With the corporate dollars rolling in, the celebrities coming on board and a global fascination with the custom motorcycle culture there has never been a better time to be a bike builder. But for any movement to survive, its indigenous roots must be well fed with a continuous supply of what sprouted that seed in the first place; and nothing serves that purpose like a classic motorcycle, with a timeless appeal, that’s built to a high standard and designed with a purpose. The Harley based chopper scene is dead for not watering those seeds but at Montreal’s Clockwork Motorcycles they make no such error, giving their customers machines that will stand the test of time and be just as good in ten years as they are today. Their latest offering is a perfect example, a 1978 Kawasaki KZ650 that does everything a motorcycle should, just better in every way.
Tick, tick, tick… Boom! Your alarm goes off, it’s 5:30am, your eyes snap open scanning the room, immediately through the sleepy fog that engulfs your brain thoughts of two things race through your mind; more sleep or head to the beach for a surf. Blankets off, the cool morning air hits your body first as you hunt for your board, clothes and keys and then again with more force as you race to the water’s edge. 6am and for the next two hours your mind is free, the waves are yours to carve with speed and exhilaration and the only thing greater than the power of the ocean is the infinite possibilities of your imagination as each wave cleanses you of earthly limitations. How can you find this experience on land? 8am finds you sitting at the steps of a place that makes these dreams a reality, Bali’s Smoked Garage might be closed but in a few hours’ time a Modern Cafe Racer will have been conceived and from there you wait until an incredible 2015 Kawasaki Ninja 650 is delivered into your gaze for the first time; it’s truly sublime.
When your website has a tab for “Investor Relations” it’s safe to say you are playing in the big time, a one man operation it is not. But it wasn’t always that way for Smoked Garage Custom Motorcycles and this successful Indonesian motorcycle powerhouse is a genuine rags to riches tale. Founded in 2004 by Nicko Eigert there really isn’t a start date to his story but the completion of his first custom build twelve years ago has snowballed into a business that fills an entire warehouse and churns out an eclectic mix of incredible machines. Only a short drive from the Smoked Garage HQ is the largest Kawasaki dealership in Indonesia, PT DUTA INTIKA of Denpasar, who wanted a custom bike to show the public what you can do with a Kwaka; thus begun the design and build of Project X, a Kawasaki Ninja Urban Scrambler to wow the masses.
Two years before Triumph relaunched the ‘new’ Bonneville range in 2001, Kawasaki had delivered their W650 to the market. It was a bike that was described years later as being “closer to a ’60s Bonneville than Triumph’s own latter-day replica”. Of course, that line alone will kick off the greatest of debates between purists of the British brand and those who fell in love with the new Kwaka, but what can’t be argued is how good a job Kawasaki did at re-creating a retro machine with plenty of modern-day improvements. While the late ‘90s ushered in the era of the modern race bike for the road with the launch of Superbikes like the Yamaha R1, the W650 gave new bike buyers the option for a much more laid back, classic ride. When German motorcycle enthusiast Uwe Kostrewa first saw one he instantly fell in love and now, years later, he’s been able to create his perfect W650, a ‘99 model come Street Tracker with all the goodies you could ever hope for.
There is something about the Glemseck 101 1/8th mile sprint that brings the best out of so many builders, static competitions are one thing, but when the rubber hits the road everything on the bike is truly tested. The German motorcycle festival draws massive crowds of up to 75,000 people and is billed as “the meeting point for international designers, engineers, developers and their bikes.” For Yann and Manu of Sur Les Chapeaux De Roues in Brittany, North Western France, it was a chance to create a truly unique machine that showed off their full array of skills. But their Project Z Kawasaki is more than just a bike for competition, in the true tradition of Hot Rod Motorcycles it can do it all, win trophies as a static display, give a perfect ride on the beautiful back roads of Brittany and then go to the strip and lay down a great number in competition; our two French friends are simply brilliant at everything they do and this is their creation.
It’s 7pm on a Saturday evening in Portland’s industrial district. The steel train rails glisten in the evening sun and the magic hour is upon us; a perfect time to photograph a perfect bike. The sun is still shining strong as dusk approaches. It’s an unusually quiet time of day in Portland. Normally bustling with people coming and going, the silence is eerie. Even though the location we chose to meet was at the heart of where all the action usually takes place, there’s a sense of calm in the air. Within minutes of talking to Andrew from Little Horse Cycles, I realise that maybe this environment is the perfect setting for him. He is quiet, calm, and collected, but you can tell he is a mastermind that’s really passionate about his work.
Compromise can be a word you just have to deal with in the custom motorcycle scene, functionality often sacrificed in the name of form or go preferenced ahead of show. Until the ’70s many applied the same logic to the very ownership of a motorcycle in that you could have fast or reliable but you couldn’t have both. That all changed with the arrival of the Kawasaki Z sportsbike, the fastest thing on two wheels and you just couldn’t break ‘em! So when Classified Moto’s main man John Ryland picked out a bike to turn into a custom creation that also had to be capable of taking him on a thousand mile journey he hit the proverbial nail on the head with a 1978 Kawasaki KZ1000. That it also features the unmistakable styling and build quality of all the brilliant Classified Moto bikes is testament to the talent of the Richmond, Virginia team.
In the modern renaissance of the custom motorcycle scene the Tracker inspired builds have become a favourite the world over, with the best builders and workshops in the game having produced multiple examples. One of the best built is River Rat Cycle Fab’s Yamaha XS650 screwed together by Heath Reed featured here on Pipeburn last year. Now with this fully fledged AMA Pro Flat Track Racer we can finally appreciate where Heath and his RRCF team get their inspiration for such amazing road based Trackers; They build the real thing, capable of 130mph and some serious sideways action! It’s the sport that Valentino Rossi, Marc Marquez, Troy Bayliss and many of the best riders have taken as their new passion, it’s where King Kenny Roberts first made his name and it’s where Heath and the RRCF Racing team are hoping to do big things with this Ninja 650 powered machine.
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.
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.