The Motorcycle Portraits is a project by photographer/filmmaker David Goldman, who travels the world making documentaries, and takes time out to interview interesting people in the motorcycle scene, wherever he might be.  The result is a single exemplary photo, a geolocation of his subject, and a transcribed interview.  The audio of his interviews can be found on The Motorcycle Portraits website.

The following Motorcycle Portraits session is with Michael LaFountain of Raccia Motorcycles.  Raccia builds sleek cafe racers that often mimic factory racing machinery, and suggest models the factory might have built, or did build but are generally lost to history.  His builds are highly respected for their craftsmanship, beauty, and consistency of vision, and have been featured in BikeExif and won awards at events like the Quail Motorcycle Gathering.

What Was Your Start With Motorcycling?

My name is Michael LaFountain, I’m the creator of Raccia Motorcycles. I’ve been building motorcycles for over 20 years, and it all started with a motorcycle that I had found in a friend’s garage as a teenager.  It had already been in the garage for years, in a corner that no-one went to, and one day I unveiled it, an old Honda. I didn’t really know what it was, I just knew it was cool, so I begged him to bring it out and hose it off.  It was a 1966 Honda S90.  We didn’t know what we were doing –  we were just kicking it to get it to run, and finally his dad tried to get it running. They kind of gave up, but I didn’t want to give up, so I looked and looked for months for another one.  Back then there wasn’t an eBay, all we really had was magazines.  So I went to the magazine store, and the closest thing I found was someone who had two S90s who was showing them off in a  magazine. So I kept looking for about 6 months and then kind of gave up.

My mom wanted us to move to the boonies, out in the woods, and I dragged my feet and didn’t want to move. She said, “You know it’s okay, you can play your drums and we won’t bother anyone.”  So we go to this house out in the middle of nowhere, there were acres of land, and I’m looking around and found this abandoned pump house with a natural stream that ran through it.  I look down and there’s a motorcycle grip sticking out of the ground!  I’m like “that’s weird.” I started digging and it’s handlebars, and I’m like ‘who has handlebars in the ground?’  I started digging some more and there’s a wheel and then I find a tank, and it’s amazing, it is exactly the same bike that I’ve been looking for  – it’s a 1965 Honda S90. I’m like “Mom, we’re staying, this is our place.”

Raccia Motorcycles’ Kawasaki W1R 650 at the Quail Motorcycle Gathering: an homage to a lost factory racer that took seven years to build. [David Goldman]

So I spent that whole summer rebuilding this bike after excavating it. Amazingly every part was there. The only parts missing was the stuff you need to change anyways, like the gaskets and o-rings that had dried up, and it took me all summer.  I mean I literally would dig with a brush and found the jets and everything.  So after the summer the bike was built, and my friend caught wind I was close to having mine done, so he started working on his.  I got mine running and the landlord came by and said “Oh, you found my wife’s old bike. You know my son had torn it apart, and left it in there years ago, and earth kind of fell on top of it over the years. I’ll sell it to you.” I had just done all this work to it. My heart sank.  You know, I was a teenager with no money, and he said ‘I’ll sell it to you’ and I’m like Oh man. “How’s a penny sound?” I almost broke down I was so excited.  My friend and I got our bikes running in the same week, and we met on the street and rode to school together.  That summer infected everything I do; I’m 42 years old now, and I’ve basically been doing the same thing since I was a kid.

Great Experiences With Motorcycles?

All my great motorcycle experiences have been creating motorcycles. Building motorcycles and creating motorcycles means finding parts.  One aspect that is often overlooked is the places you’ll go, hunting down rare motorcycle parts. I’ve been in so many different states and literally travelled every inch of California, but even when I think I’ve seen it all, I’ll find some part that I absolutely need for the next build in some place that no-one goes.  Two months ago I thought I’d been everywhere, but I drove for two hours and didn’t see another car in this strange valley in this beautiful area, and I’m thinking I would never come here had it not been for my relationship with motorcycles.  This wasn’t a destination that anyone goes to, it’s in the middle of the desert.  And the people that I meet on these scavenger hunts I would never have met.  That’s one aspect of motorcycles that gets overlooked, because it’s about ‘riding and experiences’. I’ve been riding, and I’ve lived in Russia and I rode there, but my experiences are not so much about riding motorcycles as about the dynamics of building them.  I still get out and see weird and amazing places.  It may not be on a motorcycle, since you got to lug parts home, but it’s a fascinating dynamic to see the places it will take you.

One of the first Raccia builds, based on a Triumph TR6, with sleek Japanese touches. [Michael LaFountain]

I go to these places looking for parts and nine times out of ten they are great people.  They are so excited to see me, excited that I’m interested, so it’s this other dynamic.  It’s not just the camaraderie of riding, it’s the camaraderie of just being interested in motorcycles.  Every now and again, I’ll meet someone and their energy is like ‘I’ve got to get away from this guy’. It can be kind of dangerous, out in the middle of the desert, but these are the guys that have parts. And we’ll strike up conversations for hours, talking about the bikes and where their bike came from, and their cousin had a bike, and it’s amazing this connection you get – not just from riding but from building motorcycles as well.  Just from trying to scavenge parts from all around the state.  I’m somewhat of a hermit, so I meet these people and they are kind of in the same place, and I find people that don’t get to talk about motorcycles that often and are all of a sudden they’re talking for hours.

What Do Motorcycles Mean To You?

What does it mean to me?  I have two relationships with motorcycles: I have the relationship that hooks most people – that’s riding.  That freedom is so cliché I know.  When I was a kid you got on your bicycle. I have a really strong sense of direction and always have; my favorite thing is to ride my bicycle fast enough into a neighborhood and not look at anything, to get disoriented. My world was much smaller then, and I wanted to escape from the fact that I knew where every direction was, I knew where north was etc. So motorcycles are just kind of an extension of that you know. I want to get into places that I’ve never seen and kind of get lost. They definitely facilitate that, but that’s motorcycles in general.

A Raccia cafe racer based on a 1974 Honda CB750. [Paolo Rosas]

Old motorcycles, especially creating and riding them, is a whole new feeling. You get all that – the adventure and the freedom and the excitement – but there is really something special about creating something. Anyone can build something and get it running, but creating something that has been stuck in your brain, you have been sitting up at night and looking at the phone to piece this idea together, then having it come together and riding it. You know it would be the equivalent of writing a song, and then firing it up and riding it around town. It’s really hard to explain – it’s a rare medium of creativity.  You actually get to create, and then have that thing take you around town, and then discover new and exciting places that you have never been.

Explore more of The Motorcycle Portraits series here.



David Goldman is photographer and filmmaker who has traveled the world on projects documenting human trafficking, maternal health and marginalized people. He also interviews and photographs motorcyclists in this travels for his series The Motorcycle Portraits. You can follow his website here, his IG here, and his FB here. Explore all his stories for The Vintagent here.
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