Creating custom motorcycles is like crossbreeding the majesty of art and the precision of science. It’s the duality of sacrificing functionality or fashion for the overall improvement of a final product. Sure, all bikes have quirks that make t916hem memorable (SV650, I’m looking at you), but building a custom to me is about getting back to the basics. Before all the bells and whistles, not that accessorizing is discouraged, but prioritizing instead on just making a good bike that’s balls to the wall fun to thrash around on with your buddies.
All of this passion comes from someone whose mechanical experience doesn’t extend outside of oil changes, cosmetic tweaks, and basic wiring. I bought a 1976 Honda Rebel 250 from a friend for under $200 bucks. It was taken apart, but he told me the engine had good compression (because the Internet told me that was important), so I bought the thing and started aimlessly tearing it apart.
After I took everything apart, I realized I hadn’t the slightest clue on how to put everything back together. I didn’t label any parts, take any pictures, and I ended up with a completely parted out bike. I left it out in the backyard where it was abused by a long rainy season, and finally decided to drop it off at a junkyard. In hindsight, I probably could have made my money back by selling the parts.
But! It wasn’t in vain. By taking the bike apart piece by piece, I learned a little bit about “what makes it go”, and really that’s what it’s all about. Learning how parts works with each other to make the bike move. I observed microinteractions, like how throttle cables interact with the fuel delivery system, or how cotter pins held certain bolts in place. It’s been an entire year since then, so I’d probably have to tear another bike apart to reacquaint myself with the process, but with structure and a community (LNSPLTBLVD, represent) I hope to learn enough to become a builder in the future.
I am an ambitious person, and the only reason I want to do anything in life is to do it better than everyone else.
At 25 years old, I know there are guys who have mechanical chops that would take me decades to learn. People who can weld better than me, people who can repair better than me, who have trade skills that I do not possess. But when you’re at a disadvantage, the best you can do is search for ways to make that disadvantage work for you. Kind of like getting sympathy from girls when you break your leg in a motorcycle accident.
I think I have the other half of what it means to build a custom motorcycle. I have the art. I have the eye. It’s such a labor of passion that shapes what a bike could really look like. How to express your observation of style and show it through choices you make in your product design. And it’s so achievable without breaking the bank. I feel all I need to successfully start building bikes is the know how. Ironically, the hardest part, no big deal.
My favorite builders include Rough Crafts, Hazan Motorworks, and Walt Siegel. All of them radically different from each other, but I’ve crafted a style inside of my head just by taking design cues from them.
Based in Taiwan, Rough Crafts specializes in building V-twin bobbers. Their style is refined in a sense that their bikes always look well put together. It’s a combination of their use of space and confining it all within long, cradling pipes that contributes a signature secure look. Edges are always polished for style. It’s that attention to detail that makes the company so balanced with regard to style and functionality.
Hazan Motoworks borders on the extreme sides of that balance scale. Cosmetically, his bikes intelligently use negative space. Anything that isn’t an integral component isn’t there, but the empty housings remain. His bikes feel visually organic, because you can see where the vital organs are. And by default, his bikes are forced to take a simple mechanic route. Nothing fancy, just something that works. It’s extremely minimalistic, which is an important when designing anything.
Lastly, Walt Siegel just wakes up the inner Ducatisti in me. This one is admittedly a guilty pleasure. The man is all about style, and it bleeds through his work. Powerful color schemes complement and contradict his builds, and the bottom line for him seems to be, “just make the bike look like a bikini-clad supermodel on the beach”.
With all of these in mind, the style I’ve created in my head is an industrial look. My philosophy is that we dress up motorcycles to look a certain way, and in the process we anthropomorphize them, even giving them names. Not that it’s a bad thing, but after my accident, my priorities shifted and I realized that my life is still in tact, and the bike is just a machine. And so I would design them mechanically—to make them look like what they are. I’d build them methodically as well, taking design cues from all three of my favorite builders to contribute to my vision of style and art.
The beauty of bike building is that the guidelines are rigid. With tools and know how, anything is possible. But, as they say, just because you can doesn’t necessarily mean you should.