You never know when your work might change the course of a multi-billion dollar industry.  The influence of BikeEXIF on motorcycling has been tremendous, spearheading a global custom motorcycle movement that spread all over the ‘Net, in print, in garages, and ultimately into the design rooms of the motorcycle industry itself.  Arguably, without BikeEXIF there would be no factory Scramblers, Bobbers, Cafe Racers, or Trackers.  Another website would have sprung up in its place, such was the energy of the initial wave of the ‘alternative custom’ scene that began in the 2000s, but BikeEXIF was already there, and pretty soon seemingly everyone into bikes was watching.

The simple, classic BikeEXIF header has been copied a hundred times. [BikeEXIF]
Chris Hunter founded his website in 2008, after spotting an interesting trend emerging in Japan and Australia – custom motorcycles that were not based on Harley-Davidson V-twins, and were not the fat-tire choppers currently dominating TV and magazine coverage.  In the early 2000s, a custom motorcycle WAS a Harley-Davidson chopper of some sort, or at least it seemed that way.  There were always others – ‘streetfighters’ in the UK, the retro-cafe racer scene, retro Trackers, etc – but it was V-twins that occupied the niche called Custom in the mind of the world.  That all changed with BikeEXIF.

It’s hard to recall just how moribund motorcycling had become in those days, prompting a NYT article in 2009 to ask, “Is Motorcycling Over?”  Well, it WAS over, for the moment.  But as riders around the world began focussing on other types of machines to customize – cheap CB Hondas, Yamaha Viragos, etc – the idea that anyone could customize anything to make a cool daily ride caught fire.  Small shops cropped up, built bikes, and disappeared, or went professional and rode a wave of popularity not seen since the 1970s.   The people wanted something different than what factories were offering, and so began making what they wanted themselves.

Chris Hunter captured at a rare visit to Wheels&Waves in Biarritz. [Paul d’Orléans]
The designs were not usually perfect, and certain trends (radically shortened suspension, board-hard seats, ubiquitous pipewrap, vintage Firestone tires, no fenders, etc) were ridiculed even as they emerged, but that’s fashion: it changes with the season.  What mattered was new life grew in the motorcycle scene, with an explosion of creativity in every related medium.  Suddenly, short films about motorcycles became popular, new websites and magazines sprung up to cover the scene, new clothing brands catered to stylish riders, books like The Ride were published, and events like Wheels & Waves and the One Show gave folks a place to gather.  It was a motorcycling renaissance.

BikeEXIF republished my column from Classic Bike Guide magazine, ‘Instafamous/Instabroke’, on the cost of mistaking popularity on social media for the financial requirements of running a business. [BikeEXIF]
The OEM factories took note, and began by 2010 offering motorcycle designs that reflected home-grown trends.  The Ducati Scrambler, BMW rNineT, and many other designs would not have been made without the popularity of ‘alternative customs’, and these models based on ‘outsourced R&D’ have typically proved the most popular in their respective factory lineups.  In other words, BikeEXIF changed the industry.

Chris Hunter recently sold BikeEXIF to the Iron&Air team of Adam Fitzgerald and Gregory George Moore. In a press release last week, they stated:

“We’ve long thought that ​Iron & Air Magazine​ and Bike EXIF would be the perfect complement to one another. Now that we’re two sides of the same coin, our combined resources will make the two properties even stronger and enable us to provide the most robust view of the custom culture within the motorcycle industry. We’re excited to offer enthusiasts even more premium analog and digital experiences via our magazine, website and social ecosystem.”

Greg and Adam from Iron&Air. [BikeEXIF]
By way of a ‘BikeEXIT’ interview on the passing of his torch, I asked Chris Hunter a few questions so the world might better know whose fault all this might be.

Tell our readers how you came to start a custom motorcycle blog: what were you doing before that? What inspired you to start BikeEXIF? Was there any competition in 2008?

It started as a lunchtime experiment when I was a creative director working at an ad agency in Sydney, Australia. I was scouting around for a bike to buy, and absorbing information on motorcycles in general, and was feeling uninspired by the quality of moto sites at the time. I knew of Deus, which was starting to take off, and I found the Japanese and European custom scenes fascinating. I needed to upskill on the nuts and bolts of digital, so I started BikeEXIF. The idea was to focus on a sweet spot: the best photography of the best custom bikes. I think Return Of The Cafe Racers was going at that point, but I don’t think I was aware of it at the time.

Chris Hunter relaxing after a ride at his home in New Zealand. [Chris Hunter]
The custom motorcycle landscape has shifted dramatically in 13 years: tell us what you’ve seen from your beginnings to today? Where have you seen the greatest improvements?

I’ve enjoyed seeing the move away from chrome and bling, and towards a more ‘industrial design’ vibe. There’s been gradually less emphasis on the ‘retro’ side of design, and more on finding a new aesthetic language. The cafe racer as a genre is no longer dominant—scramblers are everywhere, plus a lot of bikes that are difficult to pigeonhole. Choppers have died a death but the grassroots bobber scene is still going strong.

