What is it that sets a custom bike apart from a stock bike? Maybe it's the sheetmetal, or an over-the-top paintjob. Either way, if it's a custom bike, you should have a custom seat. We always notice hand-tooled leather seats, which is why for this manufacturer's showcase, HOT BIKE wanted to shine a light on those who deserve it by focusing on some of the leather craftsmen in the industry who've made a name for themselves by the incredible hand-tooling work that they do. We called up four leather craftsmen and told them we wanted to see what they could do. They were given free reign and their leather work did the talking.
To level the playing field, raw seatpans from Biltwell were sent out to each hand-tooler. Chris Collins, from Biltwell, hand-hammered the first original solo seatpan for shape and curvature, which is the same model pan currently being used for all Biltwell seatpans. It's functional, with comfortable styling, a narrow profile, short, supportive nose, gently sloping sides, and a subtle rear kick to keep you from sliding off your ride. The pan is now stamped from heavy-gauge, high-tensile steel and features ribs and indents for added rigidity and stiffness. There are four threaded mounting bosses TIG-welded into position, and the entire pan is powdercoated for beauty and weatherproofing. You can also get the custom-molded foam for the pan made of medium-density polyurethane foam padding, not a shapeless wedge of open-cell foam (satin black plated raw seatpan with molded high-density foam, MSRP $77). Once all the builders received the pans, they went to work. You too can get your hands on one by calling (951) 699-1500 or visit www.biltwellinc.com. HB
DUANE BALLARD CUSTOM LEATHER
Lake Elsinore, California
Duane Ballard has been working with leather since he was around 10 years old. It was a skill taught to him by his mother, who was taught by her mother. His family used to make wallets and belts to supplement their income from his grandfather's gas station. Being around motorcycles his entire life, the two just kind of came together for him one day while tooling a seat cover for one of his dad's bikes. Then he tooled a seat for a friend's bike, and from that day he has always managed to stay pretty busy with leather. Over the last five or six years his business has grown, taking him from a small backroom shop in Phoenix to a larger shop in Lake Elsinore, California. Duane has been asked many times to do wallets, belts, and toolbags for customers to match the seat he made for the bike. Once he is sent a pan for a seat Duane draws something up and works the details out with the customer via phone, fax, or email. Once they are happy with the artwork, he starts tooling the leather. Once he's done, the seat is packed up and shipped anywhere in the world.
DUANE BALLARD CUSTOM LEATHER
Middle Island, New York
Christian Marsh, owner of Xian Leather, has a deep history in craftsmanship that dates back to the days of his grandfather who happened to be a world famous glass-eye maker in Louscha, Germany. Attention to detail and quality of work is the most important thing to Christian. For him, artwork came easy. His mother and grandmother were accomplished artists, mostly in oil paint, so it was no surprise that Christian would find himself doing something artistic.
Considering he had no formal training in leatherwork, Christian figured he would take the learn-as-you-go approach. Years later and 100 percent self-taught, he still feels that he continues to learn every time he picks up a tool and a piece of leather to make a seat. To this day and hundreds of custom seats later, Christian still doesn't think of himself as a master leather worker, instead just a leather smith that would like to bring some of the finest leather work to the motorcycle world. Christian lives and works from his shop in Middle Island, New York, and can receive and ship his work anywhere in the United States. All you need to do is get him the seatpan and an idea of what you would like done.
BRUISER CUSTOM CYCLE
Bruiser Custom Cycle started in 2001 in a small garage in Orange County, California, from the ideas of two guys and a creative outlet. One of the guys, Clint Case, was looking for a way to show his artistic and creative side. He was thinking about becoming a tattoo artist, but somehow he came across a guy tooling some leather belts and wallets and it looked like something that might be right up his alley. His own bike needed a new seat so he decided to make his own and tried tooling some leather. Clint fabbed up a seatpan and fit some old foam to the pan and then sat down to give this leather-tooling thing a try. He instantly knew that this was the creative outlet he was craving. Now Clint and Mark (his dad) own and run Bruiser Custom Cycle, where Mark works mostly on running the bike shop and Clint handles most of the art side and all the leather tooling. Clint uses top-grade leather and lacing on every seat and the best dyes and stains available. They are open to all ideas and styles, and they even do seats for dirt bikes! Turning raw leather into art and making it look 100 years old is his specialty. Clint loves to work from his customers' original ideas, so if you've got an idea but your drawing expertise consists of stick figures, Clint has no problem whipping up something for you. Whether it's a new pan built from scratch or an old seat you want re-upholstered, Bruiser has you covered. Giving the customer's bike serious personality is Bruiser's number-one priority.
BRUISER CUSTOM CYCLE
DREAM EVIL DESIGNS
Dream Evil Designs began back in the early '80s, as Martin Basurto was an oil painter and wood engraver. One day while at a show in New Mexico, a local guy came over to Martin's booth and liked his work. He asked if Martin had ever worked with leather before. Not having the experience of the trade, Martin was intrigued by what the Native American man had to say. After an all-day talk with the ol' guy, Martin was hooked and going to take him up on his offer to teach Martin the old-school way of tooling leather. He soon found out not only did he like it, but that he was good at it. With this new skill, Martin found other work in leather such as engraving, painting, leather treatment, and some taxidermy. It was not long before he was making seats and saddlebags with logos and designs. Years later he moved to Chicago in search of more bikers and choppers. After hours and hours of hard work looking for a better way to work with leather, Martin came up with a few innovations that were unique and original. These techniques are what Martin likes to call "Scorpion" or "Rattlesnake" lacing. He also likes to smoke-dye (specially selected powder dyes) the leather in wine colors, which give an antique, worn-out leather look. This is followed up by adding tons of lacing surrounding the edges with an Indian touch, adding spikes and skulls or all kind of weird accessories that make the seat unique.
DREAM EVIL DESIGNS