Valen and his Motorcycle

The back story: I was asked by Remo Chen, a student at San Francisco’s Academy of Art, to sit for a video interview for her broadcast journalism class, as she needed a subject who’s ‘living an interesting lifestyle’.  I’ve had plenty of goodwill, good advice, and outright financial support while making The Vintagent the free and groovy motorcycle hang it has become, so I’m always happy to pay back the goodwill in any way I can.  While Remo’s interview was fun, the tables were turned when she explained how she’d found me – her boyfriend in Chengdu, China, is an avid motorcyclist, and had recently completed his first custom motorcycle build.  Much like back in 2010 when I discovered the ‘Chai Racers’ in Mumbai, this was the first I’d heard of a Custom scene in China (as my head is mostly in the Vintage world), and when Remo showed me photos of the bike, I suggested we introduce Valen’s work via The Vintagent.  The following is Remo’s account of photographer Valen Zhou’s first Custom.  The good news?  He’s already working on another…

[Valen Zhou]
“This is my boyfriend’s first handmade motorcycle. This HONDA CB125 is from the first generation built in cooperation with a Chinese motorcycle company. He spent about 3 months rebuilding this awesome thing, and he thinks this is still not good enough.

[Valen Zhou]
When he was young, about 3 or 4 years old, his father gave him a toy motorcycle. He didn’t know what it was, just that it had two wheels and could move, so he liked it. The first time he saw a real motorcycle was in his grandpa’s neighborhood garden. It was a foundry product, Chang Jiang 750, made from the BMW design. He was so curious. Did the engine still work? What did that sound like? Who bought this? And what was the story about the man who had it? With the increase of age, he became so obsessed with motorcycles that he bought a Chinese Honda on his 16th birthday. He still can remember the feeling of freedom when he got on that bike for first time.

The Bells! [Valen Zhou]
He likes old things, because they always have a lot of stories to tell. When you come to understand old things, you know the quality of living and thought in that period. He can buy a motor anywhere he wants. Each motorcycles has its own story about the man who used to own it and ride it. It’s like a connection between the old owner and the new owner. Maybe the owners change but the stories are still there. If you want to get close to them, you can find so many surprises in them.


[Valen Zhou]
He has an anxiety disorder, and building the motorcycle helped make him feel calm. The motorcycle helps him deal with anxiety, and he can fall asleep at night, also doesn’t feel nervous anymore. He said one day he would build a motorcycle for himself and give it his own story. When he gets old, he can tell his son or daughter the whole story about his first handmade bike. And he has done now. I feel the motorcycle is like his soul mate. He can ride it to anywhere he wants to go. He can share anything with them. So the motorcycle feels like another him to me. From the first time we saw her, the motorcycle has been part of the story of our life. He took her apart, and then put her together, gave her a brand new life.

[Valen Zhou]
At the beginning of my boyfriend’s story, there was a little boy who just wanted a bike to ride, but now the boy has grown up and found his own life style with his motorcycle. The story never ends, we never know what will happen next, and that why he keeps chasing his dream of motorcycles.”

[Valen Zhou]
Paul d’Orléans is the founder of He is an author, photographer, filmmaker, museum curator, event organizer, and public speaker. Check out his Author Page, Instagram, and Facebook.
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