Never fear, Hageman is here! Needing no introduction, Greg Hageman AKA “Doc’s Chops” of Hageman Cycles is one of the leading hands and pioneers of the custom motorcycle renaissance. He’s also one of those guys who is a builders builder, I know I’m not the only one who before attempting a new build sees what Greg has done with that make and model, both for inspiration and to see how it’s done right. It’s no surprise really, motorcycles are in his veins having grown up on a farm in Rural Iowa in a family where trips to the dealerships had him dreaming of those sweet rides before he was old enough to reach the handlebars. But it’s a lucky rider who gets to throw their leg over his latest build, a 2005 Harley Davidson XL883 Custom that brings more than a little racer to its new cafe look.
From the outside looking in the custom motorcycle culture must appear to be quite confusing for those who don’t have petrol running through their veins. Why do builders the world over take old bikes, that may not have even been that great at the time of their release, and then spend thousands of dollars and hours building crazy contraptions when you could just go into a dealership and buy a brand new superbike for the same price. The reasoning is just not something the average punter will ever understand, the thrill of an old 2-stroke, the character of the best of British or buzz that comes from hearing a 50-year-old engine fire to life again for the first time in decades, it has to be lived. But amongst us is a rare breed that make much more logical decisions, like first time builder Krystian Bednarek from Bull Cafe Racers who chose a 1992 Honda CB750 as his project over the much more fancied early models.
The French Revolution. JFK’s assassination. 911. UFOs. Satanic worship. The Illuminati, that pesky Bavarian secret society that apparently controls the world, gets collared with the rap for a heap of historical events – both good and bad. If you believe the hype, then you’ll know that they are even able to control the weather. But here’s something that I bet you never expected from them – a sweet-assed custom bike. Is there nothing they can’t do? Either that, or there’s a new shop in Thailand that has managed to customise a VRX400 and turn it into an amazing bike to launch their shop and named it the ‘Illuminati’. It’s hard to believe, we know. But just suspend your disbelief and go with it. If we make them happy, I’m going see if they can make sure it doesn’t rain this Sunday.
Perth’s Mean Machines are one of Australia’s leading custom bike builders. As a workshop that once built a Triumph Bonneville with a 200 section rear tyre, you always expect big things when they unleash a new machine. Well, Wenley Andrews and his crew haven’t let us down with a ‘04 Harley Davidson 883 Sportster that’s stripped at the waist, packing plenty of punch and showing off one hell of a rear end. Even for Wenley, categorising the build is difficult “The word racer was brewing in my head, I decided to make the bike’s theme into a drag/race bike, but I’ll let you guys decide what it is…” The truth is it’s all that and more, with Cafe Racer influences and old school Bobber touches that mix with the drag racing look. Nicknamed ‘Furiosa’, it’s fair to say this HD is every bit the fearsome, fiery warrior as Charlize Theron’s character in Mad Max: Fury Road.
We all come to this obsession with motorcycles in different ways, for Matthew Ortiz of Swerve Customs out of Albuquerque, New Mexico it was the realisation that less is more. Two less wheels in fact and Matthew discovered his abilities to heavily customise and modify cars translated perfectly to bikes and the result is this stunning 1980 Kawasaki Kz750 LTD all built in his single car garage. “It wasn’t until my first “vintage bike” that I realised that what I had been doing to cars all these years (restoring, modifying, lifting, fabricating) I could be doing to motorcycles. It was a 1978 Honda cb400 Hawk that I got for $500. The first time I brought it back to life, I did everything in my apartment parking lot. When I was done I was so stoked!! Something had changed in me, I wanted to build another one” Enthuses Matthew.
At the height of the Import Tuner scene (think the release of The Fast and the Furious in 2001), Japanese workshops like JUN and Top Secret were the leading names, having developed a reputation for automotive perfection and always raising the bar. With the custom motorcycle scene now well and truly thriving and arguably having past where the Tuner scene was at, it is once again Japanese builders like AC Sanctuary and the now US-based Shinya Kimura whose efforts often leave you speechless. Well, you can add to the list one ‘Shiro Nakajima’ who used to build incredible bikes for Ritmo Sereno, which he founded but has since left. Since then he’s set up a new workshop known as 46Works at the base of Mt. Yatsugatake, where he has returned to his roots of brilliant one-off machines, incredible fabrication and the odd bit of furniture making thrown in for good measure. Here’s his latest.
There was a time when the big manufacturers didn’t wish to be at all associated with the custom scene. Racing? Definitely! But smartarse grease monkeys? No thanks. But so big has the revival of the custom scene become, that global corporations are now turning to the very group they once shunned to lead the marketing of their new models. For Kawasaki, it comes in the form of their Breaking Boundaries Build-Off that tasked four fantastic builders with the challenge of doing something truly unique with their newest Kawasaki Vulcan S model. The manufacturer tapped Steve Howell with Iron & Air Magazine on the shoulder and they called in one of the industries best builders to spin the spanners; none other than Jesse Bassett from Ohio’s The GasBox.
The Yamaha XS500 may not have anywhere near the street credentials of its big brother, the XS650, but if you ride a parallel twin less than 30 years old you owe a debt of gratitude to the younger sibling. It’s a potential Tommy Rand, Co-Founder of Relic Motorcycles from Aarhus, Denmark, saw when he found this particular 1977 Yamaha XS500 for sale in Copenhagen. He must have a great creative imagination, because the bike he came to see had been subjected to a terrible rebuild, strange yellow paint, no seat and it half resembled a hot dog stand. It’d also been on the market for over a year. Clearly, no other prospective buyers saw the possibility of a perfectly built Nordic Cafe Racer that Tommy and the boys envisioned and then brought to life.
The Honda CX500 has become a staple of the modern Cafe Racer scene, but very few have gone to the lengths that German Heinz Christmann has to make one very special neo-vintage machine. With a ‘79 Japanese bike, plenty of German know how and a cornucopia of the best parts from around the world he’s been able to create a bike that uses pieces as new as carbon fibre and as old as drum brakes. The end result is hard to classify. It’s a Cafe Racer no doubt, but it’s also high on technology while also paying more than a subtle tribute to the race bikes of old. Whatever you want to call it, it’s bloody brilliant.
Every Estate Agent has heard it, a request for a large beach front property in a high value suburb for the price of a small car but when confronted with the motorcycle equivalent, Japan’s Speedtractor Industries proved they’re one builder who can give their customer their cake and eat it too with this knock out 2001 Yamaha XJR400. The exact request was for a machine that was more “Kraftwerk than café racer” light but with the brawn of a 4 cylinder, low maintenance and air-cooled and it had to be capable of riding two up, would you like fries with that? But one of the reasons clients go to masters of their craft like the designers, mechanics and technicians at a workshop like Speedtractor is because they can deliver the type of “the client is always right” requests that not every shop can achieve.