Art manifests itself in many shapes, forms, and sizes. From abstract paintings to humanoid marble statues to interior design and architecture, art not only imitates life but the artist’s internal vision of our perceivable world along with the potential of what could be. In this sense they’re visionaries, transposing their mind’s eye onto whatever canvas is in front of them. Motorcycles are no different. Albeit a bit alternative in practice, consisting of an advanced knowledge of mechanics, the end result is still the same: works of art that turn heads while they grace the streets after countless hours locked up in tucked-away shops you wouldn’t otherwise recognize.
It’s these moonlighting mechanics and artists that we praise on a daily basis here. So it only seems appropriate to pay homage to the handful of builders who never cease to catch our eyes with their twisted metal makeovers that often turn even the ugliest of ducklings of the bike world into star-studded beauties we can’t help but admire. Every build serves as a direct representation of the builders themselves, making a statement on what they value in the two-wheeled world and where they see the industry going in the coming years. The visionaries, masters of metal, weirdos of wires – these are the builders we recognize as leaders in the space. So naturally, we put a list together – a place to put these petrol heads in the spotlight, if only for a moment, before allowing them to retreat back into the sanctuary of the garage where the comfort of their craft continues to motivate their artistic minds. And while there are way more custom builders worth mentioning, we’ve picked 18 of our current favorites to highlight.
If there’s one way to describe the aesthetic of Auto Fabrica’s builds, it’s simplicity. And with every project that rolls out of their English warehouse, it becomes clear that a minimalist approach to every build is handled with extreme care. Much like the contemporary architect, the crew over at Auto Fabrica takes great care in mapping out the build beforehand. From preliminary sketching to Photoshop rendering, they create their vision in the digital world before manifesting it into metal. So while this may take a bit longer for an idea to come to fruition, the folks over at Auto Fabrica are certainly in the game of letting their work speak for itself.
Deus Ex Machina
Location: Sydney, Australia
Established in Australia back in 2006, the past ten years for Deus ex Machina (“god from the machine”) have brought them a long way, allowing the brand to become a motorcycle company unlike anything we’re familiar with. And what started on the East Coast of Australia has spread across the world, building an empire of cafe racers, clothing, and culture catered specifically to two-wheeled petrol heads. They sell bike parts, whole builds, fix gear bicycles and dabble, quite seriously we may add, in the custom bike world. Their goal? To facilitate the growth of a new kind of passionate rider, in order to continue growing the movement of pairing motorcycle riding with the outdoor passions such as surfing and skating.
Location: Munich, Germany
Just three years ago, Diamond Atelier was founded by two fellow riders who grew tired of the same played-out custom bike look and feel they and their friends had grown accustomed to witnessing. It struck them one summer night, while approaching a well-known biker hangout, and the monotony of the Cafe Racers they saw there sparked an interest to build something different. Taking the standard BMW and Yamaha builds and smoothing the approach to the contemporary Cafe Racer aesthetic, Diamond Atelier is building a brand based on evolutionary style which, as young as they are, has made an impressive mark in the industry thus far.
Down and Out Cafe Racers
Location: Sheffield, England
Strictly keeping BMW and Triumph Scramblers in their wheelhouse, Down & Out Cafe Racers is widely considered one of the best Cafe Racer builders in Europe. Owner and founder Shaun Walker opened the shop with already 15 years of experience in the bike building world. They work from scratch with bespoke frames, take on pet projects with beat up donor bikes, or will simply tune up your bike as to allow you optimal enjoyment while pursuing through the English countryside. Just that in itself sounds amazing enough to get us excited.
Location: Tampa, Florida
As a Master level 5 technician with a passion for motorcycles, odds are your vision is safe in the hands of Greg Hageman. Growing up in rural Iowa, building and fixing motorcycles just seemed like a good way to pass the time and, from a young age, Hagemen quickly figured out his preferred trade. Today, Hageman Cycles offers custom builds alongside repair jobs for just about any bike under the sun, although they specialize in the restoration of old classics. However, they do offer tune-up jobs of old, “ugly duckling bikes,” showcasing the experience and finesse Hageman has up his sleeve.
Location: Los Angeles, CA
Viewing metal as a slab of marble, Hazan Motorworks treats every build as a sculpture, taking great care in every turn of the wrench like soft brushstrokes on a canvas. They begin with a very minimal element, the motor, and slowly work around that most crucial piece. There are no limitations in the builds either and Hazan doesn’t categorize themselves as a chopper, cafe racer or bobber builders. They’re in the business of creating works of art, on display for the world to admire while they hit the pavement with gumption.
Looking back on the past five years must have been a trip for Macco Motors founders Tito and Joesph. They’ve come a long way from their humble beginnings, consisting solely of a passion for classic motorcycle brands such as Triumph, Ducati, and BMW. Today, the bike world is their oyster and Macco Motors works to fulfill the vision of style and performance in every build they meticulously comb over before releasing. Strictly “cool” describes their building style, with each bike Macco Motors showcases ever-so-slightly one-upping the previous build. Not a bad trend to follow.
A true testament to how far the custom bike world has come since the introduction of motorcycles in the early 20th century, Taiwan-based Rough Crafts is a design powerhouse that builds industrial-looking motorcycles blending graphic design and street art into their inspiration. Owned by Winston Yeh, each project pulls from old school charm and conjoins it with modern technology. Clearly, with a recipe like this the possibilities for development are endless – which is why we’re excited to see what the Taiwanese shop has in store for the coming years.
