Winston Yeh and his Taipei, Taiwan based Rough Crafts custom motorcycle brand is no longer the new kid on the block of the international custom bike building community. For more than a decade, Winston has repeatedly demonstrated mastery with a series of impressive builds, using a diverse mix of brands and models. He has developed a reputation for his ability to reshape a bike in the distinctive Rough Crafts style: low, blacked-out, and mean machines with a highly finished sophistication. A few of his early head-turner standouts include: His 2009 Guerilla Harley Davidson 883, his 2015 Bavarian Fistfighter BMW R nine T, his 2016 Ballistic Trident MV Agusta Brutale with an innovative fairing, his 2017 Flying Phantom Yamaha XSR700 and his 2018 The Noir King customization of a 2012 Harley Davidson Road King. All these builds share a family resemblance, and were shaped by Winston’s stand-out, unique design style. He will tell you there is significance in his Rough Crafts name: he sees building a bike as a process connecting rough basic materials to the craft required to refine them. The Rough Crafts website features Winston’s builds, and an impressive selection of custom parts.

Winston Yeh at his Rough Crafts warehouse in Taipei. [Mike McCabe]
Winston’s shop is located in a simple, straightforward, mixed-use Taipei area called Songshan. Standing in front of the shop, you would never know it was there, as there is no sign or parked bikes to give it away, only a long frosted glass window revealing silhouettes of activity. Step Inside, and the front and back rooms are crowded with a mix of bikes that represent the start and completion of Winston’s customizing process: for example, a stock MV Agusta parked in front of a beefy Harley-Davidson Softail with the characteristic Rough Craft look. In the rear corner sit a desk and computer beside mid-sized brown shipping boxes ready to be mailed. This is not a garage where wrenching goes on; no hint of grinding or welding or milling, and this speaks to Winston’s unique building process. Rather than fabricating an entire bike, he enlists top crafts people with unique skill sets to assist in his bike builds.

The dramatic Rough Crafts MV Agusta Brutale 800RR ‘Ballistic Trident’. [Mike McCabe]
Winston became interested in bikes as an undergrad college student, when a classmate bought a typical Yamaha 150 Taipei runaround bike, and did some mild customizing on it. Winston was intrigued by the process and bought a Yamaha 150 too. He went on get a Master’s Degree in industrial design in California at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. His curiosity continued about bikes and customizing and he won an Ebay auction for parts from Roland Sands’ RSD workshop. He then visited Sands, showed his design portfolio, and was hired; he worked at the shop for nine months. Winston learned how Sands combined RSD’s innovative bike parts into complete motorcycle builds. When Winston finished working at the shop and prepared to return to Taipei, Sands gifted him a set of Performance Machine custom wheels (PM is is the company Roland’s father Perry founded in the 1970s) that Winston then used on an AMD Championship bike entry. This marked the beginning of his professional building career, and he founded rough Crafts in 2009. Winston caught the eye of the international custom bike community with his Guerrilla rebuild of a 2009 Harley Davidson Sportster 883. The bike is a very clean and measured build that skillfully plays with the punishing rules that prohibit big custom motorcycles in Taiwan, and shape the building culture there.

The Rough Crafts Harley-Davidson Big Twin Softail, with the signature ‘look’ of the brand – blacked-out, low, mean. [Mike McCabe]
“I got a Master’s degree in Industrial Design,” Winston said. “I am educated in how to work with design-fabrication people, and exploring different ways of doing things. Or even working with different groups of people. I am not necessarily good at building all aspects of a custom bike build. People ask me, ‘why don’t you learn fabrication’… ‘or why don’t you learn that’… I always feel like, if you do it yourself, you are kind of limiting yourself to what you are capable of. Of course you can push yourself to learn more and more and more… that’s an option… but the problem is you will limit yourself to what you are capable of… If my fabrication skill only goes to this level, then my design options can only go that level because if I want to do more I can’t do it… People ask, why don’t you start to learn painting, why don’t you start to learn everything… I feel like that’s not possible… At some point you have to work with other people. So why don’t you stick with what you know and then let other people do their specialized job?”

Winston Yeh with a couple of his creations. [Mike McCabe]
“My strength is with industrial design, so I will stick to design. As you see, my shop has no fabrication, no nothing. I have very limited tools… I don’t even trust myself to put bikes together. So I source experts in fabrication, assembly and paint. The number of people I source is all different and depends on the individual project. Every project needs different things. That is another advantage to how I view things; when something is not needed, I don’t need to spend time or money on it. I am therefore open to work with anything and anyone. Right now, I am working more towards 3-D printing… 3-D scanning… A lot of my stuff is 3-D printed… Of course there are still limitations with current technology so I still meet with hand builders… but ten years ago I would never have thought about this. But since I am open to that, I am open to anything.”

