Thriving in Two Strokes: NYC Mopeds

Words and photos by Peter Domorak

What defines the best motorcycle for you? The power? The size? The design or the brand name?

I’m a photographer and we have a saying – the best camera is the one you have with you. Size or brand name – it doesn’t matter. What you can use at the moment when you need it matters. During the pandemic, motorcycles became more popular than ever. This story is about one shop that opened right before the pandemic hit New York the hardest, survived the shutdowns, and is actually doing very well. selling and repairing the smallest motos that you can pick up almost as a bicycle, and make them ready for immediate fun. And it comes with that vintage flair (model depending). I participated in a moped group ride organized by a Brooklyn moped shop – NYC MOPEDS.  The ride was so enjoyable, fun and crazy that I wanted to find out more about these guys. This is the story of how I invited myself into NYC MOPEDS to hear all about John-Paul Trang aka JP (the owner), and his shop.

The exterior of NYC Mopeds: it's rather obvious what's going on inside! [Peter Domorak]
NYC MOPEDS lurks under the J train rail that runs above Broadway, and is squeezed between townhouses. You can spot it from afar by the many mopeds parked along the sidewalk: the store window are also filled with the machines, luring the possible buyer.  JP sat at the front desk, greeting me with a smile, “It's a good day for a tour, we're not that busy today”. I immediately felt his nice approach, I’m sure they are busy. I see his guys in the back working hard, wrenching on bikes. While JP was finishing up few things at the computer, I snapped my first photos and took in what was around me. The place screams 'legit' to me. They're not just fixing up bikes in a garage or on a sidewalk – not that there's anything wrong with that - but it's a legit shop with employees (and helpers), a front desk area, a workshop with lifts, and a backyard full of parts. JP, my hat's off to you.

Brooklyn Moped History

I ensured my welcome by bringing few iced coffees on the hot day of my visit. The team did appreciate that. While sipping our cold brews, JP shared the local scooter history with me. He described the scene as pretty much dead before 2000. After that year, little wheels gained popularity in the 'hood. Not that mopeds and scooters didn’t exist before then, but around that time their popularity was revived. A website forum was created to connect existing and the new moped fans and the growing community, and is still alive today, called “Moped Army”. Around 2009 a group of 3 guys from a moped gang called ‘The Orphans’ opened a first shop – you could have guessed it - “The Orphanage''. They took moped fandom to the next level, from helping each other with tips and tricks on the internet forum, to the creation of a brick-and-mortar store, where you could get the help you needed.

Around that same time, in 2010 another group of moped owners / riders / moped gang members created a group called “Mission 23”.  A member of the group, Peter Daddeo and his friend Arri opened a store called The 2nd Stroke Mopeds, also in Brooklyn. That shop was around for about 10 years, and is still active, but has relocated to Florida.

JP and NYC Moped

John-Paul (JP) Trang at work in his shop. [Peter Domorak]

This is where JP’s story begins. He started to work at the 2nd Stroke Mopeds as an intern. Going to the shop, learning to be a mechanic, helping in the shop and with the bikes, whatever was needed. That was his life on and off for 7-8 years, spending his free time there. I had to ask – what made him offer his free time, the most precious commodity in NYC, to a bike shop?  "I used to be really into fixies: fixed-gear bicycles. I built a fixed gear bike that I really liked, all custom parts - and it got stolen after a month.”  Have you heard that story in Brooklyn, anyone?  Sadly it's a dark side of the hood, when parking outside or carelessly, meaning without a chain tied around a lamp pole at least. Even that is not 100%.

Some of the crew at NYC MOPEDS: Morgan, Calivn, Matt, and Dave. [Peter Domorak]
"After getting some insurance money from it, I started to look for a motorcycle but couldn’t afford one. But I found a moped for a good price," He laughs. "It kept breaking all the time. It started with little problems, then big problems came after... I took it to the only shop around, The 2nd Stroke Moped Shop” but I couldn’t really afford all the repairs all the time." Eventually he just showed up enough, and bugged them enough, so they would let him hang around and soak in the wrenching knowledge. “I asked them if they could teach me tricks, in exchange for sweeping, cleaning the shop.” Just like that, he blended in and became a regular mechanic.

With the crew working hard at NYC MOPEDS. [Peter Domorak]
In 2019 the shop's owner Pete moved to Maspeth and started to import TOMOS mopeds exclusively. Soon after he decided to move the business to Florida. That moment is when JP’s life path put him in the right place at the right time, if he decided to accept the challenge. When Pete was leaving for Florida, he offered JP the opportunity to take over the business. The offer came at the right time. "Were you ever thinking that this will be your life path? That it ends like this, owning an actual business?" He said he never thought of it  back then. He had freelance jobs in fashion industry, fashion design, graphic design. But he wasn't enjoying it much, as he was always in between jobs or looking for new opportunities. With this offer on the table, he dove in.  He got a good deal to buy out the inventory and started to operate immediately, for the first few months from a temporary location, out of a shared garage.  Then he found the current location, signed a lease and opened in July 2020. Talk about a timing! This is where I applaud JP.

That tiny crankshaft and piston! No wonder riders want a big bore kit. [Peter Domorak]
Imagine starting a business, signing a lease in January of 2020. Covid was already brewing in the news but not in the States yet. Who could have imagined what would happen to the whole world in just couple of months. To commit fully to a new future, then the world throws such a bad dice as we have never seen before. JP didn’t bow down. He claims ‘he was thriving’. People didn’t want to take the subway and were looking for alternatives in transportation. It was good time to fix the moped you had or get your hands on a good deal. JP was dealt another lucky card soon after he opened: he received an offer to purchase 40+ mopeds from Ohio. The owner was moving and his wife made him sell his collection. A moment of silence for that gentlemen, please, we all can imagine how executing such an order must have felt. But this was a win for JP.

A fantastic Puch Magnum X, the apex moped of the young 1970s MX fan. [Peter Domorak]
He rented a 28 foot Uhaul, drove to Ohio and brought the gentleman’s treasured collection back. The guys started to fixing them up over the winter and Spring 2021. He proudly finishes the story with a big smile, “We sold them all in a month”.  Adding "being the only scooter shop in the area, pretty much all the traffic to buy a moped was coming to us’.” Bravo, JP, bravo, good for you. JP decided to live his dream by grabbing the destiny by its handlebars and steering it into success. Put everything on the line and do it. JP’s story reminded me of someone. I had a chance to photograph another amazing place - NYC NORTON - where I met the owner and one of the finest Norton people out there, Kenny Cummings. What a man cave, what machines, what a success story. Kenny’s story, with my photos are on The Vintagent, see them here.

One of the group rides that attracted Peter Domorak to NYC MOPEDS. [Peter Domorak]
Here I felt the same respect for the person in front of me. Very different in the scale of the shops these men worked in and the engine sizes they worked on. But the same passion, same community involvement and support. I respect and admire these men very much for living the dream and showing the rest of us that it’s possible.

The Shop Tour

The front counter of NYC MOPEDS: ripe with opportunity, like the best of old bike shops. [Peter Domorak]

"Let's start the tour then." Yessir. Let’s see the man’s kingdom, where he makes his living, where he makes his name. Iron Maiden from the speakers set the mood in the shop - let’s do this. JP showed me his bench. The first one, right behind the cash register behind the wall, so he can be quick to the phone when needed. First thing that got my attention was a tiny crankshaft on the table. Looking at this, I thought it was a scale model, like what you would buy for a mechanic as a gift, to put on a table in the office. But this thing was real. So was the tiny piston attached.

