When I first met Maxwell Hazan in 2012 at his Brooklyn warehouse, I knew we’d see more of him in the future. That day, his first proper custom motorcycle, based on a Royal Enfield single, sat on the workbench, a gleaming silver machine with quirky features marking it as the product of a unique mind. The Enfield’s lines were clean, and the wooden seat spoke of his experience restoring a boat. While I admired the quality of his construction, I didn’t agree with all the decisions he’d made, and told him what I felt was problematic.  He took the criticism graciously, explained his reasoning, and we’ve been talking ever since.

Max Hazan at PRJCTLA gallery with the HMW Vincent. The diminutive scale of the motorcycle is clear! [Andy Romanoff]
In the intervening ten years, I’ve had the pleasure of writing about his bikes for Cycle World, and included his Musket 2 V-twin in my first Petersen Museum exhibit, Custom Revolution, in 2018.  Fast forward to this year at the Quail Motorcycle Gathering: while I’d seen Max’s Instagram tales of progress on his Vincent Rapide project, seeing the finished Hazan Motor Works (HMW) Vincent in person proved that photography doesn’t always capture the magic.  All Max’s bikes are ambitious and beautifully made, but the HMW Vincent was actually next-level work: this was the first alt.custom/ neo-custom/ BikeExif-era custom I’ve seen where a builder challenged him/herself by making their own carburetors, forks, shocks, and wheels rims from scratch.

What caught my eye: the hand-made carburetors with their extravagant velocity stacks. [Andy Romanoff]
That he built his own carburetors was enough to warrant my recommendation that the HMW Vincent take Best of Show at the Quail: I hadn’t even been properly walked through the build to hear the rest of the details.  That took a conversation with photographer Andy Romanoff, who’d shot our photos for the Quail, and wanted to do more: I naturally suggested we shoot Max’s bike while I was passing through LA in June.  Andy sprung into action, and pulled strings at PRJCTLA gallery in downtown LA for the use of their beautiful space on a quiet weekday morning.  The owner of Vincent, Michael Klingerman, was eager to participate, and even Max had space in his schedule.   The results you see here, a photographer’s gaze at this extraordinary machine.

The short exhaust pipes exit beneath the Vincent motor. [Andy Romanoff]
Max was also game for an interview about the construction of the Vincent, and how things are going with HMW.  Our conversation follows below:

Paul d’Orléans (PDO): This Vincent build seems different to me, like you’ve made a big step forward in your work.  It’s a very tight design, and the construction is mind-blowing.  I called it your masterpiece on the Quail stage: what feels different for you about this bike?

Maxwell Hazan (MAX): Honestly this one was very difficult for me; there was Covid, I’d just had a kid and moved houses. Usually I can just be the recluse and sit in the shop until it happens. Now my life is like stepping in and out of character – that’s what I call it. It’s hard to walk in at 9 a.m. and say, okay, you’ve got until 5 make it happen. I don’t work on the weekends at all.

PDO:   I was just reflecting on how we met in 2012, after you finished your first proper custom, a Royal Enfield, and were pondering building your second bike, mulling over what might be next.  It was an interesting moment.

MAX: You know, I’ve never really said publicly that it was my dad who gave me the push to go full-time on building bikes.  He said, “Hey, why don’t you give this motorcycle thing a real shot? Take some time off work. And if you need money, you know, for rent or whatever,  I’ll help you out.”   That was a surprise! My dad was always kind of a hard ass. But that offer gave me time and creative freedom, I could go any direction I wanted.  The hardest part is, it’s such a blank canvas. And that’s where I struggled with the Vincent; making every single part from scratch, and all the little details; there are so many opportunities to make something right, and there’s a million wrong ways. And with the added responsibilities that I had, it was tough. After finishing the Vincent I started to experience a little burnout; it’s like a birth, and there’s something you leave behind with each one.  Like it took something to figure out how to get that right shape.

