaust systems that they designed in-house.Draft Agency

Hatcher’s process? He looks at bolt holes. “I’ll pull up a stool and stare at a bike and look at bolt holes and just try to come up with parts,” he says. “I probably came up with 12 parts for the Ruckus that way.” Billet CVT covers, various replacement brackets, and even alternative seat and swingarm options (all with irreverent names like “Turtlehead” and “Jock Strap”) have arisen from Hatcher’s furrowed-brow stare sessions.

To keep the creative juices flowing and because “off-the-wall stuff is fun,” the guys build some pretty bizarre bikes. There’s the 49cc penny-farthing with its 52-inch front wheel and, perhaps their most unusual and questionable creation, a two-person vehicle that combines a KTM 640 and a Chinese dune buggy.

custom motorcycle shop, nashville motorcycle shop, unusual motorcycles
A helmeted ruminant watches over the warehouse. “There’s no backstory to the deer head; it’s just irreverent humor,” Hatcher says. “Plus now we can claim to be taxidermists!”Draft Agency

Dubbed the “Trust Fall 2000” due to the cooperation required to operate the thing, the rig is powered by the dirt bike rider in the back while steering and braking responsibilities fall on the sucker in the buggy up front. The asphalt outside the warehouse is streaked with skid marks from the guys playing with their toys.

The warehouse, built in Hatcher’s backyard on property that’s been in his family for 80 years, isn’t so much a workshop as it is a man cave and design studio. Its corrugated-steel walls are appointed with framed CAD drawings and banners from partner businesses, and there’s a thumping sound system, posh leather furniture in the office, and a carpeted movie nook in the attic. The nuts-and-bolts fabrication happens 10 minutes down the road at Goddard Manufacturing & Design, run by the same identical-twin brothers who rode Jet Skis with Hatcher.

“When the economy turned, our dad had to close the shop,” Russ Goddard says. “A few years later we’d sold off everything but one small mill, and when Greg needed help with his parts I’d come down here and work on things for him. Now five years later we’ve got new equipment and we’re back in business. That early Ruckus work really helped put us back in business.”

nashville tennessee, motorcycle garage, custom motorcycle shop, MNNTHBX
The back of the warehouse is used for storage—of parts inventory and project bikes. The average displacement of the guys’ toys is only around 100cc, but the Ruckus Lawson and Estep are working on here is destined to be the recipient of an imported 125cc two-stroke race engine.Draft Agency

Do I drop what is obviously a terrible business name or stick with what people recognize?

If you roll with the Ruckus or Grom crowd, odds are you’re familiar with MNNT HBX’s creative, high-quality products. But what’s with the name? “It stands for ‘man in the box,’” Hatcher says with a laugh, “and it was the worst business decision ever. Before any of this started I had to create an email address. I’m an Alice in Chains fan, and they have a song called ‘Man in the Box.’ That was already taken, so I just took all the vowels out of it, which left me with that debacle. Then when I got on the forums, with no intention of ever being in business, that was my screen name. So when I eventually created a business, I was at a crossroads. Do I drop what is obviously a terrible business name or stick with what people recognize?”

nashville tennessee, motorcycle garage, custom motorcycle shop, unusual motorcycles, creative motorcycles
Kevin Estep (left), Grant Lawson (center), and Greg Hatcher are the man-sized children behind MNNTHBX, seen here posing with their penny-farthing. It’s one of many bizarre creations the guys pursued because “it was fun,” Hatcher says. Other projects include a pinstriped, apehangered Ruckus, a KLX140 supermotard, and a highly modified Grom that’s rolling on carbon-fiber wheels. “We struggle sometimes to convince [potential business partners] that we’re serious, but the numbers make sense,” says Hatcher, who adds that more often than not, these for-fun projects yield marketable products.Draft Agency

The stick-figure MNNTHBX logo is incongruous with Hatcher and the business. He’s organized and sophisticated, and the logo is crude and childish. The only thing childish about Hatcher and his crew is the joy they derive from what they do.

“My state job sucked the life out of me, but I love what I do now,” Hatcher says with a big grin. “I like everything about my job. It’s like running a business with 10 of your closest friends.”