In 2013 The Vintagent had the pleasure of introducing the work of photographer and custom bike builder Valen Zhou of Chengdu, China to a wide audience (‘A Truly Global Custom Scene’).  His work on the ‘Monstub’ custom soon appeared in BikeExif and subsequently all over the Internet.  The Monstub was his first customized motorcycle, and indicated considerable talent in Valen’s hands.  We’re happy to share his second custom motorcycle, which he calls the ‘ER’ as an homage to his grandfather, a railway engineer, who helped raise Valen.  His absorption of the tools of his grandfather’s trade into the very body of his latest motorcycle is a beautiful statement of Valen’s sincerity as a moto-artisan.

Valen Zhou in the wee morning hours under a freeway in Chengdu, China, with the ER. [Valen Zhou]
Valen updated us on his story:  “In October 2013 I built my first custom motorcycle. The story of the motorcycle was published in The Vintagent shortly after. A lot of people wanted to know what I would do next. I’ve finally finished my second motorcycle, which is to honor my grandfather, which I call ‘ER’ —the engineer of the railway.  I lost my grandfather (who was 86 years old) in 2012; I grew up with him, and was proud I had such a cool grandfather.  He was a railway and mechanical fuel technology engineer, working in the early 1950s, forming a new nation of Chinese industry. In those hard times, he was the one of engineers who built the four important railways in China. When he retired in 1986, I liked to sit next to my grandfather and watch him make toys. I still remember that time. I liked bicycles so much, my grandfather said: “If you want one, just build it yourself,” and perhaps that’s why I like doing things all by myself.

A dramatic shot revealing a few of the eccentric details of the ER. [Valen Zhou]
After my grandfather passed away, my grandmother gave me a box, and told me it was my grandfather’s treasure. My grandfather treated that box just like his own life.  When I opened the box there were so many tools in it, some of them I was familiar with, but some of them I had never seen before. All of those tools were used by my grandfather when he worked on railways. I incorporated these tools on my new motorcycle to show respect to my grandfather, and felt my grandfather would be there with me when he rode this new motorcycle.”

Steam fittings and specialized (obsolete) tools used by his grandfather were incorporated into the ER. [Valen Zhou]
Valen Zhou totally rebuilt a 1987 Kawasaki 250 in a very different manner from his previous machine, the Monstub.  His intention was for it to be more efficient and practical, while integrating his grandfather’s tools to make the motorcycle special. He used one of his grandfather’s screwdrivers instead of a gear lever, and he bent a wrench to use for the kickstand. He cut two fire extinguishers apart and reassembled them to make the oil tank. The handlebars were angled for riding comfort.  Valen obsessed over these details, and spent whole nights sewing his seat and polishing his rear wheel hub, to create a motorcycle capturing the spirit of the railway.  Or at least, a memory of the railway as lived by his grandfather.

A hose tap, a screwdriver, spanners and hammers all made their way into the build. [Valen Zhou]
Valen projected his second hand-made motorcycle would take three or four weeks to build, which of course proved impossible.  There were many solutions required to problems of construction and unique design, and at times he struggled expressing his inspiration in metal.  “I am so new to the world of motorcycles. Nevertheless, I finished it.” After the Chinese New Year in 2014, Valen moved to Milan, which “is like a paradise to me. There are a lot of Italian classic motorcycles on the road, and I can find any type of motorcycle that I want.  I will learn more skills about how to rebuild motorcycles, to make my work better.”

The overall aesthetic of the ER was vexing for many readers in 2014! [Valen Zhou]
Since this story first appeared in The Vintagent in 2014, Valen did indeed move permanently to Milan, where he’s found work as a professional photographer.  Sadly, he hasn’t followed up with the 3rd custom build yet, but we’re still hoping to see more, someday.  His photography is featured regularly on The Vintagent, especially on our social media channels: Instagram and Facebook.

The stance is unique, but retains the standard chassis geometry of the Kawasaki 250. [Valen Zhou]
Valen Zhou’s photography is his primary calling, and his current profession in Milan. [Valen Zhou]

Paul d’Orléans founded in 2006.  He is an author, photographer, museum curator, event organizer, and public speaker. Check out his Author Page, Instagram, and Facebook.


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