The Rough Crafts Ducati Monster and Harley-Davidson Big Twin Softail. [Mike McCabe]
”As a kid I always wanted something different. I had an SR150 when I was in college in Taiwan. My friend had one and he did some very simple modification and I thought it was cool and I bought the same bike and did the same thing. But I felt like it wasn’t enough. So I tried to figure out if I could do more. My industrial arts background helped me to start to try to figure out how to make things work. I just started to piece together parts from different bikes. OK, so if I want an 18 inch front wheel… which bike has an 18 inch front wheel and will it fit? So that was my Custom Bike 101. At the time it was all trial and error. I am not an expert mechanic but I try to understand what they are doing… what’s needed to be done, so I can provide them with what they need to complete my bike. If you walked into the shops of the people I work with, they might not look conventional. You would see different things going on. In Taipei we have many machine shops very close by and very easy to work with. I have different shops that do lathe, I have different shops that do mill. I have another shop that does fabrication and hand-made stuff… So it’s all separate.”

Winston Yeh’s office, with inspiration, press, and awards. [Mike McCabe]
“I think it was 2011, with my second Sportster 883, I built what I called an Iron Guerilla based on the Iron 883 and that bike became an Internet phenomenon. Everybody loved it. I think it was the overall style. For me it’s never about any particular one thing… it’s always about the whole picture. I focus on every individual component of a build to complete the overall picture one by one. The way I look at it is… If your goal is 100 points than everything you do should be one hundred points each. Not, I got a 60 points exhaust and a 40 point seat… I see the bike as a complete whole. You can’t focus on a single part… For me, if one part really sticks out, for me that’s a failure. The build has to be so complete that it looks like it could have been from a factory. That’s my goal the whole time. People understand. At first of course it was difficult for people to understand my process… No one was doing it this way… But, I believed this was the right way to do it so I just kind of forced it to happen. After a few years, now… People understand.”

The Speed and Crafts show organized by Winston Yeh in Taipei this year, mixing performance-oriented builders and artistic customizers. [Mike McCabe]
“I organized a custom motorcycle show in my Songshan area at the Songshan Cultural and Creative Park in the Xinyi District from March 31-April 2 this year (2023). I got generous support from Deus Ex Machina, Shoei, The Balvenie and Breitling. There were 50 custom bikes built by Taiwanese custom builders like 2LOUD Customs, Hide Work Customs, Ken Ken Motorcycles, Persist Motorcycles, AFS Custom, Cowboy’s Company, SMF, Mike’s Garage and Tough Tracker. I invited three important builders from Japan to be judges of the competition; Kaichiroh Kurosu of Cherry’s Company, Tokyo; Kengo Kimura of Heiwa Motorcycle, Hiroshima and Yuichi Yoshizawa of Custom Works Zon in Shiga Prefecture. It went pretty good… we got almost 5000 visitors. It was the first show and I am super happy. In Taiwan we have one custom bike show that is good, but it’s more like a carnival and over the years the focus on bikes has faded. So I thought, make a show that brings the motorcycles back as the focus. So people who attend can learn and know about custom building. We had a competition with only two classes: A freestyle class and what I call a performance class. Race oriented bikes. Performance upgrades. That is still the majority of the bike world and I didn’t want to keep them out of the show. I forced them to look at each other. I asked each class to grade the other. I feel that freestyle builders need to look at performance builders. I don’t know about other places but in Taiwan those are very separate things.”

The Speed and Crafts show was a big success, with 5000 visitors in its inaugural year. Winston Yeh notes the visitors were a mix of motorcyclists, trendies, and design fans. [Winston Yeh]
“The motorcycle industry is so small, it still feels divided. We don’t have the size so we need to work together and understand each other. Otherwise you are always going to be a small isolated group. So, with the show, I want to create a public awareness about custom motorcycles because even until today in 2023, people still confuse custom bikes with street hooligans… For me this is not the same thing. A lot of motorcycle culture is not really approachable for people. I go on the Internet and see motorcycles are club style or bagger and the other side is vintage chopper. But for me, neither of these sides are encouraging for young people. For example, vintage bikes like a Knucklehead build are super cool but the problem is, it’s not approachable. It’s expensive and difficult. My bikes were never meant for that. That’s why I believe building with new bikes is very important. When I bring my bike to a show, the visitor will come and say, “Oh, I have the same bike at home… What did you do?” This creates a conversation… I want to do something for the public so they can see the practicality of my builds but also the idea to create moving sculpture… I think this might be one reason why manufacturers like to work with me- I built one bike for BMW, two bikes for Yamaha, a bike for MV Agusta and Royal Enfield, because they see that with my builds people can relate to what they are selling on the showroom floor. We help each other. That is one of the big goals with my show. People relating to motorcycles. I think I am pretty happy with the outcome for the first year. 5000 people attended… a mix of motorcycle people but also non-motorcycle, curious general public. That makes me happy.”


Michael McCabe is a New York City tattoo artist and cultural anthropologist. He is the author of New York City Horsepower, Kustom Japan, New York City Tattoo, Japanese Tattooing Now, Tattoos of Indochina, and Tattooing New York City. For New York City Horsepower, Mr. McCabe spent two years discovering and documenting underground custom motorcycle and car garages in the City, as rapid gentrification put their culture under tremendous pressure. He interviewed and photographed New York City customizers about their personal histories and creative sensibilities.
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