I was flicking through my old record collection over the Holiday break. I’ve been seriously thinking about getting my turntable working again and dusting off a few of the many pieces of vinyl I haven’t heard in over a decade. Going through the records that had convinced me to part with my hard-earned dollars, I had one very clear thought, “Gee, I was easily amused in my teens.” There we just so many bands that seemed amazing at the time that now seem really damn gimmicky. It’s funny how age and maturity bring such clarity. It made me wonder about Pipeburn, and what we’ll all think of the bikes we post in ten years. Now I may be wrong, but I’d happily bet a crisp new $50 on the fact that this one will still wow us… and then some. Meet the very mature, and very elegant ‘Amber’ CB550 from California’s Thirteen and Company.
The phrase “unfinished project, 95% complete” is one you often see when trawling the internet to find an old car or motorbike to buy. The machine in question often looks like it’s ready to roll, comes at a bargain price and ‘how hard can that last five percent really be to finish?’ you say to yourself. Ah the horror stories. Five percent often turns out to be closer to fifty and then there is the real zinger; those last few parts you need, they’re not available any more, or “only needs a new battery to start” proves to be a full engine rebuild, wiring nightmare or both. Even complete show bikes that appear in magazines are passed off this way – that’s where Kott Motorcycles is different. Dustin spends just as much time restoring his builds to perfection as he does customising them and this slick as black ice ‘75 CB550 is no different.
For all of the custom motorcycle shops that litter the globe there are but a few whose brand recognition truly is industry wide. While some rely on their logo for that acknowledgement others create machines so distinct you instantly know who crafted them. But for Dustin Kott of California’s Kott Motorcycles there is a rare subtlety and artistic vision that is hard to readily define and yet instantly recognisable. It is the work of a man who plies many a trade and expresses his creative side in rolling metal masterpieces. Often from Honda’s CB range they are infused with vintage British styling and customised with pure class. His latest work is based on the short-lived Honda CB400F from the ’70s and it delivers a level of sophistication you’d never expect from the old commuter classic.
It pains us to say it, but crashed bikes are the lifeblood of the custom scene. Without all those wrecker’s spares, Craigslist heaps and engines-without-an-owner leftovers that many shops depend on for parts, we’d either be making everything from scratch or cannibalising perfectly good bikes like some desperately hungry plane crash survivors. So in some very symbolic, cycle-of-life type shit, bikes must die so that the custom scene may live. And if there’s one type of bike that’s crashed more than others, it’s entry level bikes. Harley’s XG is a blatant tilt at this market segment, and the bike is a popular choice for riding schools across America. Thank it’d be hard to total a riding school bike? Well, as Chris from Los Angeles’ Chappell Customs found out, it’s easier (and more comical) than you’d ever think.
Automotive engineering is full of ideas that must have seemed great at the time but in the cold, hard light of day can tend to look a little less than inspired. Take Yamaha’s XV750 for instance. An unbreakable engine that not only goes and sounds great, but also serves as a stressed member that the rest of the bike is built on. True innovation, yes? Well hold your horses for a second, because there’s always the bike’s pneumatic suspension and that pesky starter motor to consider. Sure, they probably seemed like pretty good calls at the time, but bake them for 35 odd years and then try them on for size them and you’ll likely find something a little less than the next successful entry into the Motorcycle Engineering Hall of Fame. So you’ll understand the irony when I tell you that the very same engineers who designed that damned XV starter motor were also the ones who created this, the XJ550 SECA. Created for the original cafe racer set from the get-go, it’s turned into somewhat of an engineering classic over the years. And it’s number one fan? Here’s California’s Thirteen and Company to vie for the position.
The rule of three, or “omne trium perfectum” as it was first written in Latin, supposes that everything that comes in threes is perfect. As to whether it’s an old wives tale or a rule to bank on you’ll have to be your own judge – but when it comes to this devilishly delicious, race-inspired MV Agusta Brutale RR – also known as the ‘AgoTT’ – the threes just keep piling up. Built at The Deus Emporium of Postmodern Activities in Venice, California by design director Michael “Woolie” Woolaway, the build was commissioned by MV Agusta as a homage to the marque’s rich racing heritage to really capture the spirit of Tourist Trophy racing of the 60’s and 70’s. So from a man who’s built bikes for Orlando Bloom, Bruce Springsteen and Billy Joel, comes a bike in honour of the greatest motorcycle racer of all time, Giacomo Agostini. As you can see, the number three represents more than just the triple cylinder engine that powers this red-hot ride. Much more.
In the global movement that is the custom bike scene you don’t win Best Cafe Racer at the VVMC Rally and be a stand out as an invited builder to the One Motorcycle Show unless you not only build incredible machines but understand the ethos behind the movement. Ask Ken from Spirit Lake Cycles what the mantra was when designing this exquisite 1992 BMW R100r and he responds with “Anything that it does not require, it does not have!”. But to take a clunky German retro tourer and turn it into a masterpiece also requires a fabricator who can build show winning form with traditional cafe racer function and Brian the other half of the SLC team knows exactly what that means “The ultimate goal was to have something that looked vintage but at the same time road like a modern bike”. It’s little wonder then that two men with such abilities and understanding of their goal achieved such an incredible result in this LA built Bavarian beauty known as Miss Thriller.
Last year was a busy year for Dustin from Kott Motorcycles in LA. He built a shed load of bikes – around 12 to be exact. We thought we would ask him a few questions about his love of old Honda’s, what the future holds and showcase some of the immaculate café racers he has built in the last 12 months. Enjoy…
Can you introduce yourself to our readers? What’s your background?
My name is Dustin Kott of Kott Motorcycles. I am thirty seven years old and I am the owner and operator of a relatively small motorcycle shop just outside of downtown Los Angeles. My personal background is that of a Jack of all trades and master of none. I say that because I have had my hand in multiple trades, jobs and hobbies throughout my life and as I progress and grow in any one of them the more I realize how little I know and how much more there is to learn. As far as the motorcycles go however, I was very fortunate to have been around them at a young age. Even more so, I believe the real privilege was to be around older men who loved machines and committed themselves to either keeping them alive, restoring or improving them and passing that knowledge and passion along. I recall being captivated by the artistry of motorcycles which seemed to be innate in them due to the exposure and visibility of their design. Also, equally as important was the mechanical truth that one has to align with in order to achieve the end goal of being able to ride and bring life into a machine. Simply put, a combination of creativity and subjectivity along with mechanical guidelines and parameters.
Maybe if JFK hadn’t kept his cool in those crucial thirteen days at the height of the Cold War and a nuclear holocaust had eventuated, this is the sort of post apocalyptic motorcycle the Russian police just might be riding today. Thankfully that scenario never did eventuate, but when a new client approached Los Angeles-based builders Thirteen and Company he had just such a bike in mind. The brief was for an end of the world Mad Max style and the team were happy to deliver. It’s not the type of bike the guys normally build but this 1972 Honda CB750 known as “The Russian” is proof their talent is not limited to just one style.
These beautiful photos were shot by Kristian Ranker for a story in French magazine Citizen K. The story is titled ‘Life on the PCH’. PCH stands for Pacific Coast Highway in Los Angeles. The article takes a look at the biker culture who ride their customs along this famous stretch of road. If you want to see more shots in this great series check out Means Ranker (There’s also a pretty cool video on there as well).