A Rapide in shadow: the lines and proportions of the HMW Vincent are ultra tight and minimal. [Andy Romanoff]
With the Vincent, I felt like I was building the whole thing on my back foot. Everything worked out in the end, but I was not proactively designing. I designed it as I went, which is why I wound up having to use a barbell plate for the front braking surface. I was in a pinch, and it looked like I was going to have to cast my own iron braking surface and folks were saying, ‘the cast ones aren’t as good as the stuff they use in brake drums.’ I was looking at different options, and then I noticed my barbells were the same diameter as the Vincent front brake drum. That was lucky.

PDO: Right? It’s a kind of magic that seems to support any good creative endeavor. You know; the thing you didn’t know you need appears in a flash of light.

MAX: Sometimes I really back myself in a corner and then all of a sudden an idea comes up and makes it seem like the whole thing was meant to be all along.  Anyway, with that front brake I wanted the proportions to be just right, but as you saw it winds up being a tiny motorcycle. I’ve always tried to make the bike proportional, so if I want to scale the bike I’ll add things, so it’s functional but at the same time, it’s cool.

The front brake on the HMW Vincent is enormous, a double-sided drum that’s suspended in short spokes to the wheel rims, all carved from solid aluminum. [Andy Romanoff]
PDO: The Vincent’s front brake IS proportional. But I know you also like to play with scale. And in this case because the chassis is tiny, it really highlights the engine, which is cool in a way that even Vincent couldn’t do, because they had to sell a motorcycle in the 1940s.  Can we include some discussion about money? I think you’re charging way too little.

MAX: A lot of people said, ‘you needed to charge more for that.’  Honestly, Michael [Klingerman] does well, but he’s not Bobby Haas. I charged what I gauged I could for the client. But then again, how many builders out there have people lining up to pay six figure numbers?  There’s not many. I just need to learn how to slow myself down a little bit. But you know how it works, to go to the Quail and and have that result, and seeing all these people geek out over the bike; it’s all worth it.

PDO: Well, it’s the old quandary for anybody who makes things, whether it’s art or furniture or whatever; what can you charge versus what do you really want to do? Making compromises for the money is kind of soul destroying, when you’re no longer doing what you want to do and lose interest in your own career.  I speak from experience.

The shifter arm with wooden handle has the clutch operating lever attached: squeezing the clutch is surprisingly light. [Andy Romanoff]
MAX:  So that’s why I actually don’t how many hours I put into things. It’s not healthy to count hours, man.  Don’t think about it. Just give them a window, ‘we’ll be done in December’. No, I don’t want to know my hourly rate.  People always ask, ‘how long does it take you to make a bike?’  The actual fabrication is like bartending for me; I just I know where everything is, I know where all the handles are and am super fast with that. But at the same time, coming up with the idea, that’s the part that takes me forever.  Then in my head I’m reverse-engineering,  figuring it out, and then another day of just staring and thinking, and then making the part is easy. Once you know what you’re going to make, it’s like autopilot, I love that.

PDO: I saw that you’d made some engineering drawings for your parts. Do you use CAD or digital design software?

MAX: I actually don’t. I wish I knew more, and didn’t waste my time in college! But I can hand draw really quickly, and I can take measurements off of that drawing for something like the carburetors.  When you draw a part out, you put your measurements down, and you also get an order of operations. With machining, it’s so easy to back yourself into a corner, thinking ‘I need to flip this part over, how do I find center, how do I grip it?’ You need to have the order in your head. And I’m still using manual tools, but I do have digital readouts on my machines, because one wrong turn on the knobs then you go a little too far and you’ve got start over.

The 1:1 scale drawing of the carburetor, compared the body of the carb as initially machined. [Michael Klingerman]
PDO: I’m sure you speak from experience.