The heart of the matter: the parts supply and vapor blasting cabinet. [Peter Domorak]
JP was making an upgrade on one of the mopeds; holding a larger-sized piston for the daredevils who look down on the mighty 50cc and need more. He showed me a 72cc kit; "With the right pipe and carb etc, it will go from 1hp to like 5 or 6hp." Below $200 for the parts, I’m floored. So much fun for such a little money! As we walked next to the lifts with their mopeds, I felt the obligation to snap few photos of the team. We continued further to the back, where more parts are stored, plus a vapor blasting booth, with a cleaned-up Honda CB350 engine case for me to see. That thing looks like new. If you need something like this done – now you know where to go.

The tented outbuildings for bike storage. [Peter Domorak]
I turned around thinking this is it and started to move back to the front of the shop when JP stopped me, "there is more’." Yes, please , lead the way! We walked outside to the back of the building, where I see three ‘tent garages’ full of mopeds. Some waiting for repairs, some ready to be sold. With the great light there, I needed to shoot some more.  This was it, front to back, NYC MOPEDS. I was really impressed. It is truly a little moped empire. We walked to the front, I was ready to leave JP to his daily business and taking another opportunity for photos of him holding a moped in the air.  A few people walk into the store. "Do you work on scooters?" "No, we just work on mopeds." To make money is good, but to be focused has its value.  Another gentleman rolls in on a bicycle, interested in buying something. A few days later I saw on the NYC MOPED Instagram feed the very same gentleman smiling next to his new moped in front of the shop. He got his wheels. Ka-ching!

Examples of the variety of mopeds from around the world that make it into the shop. [Peter Domorak]
This was a great visit in a great shop with great people. It’s satisfying to see people still thriving, small business not disappearing but actually opening in the hardest of times. And it’s always a good example to see that hard work and taking risking brings reward. Now you know where to get a vintage (or new) moped and a good service when needed. It's a place with a big community of people who love these small machines Where you feel welcome. Plus - if you are looking for big fun – join one of their group rides. You will never forget the sound of 20-30 moped engines screaming around you and swarming around traffic.  Visit their website for updates.


Peter Domorak is photographer and an ambassador for Royal Enfield. Check his photo portfolio here, and his blog here.


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The Motorcycle Portraits: J Shia

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 J Shia, whose work and motorcycle customization shop Madhouse Motors has been featured everywhere from BikeExif to The New York Times.  Her style is distinctive, a bricolage approach mixing rustic parts between brands or even functions.  She's also an icon of gender queer folks in the motorcycle community and beyond, sharing plain-spoken posts about raising her son with her girlfriend, the bonds they share, her struggles as a business person, and her mixed Lebanese/Syrian heritage.  J Shia is a true individual, and unique in many ways in the contemporary custom motorcycle scene.  David Goldman interviewed her for a Motorcycle Portrait:

J Shia of Madhouse Motors captured by David Goldman

Tell us about yourself:

My name is J Shia. I own Madhouse Motors in Boston Mass where we specialize in antique restoration, custom builds general maintenance and fabrication. We've been in business for 11 years.

How did you first get interested in motorcycles:

It's funny because I don't really have a first experience or first memory with motorcycles because they were always around, I grew up with them being as normalized as having a bicycle or a car, around the house or in the yard. So I was I was a kid, motorcycles were just an item that was scattered about in my family's house, where at one point, my father went on a vintage messed up old motorcycle collecting spree and had around 70 motorcycles scattered throughout the backyard. And so growing up they were always there. It was just a very normal thing for me to be around. 

J Shia's grandmother Mounira Shia from Zahlé, Lebanon, on a 1930s Peugeot. "My grandmother was a quite a tomboy and an outgoing woman for her time. Most of the men in my family were metalworkers or mechanics," [J Shia]

Tell me a story that could not have happened without motorcycles in your life:

I don't know if I have a good story about motorcycles, specifically down to one moment or one story, but motorcycles in general, are what I credit for having met and created a lot of my friendships here at the shop. And so the stories that have kind of revolved around that, in the people I've met have been rooted in motorcycles, motorcycle culture in general. So some of my life memories that I have with my friends are at the core, started and triggered by motorcycles themselves. 

What do motorcycles mean to you:

What motorcycles mean to me is kind of forever changing. They used to mean a mode of transportation than they used to mean, you know, adrenaline rushes and racing and speed, then they turn into a way of paying my bills. And now I'm viewing motorcycles more as a creative outlet for me to express myself and my artistic interest and to use the motorcycle as a platform to create and design and make art playfully while still being around the machines that I'm so familiar with.

For more  Motorcycle Portraits on The Vintagent, click 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.

The Vintagent Selects: Moped to South America

As an homage to Graham Loft, whom we interviewed just weeks ago about his epic journey with Zachary Levenberg on 1973 Puch Maxi mopeds from San Francisco to South America [read our interview and see the photos here].   Graham left us suddenly just a week after our story was published, and in his memory, we're sharing the two short videos he assembled in 2007/8 as previews for a planned feature documentary on their adventures.  The pair filmed and photographed every part of their trip, but the video footage has yet to be edited into a film, something we very much hope will happen.  Godspeed, Graham.


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


Bikes of Burden: the Habal-Habal

Notes from the Philippines from Brian Waddington

Venice is famous for gondolas. The great white north is renowned for dog sleds and snowmobiles. An iconic sight on the American highways for decades was a Greyhound bus. Anyone who has visited Southeast Asia has come away with memories of three distinct home-grown transportation modes that are endemic to the region. One is the Jeepney. It was created post-World War Two when the US military left all sorts of Jeeps in this part of the world. The locals quickly figured out how to make money by turning them into mini buses. Later they would make them larger and larger until today you can carry fifty people in one - if you're all crowded in nicely.

A Jeepney is an ex-military Jeep converted to a minibus. [Wikipedia]
The second vehicle type would be what in the Philippines is called a Trasikel. This is usually built around a Honda 155, with a sidecar added, of any type. Technically these are built to carry five people, but of course, you can put an awful lot more on them if required.

A Trasikel can carry an extraordinary number of passengers! [Mang Bokeh]
The third and simplest people-moving transport of all is the Habal-Habal.  It's still a solo motorcycle, typically starting life as a stock Honda 155.  To carry additional passengers, the chassis is modified with extra shocks at the rear, a wider bigger rear tire, a fabricated seat extension that hangs a meter out past the end of the bike, and a pair of footrails for the passengers, that can also be used for tying on cargo.  It is undeniably true that the most dangerous of all these transports is the Habal-Habal. Not because the drivers are unskilled - it takes real savvy to balance 6 people on a Honda 155 - but simply because two wheels are inherently more dangerous than three wheels or even six wheels on a big Jeepney.

The amazingness that is the Habal-Habal: the rider must be very skilled to carry a live load of this size. [Internet]
For low-income Filipinos, the Habal-Habal is truly a Jack of all Trades. They can carry four 50kilo bags of rice plus a passenger or two. You can load them up with towering bags of coconuts. The young and perhaps foolish drivers of a Habal-Habal have been known to load up eight people: one sitting on the handlebars, one sitting on the gas tank, four sitting behind the rider, and on the sides standing on the footrails foot rail you'll have somebody hanging onto another passenger, or hanging out like they're in a circus act.  I’ve being around motorcycles for about 55 years, and can unequivocally state that as a group the Habal-Habal pilots are the most highly skilled riders I have ever seen. Rain, sun, wind; almost nothing stops them if they want to get somewhere. Many of the roads they travel are merely dirt tracks little wider than one person can walk.  Dirt tracks that quickly turn into gumbo when the rains come.

