I’ve probably mentioned this before in this column, but I don’t remember when and I’m too lazy to read through all the old ones, not to mention how torturous that would be for me, it would make waterboarding sound like a Sunday ride on the Pacific Coast Highway. This has come up a couple of times again lately, so I thought I’d reiterate my position on it.
Basically, the bone of contention is this: The Horse has been featuring more ‘store-built’ bikes and getting away from ‘home built’ “backstreet” choppers.
The reality is, we still pretty much have the same ratio as we ever had. Back in ‘the day’ we featured a lot of Billy Lane’s bikes (and probably will again in the future) as well as several other noted pro builders of the day. Looking back, we probably feature MORE home built chops these days than we did back then.
I have been asked why we don’t exclusively feature amateur builders in the magazine all the time. The answer is pretty simple. I view custom motorcycles as an art form, the bikes we feature are expressions of the builders artistic self. Some more than others obviously. It’s the same reason why I wouldn’t want a “Captain America” replica to be featured, the original was a one-of-a-kind created by Benny Hardy and that bike no longer exists. An ‘updated’ one with a Korean Evo-dressed-as-a-Pan with no kickstart, doesn’t interest me in the slightest. It’s like a paint-by-numbers version of the Mona Lisa. Sure, it looks similar from a distance, but the finished product is still a pale copy with ZERO artistic merit. Of course a velvet Elvis is always cool!
Also, I work within fairly narrow parameters, just because a bike has great artistic merit doesn’t mean I’ll like it. I totally despise murals painted on a gas tank, but I’ve seen some really nice work on some. The wide tire thing was cute in the early 2000s, but excess ruined that also. The big red wheel/whitewall thing didn’t seem so bad at the outset, but quickly reached saturation levels as a bunch of people jumped on the bandwagon. Right around the time that wide tires were becoming passé, people started wrapping their exhaust pipes with cool hot-rod header tape. This quickly turned into a “Hey I can hide some really shitty welds” thing, and these days I really hate to see it on a new build. Pro builders are equally guilty of this these days also, and there still seems to be a faction who love extra-short exhaust pipes pointing straight at the ground under the air cleaner! Apart from being obnoxiously loud, any dusty surface immediately decreases visibility to about six inches.
This is not to say that the home builder always turns out nice pieces of artistic merit either. I can’t tell you how many badly executed Triumphs with a bolt on hardtail and a Sportster tank painted black I’ve seen. The ubiquitous “hex” oil tank (which are usually an octagon) and the same set of el cheapo forward controls. This is followed by almost as many Ironhead Sportsters in similar condition. Now, I’m not knocking all you people with one of these, I’m sure you have a great time riding it to the local bike night or wherever, just don’t try and convince yourself that you’ve created something really special. And to be sure, not everybody CAN create something special. There’s no shame in that, just like art collectors, there needs to be a market for those that recognize their artistic limitations and would rather buy a nice piece on the open market than destroy a perfectly good motorcycle with their ham-fisted attempts.
Let’s face, if a home builder is really good at design, welding, fab and paint, it seems as if he could/should be one of the ‘pro’ builders anyway, yeah? Although to be fair, there are some home builders that could easily do it for a living, but choose not to take that path.
So basically, we feature the pro builds for the artistic quality, they inspire us and hopefully inspire our readers. Also, we make sure the pro builds fall into ‘our’ category.
We will always feature the home builds also. They won’t always be the paragon of perfection, but it’s often enough to satisfy our requirements if the creator is enthusiastic and endeavors to build a cool bike that he/she intends to ride the wheels off. Oftentimes, the home built stuff surpasses the vision of the pro builders, and we’re always on the lookout for that.
I figure, as long as I’m getting emails from both camps... “You’re just featuring trailer queens and no backstreet bikes” and “You feature too many rusty deathtraps and not enough well-finished bikes” then I must be striking the right balance.