I think the overall quality of construction has improved a lot too—there are some seriously talented amateurs out there, as well as a handful of pros who can build a bike to OEM factory levels. A few years, dodgy welding and dubious engineering was quite common; nowadays, people seem to take more care and research things a little better. The advent of CAD has helped too, with more and more builders using it to raise quality levels, doing limited runs of parts to recover costs, and making kits.

The overall quality of photography has improved remarkably, too. Most builders understand that effort needs to go into the images as well as the bike itself.

Pipewrap. Firestones. I think the storm has passed now, but there was a long stretch when seemingly every custom motorcycle used them. [Anonymous]
Are you willing to take personal responsibility for Firestones & Pipe Wrap?

Please, no! I’ve never really been a fan of pipewrap, but I don’t get my knickers in a twist over it either. And for many custom bikes, classic sawtooth-type tires are fine. When I lived in Sydney, I once rode cross-city with Matt [Machine] Darwon: he was on a classic Guzzi with old school tires, and I was on a modern V7 shod with normal rubber. It was pouring with rain, the streets were twisty, and I was having trouble keeping up with Matt. I don’t think vintage-style tread patterns are a good idea for a 100hp sportbike, but for older or slower machines, they’re just fine. Don’t forget it’s as much about the rubber compound as the tread pattern.

The new media powerhouse, Iron & Air and BikeEXIF. [BikeEXIF]
It must have been a hell of a lot of work to put out customs daily. I told you so! Tell us about the work you’ve put into making BikeExif the heavyweight it is today?

It was indeed a massive amount of work, but over the past couple of years the workload has been manageable. My editor Wes Reyneke has been a great help in that regard.

Running a successful digital business is kinda like making mayonnaise … you have to have all the right ingredients in the right proportions. So the content is obviously the main ingredient, and it needs to be high quality. Then there’s the technical stuff like the coding and server setup, and search engine optimization. Plus social media, and making sure that you’re using it for your own purposes, rather than getting used yourself.

Time management is another critical ingredient; I used to work all hours, but now basically work in blocks of time in the morning and evening. And I’ll still be working on the business for a while with the Iron & Air guys, they’re a great team and I’ve known them for a while, so it was the perfect fit.

In 2014, German publisher Gestalten approached Chris Hunter to put the trend on paper, and ‘The Ride’ was the result. It was quickly followed by ‘The Ride: 2nd Gear’, and both sold very well. Paul d’Orléans contributed to both. [BikeEXIF]
Finally, I’ll toss back your questions from the BikeEXIF questionnaire you sent me in 2010:

What was the first motorcycle you bought with your own money?

A Moto Guzzi V7, about 13 years ago in Sydney. I had a Vespa before that, which was perfect for zooming around the city, but not so good for longer trips. Today I ride a Husqvarna Svartpilen 701.

What do you think is the most beautiful production motorcycle ever built?

The original Brough Superior SS100. More recently, the Ducati SportClassic. Of current production bikes, I love the Kiska-designed ‘Pilens and I think the BMW R nineT has perfect visual balance.

Ten years past! Our publisher Paul d’Orléans was honored to be the first of a new interview series for BikeEXIF, in Sept 2010. [BikeEXIF]
What motorcycle do you despise?

Despise is a strong word … there are some corners of the industry and brands I think are well past their sell-by date. And you’ll never find me posing next to a custom bagger being ‘ridden’ by a pinup girl. But generally, each to his own.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

A day with with no faffing around on social channels or dealing with email! A week exploring the snow-capped Southern Alps of New Zealand with my wife and three kids. An evening sitting by the fire with a glass of Islay single malt in hand, a magazine on my lap, and the dog asleep at my feet.

Chris Hunter was kind enough to provide the foreward to Paul d’Orléans latest book, ‘Ton Up!’ (2020 Motorbooks)

Electric motorcycles: Yes or No?

Big yes. I love what brands like Zero, Cake and Ubco are doing. I think it’ll take a while for ICE motorcycles to be phased out, but electric is definitely the future. I’m just waiting for Zero to set up shop in New Zealand!

Which ‘everyday’ modern bikes do you think will become future classics? The equivalent of the Honda CB750 or Moto Guzzi V7 Sport, if you like? Who are your real-life motorcycling heroes?

I think the Ducati SportClassic is a contender, along with the MV Agusta F4, Aprilia RS250 and some of the better Japanese superbikes. Generally speaking, I think it’s going to be the sportier end of the market that appreciates. But really, it’s anyone’s guess.

Are you optimistic for the future of motorcycling?

Yes. I was worried when COVID hit, but sales have been generally unaffected and have risen in some places. The cost and utility aspects of motorcycles will always be positive, and they’re also the ultimate social distancing activity!

What is your current state of mind?

A little besieged at the moment, with handling the transition to Iron & Air, and planning for the future. But thankful and hugely optimistic too.

Thanks Chris!  We at The Vintagent wish you all the best for the future.

Hard work yields results. We congratulate Chris Hunter on his success, and wish him well in the future. [BikeEXIF]
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