Jaz Airbrush is located in a bit of an odd spot in town. It’s somewhat far from your normal bicycle shops, tucked away in between rows of mechanic shops in Pandan Indah. It would be easy to miss too, if not for the custom flame-painted Proton Wira that is always parked conspicuously in front. The workshop takes a bit of searching to find, but once you know his story, everything makes sense including the unusual address of the workplace.
“I used to ride superbikes,” admits Jaz Wong, the man behind the whole operation. It all started with an interest in custom paint jobs for cars, in a somewhat accidental manner. “I’ve been specialising in custom airbrush for 15-16 years already. I began with cars, then some customers asked me to do up their superbikes, and eventually bicycle frames.”
“I already had the basics. You must have some knowledge in art, and learn to draw. I graduated from the Malaysian Institute of Art, majoring in Illustration. At the time I didn’t know much about airbrushing, and I took up a sales job with a company that sold greeting cards. It was backbreaking work, delivering all these cards. After five years I had a college reunion and ended up following one of my friends to a car show.”
The young and brash twenty something year old figured he could do even better than what he saw there.
He started doing small projects on his own at home, and eventually set up his own workshop specialising in custom paint for cars.
He briefly considered doing tattoo art, but there was an even darker side to the art.
He eventually chose to focus on cars, but it wasn’t always easy.
“Custom airbrush jobs are never for cars to use on the road, they’re all for show. There was one car I spent a whole five days non-stop just to complete, because the owner was going to a competition. I didn’t even go home, I slept here at the workshop, slept in the car. It’s usually like that. When you’re doing this line of work you do it for the sake of the art, not to make money for the business or as a source of income for your family, or for your future.”
“Airbrushing cars is so time consuming. I can’t concentrate during the day, when customers come by the shop I lose focus. So I can only do the work early morning or at night when it is quiet. Superbikes are a bit better in terms of profits, but they still take a long time to do. There are at least 20 pieces you have to take apart, which then need to be put back together. It is still quite labour intensive. When I would get home, I was exhausted.”
It took a while for him to realise, that the somewhat hedonistic life he was leading wasn’t exactly the healthiest. “My customers for airbrushed cars were somewhat shady characters, there were even loan sharks among them. Their lifestyles were very different, there was a lot of boozing, nightlife and other negative aspects. It was the badboy life.” In addition to that, several years ago he observed a string of hospitalisation among his family members, who had numerous health problems.
“But I noticed a huge difference in my customers who came in to paint their bicycles. Their faces were glowing, they just looked so healthy.
The superbikers were all my friends, so when they switched their hobby to cycling, I had to switch too!” Jaz laughs. “My friend invited me to cycle with them and I kept saying no, I’ll just get tired. I didn’t have a bike anyway."
"But he always told me nevermind, I have a bike for you to ride. I resisted for a long time, but one day I just went along and I guess I caught the ‘virus’.”
Needless to say, he hasn’t stopped cycling since.
“I did a bit of jogging before, but now that I am cycling I have no issues waking up every morning. I used to be so tired and listless all the time, now I get up from bed completely fresh everyday. My blood pressure used to be as high as 180, but I didn’t even realise it. When I went for a medical check up, the doctor couldn’t believe that I hadn’t passed out yet.
"So when I took up cycling I started watching what I ate and really looking after my health. When I went back for a check-up my BP had gone down to 147, and the doctor said it can go down even more if I took care of myself properly.”
And with this change in lifestyle, came the physical changes to his body, now aged 43. He pulls on his paint splattered shorts as an example, which are several sizes too big, and have been relegated to workshop attire only.
His family is obviously quite happy with this shift in his lifestyle, particularly his wife. His three children are now onboard too, especially now that Jaz has more time for the family, taking them for regular ride outings to Putrajaya’s lakeside bicycle lanes.
“My favourite routes are your normal roads through Hulu Langat, Genting Sempah and sometimes we also go to Broga for breakfast. We ride all the way from my workshop here, it’s quite a distance. It’s usually a santai ride; we take it easy, because we have older cyclists in our group."
"Actually I’m quite proud of how I’ve turned my life around, it’s only been two years plus. I used to win a lot of trophies for my car art, but now I just want to be healthy. And I want my family to be healthy.”
But this doesn’t mean that you won’t be seeing Jaz making a name for himself for custom airbrushing bicycle frames in the future.
“It would be much easier to bring a bicycle to a bike show rather than a car show,” Jaz muses, already mentally organising the logistics. “Maybe I can!” While only time will tell whether he makes it to the North American Handmade Bicycle Show or its equivalent elsewhere in the world, we’re sure hoping to see a true blue Malaysian make his mark in the global cycling industry.
For more information, find Jaz Wong on social media: