We Come from Garageland

image via Bike Exif

Three-chords, crap equipment, not much talent, lots of enthusiasm. Young men and women have been in garage bands since skiffle was The Next Big Thing, but it was only during the wave of 1977 punk that the garage bands broke big.

Top-selling punks may not have had the same skills as the Stones or Fleetwood Mac, but they offered an alternative that was lapped up. A similar revolution is happening in motorcycle customisation.


Image:Wrenchmonkees

Like punk rock often said it was rebelling against the overblown excesses of ten-minute guitar solos and prog rock, the new generation of custom builders are the antithesis of American Chopper’s fat tyre monstrosities, and showrooms full of 190mph traction-controlled superbikes. And, though the movement started before the global meltdown, its growth has mirrored the fall in sales of big ticket bikes.

The new wave customs are neither chopper nor café racer, but they borrow cues from all genres. They tend to start with unloved, cheap Japanese bikes – though the burgeoning scene is sending prices of air-cooled, spine-frame Jap stuff roofwards. Anything from the 1970s onwards is fair game. Singles, twins, fours; two-stroke or four; Jap, Brit, German, Italian: animal, vegetable or mineral. This isn’t a cult with a basis is performance one-upmanship. It’s creativity and originality (without straying into parody or overt gimmickry) is what pushes the boundaries and attracts the four-figure facebook ‘likes’.


image: Untitled

One reason this style of custom is becoming so popular is due to the fact they’re relatively easy and cheap projects to complete by someone, anyone, with a few spanners. You don’t even need a garage to be in this garage band. Inspired hopefuls see bikes being fawned over on the Net and, like a thousand oiks of previous generations watching Top of the Pops in the late-70s, think ‘I could do that.’

Wheels, brakes and suspension can be changed, but aren’t always. Rake, trail and wheelbase all tend to remain the same. No one is building one-off frames or investing in forced induction or race tuning. Replace the tank, seat and bars with stuff picked up cheap online or at the autojumble. Paint is simple or non-existent. Steel or alloy tanks stripped bare and lacquered or left to ‘weather’ are popular.


image via Bike Exif

Next, junk standard airboxes and exhausts and fit filters and new silencers. If you’re more adept, make a new sub-frame for the stripped-down back end. Fit new tyres – chunky is best - and a tiddly taillight. Voila! But, like a punk band, however much you sneer and spit, if you haven’t got the chops you are going to fail. For the garage-built bike scene, if the stance of bike is hinky, it’ll still look like an unloved bike with a rusty petrol tank and knobblies, however hard you try. There are plenty of those around.


Image: Deus

The godfathers of the scene are the Wrenchmonkees. Based in a cellar in the outskirts of Copenhagen, they modified a trio of big, four-cylinder Kawasakis back in 2008, before moving onto twins and singles. It’s no coincidence two of the original trio of Monkees were professional photographers.

They shot and disseminated their tough street bikes in a fresh, urban style. The Monkees themselves – Per, Nicolas and Anders – didn’t look like stereotypical motorcyclists from any pigeon-hole, either. They wore a gene-defying mixture mountaineering Gore-Tex, full-face lids, dark jeans and skateboard shoes and rode in cities, not the unrealistically empty racetracks of mainstream bike ads.

A new generation of motorcyclists saw them on a new generation of website – blogs that would cherrypick inspirational images from all over the web and mash these images of bikes up with architecture, art, cars, tattooed femmes and historic style icons. The Wrenchmonkees didn’t look out of place.

Coincidentally, Deus puffed spores of goodness from their sweet-smelling Sydney HQ. Though not garage-built, their big dollar Yamaha SR500-based builds were close to faultless and had a cleanliness only a truly well-built road bike can achieve. They’ve influenced a thousand builders from Beijing to Bristol, some who copy on the cheap, others who have moved the game on.

People who wouldn’t dream of wearing full leathers and riding a superbike or pulling on a cut-off denim and riding a chop realised there was a bike scene waiting for them. They just had to make it. And they have.

  • Truckernick2006

    whilst i agree that the quality of the 'monkees bikes is amazing, i absolutely disagree they are the godfathers!!! there are other builders out there far better and who get far less recognition...the chop scene has been around for decades and this article, in my opinion, makes it out to be a relatively new thing that is the brain child of american chopper and the like...it is not!!!  by definition a 'chop' is anything that is not standard, be it a professional build with a blank cheque thrown at it, or a backyard build with the bare minimum of cash available (i fall into the latter category).  american chopper and theyre ilk are classed as 'custom', not choppers, because they build bikes from scratch, not chop the original bike.  in my opinion even the name 'american chopper' gives a false perception of the scene.

  • Philip Morris

    Reckon a well prepped Manx Norton woud be well up there with them!

  • Ruffdiamond

    But when the euromuppets get their way none of these lovely machines will be allowed on the road!

  • http://www.bikeexif.com/ Chris Hunter

    You nailed it, Gary. Nice one.

  • http://www.untitledmotorcycles.com/ untitled motorcycles

    I think this article represents our type of bike. We build usable bikes that look different from the original machines. Thanks for doing writing it. untitled motorcycles.

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  • http://twitter.com/matthewlking matthewlking

    No offense, but I think you are missing the point.  This new generation of bike tinkerers are not the same as the choppers builders form the early 60-and 70's that the genera came from.  (respect due to course)
    They are building a style of bike that is not the norm for choppers builders.   The word antithesis means "opposite" and the new breed is NOT doing what American Chopper is doing.

  • Cr

    Stop reading boy. Spare for a cheap Jap, bring it in your cellar, steal daddys wrench and then get going.

  • David Parr

    This is such a good piece mate. I have a little lock-up in Brighton. We're very much into this scene and have bikes in the making. Also staring some events in Brighton to fire the scene up a little. Check

    http://deadmensmotorcycles.blogspot.com

  • David Parr

    This is such a good piece mate. I have a little lock-up in Brighton. We're very much into this scene and have bikes in the making. Also staring some events in Brighton to fire the scene up a little. Check

    http://deadmensmotorcycles.blogspot.com

  • Trent Reker

    chop off stuff and painting everything black? wow. never knew that could be done. have i been transported back to 2002?

    i've seen builders worldwide do the same thing, long before anybody
    heard the four-year old "godfathers." they do it with loads more
    creativity and attention to detail for under five grand, not twenty or
    thirty. the difference between those garage builders and the monkees is
    the art-directed photography and branding that make certain people think
    it's extraordinary.

    genre-defying? punk? how is the view from your condo in savile row, gary?

    pandering crap like this makes some of you seem as if you are all sitting in a circle jerk.  same names, same bikes, same ideas, different day for a cup of earl grey.

    spot of cream, m'lord?

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