MAX: Oh yeah. I’ve done that before.  Some of the old-school people say, ‘oh, I don’t use a digital readout, I use the knobs.’  You know, the digital readouts are better.  You can just set it and know that if you go past zero you went too far, right?  And I try and use as many people as I can to help out with the process. I don’t do it by myself on principle. On the smaller stuff, I do it myself, but on the bigger stuff, I will have someone like Mark Atkinson [See his BMW Alpha from our Custom Revolution exhibit] CNC a part like the rear wheel from a solid chunk, and give me a blank so I can do the final operations on my machines.

PDO: You have a reputation as being humble. How does all the press feel to you? Will success ruin Max Hazan?

MAX: I’ve never been good at accepting it.  I don’t have a problem with it, but it never sinks in.  It never occurred to me to use a show win to mold an ego.  I had a regular job and hated it, so I’m skeptical as this seems too good to be true, although now I have a little bit of job security, with a line of people who want my bikes.   We’re not doing anything special here, it’s just way more fun than building houses. I never felt guarded about any of my stuff – if you want to build something like it, go ahead, it’s a lot of work!

PDO: That’s a question of character. Do you think you’ve Incorporated other builders’ ideas or shapes, or is your design process strictly intuitive?

The rear shock with remote reservoir was built by Max, using various springs and valving until the combination felt right. [Andy Romanoff]
MAX: Totally on my own. I never really looked at other people’s work for ideas, and I don’t even think that subconsciously I’ve Incorporated it.  A lot of people in the beginning said, ‘oh man, you’re copying Shinya [Kimura].’  But I think we both just like the way certain things look.  At least now people think, okay, they’re different. But I just like the way certain shapes look.  With each build, I approach it with an open mind – if it’s right, it’s right.

PDO:  It’s your decision-making process that creates the style, that’s really what it comes down to.

MAX: It’s not like you’re necessarily trying to make things look a certain way.  When you’re self-taught you figure stuff out on your own, and you inherently wind up with a different process and get a different outcome, because you’re winging it. So it’s not like “where did your Unique Style come from?” – it just came from what seemed like the best solution at the time.

In the very beginning I took inspiration from board track bikes, because I’d never seen them before; the big-diameter wheels and the proportions. I thought it’d be cool to make something like that, and one thing led to another.

The HMW Vincent has two magnetos; one at the front of the engine in the usual position, and this one at the rear, driven by the dry clutch. [Andy Romanoff]
PDO:  Were there a list of engines you’d wanted to work with?  Was there a ‘Hazan 10’?

MAX: Every now and then I write things down, and then randomly see them years later, and yes there was an engine list, and it sat in the back of my head. When I first started,  I came across Brough Superior by accident.  My mom’s last name is Brough, by marriage, so no family connection, just coincidence. I was looking for personalized Christmas gifts twenty years ago, so I type in Brough, and in the images pops up this engine, and I’m like, holy shit, that’s beautiful!  And so I went down the rabbit hole until I found a price tag and I was like, okay, forget that!  There was the Brough and the Vincent and a few other engines that I came across that were just beautiful but unobtainable, especially in the beginning, when I was building out of my own pocket. A lot of other projects were inspired by the dual front cylinder head setup on a [Harley-Davidson] XR750.  I wanted to build bikes with two front cylinders, so I just did a much cheaper version, with ironhead Sportsters.

Max’s first ironhead Sportster custom from 2013, and seen at legendary BritBike shop Sixth Street Specials in New York City, as he was tuning the engine. [Paul d’Orléans]
PDO: Sportsters are dirt cheap, but not that cheap to rebuild.

MAX:  When I first started, I was buying complete running ironheads for twelve hundred bucks in New York. No one wanted them, as they were heavy and run like crap. But you know, they were cheap and they looked cool.

PDO: Well that’s one thing Harley-Davidson has always been good at: make it look badass.

