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ASYLUM SEEKER. A Rat Cafe BSA From Boston’s Madhouse Motors


Posted on August 7, 2017 by Andrew in Café Racer, Rat. 25 comments

There’s a certain amount of irony in the fact that Boston’s Madhouse Motors is little more than a mile from Harvard University, as the contrast between the two couldn’t be more different. And while Harvard has a whole string of amazing medical firsts under its belt, we’ll take a bike like this over world-first kidney transplants and a cure for smallpox any day. Run by J. Shia along with an army of family and friends, they produce an esoteric range of customs and restorations, including choppers, Italian race bikes and this here BSA; a bike-meets-kinetic-art-piece they like to call ‘The Manipulated’.

“Lately, we have been swamped with work,” says J. “Madhouse is a full-time repair, fabrication and custom build shop. It can be a bit nuts, but since finishing the BSA I have been able to take some time off and enjoy the summer with my kiddo’. J says that the team and her work almost every day, so it’s nice to have the company in a healthy place where they can all get a break now and then.

“A few years ago, I was working in a carpentry shop. Nearly every day as I came in, I would eye a few bikes buried in the back corner that were covered in sawdust. I was constantly asking the building owner if I could buy them, specifically a ’71 BSA A65”. When J moved locations, she asked one more time and he finally said ‘yes’. “I brought it to my shop’s storage unit and didn’t touch it until committing to doing a build for Sturgis this year”.

Cartoon-style lever now starts the bike

“This bike was a collaborative effort with my build partner, Michael Ulman. The bike was inspired by the excitement of learning each other’s working styles, skills and blending them to create a single piece of work. We wanted to make a machine that perfectly represented both of our artistic aesthetics”.

Ratty. Steampunky. Racey

J started with a handful of preliminary drawings. Then, when Michael came on board, they spent a week sketching up some plans before really tearing into the bike. “Like most builds I do for customers, I addressed the stance of the machine first. And because this bike was a personal project, we set the stance and riding position to fit my body”.

“We found ourselves making nearly everything out of unused parts, metal scrap and other objects from around my shop”.

“Factoring in the timeframe and a hilariously slim budget, we found ourselves making nearly everything out of unused parts, metal scrap and other objects from around my shop and Michael’s studio”. J would pitch ideas, they both would draw them and then they would use these found objects and repurpose them into functional parts of the machine.

“The rear cowl is a piece from a Boston drain. The primary chain and secondary drive are lubricated by chainsaw and hand pump oilers. The subframe and carb manifold tubing is made from chamfered handlebars. The exhaust is from 3 different pipes. The shift linkage is from an old Volvo and the brake arm and pull start are antique bolt cutter arms. We liked the idea of showing the build process, so we kept all the welds exposed and the patina as is”.

J says that the hardest part was the timeframe, as they were notified of the invite to Sturgis only a few months ago. “We wound up having around 60 days to tear down and rebuild the whole bike. Although we woke up early and worked late, we still found ourselves down to the wire to reach the deadline”.

“It’s also great to finally to my own project that was created as a kinetic art piece rather than a product for a customer to ride daily”.

“What I like best about the finished bike, besides the pull start, is the overwhelming feeling of excitement both Mike and I have when we think about building more bikes like this together. It’s also great to finally to my own project that was created as a kind of kinetic art piece rather than a product for a customer to ride daily”. Needless to say, J is planning on doing a few more ‘manipulated’ builds of this style starting in the fall. We can’t wait.

J chuckles as the madness kicks in again

[ Madhouse MotorsFacebookInstagram | Photos by Gretchen Devine ]








  • Greybeard1

    “…as the contrast between the two couldn’t be more different.”
    My guess is you’ve never been around Harvard.
    Bench ‘o feckin’ wacko’s around there.
    The build?
    At a loss I am.

  • Jonesy

    Love it!!!! We were walking on Kelly Drive in Philly yesterday and watched two Brit Rat bikes abso tear into this corner— open pipes barking. I was so motivated that I came home and started wire brushing the frame of an old BSA A65.
    This am I open up Pipeburn and see this! The cutout taillight and pullstart?
    Madness and brilliance!

  • martin hodgson

    Been following these guys on Insta for ages, always heaps of people around the shop… a proper biking community. And always building and crafting something you’ve never even thought to try. Love the pull start and the way the bars are mounted is a very cool way to get tuck and low on a classic bike, many of which use forks that can’t accept clip-ons, so i can see other copying this style on AJS/Matchless builds etc Love it!

  • revdub

    Crazy mad in all of the best ways. I like the use of disparate parts to create something new.

  • Jim Roberts

    a perfect example of why my mom always said “if you can’t say something nice then don’t say anything” so i guess mums the word for this POS

    • the watcher

      I got threatened with excommunication for NOT saying that not so long back! Anyhoo, I just lurve it, cats and kittens.

    • Please keep the comments positive, Jim. Yr negativity isn’t welcome.

      • Jim Roberts

        i’ll never darken your door again. already unsubscribed

  • Alvin J Wilcox

    Looks to me like you’d burn your hand on the weird exhaust when you turned left…

  • AB

    Any video of someone riding it?

    I do like the exhaust.

  • Marcus Quinn

    Lordy. I guess in the post Trump, post truth era we had better start getting used to Mad max style post apocalyptic customs!

    • I thought the same thing re: Mad Max. It has that vibe…

  • Andy Rappold

    Honestly…I kinda like it. The craziness does something good in the sea of streamlined hipster bikes on this site.

  • SaltireNYC

    Just the right amount of taint. I can even shred some cheese on the go. A beauty.

  • guvnor67

    It’s mad, it’s silly, it’s well,. . I kinda like it!

  • Fast2Furious

    Please just stop it.

  • Al

    …it’s only rock’n roll but I like it…
    or
    Imagination is more important than knowledge

  • And I thought I was the only one to use stuff in my “saved” pile of what some people call junk to make parts for my bikes. Great minds think a like. The starter lever actually looks practical and very Jules Verne-ish.

  • Neil_TonUp

    N.A.S.T.Y.! This thing looks like it would rather spit in your Slurpee® than give you the time of day. Outstanding!

  • Just cool all around. Love this build. Kudos Madhouse!

  • Jesus Christ

    built for looks not functionality or speed. zero saviour.