Have you ever seen Dr. Frankenstein’s laboratory? It had the mysterious scientific junk that any mad scientist needs to create a monster, but his place was littered with cobwebs and grime. Doc was a creative genius in the most poetic way—making his dream come true, but also drowning in other ideas while surrounding himself with chaos. Most bike builders can identify with this feeling of obtaining various body parts from graveyards and plugging in machines with a deranged look in their eye until it springs to life. But not all of them.
Alex Maslin is a genius of a different variety. He doesn’t have a castle, and he’s not a social outcast. He’s a normal dude who lives in a small apartment in Chicago. It is your typical small urban domicile that has the quintessential items you’d expect in a shared one-bedroom apartment—a stove, couch, television, and so on. And there’s some stuff you’re not expecting, like the welding table. Wait, in the apartment? Well, yeah, of course.
Unlike Frankenstein’s catastrophe, Alex’s not-so-evil workshop is immaculate. It’s one of the cleanest shops we’ve ever seen. Instead of living with a hunchbacked assistant, he cohabits with his gorgeous girlfriend, Andrea, and she won’t put up with a dirty castle. She doesn’t have to deal with a mess, and thinks it’s cool to have a custom bike shop next to the refrigerator. She tells me it’s “better than having a drunk boyfriend on the couch.” All of us idiots on the couch, take note.
Alex’s desire for a sterile workspace comes from the family lineage from his home country of Romania. His dad and uncle are dentists, and his sister is a dental tech. Don’t show up at the Maslin household without flossing first. His dad wanted him to become a dentist, but Alex wasn’t stoked on all of the “blood and stuff.” During dental school, he enjoyed the artistic side, carving sets of perfect teeth out of blocks of plaster. Alex puts it this way: “I was doing custom stuff without handlebars, wheels, and engines. I’ve put a smile on people’s faces one way or another.” In the real world, no one cared about the craftsmanship. It was all about the money. So he bailed on that career and moved to greener pastures two years ago.
Alex didn’t come to the States to follow the typical American dream. He came here to follow his passion for custom motorcycles. He wanted to experience the custom bike scene that he previously only saw on TV and online. “I think that if I did not spend so much time watching Orange County Choppers and biker build-off shows, I would have become a dentist,” he says. No offense to Eastern-European teeth, but one look at his Franken’Blast makes us happy he’s here with a welder in his hand.
Alex’s passion for customizing started with painting matchbox cars. Romania is a poor country, so his mom had to take out a loan so she could afford to buy Alex a bicycle. He gave his shiny new bike a “custom” paint job with a can of old house paint. The itch to customize never went away, and Alex started working on motorcycles in 2007.
Building his first bike in America hasn’t been an easy or fast process. Alex couldn’t afford to bring his stuff when he moved to the States and had to start from scratch. Every paycheck went to basic tools before being able to buy a Buell Blast for $1,400. Alex chose a Buell Blast to customize because “it was one of the cheapest bikes I could find.”
The Blast is one of the most boring and hated bikes ever. Even Erik Buell was so embarrassed by it that he announced the end of the Blast in 2010 by crushing a few into cubes. Alex differs from the masses. “The engine has a clean look, simple design, and is reliable,” he says. “People expected too much for an air-cooled single-cylinder bike.”
Alex created his monster just as Frankenstein did, out of various parts gathered through dark and nefarious means. OK, maybe not dark or nefarious, but it was a bit unorthodox. He lives on a tight budget so he can build bikes, hoping to prove that he has skills to find a job where he can “learn more, create, and be happy,” he says. He didn’t have the tools to fabricate everything. To save money, every bracket was drilled and tapped by hand, and some parts were cut with a handsaw. Since he didn’t know any machinists in the States, he had to get his buddies back home to turn his sketches into hard parts and then ship them from overseas.
Mixed in with the custom bits are salvaged organs and appendages from other bikes. The stern is from a Buell XB, the shock is from a Buell 1125, the handlebar is an inverted 1-inch Throttle Addiction Z bar, and the solid front wheel came from a first-generation V-Rod. The build took 11 months to complete. It took such a long time because he had to keep it a secret from the landlord. It takes a creative mind to keep a bike build under wraps. To prevent the landlord from stopping by the apartment to collect the rent, Alex drives an hour away every month to deliver the cash by hand. The landlord came by one day unannounced while Alex was at work.
Luckily, the bike was hidden, as best as a motorcycle in an apartment can be, behind the couch, with a cover on it. She asked what was behind the couch and Andrea said “bikes,” so it wasn’t a total lie. As far as she knows, they are the perfect tenants.
There is no such thing as welding in secrecy once the sun goes down. There are two problems to get around: light and noise. A blinding light emanating through the drapes would likely end up with a visit from Johnny Law, therefore Alex only welds on sunny days. TIG welding steel makes minimal noise. Aluminum, on the other hand, is loud. Alex covers up the noise by cranking AC/DC, saying, “I’d rather piss off the neighbors with music than have them complaining to the landlord about some mysterious buzz.”
Blasting “Thunderstruck” cranked up to 11 won’t cover up the sound of a thumper with a custom stainless-steel header and a shorty carbon muffler. “If I started it here, the building would collapse from all the vibration.” When he needs to work on the engine, he pushes it to a self-storage unit. The owner of the storage facility is also Romanian and puts up with the noise on occasion.
The Franken’Blast was recently sold to a fortuitous man in Texas. The apartment was empty for two weeks. He is currently working on a 2000 Buell Thunderbolt for his daily rider. After it’s done, the laboratory won’t be empty for long. A custom Zero FXS is already planned. Even with an electric bike, knowing Alex, he won’t need a lightning strike to bring it to life.