MAX:  So at one point I was wondering what my next project was going to be?  And I got an email and then a phone call from from Mike. “Hey, I’ve got this Vincent engine. I think it’s all together. Would you like to build a custom motorcycle around it?”  Get the fuck outta here!  How does this happen?  It just fell in my lap – I mean there was a little more to it than that –  but I couldn’t believe it.  He wheeled the Vincent engine into the shop, way in advance, so I could wrap my brain around it.  He’d cleaned it up but I had no idea what was inside. It could have been just a total piece of shit. But I mean it was nice to have on my desk, just sitting there, for a year.  When it finally came time I cracked it open and not only was it all there, it was all perfect. Someone had just put in a new pistons, new rings and everything was there. I wound up going with a higher compression pistons and a whole bunch of things, but it was a rare, easy starting point.

PDO: That’s amazing.

The rear hub is a solid piece of aluminum machined into a trumpet-curve hub and drum brake. [Andy Romanoff]
MAX: People asked me, ‘how do you know how to work on a Vincent?’ I don’t! But they all work on the same principles. When I opened up the timing chest and didn’t know where the cams or the idler gears came from, and I only saw a few faint scratches [for the timing marks] and thought, that’s not right.  So I used a piece of welding rod in the cylinders to feel where the piston is, and watched the lifters move as I turned the motor.  And I adjusted the cam timing –  maybe another tooth, then another tooth  – until I got it to what seemed right.  Then I looked really close, and there were the timing marks, they were all perfectly lined up.

PDO:  So, what was your education on building your own shocks and forks? I mean, you don’t have a degree in hydraulics, so how did you go about that?

MAX: Just common sense. I’ve got a mechanical brain, and understand the basics of how things work. When I was racing I’d watch these suspension techs spouting the biggest lines of bullshit.  I’d ask ‘ever try this?’, and they’d say, ‘well, you know, you can’t do that.’ And how many times have I just said, you know what? I’m just going to get the screwdriver out and turn a few clicks and bounce it up and down until I feel like it’s right.  With the Vincent, it was actually pretty easy. I had the damping rod and the seals and the springs, and I just messed around. I bought a whole bunch of different springs because it’s easier to buy springs and test them out than it is to sit there and try and calculate it. As far as the damping goes, there’s a Teflon disk that acts as a slider, and also it has holes in it [for the fork oil to pass through], so I made a few different ones with different holes.  The forks feel amazing, I don’t know how I got it so on the money, I surprised myself with that one.

The front forks were entirely built by Max Hazan, including the hydraulics. They’re an ‘upside down’ design, which makes for a cleaner upper fork. Note the front axle with handy manual grip, much like an original Vincent.  Note also the brake torque stays – in this case a pair of needle rollers mounted on the front brake plate that embrace the fork leg. [Andy Romanoff]
PDO: And what about the rear shock? I mean, I’m trying to think of any other customizers who’ve built their own?  I see builders with real careers, who go to a specialty shock builder for the hydraulics. I can’t think of another person who’s done hydraulic shocks front and rear on a custom.

MAX: Honestly, I don’t make any secret, McMaster-Carr is the best website of all time because, you know, they have a million different types of seals and wipers, all this crazy stuff for building hydraulics.  I would have bought an off-the-shelf hydraulic shock if I had found one that works on the Vincent. But suspension companies can be such a pain in the ass to deal with, condescending and with a narrow-sighted approach, ‘What are you doing? You definitely can’t do that.’  First of all, you can, and second of all, I just needed to know this one bit of knowledge from you.  After being frustrated enough times, I just thought, it’s a hydraulic shock, we’ll figure it out.

The carburetors with their vacuum floats. [Michael Klingerman]
PDO: You have a great attitude. And it’s also possible that these techs and advisors have never actually built a fork from scratch, they just bolt their stuff together.