Improvisation: a Habal-Habal motorcycle carries a heavy load of falcate lumber in Prosperidad, Agusan del Sur. [MindaNews photo by Erwin Mascarinas]
Our house is right beside what is jokingly referred to (and actually named) a provincial highway. Every year pre-pavement the local government would send in a grader and a big machine with a big heavy roller on the front. They would scrape the road down and level it up and make it look  really good. But they invariably did this 'maintenance' during rainy season, laying down 6 inches of new dirt and packing it down. Once the rains hit it created a 6-inch-deep gumbo road.  The Habal-Habal drivers would still ride, though with a reduced load. Only once did I see a Habal-Habal take a dive into the gumbo. And I must tell you that as soon as they hit the mud the driver got up checked his passengers, picked up his bike to make sure it was still working, and then gave the passengers their money back. Possibly out of shame.

An Interview With Gogor, a Habal-Habal Driver

Gogor has made a living for his family driving a Habal-Habal for many years, and graciously shared his story with The Vintagent. [Brian Waddington]

Brian Waddington (BW): When did you start driving as habal-habal driver and the factors behind it?

Gogor: 1988. before that I was driving for an operator whose truck is used mainly to carry logs. However, the owner/operator of the truck sometimes did business with loggers who do not have government license.  At one point, we were caught by government watchdogs ferrying illegal logging materials.  As I was only the driver (the enforcers were after the operator) the enforcers advised me to stop doing this kind of work and look for something that will not land me in jail.  This led me to become a habal-habal driver.

BW: What was your average income?  Was it enough to meet the needs of your family?

Gogor: The first habal-habal motorcycle I drove was owned by somebody else.  I merely rented the unit for 80Php a day [about $.75].  My average income from this was between 300-400 pesos [$2.50-$3].  During that time, my take home income is just good enough to buy us food and to set aside a bit of money for emergency.  It was good that my wife is a good partner and she also did a lot of things to earn us some money, such as raise some pigs, grow crops, and make roofing materials out of coconut leaves to sell.  Our combined savings allowed us to pay the down payment of a second-hand motorcycle.  I use this until now to earn a living.

Gogor's Habal-Habal in typical rainy season weather: like the mail, he drives on regardless. [Brian Waddington]
BW: How many people and cargoes you can carry at one time?

Gogor: The most number of passengers I carried was five but I usually cap it to three.  When it comes to cargoes, the  most number is five sacks of rice or feeds but I am more comfortable with three.

BW: How long did it take you to develop the skill needed to carry a full load?

Gogor: About a year.

Gogor's Habal-Habal, with doubled-up rear shocks, a seat extension, and ropes for carrying cargo. [Brian Waddington]
BW: Was there ever a time/s that you fell over?  What were the consequences?

Gogor: Yes. I can count five times: one involving a dog that suddenly crossed the road; another time as I was passing through a basketball court, an itinerant  ball rolled under my wheels; then there was that incident where a child  run towards the middle of the road; another time, another motorcycle collided with mine;  and the last one involved a failure of securing the 5 sacks of pig food I was carrying.  A part of the plastic rope I used was already too thin and it broke while I was on the road.

Damages to passengers were mostly limited to scratches and bruises.  I make sure that they are checked by a doctor, provide for the medicines they need, and provide at least a week of food support if the passenger cannot work because of the accident.

BW: Would you want your children and grandchildren to be habal-habal drivers like you?

Gogor: No.

History of the Habal-Habal

An excellent shot of the types of modifications required to turn a Honda TMX 155 into a Habal-Habal: a fabricated seat extension, a pair of footboards, and an extended/strengthened swingarm, in this case with four shock absorbers. [Internet]

The word 'habal' is from the Cebuano language, and means 'mating', as in animal copulation.  Doubling up the word to Habal-Habal means 'looks like mating', which of course refers to the number of people piled onto the hapless small motorcycle.  While the principal native language of the Philippines is Tagalog, before 1980 the Cebuano language was dominant in rural areas.  Today another term is also used for these motorcycle taxis: Iskaylab.  Some think the term refers to the Skylab space station, with is dual solar-panel wings, and some think it a derivation of the phrase 'sakay na, lab', which means 'get on, love!'

In common with other Asian countries, small motorcycles are truly 'bikes of burden'. [Jun Villegas]
The Habal-Habal may have seen its heyday pass, as rural roads are increasingly paved and plied by four-wheeled vehicles, which find the very slow, overburdend Honda TMX 155s to be an obstruction to smooth traffic flow.  They are also quite dangerous, as nobody wears protection for casual transport, and mud and rainy conditions make for slick surfaces.  Spills and accidents are not uncommon, but such is the lot of the poor: any transportation, no matter how dangerous, is a major improvement over walking long distances.   And of course, for the Habal-Habal drivers, this is their income.  There have been moves to regulate Habal-Habal service, and require licenses, but in practice this is simply graft for local police and politicians, taking a cut of the driver's earnings.

Personalized Habal-Habals are also common, and this machine also shows unique ways of preparing a small motorcycle for multiple passengers. [Internet]
Riders like Gogor still ply their trade, though, and the Habal-Habal and its cousins in other Asian countries [see our article Minutera Vietnam on 'mountain bikes'] are very useful for transporting material in the most economical manner possible.


Brian Waddington describes himself as "a storyteller who uses images more than words. Old school biker, pastor, lighthouse keeper, photographer." He lives in Dumaguete, Philippines.  Check out his blog here.


Ton-Up TV: Now Streaming for Custom Fans

Cafe Racer TV ran on Discovery Velocity network from 2010 to 2015. Fans of the show decried its loss, but the show's creator and host Mike Seate has hinted for years that something new will replace it.  Discussions progressed with the Xcelerate platform, but  Seate had other ideas. “After waiting months for the powers-that-be to begin production, we decided that the TV landscape has changed quite a bit since CRTV first aired. We realized that with our contacts, knowledge of the custom bike scene and a dedicated staff, we could produce our own series with none of the corporate nonsense associated with mainstream broadcast media."

The Cafe Racer magazine crew adding lightness to a vintage twin-Cylinder Honda, with their film crew. [Cafe Racer magazine]
The Cafe Racer magazine crew began work over the past Winter, pulling on connections with some of the country’s top custom motorcycle builders. Of course, anyone who'd been featured on the original CRTV were all for it, especially when assured that the 'cheesy concepts and unnecessary fluff' that bogged down the series would be eliminated.  Instead, the concept for the new show, dubbed Ton-Up TV, is to feature 'the intricacies of designing, building and riding handmade motorcycles.'

Seate explains, “We’ve enjoyed an unprecedented level of industry support with major manufacturers Harley-Davidson, MV Agusta and Ducati sending us new, 2022 streetbikes to customize however we want. That’s an impressive roster and quite a challenge customizing these modern, high-tech motorcycles for the first time, but with the level of talent and mechanical expertise we’ve assembled, it should prove a real blast.”  His Pittsburg team will be modifying these bikes, and filming the process, plus documenting the work of other customizers, and filming the process of overhauling a few classics, including a 1977 Honda CB750, Norton Atlas/Commando special, and other bikes seen in Cafe Racer magazine.

Da Boss! Mike Seate has deep roots in the cafe racer scene, and is a pro on TV: we wish his new venture the best of luck! [Cafe Racer magazine]
Where can you see it?  On their new website,, which will be interactive with the audience.  The schedule for Season 1: Moto Guzzi's Centernary at their new museum on Lake Comom, Chicago’s Motoblot street festival, and the inaugural Valhalla Custom Motorcycle Builder’s Showcase.   As Mike Seate explains, “It doesn’t matter if you’re an old school British bike rider or a new school customizer who favors water-cooled, fuel-injected streetfighters - Ton-Up TV will cover all of it and then some."


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


Art and the Motorcycle (3): Linocuts for the Future!

