“¡No milagro, milagro, sino industria, industria!”
(“It’s not a miracle, a miracle, but industry! Industry!”)
Everybody who loves motorcycles, first and foremost, loves how motorcycles look.
Not every motorcycle, mind you. Not even most of them. Judging from the comments MOrons post, maybe not even more than a few of them. Or, for the crankiest and most misanthropic of the posters (you know who you are), maybe none that exist today. Or ever. And that’s fine: we all have a vision of what the perfect motorcycle looks like, and nobody is going to change our minds..
For me, it’s classic and simple: wheels, motor, tank, seat and just enough of the other crap to keep you from getting a ticket. In fact, it’s so simple the OEMs can’t really make it, darn that meddling ol’ DOT, which is why I’m not too excited about most modern bikes. Many new models look like they sprang from a Cubist rendition of a Spy vs. Spy cartoon.
I certainly can’t build a bike that’s both simple enough and practical enough to suit my tastes, (I tried once, but let’s not talk about that) which is why I just suck it up and ride whatever it is that’s underneath my editorial tushie. If only I had a workshop, tools, some donor bikes (and most importantly), the skill and will to turn my vision into three dimensions of roaring, snarling moto-fun.
Fortunately for those of us who appreciate rideable art, there is no shortage of customizers around the world. I think they’re my favorite sort of moto-person to write about, since artists love to show off and discuss their work, and they unapologetically love motorcycles.
I’ve met plenty here in the States, but I was really lucky to discover that my AirBnB host during my recent trip to Spain, Sergio Zamora, is riding buddies with a nearby customizer. Would I like to ride up to his workshop and check out his latest build? Hells yes, as it was an excuse to put another 100 miles on the most-excellent Ducati Diavel, so I rode about 20 miles up into the mountains to Guaro and followed Sergio’s Dyna down a narrow, muddy dirt road to a 100-year-old farmhouse. That’s where Antonio Cano lives with wife Viki and 11-old daughter, Lola, and operates a bed-and-breakfast and tour company catering to moto-tourists.
Down from the guesthouse is a tiny shed, not much bigger than the one Erik Buell started his motorcycle company in so many years ago. Inside, I met Antonio, a good-looking guy with a neat beard and intense, pale-blue eyes, and with Sergio translating, chatted with him about customizing and motorcycles.
Antonio grew up in nearby Malaga and started riding at 16. After years of working as an electrician, seven years ago he decided to follow his passion, buying his farmhouse and starting his customizing shop. Since then he’s built eight bikes in total.
His builds focus on older, classically styled bikes, like a BMW R100/7, Yamaha XS400 Twin, a Sportster and an ’80s-era CB250, but he’s not afraid of new stuff either. The XS400, bobbed and chopped and wrapped of pipe, sat on his workbench, but what caught my eye was the café-styled XJR12300 he was finishing up for a customer. Starting it for the first time, Antonio spoke the universal language of motorcycles; motor specs, paint finishes, exhaust design as we reveled in the harsh bark of the big Four’s muffler. He’s also worked some magic on a Honda Hornet (we called it the 599); like many European motorcyclists, he’s not a snob when it comes to two wheels. Any bike is a potential candidate for some of his plastic surgery.
Here at MO we’ve talked about the classic Robert Pirsig book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance many times over the decades. It’s been about 30 years since I last read it – maybe I should read it again – but my takeaway is that when we dig deep into an activity, like fixing our motorcycles, we’re really working on ourselves, turning from passive consumers into active creators. Antonio is the classic Zen motorcyclist, and not just because he takes motorcycles apart and puts them back together in the shapes that appeal to him. Antonio applied that to his entire life, taking it apart and reassembling it into a form that pleased him.
Is that why I’m so drawn not just to motorcycles but the people who share my love for them? Because we’re never happy with riding what someone else decided was the perfect shape for us? At just four weeks shy of 50, I’ve never owned a motorcycle that I was 100 percent happy with. Maybe a few stand out that were 90 percent or more of the way there.
Unfortunately for me, getting a bike to 100 percent is just impossible with my level of gumption, as Pirsig refers to that internal drive to do things. So, I buy a lot of different bikes. If I get a 390 Duke this summer that will be the 40th or 50th motorcycle I’ve owned. I predict I’ll do a bunch of modifications, ride it a bunch, and sell it in two or three years. That’s how I seek perfection.
Gabe Ets-Hokin invented the olive press and lives in ancient Mesopotamia.