MAX: It’s incredible when you actually meet like-minded peers. I don’t meet that many people with that same approach, or who have gone through the same experience.  I met a famous Porsche builder when I was going to machine this massive drum brake. And he was partners with this crazy aerospace guy out in Palmdale, like really well known, building crazy, crazy stuff. He’s an engineer, and I started talking to him and he was way smarter than me, but so nice. Somebody who I could throw the craziest ideas to, and he’d say ‘yeah I like that. Let’s do that. We’ll figure that out.’

PDO:  Not many people have invested a time in in creative thinking, and creative problem-solving.  It’s rare to find a person who’s just making things and figuring out how to make it work, from a set of shocks to building a motor from scratch. Everything is possible, and obviously somebody thought it up in the first place.

MAX: And one big thing is, don’t be scared to screw up.  Just to go for it, man. Like the amount of time you waste thinking whether you should do it or not, you learn so much more from a mistake than you do from going back and forth, or reading a bunch of stuff.  If  I don’t take the chance, I’ll never know. So, I just kind of jumped in and luckily now with just a little bit of experience, most of the time it works out, the mistakes are fewer and smaller.

Details, details. The tiny solar cell that powers the battery that gives enough juice for night riding using LED lights. also note the top of the vacuum fuel regulator chambers. [Andy Romanoff]
PDO: So, what was your inspiration for building the carbs?

MAX: You know, honestly, I always do something unique with each bike. Originally I bought a pair of Dell’Orto SS1s, but on the Vincent they just looked like a dog.  What was in my head was velocity stacks.  The carburetors are just a mechanical object, you’ve got to machine a few things and, you know, it’s been made by a human. It’s not impossible. So I sat down and measured a few carburetors to see some of the proportions.  I measured the inlet tract, the inlet flange was 28mm, so that’s how big the carb is going to be, and I sat down and started drawing.  There are so many little passages inside that have to make a 90degree turns and hit the next passage. You don’t want them to intersect at some random point in the casting. I stole a couple of little things from many different carbs; a mixing tube, the needle and a jet. I didn’t need to make the needle!

PDO: And are those floats behind the carbs?

MAX: Remote floats are sensitive to height; they have to be in line with a certain level of the carburetor. Otherwise, it’ll either just dump fuel out of the carburetor, or not get enough fuel. And wherever I put them, they looked like crap. I had an idea I’d seen on a jet ski, a vacuum-operated diaphragm.  I thought that would be cool, so grabbed the diaphragm out of a Mikuni carburetor and machined the housing.  They use them on chainsaws too, and you can turn a chainsaw upside down and it still runs. So I just gave it a shot.  I wondered if I went a little too far, but once I got it within the range where it would run, and then it was responsive to turning the idle screw, I knew I was good.  The main thing is, it’s using the suction in the mixing tube, not the manifold vacuum; it’s actually picking up the vacuum in front of the slide. So as your carburetor wants more fuel, it produces more vacuum, and I just couldn’t believe how well it worked.  I took it out and rode it with a digital O2 sensor on, and you just turn the throttle and get the normal throttle response, but the air / fuel ratio never moves. It’s pretty cool.

The shifter crossover shaft and mated gears that makes a left-hand shift possible. [Andy Romanoff]
PDO: I wonder why more people aren’t using them. Is there a downside?

MAX: If it’s real hot out side, or even idling for a while at a light, you might have to keep on the throttle a little bit.

PDO: I have to do that with all my old bikes – I’ve always got a hand on the throttle!

MAX:  I’m happy Mike is so enthusiastic and happy with the Vincent. When I saw his face at the Quail it was like, yeah.  I knew damn well I should have charged double for this bike, but when it was all done, I forget all that. And I’ll do it again, I’m sure.

Max Hazan in the alley outside his studio in downtown LA. [Andy Romanoff]



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


Vintagent Contributor Andy Romanoff started out as a biker/photographer, then had a long career in Hollywood, including years working with Panavision. He’s a member of The Academy, and is now back to his biker/photographer roots. Follow these links for his Bike Pictures for sale and his Bike Gallery.
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