Linoleum was a ubiquitous floor covering for nearly a century between the 1880s and 1960s.  It’s invention was one of those happy industrial accidents of the mid-1800s that produced world-changing products, like vulcanized rubber. Frederick Walton noted a flexible skin of dried linseed oil in an old paint can, and thought it might be an interesting substitute for rubber.  After many experiments and a couple of patents, the killer app for Linoleum, as he coined it, was a durable flooring material consisting of linseed oil with cork or wood dust, with a burlap or canvas backing.  Linoleum is flexible, and hey, it’s organic and non-toxic, which has led to a resurgence of interest in Linoleum as an alternative to what superseded it: petroleum-based vinyl flooring.  Manufacturing began in the 1860s in England, and soon spread to the US and Europe by the 1870s. In the ‘Teens, a few artists in England and Germany began exploring linoleum as a printmaking medium that was easier to carve than wood.  Rather than woodcuts, the linocut was born, although as the material was modern and easy to work, it was considered a ‘cheap’ medium initially, and many artists (like Wassily Kandinsky) simply labeled them as woodcuts.  British artists in the ‘Teens took to linocuts with a vigor, elevating the medium with their complex multi-layered prints, often using layers of paper to create further depth and illusory effects.

'Vortex' (1929), a linocut by Cyril E. Power that literally depicts the energy of Vorticism. [Metropolitan Museum of Art]
The British artists most successful in pushing the linocut forward as a medium were the Vorticists, and later the faculty and students at the Grosvener School of Modern Art in London.  The Vorticists were created in response to the Italian Futurists, whose Manifesto in 1909 shook up the art world, and basically invented Modernism as we know it.  Everything you think of as Modern Art was initiated, formalized, and declared as ‘modern’ by the Futurists: abstract painting and sculpture, sound sculpture, sonic poetry, cut-up filmmaking, free-form graphic art with wild fonts for impact, abstract costumes for theater, and performance art.  Probably more!  It was the first art movement to declare itself with a manifesto that was published across Europe, and celebrated vehicles, technology, motion, and violence.  Yes, the Futurists were complex, and turned off a lot of artists, especially when the founders aligned themselves with Benito Mussolini, and helped write the Fascist Manifesto.  There was an English branch of the Futurists founded before WW1, but many artists who dug the style but hated its politics went their own direction, and founded the Vorticists in 1914, mere months before the start of WW1.   Vorticism was to be a British style of Modernism, and their manifesto was published in their own magazine, BLAST No.1 (June 1914), which declared independence from Victorian art and culture, as well as Futurism, Cubism, and Dada.  The Vorticists were led by painter Wyndham Lewis and included Edward Wadsworth, Jacob Epstein, and David Bomberg, among others. The Vorticists brought Modernism to the UK, but they didn’t last long after the traumas of modern warfare in WW1.   The group disbanded by 1917, but by 1925, the founding of the Grosvenor School of Modern Art in London took up cause of Modernism, and is best known today for the linocuts of its faculty and students.  Linocut artist Claude Flight ran school from 1925-30; he and students Sybil Andrews and Cyril Power are legends of the medium today, whose work sells in the hundreds of thousands today.

'Brooklands' (1929) by Claude Flight, founding artist at the Grosvener School of Modern Art in London. [Museum of Fine Arts, Boston]
Claude Flight was all in on the concept of modern art embracing modern activities, which extended not only through industrial and sports imagery, but included vehicle racing as well, much like their Italian artistic forbears.  I’ve often said that Futurism was the only modern art movement that embraced motorcycles, but I’ll have to amend that statement to include what is now known as the Grosvenor school, after the actual college of art that became intrinsically associated with 1920s/30s modernism in the UK.

'Dirt Track Racing' (1929) by Claude Flight.

Claude Flight made the earliest Modernist motorsports linocuts in 1929, and one can feel his inspiration taken from the energy of high-speed racing at Brooklands, and the spectacular broadsliding, rooster-tail racing of dirt track, as it was known in the day.  The compressed perspective of ‘Brooklands’ (1929) with its three hulking white cars, is reminiscent of Hokusai’s ‘wave’ woodcuts from the 1830s, as the banking and clouds threaten to crash over the cars speeding below.  His ‘Dirt Track’ (1929) is more purely abstracted, and almost Art Deco in its repeated colors and circular/checkerboard motifs, although the rooster tail flung skyward and the rider’s arm/leg relationship are the last tethers to reality to what has become a nearly pure geometric abstraction.   Both are 5-color linocuts, meaning Flight coordinated individual colorways on five different squares of linoleum carved to place those colors in specific areas. Flight was tricky with his inking, printing, and paper, often printing on very sheer Japanese paper, which was then pressed onto a thicker paper of another color or visible texture that added a subtle textural depth to his work.  When depicting vehicles (as with ‘Brooklands’), he used paper with metallic flecks beneath his Japanese paper, which translates in the aggregated image as metal bodywork.  This appears as an interesting blotchiness in reproduction here, but is beguiling in person.

'Speedway' (1934) by Sybil Andrews.

Flight’s student Sybil Andrews made one of the most iconic and recognizable motorcycle images in all British Modernism, barring purely graphic work by the likes of American expat Edward McKnight Kauffer.  Her ‘Speedway’ of 1934 (the sport had changed its name by then from ‘dirt track’) is a 4-color linocut of three riders in tight formation, with the curved trackside fence and blotches of color suggesting a crowd flashing by.   ‘Speedway’ is perhaps the most Modernist motorcycle image of all, as while it abstracts the riders and their machines into a repeated motif, they are still instantly recognizable, bearing directly at the viewer in a menacing trio totally intent on their purpose. I’m not the only one who thinks so, as rare examples of this linocut sell for a year’s wages – on a very good year.

One of five linocut blocks coordinated to create the multi-color 'Speedway' print: most of the colors are layered atop one another in Andrews' work. The depth of the cuts can be seen clearly [Glenbow Museum, Calgary)


  • British Prints from the Machine Age. Clifford Ackley ed. Thames and Hudson, 2008
  • Avant-Garde British Printmaking, 1914-1960. Frances Carey, Antony Griffiths, Steven Coppel. British Museum Publications, 1990
  • Sybil Andrews: Color Linocuts. Glenbow Museum, 1982

For more:




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

The Motorcycle Portraits: Michael LaFountain

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.

Mopeds to South America

Trolling around San Francisco in 2005, I spotted a pair of young men tinkering with vintage mopeds on a sidewalk, in front of a garage stuffed with a lot more mopeds.  Clearly, the moped trend I'd been reading about had arrived, so I stopped to investigate.  Graham Loft talked about starting the first moped gang in SF, the Creatures of the Loin, and invited me along on one of their rides, with my vintage bikes.  A few weeks later, we crossed the Golden Gate Bridge to the Marin Headlands, a pack of furry kids on mopeds and me aboard my 1928 Sunbeam TT 90.   Unlikely bedfellows, but a fun afternoon, which we repeated once more.

Zach Levenberg and Graham Loft at Alice's Restaurant on Jan. 6, 2007, as the start of their trip. [Paul d'Orleans]
Later that year, Graham announced he was planning to ride his Puch Maxi to South America!  I admired the audacity of youth, and rode my Sunbeam to meet him and his co-adventurer, Zach Levenberg, at Alice's Restaurant on a chilly January morning in 2007.  The pair kept a blog about their trip, which has vanished into the ether, and I lost contact with Graham until this year, when we reconnected via The Vintagent's Instagram feed, and I asked him if he'd share the remarkable story.  He published a book after the trip (available here), but there's little but photos to tell the story of this crazy journey.  Here's the preface of 'Moped to South America' (2007, Colorwheel Press):

The cover of their book Moped to South America: Zach and Graham in Colombia after a difficult stretch. [Graham Loft]
"Moped to South America?

