Custom bikes have been a big industry in the US for quite some time. The request for high-end one-off personalization has been met by hundreds of custom bike builders and their popularity was brought to the fore but televised series such as Jesse James’ West Coast Choppers and the east coast’s Orange County Choppers.
While the custom bike scene in Europe hasn’t seen the attention of its US-based equivalents on the small screen, it’s been increasing steadfast off screen, as we witnessed on a recent trip down to London’s Tobacco Docks to check out the custom bikes on show at the Bike Shed.
The brainchild of Dutch van Someren, the first Bike Shed event grew out of a website that he and builders and writers put together to share their combined love for motorcycles. The team soon realized the importance of creating an event that assembled like-minded individuals, and the Bike Shed live event was born.
“I’ve never been to a motorcycle show that I like to go to and I’ve never been anywhere that felt like home,” van Someren told me when we met. “The bike industry doesn’t really support people that want to do individual things, it’s all about health and safety and homologation and rules and marketing…”
Bike Shed refreshingly doesn’t have any of these constraints. As the kickoff to the summer riding season, the gathering is all about things that are ‘built not bought’. It’s the opposite of homogenized, health and safety. It’s about individuality, freedom and expression. It’s about culture.
This year’s exhibition featured around 150 custom motorcycles from the new wave custom scene as well as art and photography hanging on the walls. From its humble beginnings in London’s Shoreditch Studios, the event has since been relocated to Tobacco Docks, just a stone’s throw from Tower Bridge.
The atmosphere and energy is intoxicating; the bike culture visible from the machines to the people roaming the grounds — there was even a barbershop and a tattooist on hand. And while Harleys remain popular in the custom scene, there were bespoke creations built off Yamaha, Triumph, BMW, Honda, even Ducati and Moto Guzzi motorcycles.
Custom motorcycles are something automotive designers pay close attention to, even if they don’t ride. We saw designers from McLaren, Ford, Jaguar, Land Rover and MG at the show, and its not just because they have studios in this country.
The innovative solutions adapted by bike builders with very little room to play with is startling, but so too are the multitude of colors and materials on show. The quilting of seats, for example, long since a tried and true signifier for luxury in the automotive world, is very much a trend adopted by the customizer. And it doesn’t matter if the seats are made of leather, suede or Alcantara.
Vibrant colors are also very much du jour, and we noticed quite a few metal flake paint jobs too. And if you thought the matte finishes were reserved for the automotive sector, well you would have been surprised too. but what is truly amazing is the detailing of these bikes, from the color-coded hand grips to the thin pin-stripes outlining the fender. Some bikes even had leather-wrapped cables, quilted leather cloaking the forks and leather surrounds contouring the intricate fuel caps.
One of the main attractions to the London event were the custom creations by Auto Fabrica, a two-man team consisting of brothers Bujar and Gaz Muharremi. Having launched their custom motorcycle company less than three years ago, they’ve already created seven bespoke bikes, and these guys’ work and attention to detail is mind-boggling. The company showed a custom Type 2 based on the venerable Yamaha SR500 as well as the latest addition to the stable, the one-off aluminum-bodied Type 6 built around an XS650.
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