Forgive the butchered idiom but here goes: you can lead a person to the saddle but you can’t make them love riding. A motorcycle, that is. Two people learn how to ride. The one, within a short period of time, has acquired the necessary paperwork and now has a motorcycle in their garage. The other is back in their car, happy for the experience, yet as far from riding regularly as they were before learning how to ride.
In Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Robert M Pirsig writes: “The test of the machine is the satisfaction it gives you. There isn't any other test. If the machine produces tranquillity, it's right. If it disturbs you it's wrong until either the machine or your mind is changed.”
The relationship between you and your motorcycle is a personal one that evolves the longer you are together. Or perhaps that’s just me. I bought my motorcycle, a BMW R1200R, simply because I liked the way it looked. Now that it’s paid off, I’m looking to customise it to reflect me. This has me spending abnormal amounts of time exploring the Instagram pages of customisers the world over, looking for inspiration.
Cape Town-based Stoos Custom was established in 2012 by Alex Stoos who, after spending time in the custom motorcycle industry in the US realised that a nine-to-five wasn’t for him. So, when he moved back to SA, he rented a small factory and started fabricating my dream. Pun intended.
Stoos has a fascination with US V-Twins and, when it comes to starting a custom build, he says: “The first question you have to ask yourself is what do you want to achieve with the build — racing the streets, bar hopping or hitting the dirt? Once you’ve decided what style of bike you want to build, you source the correct donor bike and start working on the stance and lines of the motorcycle. It involves many hours of blood, sweat and beers.”
With their own CNC milling machine, they create custom parts, including exhausts, handlebars, fuel tanks and performance parts.
Rémi Reguin, founder of BAAK, a French creative motorcycles and parts workshop, started customising motorcycles in his grandmother’s garage. In 2012/2013, he decided to take the leap, leaving a job as an optician to establish BAAK in Lyon.
BAAK specialises in Triumph, Moto Guzzi, Royal Enfield and BMW R NineT motorcycles, often taking a modern motorcycle and giving it a classic/café racer aesthetic. In addition to creating bespoke bikes for customers in France, and most recently in Los Angeles, BAAK manufactures parts for their custom projects and for export globally.
While some manufacturer dealerships offer customisation services or have their own build projects, with the introduction of the R nineT in 2013, BMW Motorrad took it a step further. The R nineT has a classic design combined with modern technology and a wealth of optional extras. The R nineT family consists of the R nineT, the R nineT Urban G/S 9, the R nineT Scrambler and the R nineT Pure. There was an R nineT Racer which I enjoyed riding, but it seems to have been discontinued.
BMW Motorrad offers a number of “Option 719” packages, with everything from specific paint finishes, aluminium cylinder heads, handlebar end mirrors, fuel tanks, headlight covers and brake and clutch levers to tubeless spoke wheels and black rim rings and hubs.
BMW has built on this approach with their newest ‘heritage’ motorcycle, the R 18, built on the design aesthetic of the 1936 BMW R 5. There are Roland Sand Design packages and additional parts under the Original BMW Motorrad Accessories programme to ensure that one can make their motorcycle truly individual.
Founded in 2012 by father and son Lionel and Florian Klinger, French Monkeys operates just outside Lyon in France as a custom bike workshop focused on reinvention and recycling. They pull from various materials, bike-related and otherwise, to create unique motorcycles. Lionel’s other son, Thibault, is more focused on the website, started about four years ago and now bringing in up to 90% of their business, with the online sales of parts and accessories. Demand is so high that it now takes them three to four months to customise a motorcycle.
In 2018, Justice Ditlhong decided to do more than simply enjoy life on two wheels, and founded Isithuthuthu Motorcycles, initially designing African-inspired merchandise, such as T-shirts, bandannas, hoodies, caps, race suits and custom-painted helmets. Driven by the desire to “define an African bike”, and currently working on their thirteenth motorcycle, Isithuthuthu now do custom paint jobs, limited fabrication of parts and full customisation, with a truly African feel.