Throughout the years, I've looked at literally tons of motorcycles. Many are completely different from each other, some share similar qualities, but all possess the same constraints: a motor, two wheels, gas and oil reservoirs (OK, except for two-strokes), handlebars, a seat, forks, and a frame to keep it all together. What is truly amazing is that after decades of looking at and riding motorcycles, each year I am still excited and find something fresh; kind of like music -- be it hip-hop, jazz, or rock & roll.
This is no easy task to accomplish, yet there are always people who somehow expand the proverbial envelope. I don't think it's just one quality that sets the innovators apart from the less successful builders and manufacturers. The qualities that differentiate the individual craftsmen are as varied as the machines they build. Sometimes a fad may be exploited that yields some temporary accolades. But fads usually disappear when the next pop culture icon steps into the limelight.
Success is hard to come by, whether you are building motorcycles, making music, or being an artist. It seems like almost everything has already been done. To some degree it has, yet, year after year we are lining up for the next new offering. Geniuses like Jimmy Page and Jimi Hendrix didn't reinvent the guitar. They listened, lived, and borrowed from the masters that preceded them. Men like Elmore James, Muddy Waters, and Robert Johnson, to name a few. It's interesting too that both Page and Hendrix grew up on different sides of the Atlantic, yet were drawn to the same magic and soul of their heroes. I see a similar parallel in the motorcycle world.
Even with the talent these guys were gifted with, one thing is for sure: they worked hard to attain their slice of nirvana. Nobody can just pick up a guitar and instantly become a musician, just like giving a man a synthesizer doesn't make him Pink Floyd. Guitar players are said to have spent time in the "woodshed" to hone their skills. It's probably not hard to envision a young Jimi, melting the grooves off an old Louis Jordan record trying to figure out how to make his fingers do what his mind wanted them to. Over time, with perseverance, the pupil becomes the guide.
It's not much different in the motorcycle world. One doesn't just wake up one day and decide to build a ground-up custom. No, he has to pay his dues through a combination of talent, hard work, and personality. It takes time to hone the skills needed to be an artist, whether it's with metal or motors. For many, the process is never ending -- a perpetual evolution striving to fill up the chalice of wisdom. Sure there are always the rare Johnny-come-latelies that appear on the scene, but they frequently disappear just as quickly. There is no surrogate for experience. People often learn from others who have "done it", to varying extents, before them.
The "art" of the musician or builder has borrowed much from history but the different experiences of living, whether geographically, politically, or ideologically, shape the final form. Many motorcycle designs reflect the impact culture has had on the final design. This is becoming especially true in this relatively new global society we're all taking a part in; the one in which the sharing of ideas, images, and experiences can be shared, if only vicariously, with the click of a mouse. Through the sharing of these ideas, through the ease of communication, the boundaries of the custom motorcycle builder are expanding.
Look no further than the pages of HOT BIKE or the major rallies to find the influx and cross-pollination occurring in the motorcycle world. It's exciting to see years of hard work result in creations coming from all over the globe. We have North Americans like Roger Goldammer, Jose De Miguel, Brian Klock, and Jesse Rooke; the Belgians represented by Fred 'Krugger' Bertrand; Germany by Fred Kodlin and Marcus Walz; Shinya Kimura and Chica from Asia; Bertrand Dubet from France... this is to name just a few. The list of global builders is as impressive as the bikes they make. Each of them has taken his own unique experience and created his vision of the motorcycle. One thing is for sure though, we can all look forward to the innovations these builders will be bringing to us. Most likely it will be something old, something new, something borrowed, and maybe something blue. Ride another day.