Roland Sands Design
Location: Long Beach, California
Boasting roots in racing, Roland Sands is a motorcycle, spare parts, and apparel manufacturing company that specializes in bike building and design. They’re a group of two-wheeled petrol heads that have served as road racers, off-roaders, dirt track enthusiasts and supermoto fans who came together to contribute their love and knowledge of the sport to the world of custom builds. And with a client list that includes the likes of Ducati, Dunlop, Toyota, Triumph, and Yamaha, you can bet the good folks over at Roland Sands know their way around a garage.
Location: Richmond, VA
Back in 2011 John Ryland faced his future head-on after getting laid off from his advertising job of 11 years. So instead of worrying about what the next day would bring, Ryland set his mind to a passion project of his: bike customization. Two years later in 2013 they moved from a residential garage into a former mule barn near downtown Richmond, VA. They’re known for a signature style that’s, as they call it, “Classified,” that are more Frankenstein than anything else. Ryland and his team take design ideas and inspiration from everything old and modern, resulting in their post-apocalyptic steampunk aesthetic that makes them entirely weird and unique. And we’re perfectly okay with that.
Location: Austin, TX
More than just a group of builders, Revival fixes bikes, owns their own store where riders can pick needed gear for their rides, and participates in motorcycle shows and events around the world. They’re believers in both aesthetic and function, knowing a quality ride must work well but also look exhilarating in the process. It all began when an artist, engineer, and a designer came together to produce a set of powerful machines and build a brand to helps riders from all over get the most out of their rides. Revival believes in the thrill and the lifestyle that falls in conjunction with any avid biker.
Location: Montreal, Canada
Inspired by nostalgia, Clockwork looks to turn back time with each build they put forward. Style aside, they feel work ethic, pride of ownership, and dedication to a craft meant more in the olden days – and they’re driven to stay loyal to those ideals. It stands to reason then why this bike outfit works to customize vintage motorcycles into minimalist works of art. Here, it’s more about the message and the aesthetic. Quality. Attention to detail. Custom builds that piggyback on the notions of freedom and adventure. It’s what Clockwork is all about since their founding in 2011 and we expect nothing less from a bike outfit that calls one of the most wilderness-ridden countries their home.
Location: Portland, Oregon
As a well-organized team of builders, everyone at Icon 1000 has a hand in each and every build that comes out of their Portland Oregon shop. They blend both retro design with a futuristic vision to create some of the most unique bikes around. Each bike is dystopian in nature, ranging from rejected road warriors to superbikes, and are designed to take to the mountainous landscape of America’s western coastline. These bikes are not polite, not humble, and will draw the eyes of anyone in their path. Intrigued yet? Yeah, so are we.
Location: Amsterdam, Netherlands
European in every sense of the word, Nozem gets its name from a subculture in Amsterdam during the sixties. The word refers to the young rebellious youths who took to the streets on their bikes in leather jackets, rebelling against the powers that be. And if that doesn’t allude to motorcycle culture as a whole, then we don’t know what does. Nozem today was started by three bike enthusiasts who manifested their rebellion in the form of a unique vision on art. In addition to quality custom builds, they function as a design house offering web, logo, CAD motion, and graphic design. Not a bad business model for a few friends following their passion.
Taking their namesake from the obvious synonym for heirloom, it’s clear to any bike fanatic what Relic is attempting to produce on a daily basis. Specializing in cafe racers, the gentleman at Relic look to take some of the ugly ducklings of the bike world and bring them to life in all their glory. They’ve been in the business since the ‘90s, started by three friends who shared the passion for custom motorcycles which, over decades, has amounted to a renowned reputation for custom builds and continued innovation in the field.
Location: Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Back in 2008, Tony Prust had a vision: to build a shop where the goal every day was simple. That is, “lighten it up, clean it up, and fire it up.” This is no nonsense bike building at its finest. And with a background in audio engineering and carpentry, it’s safe to say that Prust knows his way around both the tech and design aspects of each bike he lays his hands on. Working with customers every step of the way, dreams are met while expectations are managed. They work with the misfits of the bike world, the unloved and left behind, making everything that is old new again and offering up these forgotten children into the arms of loving riders from across America.
Location: Bangkok, Thailand
Any visiting party to Thailand will undoubtedly see a slew of motorcycles. However, the majority of these two-wheelers ridden will carry with them an unsightly 80cc 2-cycle engine. And while they do function as commuter cycles, would you really want to live in a world without high-performance engines? That’s the question K-Speed asked themselves when opening their doors. And when you hold BMW boxers near and dear to your heart, it’s hard not to try and break the stereotype of Thai motorcycles. K-Speed has done just that, and now with 12 storefronts throughout the country, it’s safe to say their customers appreciate the vision.
It’s easy to trust a handful of experts in the field with a pet project, especially when that pet project happens to be a customized bike. So if you find yourself looking for a bike with a bit of mid-century European flair, then Pedro Oliveira and Daniel Cabral are your guys. It all started just a few years back in 2010, when these two fans of the internal combustion engine got together to bring back the vintage looks of the ‘50s and ‘60s. They focus on urban and street friendly scrambler builds, perfect for jetting around the centuries-old cobblestone throughways of Portugal. Who knows, maybe you’ll even find a damsel along the way looking for a lift.