"The days of working on your own bike (or car) have been pretty scarce in more recent years, but custom-builds are gradually becoming more and more popular. Jay Shepherd tells us his story. As a self-employed builder, Jay’s bike "
Down & Out Motorcycles
Want a brand new bike with some old-school bite? Give Down & Out a call.
There’s never been a better time to go looking for a retro ride.
Ducati will happily sell you a Scrambler, BMW has the eye-swivelling R Nine T range and Triumph… well, Triumph has more old-school options than most manufacturers have models. Wherever you look, from skinny 125s to stand-out litre bikes, there’s an upright, unfaired option available straight from the factory.
Cool as those bikes may be, some buyers will always want something a little more daring. That’s where Down & Out Motorcycles come in. Since sizzling onto the scene in September 2015, the Rotherham-based custom kings have become one of the names in modified motorbikes. ‘We’ve not had one bike come back,’ smiles Shaun Walker, one of the firm’s founders. ‘We’ve got a good reputation for quality and build now, which is probably why we’re popular!’
Social media also sets Down & Out apart from other old bike tinkerers. Barely a year after their first post, the team has attracted almost 80,000 Instagram followers and they’ve just hired a dedicated social media expert to swell those numbers further still. A lot of that online success comes down the stunning rate at which Down & Out unveils new headline grabbers. Wannabe influencers take note. ‘You can build the best bike in the world,’ Shaun muses, ‘and it’ll be everywhere online for a month. But after that month they’re gone. You’ve got to be producing a new bike at least that often to sustain that visibility.’
Down & Out won’t be caught short on content any time soon. They’ve built 130 bikes to date, 60 of which were constructed in 2017, and have up to 20 projects on the go at any one time. Big name clients are straining to work with the speed shop too. Yamaha requested a yardbuild last year, which the team rode down to the Wheels and Waves festival in Biarritz; Triumph have commissioned four bikes; and BMW asked the firm to give an R nineT Racer the retromod treatment. Shaun obliged, adding matte black paint and sharp tail treatment before converting the fuel-injected engine to take carburettors.
BMWs are also where the Down & Out story started, the firm opening shop with a succession of R80 and R100 builds. Light, tight and oh so right, they soon grabbed attention for their assertive, super chunky front tyres. The idea, which has since become the definitive Down & Out calling card, came from Shaun’s experience with choppers. ‘I used to build a lot of choppers – I’ve just finished a knucklehead Harley build for myself – and love the look with the fat front wheel. It makes a bike look more aggressive and really suits the scramblers we build.’
Dutch, owner of leading bike blog The Bike Shed, was a fan and ordered a D&O R100 of his own. ‘That was big for us,’ Shaun adds, ‘he was showing it all the, riding it daily and getting one our builds out there. We used that as a platform and never looked back.’ Since then, market demand has led Down & Out to focus on Triumphs, which now make up the majority of builds and part sales, but the team will turn their lean, clean look to any bike out there.
Nowhere is that clearer than on the Ducati Scrambler the team built in late 2016. Despite its Italian ancestry, it’s the archetypal D&O build: key alterations include huge tyres, bigger wheels, new handlebars and headlights, a custom seat and a loud exhaust. Like any other Down & Out bike, the Duke also benefits from an eye for detail. ‘Our bikes are super clean,’ Shaun adds, ‘and we do everything in house, including our own welding and fabrication. I’ve always been into wiring too: that’s one key part of what we do, keeping the handlebars and switches simple and clutter free.’
The result of any Down & Out build is the same: a back-to-the-future bogger that keeps the original bike’s shape but adds a madcap spirit. Always usable but never utilitarian, they’re proof that you can mix the past with pastures new.
Photos: Simon Krajnyak, courtesy of Down & Out
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