This is the story of neither fame nor fortune.  It isn't a tale of heroes, although we did meet a few along the way.  This is a story of two young men who set out on a quest to accomplish something no one thought possible - a moped trip to South America.

The Idea of the trip began more of a joke than anything else.  'Hey, we've ridden our mopeds to Los Angeles and Seattle before (500 and 900 mile trips, respectively); why don't we ride to Mexico"  "Well, if we're in Mexico, why don't we just ride to South America?"  And so the journey was born...ten willing participants, cut down to two brave souls when it came time to hit the road.  Zach Levenberg and Graham Loft - to the southern trip of South America.

Moped trips aren't an easy feat, to say the least.  This was one of the most difficult things I have ever done, and cycling across the Himalayas is no easy thing either.  This being Zach's first trip, I can't imagine what was going through his head - mine felt like it was about to explode on a number of occasions.

Five months rolled by like an eternity of mopeding.  At an average speed of 30mph - peaking out at 40 - your body becomes tired and frail.  Your mind becomes your home and riding becomes your life.  Surviving just happens, and the path traveled begins to feel like a dream.  The destination is always great, but for Zach and I, what we found along the way is what will always be with us."

A pair of Puch Maxis on Jurado island, Colombia, when the travelers were stranded for weeks. [Graham Loft]
Bike Specs:

-Two vintage pedal-start 1979 Puch Maxis

- Single speed, two-stroke engines

- 50cc and 65cc cylinders

- Biturbo performance exhaust

- Five star mag rims

- Way too many spare parts and luggage

- And some serious pedals for those hills."

Camping in Arizona on the first leg of their trip. [Graham Loft]

An Interview with Graham Loft:

Paul d'Orleans (PDO):  It's so cool to to be back in touch after 15 years, and be reminded of this incredible adventure. Your book is beautiful, really.

Graham Loft (GL):  We only printed five hundred copies of that book, they sold out pretty quick. That was 2007 and one of my friends published the book; he was running a small publishing company in the time. He recently sent three boxes of 'bad' copies that weren't colored quite right. So that's what you got.  I'm glad those re-emerged, I thought I would never see that book again.  All that stuff was shot on real film and and video. A lot of it is cross-processed slide film and to make color negatives. So, it's before Instagram filters, you made your own filter in the film age.

PDO: So I assume all the square format was your twin lens reflex camera?  Film is so beautiful, even if the color is strange.  So, I did not see you after your journey; you guys started off from Alice's and we didn't talk for 15 years.

GL:  Did you see my blog? We did a live, updated Blog, the whole time we did that journey.

PDO:  I did see that. Is that site still up?

GL:  I tried to find it, but I think it's gone.  At one point when we had like a hundred copies of the book left, I printed the blog as a Zine and attached it with all the books sales.  I don't know what happened to that; it's been a long time.  I do still have all the original hard drives but they're clicking really bad, so I only turn them on when I need to.  I just I recently backed them up after you asked me for images.

Cousins across the border: a converted moped cart in Hermilloso, Mexico. [Graham Loft]
PDO:  I learned a lot reading your book, and you mentioned two previous trips (to LA and Seattle) that gave you the confidence to undertake the longer journey. How did you prepare? What did you carry with you? I mean, you were on the same kind of moped so you could share parts.

GL:  We rode the exact same bikes. Same wheels, same engines, everything was the same. So we could just carry a lot of parts. Our front panniers were just full of parts, just everything; full bottom end rebuild, cranks, clutches clutch springs, anything you might need.  Our back bags had our tent and sleeping stuff and clothes, but we'd really brought very little clothes.  I still try to replicate how little stuff I brought on that trip when I do dirt bike trips nowadays, and I can't do it, I just I overpack. I don't know how I brought one pair of pants on that 6 month journey. It was crazy but we just figured like six months of traveling, we're going to have to  buy stuff when we need, right?

PDO: Or you can do like my buddy Sean, who rode his '36 Knucklehead chopper across the country in three weeks, and never changed his clothes.

GL: On my motorcycle trips now I end up wearing the same thing, unless it gets wet or something.  Anyway, on the back panniers we had these fold-out wire bicycle baskets. You can fold them in and we'll go flat to the bike or you pull them out for your groceries or something. We thought those were great because when we were going to have to get on boats, we could kind of collapse the bikes and make them smaller.  We carried a two and half gallon gas can and in the other one seven or eight bottles of Motul 2-stroke oil.  That's what we ran. We had all our 2-stroke oil for the trip with us, as you can't buy good oil on the road. With the baskets and panniers we had a pretty wide wide load.  For a moped.

Zach's bike packed to the gills, with panniers on the front and rear of the Puchs, and on the back rack. [Graham Loft]
PDO: Yeah, I'm sure that's still half the width of a Harley-Davidson touring rig!

GL: Yeah! We did have one shipment of parts along the way, I can't remember if it was Guatemala or Panama? My Dad sent a big package of stuff, because by the time we got out of the US we had already blasted through our parts. Zach had already rebuilt his motor a few times, and we went right through stuff like piston rings. Our first stop before we dropped into Mexico was Arizona. There was another moped gang there, so we stopped as our last little spot to see if we need anything else. The whole way from SF to Arizona, my motor was rattling. It's making this nasty sound which I didn't like, so I rebuilt my motor. And then I didn't touch it the whole rest of the trip. It was kind of crazy.  I like to do things right the first time, so I just rebuilt my motor even though it was still running, and that crankshaft lasted. Zach, on the other hand, had a lot of problems with his motor. I felt really bad.

Snake Lips

PDO:  Well, that's how you hope things are going to go, right?   Were you ever really stuck anywhere? Did your bikes ever leave you kind of in the middle of nowhere?

GL:  We got screwed pretty bad crossing from Panama to Colombia. [Note: the notorious Darién Gap]. We met a guy who we later called Snake Lips, who had this younger guy with him to trick people into getting into his boat.  He said, 'yeah I can give you a ride to Colombia for this amount of money.'  He dropped us onto a strange little Island right off the coast of the Darien Gap, just dropped us there. And we asked, okay is this Columbia? This is an island!  He said, yeah it's an island in Colombia. He said there should be other boats coming through that can take us to the mainland.  We got stuck there for three weeks, it was a little military Island and there was one store on it that sold Coca-Cola, potatoes and eggs. We didn't have any real money on us, a little bit but not quite enough. Snake Lips had a little house he said we could stay in as he wasn't going to be there, but it was totally infested with bats! They were just flying all over the place!  So after three weeks, maybe a little longer, the first boat that we'd seen came through. It was a big cargo boat carrying fuel and supplies, and didn't take passengers because it's carrying fuel and all kinds of combustibles.

A boy with a bat on Jurado island in Colombia. [Graham Loft]
I didn't speak Spanish but Zach did: he was only eighteen, and just graduated high school. So he kind of weaseled us onto that boat by talking the captain into it, after the captain found out what happened to us. If you look in the book, there's a section about Jurado, that's the island we were stuck on.  But that boat was torture, we were on that tanker a good week and half and it would just stop in every little town, picking up logs and stuff. We were like, oh my god, now we're stuck on a boat!  But the crew was being cool, they were feeding us. I don't know if the fish they were catching was inedible, but they were literally feeding us bowls of rice with fish-heads.  Were they messing with us? I don't know.  At one stop, the police came on on board and found us, and kicked us off the boat, and fined the captain for having us on there. And then the captain wouldn't give us our bikes. He's like, 'I'm keeping these until you pay me my money. I'll meet you in Cali. Colombia.'  So we had all our gear, these four bike panniers, and we're stuck on another Island. Luckily, that island had a small airport with little two-seater planes.  So we went every single day to the airport, until we convinced a pilot to let us on an airplane.  He walked us to an ATM when we got to the mainland, to give him money. It was just a huge ordeal, it ended up being four plus weeks of just getting from Panama to Colombia.

