Alain Bernard is French, but he lives in South Florida. His shop is named Santiago Choppers, and while he has built custom choppers and trikes, Bernard’s fame stems from meticulously designed and crafted café racers. The Santiago name originates from a shop he owned while living in the Dominican Republic’s capital; Santiago.
In 1994, while operating a car and bike dealership in France, Bernard flew to the U.S. for his first visit to Daytona Bike Week. On the very first night in Daytona, a drunk driver put him in the hospital. Seven surgeries and some insurance money later, he opened V-Cycle, in Riverview, Florida, in 1996.
In 2001, a friend wanted him to help open a new shop in Santiago, Dominican Republic. Bernard agreed, eventually opening Santiago Choppers. “When I came back to the U.S. I thought the name was cool, so I kept it,” he explains.
Great-Grandfather Bernard in 1904 aboard a Belgian made 500 Sarolea, one of the first bike makers in the world.
Bernard is a major appreciator of all kinds of motorcycles. His great-grandfather, Fernand Bernard, opened the very first motorcycle shop in their hometown of Lille located in the north of France in the early 1900s. “It was a combination motorcycle shop and barber shop all in one,” says Bernard. “My Dad didn’t want me to ride, so I bought a Jawa behind his back in 1974. It was too small, and a friend was going into the Army. So, I got his Kawasaki 750 H2.
“I was 16 and riding with no license, but with that bike, the cops couldn’t catch me,” he continues. “I had also started working on motorcycles, my first custom made in 1978, a Kawasaki 750. Then I took an engine out of a Harley XLCR and made a chopper.” As they say, the rest is bike building history.
Mucho Macho Moto Guzzis
After opening its doors in March 1921, Moto Guzzi has had quite a bit of racing success, beginning with the famous win at the Targa Florio in the same year. The factory stepped away from the track in 1957, but not before racking up 14 Grand Prix championships, 11 Tourist Trophies and countless other race wins. Guzzi race machines were no slouches, but when it came to modern, street-legal Guzzis, Bernard knew there was plenty of room for improvement.
The “Expresso” began life as a 2003 Le Mans.
After disassembling a 2003 Le Mans, Bernard fabbed a new rear section and also drilled the frame’s main downtube and inserted alloy “donuts” to save some weight, but also to add some flare. He retained the oil cooler, front end, Brembo brakes and 17-inch wheel from the LeMans. Normally, the bike is fuel-injected, but Bernard opted for 40mm Dell’Orto pumpers. The slick gas tank was transplanted and modified from a 1974 Kawasaki 500. The headlight also from a Kawi, but a 900 in this case, while the tail section is an aftermarket Ducati racebike design.
Dell’Orto carburetors replace the bike’s stock fuel injection.
Adding the necessary performance spark, Bernard upgraded to a special German made ignition from Silent-Hektik, featuring a digital printed circuit and triple-spark design. The coffee and cream paint job and Expresso graphics were applied by Greg Skiver in Tampa who paints all of Bernard’s bikes.
“Why do I call this one Expresso? Well, it’s a café racer, and my favorite drink is espresso. It’s also like express – very fast delivery. So, it’s a play with the word,” says Bernard.
Moving on to what Bernard calls “The Aluminium Bike,” we learn it’s based around a 2000 V11S. As far as designing this or any of his bikes, Bernard says, “I cannot draw anything, it’s just a picture I have in my head.”
Like the Le Mans, he tore apart the original machine, kept a section of the main frame, fabricated the subframe, then covered it with a Ducati Imola tail section/seat combination. A modified a Yamaha TZ750 gas tank is fitted with a Monza filler cap. The aluminum fairing was handmade by a friend in England. The race-ready look of the instrumentation is Bernard’s design using a small side-mounted speedometer and some switches he found at a car shop.
The monoshock is a Hagon, sourced from England. Also, like the Le Mans, Bernard replaced the stock electronic fuel injection system and attendant wiring with a pair of high performance CR carbs and Silent-Hetik ignition. Says Bernard, “When you put CR carbs on the Guzzi, it’s like going from a 4-cylinder car to a V-8.”
Bernard’s custom stainless steel exhaust system is a beautiful music maker.
As far as battery power, Bernard relies on small, light lithium batteries provided by Anti-Gravity, installing them in the tail section of his bikes. Relieving the spent gases is a custom stainless steel exhaust system of Bernard’s design.
Brembo brakes are fitted on the Italian 17-inch Alpino wheels. In this case a single Brembo disc is employed up front. “We only used one brake because I did not want to hide the beautiful spoked wheel,” says Bernard.
Finishing touches include an array of custom brackets, everything held together by a full spread of aluminum and titanium bolts sourced from Pro-Bolts in England. For contrast, gold-colored bolts are used on the Expresso bike, black on the Aluminum bike.
Asked how it felt to ride these mucho macho Moto Guzzi’s, Bernard reveals a surprising admission. “Before last year I never rode a Guzzi like these two bikes, and when I did, I got a feeling I never experienced before from any other motorcycle. Incredible. They are much lighter than the factory, maybe a 100-120 lbs. You got the torque, and you can lean them forever. I love the feeling. I don’t know how to explain it. I just love it.”
A Trio of Other Bikes by Alain Bernard/Santiago Choppers
Bernard blended a classic Norton-styled frame with a 1200 H-D Sportster powerplant fed by Keihin CR carbs and exhaling through pipes made by SuperTrapp. The 430 chromoly frame was built for him in Wales by JW Motorcycles. Up front he added a Ducati Sport 1000 front end, while the controls are Storz and Beringer components. The first Norley was donated to the Curing Kids’ Cancer charity and at the benefit auction raised $50,000. Santiago Choppers offers a full kit to make your own.
A big fan of 1970-80s European frame designer George Martin, Bernard chose one of his chassis onto which he melded a blend of Kawasaki and Suzuki parts including a ’78 1135cc Kawi engine with ’82 Kawi z1000 heads matched to Mikuni flatslide carbs. Most of the rest, including the front end, brakes and wheels, are from a 2010 Suzuki GSX-R. Martin also made the gas tank, while the pipe is from Vance & Hines.
Another bike donated to the same charity also utilized one of Georges Martin’s French-built frames fitted with a Kawasaki Z1000 motor, a 2007 Suzuki GSX-R swingarm, 17-inch wheels, a Benelli seat and a Martin gas tank. Bernard added the Breitling Swiss Watch Maker logo since he had built another bike for Breitling’s owner.