But we did save a little bit of money.

Once we got on that plane, they took us to Medellin, which is in northern Colombia.  From there, we had to take a bus all the way down to Cali, which was a whole 'nother three-day journey, and when we actually got to Cali  we had to find the right boat.  That meant visually locating the boat that we were trying to find, then find the crew of that boat and get our bikes back.  That was a fucking journey in itself, that would turn some people off of travel entirely. But at that point what are you going to do, turn around?

Zach with a sloth on Jurado island. [Graham Loft]
PDO: Did you have any issues with the FARC in Colombia?

GL: Ah, the rebels. A lot of people on our way down to South America warned us not to go to Columbia. We would get robbed or killed and all that stuff. But Columbia was the most beautiful part of the trip.  We didn't feel like we were ever in trouble. We certainly weren't going to try to ride the Darién Gap. I think I think you can ride it now, right?

PDO:  People say they've ridden across it, but that's a misnomer because half the time you're just dragging a bike with a winch up a muddy slope. I mean, you cannot actually ride the Darien Gap. It's not possible. You can take a motorcycle through it - and people have -  but it involves more canoeing and winching than being vertical on a two-wheeler. I actually know a lot of guys from Panama in the Velocette Owners Club, there's like ten guys who either grew up in or did military time in Panama who still have British bikes because that's they rode there in the Sixties.  They tell incredible stories of riding bikes to the USA, but Darién Gap has always been impossible.

On the 10-day cargo boat journey from Jurado to the mainland of Columbia. [Graham French]
GL:  Yeah, I think we determined in the end like it would have been better for us to ride to the Caribbean, and leave from that side, take a boat North to Medellin -  which we ended up in anyway. Most motorcyclists used that route, but we didn't want to ride all those extra miles. We were trying to stay on the coast and not ride too high in the mountains because our bikes just wouldn't with all that gear on them.

PDO: Some of your videos look like you're jamming right along.

GL: If it was flat or downhill, yes. Guatemala was the worst because even the coastal route takes you up in the mountains, and we'd have to hold onto trucks, like skaters. I mean we're like Full Throttle and pedaling the bike. I'm pretty sure my knee problems these days came from pedaling in weird ways.  Dirt bikers would grab our hands and drag us up these big mountains, or we'd grab onto trucks that were going super slow as long as we could hold on.  Ideally, we just used our pedals like a kick-start; you just start with the pedals and then we’re good to go. Yeah, but not in South America, you're in high elevation some points. So, we definitely used the pedals.

PDO: Did anybody give you a hard time? Like for riding a moped on these highways or was that not the issue at all?

GL: No not at all. The only issue we'd run into was at border crossings. Mopeds don't have much paperwork in the US. You basically register them once in their lifetime and they're good, right?  At every border crossing they wanted all this paperwork from us and we wouldn't have it.  We actually had our original registration card but they don't they just don't look like anything normal - it's like a bicycle registration card. It doesn't look legit. To get through the border could be a huge hassle. Luckily Zachary spoke Spanish.

PDO: I'm sure he became fluent by the end of the journey.

GL: It would be cool to talk to him as we probably have very different viewpoints of the trip.  He was in a world of hell working on his bike and rebuilding it constantly, and doing all the translating. Whereas I was just photographing everything and riding, usually I was a mile ahead and he would break down; he just broke down so frequently. I didn't always stop with him; he’d fix his bike and be gone for like an hour and I’d blast ahead to find something cool, and be taking photos on the side of the road and he'd be so in the zone he'd pass right by. I remember a few times at these cool monuments off the side of the road, like, in Peru or something, right? Like kind of wave him down like, hey, I'm over here!  He was just fried. I’d have to go chase him, but it's not like on a motorcycle where you could raise your speed, we can't, so if he's just going his constant 30 miles an hour and he's an hour ahead, I'm still going to be an hour behind.

Zach repairing his Puch, again. Somewhere in Chile. [Graham Loft]
PDO: Did you guys ever lose each other?

GL:  I'm not sure we ever spent a night apart. We were always right there with each other. We figured it out.

PDO: It must have been interesting at times, although you were pretty conspicuous.

GL: Yeah, we were definitely a spectacle, anywhere we went. People were like, what the heck?  Our hands were always just black, full of grease, and our long hair and whatnot.  Do you remember those really baggy pants called Genkos?  At one point Zach's pants turned into Genkos, they ripped and kind of bell-bottomed on both legs and he just rode like that, it was hilarious. We just looked like Goofy and Goofy.

PDO: Somebody told me that you actually didn't ride all the way to Ushuia, but it looks like from the book that you did make it?

Mano del Desierto monument on the Panamerica Highway in the Atacama Desert of Chile. [Graham Loft]
GL:  Yeah, this is an interesting story.  When we got to Argentina, I had some relationship problems come up back home, that kind of made me lose my mind, you know? I was in my twenties! I actually packed up all my shit up flew back home with my bike. Zach continued on the trip, but when he got to Ushuaia, he got robbed and they stole everything.  Luckily when I left, I took all our footage with me, my cameras and everything, but Zach took the video camera and filmed that last part of the trip.  But they stole the camera, and all his footage - they stole everything. So, early the next year, we actually packed our bikes up and flew back down to where we left off in Argentina, and finished the trip together.  That was pretty important after being on the road for six months together. You know, I was super bummed after he finished it by himself, but we made the joint decision when I left; he was going to finish the video and stuff but after he got after he got robbed it was kind of just like, wow we got to go back.

PDO:  How cool is that?   Did you fly home with your bikes or what happened to them?

GL:  I don't know if you get away with these days but we took a bike box from la mountain bike shop and broke our bikes down. Like 100% - and just called them mountain bikes. We took the engines off and drained everything, wiped it as clean as we could and wrapped them in a million pounds of Saran Wrap to really seal it in.  We brought all that stuff on the plane with like packed bags.

Zach charging uphill in Peru, with the sea in the distance. [Graham Loft]
PDO:  Crazy, I've done that too! I bought a 1902 Clément in Paris, and got quotes of thousands of dollars to get it home, and thought, screw that, this is a Bicycle. I put the the chassis in a bicycle box and bought a hard suitcase for the engine. It cost $75 in excess baggage fees for the bicycle box.

So, what about the movie?

GL: When we got back, the big Moped Army scene was happening, and we would go to these moped rallies, in all these different states. I got a rough cut of a video done and we premiered it at the Kalamazoo moped rally in Kalamazoo Michigan. And it was a godawful cut. I mean, I don't think my wife's been able to get through it.  There's so much the film could be, but I was really into film photography and then I just got busy and it just kept getting pushed off and I never got around to it. So, right now, there's still a two-hour cut, it's not done, I forget where it goes - it might just end at Chile or Argentina.

PDO:  You really need to finish it!   Are you still friends with Zach?

GL:  Totally. Yeah. I think the only way that we are still friends is because he was so young and he put up with my shit.

PDO: Yeah, exactly. And to travel that long with someone is crazy, especially in arduous circumstances.

A glacier in the Andes. [Graham Loft]
GL: Yeah, we also we slept in one tent together. Two wheels, slept in the same tent every night.

PDO: Oh my god.

GL: I would never do that now, but at that time, we just didn't have space in our bikes, so we had to downsize.

PDO:  Have you been back to South America since?

GL: No, just Mexico

PDO:  Last question: how did the trip change you?

GL: Well, actually, since I was 18 I've been traveling on bicycles. I rode with my friend Benji across China and Tibet and Nepal. I spent time overseas for a year at a time, I've always been into traveling. So this was just kind of another trip, something exciting and fun and adventurous to do, you know?  We both definitely learned a lot about ourselves on the moped trip, how much you can take.  I'd done a couple of trips but it was Zack's first big trip in his life.  It was my third big trip; I'd been in the shit a few times, you know, with a few notches on my belt.

PDO: Especially if you're traveling in a foreign country, and not one especially friendly to Americans.

GL: Yeah, not everybody likes Americans.  I've been arrested in China, and spent time in a hotel with guards outside my door. They didn't put me in a jail, but put us in a hotel with guards outside.

Still friends after all these years.  The boys at the start of their journey, in Southern California. [Graham Loft]

For more remarkable stories of long-distance overland travel, check our ADV:Overland hashtag, and our exhibit at the Petersen Museum in Los Angeles.



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


5 Ways eBikes Will Change the Custom Scene

“Hackers are the new Hot-Rodders” - Dave Mucci

‘The Hack’ opinion column is written by our newest contributor to The Current, Harry Fryer.  He’s the founder/CEO of Blaise Electric, and an employee/investor in the Bike Sheds Motor Co. in London

We are in a turning point in history to invent a new culture.

1. Accessibility

The Super73 is an accessible platform for customizing, being inexpensive and simple. The E-Hooligan by Roland Sands Design is an example of the experimentation and fun possible with smaller eBikes. This machine was featured in our Electric Revolution exhibit at the Petersen Museum. [RSD]
EVs are more accessible than petrol vehicles and more fun to build from a custom perspective. They’re clean and they force builders to move away from the cut-and weld-style builds to a more advanced approach to custom design and development. However due to the clean aesthetics there’s also less room for hiding mistakes and errors. To some extent customising an electric motorbike versus a combustion one will probably accelerate the interest. Dynamics and customisation from a functionality perspective will become easier and promote the idea of individual add-ons.

2. Greater Interest To New Builders

Traditional custom builders like DeBolex engineering have adapted to eBikes, as with this stunning 'TW Steel / Oil in the Blood' converted Energica Ego sports machine for our Electric Revolution exhibit at the Petersen Museum. [DeBolex]
We will see interest in custom work grow as new riders are brought into motorcycling through electric, especially with younger generations who are used to on-demand products and deeply personalised experiences. Manufactures will have to make the most of the opportunities this new technology brings and custom designers will be ready to meet the need for an electric motorcycle that lives up to the modern consumer’s expectations.

3. Manufactures and custom designers will work together

Hugo Eccles and his Zero XP, an example of a collaboration between a brand (Zero) and designer, currently on view in our Electric Revolutionaries exhibit at the Petersen Museum. [Aaron Brimhall]
This new age will bring an exciting opportunity for manufactures and custom designers to work together to evolve the industry. Established motorcycle manufactures are being challenged by disruptive start-ups. These necessary brands restrained by legacy and established design language, are struggling to escape their own conventional character and respond to the challenge of electric. Custom designers think and work outside of these constraints and don’t have an extended product line to think about, which puts them in the perfect position to challenge what’s always been done and push the vision further.

4. Mechanics will become Electricians

'Hackers are the new hotrodders' - Dave Mucci.

The administration of power is done digitally, so those who know code will have immense tuning flexibility compared to gas engines. It will be really interesting seeing the state of the custom scene down the road, when todays technology can be picked up at the salvage yard for a few pounds, and everyone has their own mini- manufacturing plant at home in the form of rapid prototyping machines. Tuning engines and big bore kits will now be micro chips wired in to motors that de-restrict power. There will of course be upgrades in the form of bigger motors and more powerful batteries but tinkering will be done digitally and altering code. This can all be done without altering the shape, size and aesthetics of the bike which will make it harder to differentiate custom from factory.

5. Classic Biker Culture Will Have To Adapt

Traditional motorcycle shows like at the Bike Sheds (here), the Quail, The Handbuilt Show, and the One Show are already including eBikes in their lineups. [The Bike Sheds]

The custom motorcycle culture is so deeply routed in sound, smell and touch. These senses with the experience of riding at speed create the adrenaline fuelled excitement associated with a custom motorcycle. The vibration of an engine, sound of an exhaust and smell of fuel that brings years of nostalgia will be non-existent in electric motorcycles. So we are living in a new era of transformative emotion whereby we are the generation to create and establish this new feeling and nostalgia our great grand kids will feel. Knowing what we know and how we grew up with petrol motorcycles can give us a relative foundation to apply to electric motorcycles.


The Ösa:work is a new category machine built by CAKE: a utility machine of a different stripe. [CAKE]
One thing to add, motorcycles are categorised by the shape, size and power of the engines which determine what style and purpose they are made for. For instance a Harley Davidson Fat Boy has a heavy, low end power engine for cruising, and a Yamaha YZ250 has a small, light single cylinder engine with quick acceleration for steep climbs and off-road terrain. With electric motors not constrained to these factors, will we develop more all around, all purpose machines creating a whole new category?


Harry Fryer is CEO of Blaise, selling custom parts for E-Bikes. He's an early employee/ investor of the Bike Shed Moto Co in London, and his latest custom build was featured in Built Mag and Bike Exif. His column 'The Hack' explores trends in two-wheeled EVolution.

Max Hazan and the HMW Vincent

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 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.

One Hundred Years Of Racing: Isle of Man TT

The illustrious Isle of Man TT races owe their beginnings to a stodgy and horse-minded English government. Public road competitions were banned in England by an act of Parliament, and its roads were saddled with a 20mph speed limit. The Auto-Cycle Club (later the ACU), believing that ‘racing improves the breed’, wanted a rigorous test of standard, as-manufactured machines. The Isle of Man, while a part of Great Britain, was not subject to England’s traffic laws, and local politicos saw the value in hosting such a contest of riders and machinery, with perhaps equal concern for Tourist Trophies and money. The wisdom of their decision has been borne out over the last 100 years, as the TT races became the gold standard of motorcycle road racing the world over, and thousand of visitors from all points arrive for a motorcycling holiday every June. True, other countries have held significant and important road races (the Ulster GP, the Nurburgring, etc), but the IoM TT rose to the very pinnacle of all races for the notorious difficulty of the course, with its 37 1/2 miles of narrow roads, stone walls, steep and often fog-shrouded mountain climb, and quaint villages.

Rem Fowler with the winner of the first Isle of Man TT in 1907 (multi-cylinder class) with his Peugeot-engine Norton. [The Vintagent Archive]

The first TT races were held on May 28th 1907, over a 15 3/4-mile course, which did not include the mountain road over Snaefell, as the motorcycles were all single-speed, clutchless, virtually brakeless, and incapable of such a climb, or descent! Two classes, for single- and multi-cylinder machines, had to abide by 90mpg fuel economy (for singles; 75mpg for multis). Famously, Harry Collier, an organizer of the race, on the Matchless single of his own make, and Rem Fowler on a Peugeot-engined Norton, won their respective classes in just over 4 hours time, at average speeds of approximately 42 mph. They each received a 3-foot tall sculptural trophy of Mercury atop a winged wheel, donated by the Marquis de Mouzilly St. Mars, replicas of which have been handed over to brave TT winners for 100 years. The early races were run over gravel farm tracks at speeds touching 70mph, when punctures, crashes, flaming machines, and livestock encounters were common. Boy Scouts with flags marshaled the course, waving frantically to warn of upcoming dangers. The need for improved machines (and roads) was dramatically emphasized by the death in practice for the 1911 TT of Victor Surridge on a Rudge, outside the Glen Helen Hotel. Thus was born a chorus of objections to the races by the safety brigade, as the treacherous nature of the road course claimed a mounting share of victims.

Charles B. Franklin, the Dublin importer for Indians who raced his machinery, here as part of the Indian factory-backed team that took 1-2-3 at the Senior TT in 1911 [Read our story here]. Franklin would later move to Springfield, and designed the Indian Scout. [The Vintagent Archive]

In 1911, the race moved to the current 37 ½ mile ‘Mountain’ course, to create a greater challenge to the motorcycles, which were becoming faster and more reliable, but still needed development in braking, gearing, and handling. In that year Indian ‘motocycles’ had all these things, using all-chain drive with a clutch and two-speed gearbox, and an effective drum brake on the rear wheel instead of the usual bicycle-type stirrup. Their reward was a 1-2-3 sweep of the Senior races, which lit a fire under British and European manufacturers to rapidly modernize their designs. Indians did well at the TT for another 12 years, with their last podium placement in 1923, when Freddie Dixon, the legendary racer-tuner, took 3rd place.

Freddie Dixon at the 1921 Isle of Man TT aboard a single-cylinder Indian. [The Vintagent Archive]

By the 1920s every competing manufacturer had developed recognizably modern designs, with brakes on both wheels, suspension (at least up front), clutches, and multiple gears. More entries from Europe began to appear (Peugeot, FN, Bianchi, Moto Guzzi, etc), the road surface had improved, and by 1922 the course was almost fully paved(!); race averages crept up into the 70mph range for the 500cc Senior class. The great variety of engine configurations in competition (side-valves, inlet-over-exhaust valves, overhead valves, overhead cams, and two-strokes) made for a fascinating study in the possibilities available to the motorcycle designer at the time. The keenness of competition was reflected in the sheer number of different TT makes; AJS, Levis, New Imperial, Sunbeam, Rudge, Rex-Acme, Velocette, Douglas, DOT, Cotton, Scott, and HRD all won top honors in the '20s.

Alec Bennett aboard the Velocette factory racer that became the basis is the KTT production racer [read our story here], here after his 1928 win at the Junior TT, a harbinger of the future when OHC machines would dominate racing. Factory Boss Eugene Goodman looks very happy indeed. [The Vintagent Archive]

By the 1930s all winners of the Senior (500cc) and Junior (350cc) TTs had camshafts on top of their engines, and lap records touched 90mph. Only in the Lightweight (250cc) class was mechanical variety maintained, with OHV, OHC, and two-stroke machines nudging their way to the podium. Race machinery had strayed from the original intention of ‘same as you can buy’, as European uber-bikes (Gilera, Moto Guzzi, NSU) with multiple cylinders and superchargers began menacing the track. Still, Norton, with its 500cc Model 30 (Manx Grand Prix), and Velocette’s KTT 350cc models began a long string of success on the Island, which would last until the 1960s. Race watchers were used to British wins in all but the lightweight classes had regularly broken into the top 3, so it was a shock when Moto Guzzi in 1935 won the Senior TT, with Stanley Woods (10-time winner) at the helm. His mount was notable not only for its wide-angle OHC v-twin motor, but also for the effective rear suspension. By the next TT, all serious contenders had rear shocks!

Stanley Woods aboard the remarkable Moto Guzzi 'Bicylindrica' OHC V-twin on which he won the 1935 Isle of Man Senior TT. [The Vintagent Archive]

AJS and Velocette had their own answers to the 'multi' brigade in their V-4 and Roarer twin, but BMW, using its characteristic flat-twin (but with an OHC supercharged engine) won the Senior TT in 1939, on the very eve of the WW2. Supercharging was henceforth banned from the races. Racing resumed in 1947, with the essentially pre-war designs of Norton, Velocette, and Moto Guzzi dominating their respective classes for a few years as the rest of Europe rebuilt. In the 1950’s though, Italian (Guzzi, Gilera, MV) and German (NSU, BMW) machines came to the forefront with new and sophisticated multi-cylinder designs, culminating in the amazing Guzzi V-8. Bob McIntyre made the first 100mph lap in 1957, on a 4-cyl dohc Gilera.

John Surtees in 1957 aboard the MV Agusta four in 1957, that would dominate the TT for many years to come. [The Vintagent Archive]

By the mid-1950’s most British firms allowed their factory teams to languish, refusing to spend the vast sums demanded by race programs bearing no relation to consumer motorcycles. In 1957, most European manufacturers concurred by closing their race shops, leaving MV and BMW to battle privatateer racers using Manx Nortons and AJS/Matchless production racers. By the 1960’s, Japanese machinery, led by Honda, Suzuki and Yamaha, virtually took over the Lightweight TT. Honda began contesting the larger classes as well, using technically superior 4- and 6-cylinder double-overhead-cam engines, and the battles between Honda and MV became the stuff of legend. Honda quit racing in 1967, leaving Agostini on his MV Agusta to win all Senior and Junior TT’s from ’68 to ’73 (minus the ’71 Junior). The organizing body -  ACU - introduced the Production TT in 1967, and later Formula One and 750cc classes among others, to maintain variety in what had become a Japanese and MV benefit. Racing in these new categories became as closely watched as the ‘classics’, especially the 750cc TT, where one could watch similar-to-standard Superbikes from Norton, Triumph, and Honda duke it out. The Senior and Junior races were dominated from 1974 by Yamaha two-strokes, challenged by Suzuki later in the decade. Lap averages hit 110 mph, and a clamor from top riders such as Giacomo Agostini, Phil Read, and Barry Sheene, resulted in the TT losing its World Championship status in ‘76. A high note in 1978 was the comeback of Mike Hailwood, riding a Ducati to win the Formula 1 race after a 10-year absence; good publicity for the TT at a time when calls for its total cancellation had reached a peak.

Mike Hailwood at the 1978 Formula 1 race aboard an 864cc Ducati, his 'comeback' race. Read our story, 'Haunted by Hailwood' here. [Motor Cycle News]

In the 1980’s and 90’s, race averages began to reach 120mph, and Joey Dunlop began his remarkable run of 26 wins. Lap speeds now stand at over 130mph, and the increasing number of spectators and participants show the irresistible draw to motorcyclists across the globe, who want to experience the legendary race course and steep in its century of speed.  


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



Storm Sondors: Democratizing the E-Bike

Now on view at the Petersen Automotive Museum in LA is our latest moto-centric exhibit: Electric Revolutionaries.  Curated and concepted by Paul d’Orléans, the exhibit focusses on 11 designers making an impact on the electric mobility scene, each in very different ways; from top speed to accessible mobility, from aesthetic perfection to hand-cobbled and crude, from luxury to mass market to one-off.  Each of these designers is tackling a different set of issues, illustrating the wide-open nature of EV design at this early stage of the industry.  Our 11 designers are brave pioneers, embracing what could be the future of mobility, digging in on what design features make EVs unique, and challenging our ideas of ‘what is a car or motorcycle?’

Storm Sondors, while born in Latvia, has made his fortune in the USA, first in toy manufacturing, and now in electric vehicles with his company SONDORS.  His vision was to build affordable e-Bikes, and got his start via the second-most successful Indiegogo fundraiser in history, which exceeded its goal by 7000%.  SONDORS is now one of the largest e-Bike manufacturers in the USA, and is distributed in 42 countries.   More recently, he turned his attention to disrupting the e-Moto scene by revealing the dramatic Metacycle, with a futuristic cast-aluminum chassis and an industry-beating low price tag. Vintagent Profiles Editor Greg Williams interviewed Storm for this story, and shares the back story on the creation of SONDORS.

Storm Sondors at his factory in Southern California. SONDORS is now the largest distributor of e-Bikes in the USA. [SONDORS]
As an inquisitive youngster, Storm Sondors filled some of his time constructing simple toy vehicles using a small DC electric motor, a battery, a rubber band and some wheels. Put all together, he’d experiment varying the tension on the rubber band and observe the effects. “That’s what I found fascinating,” the man behind SONDORS Electric Bikes explains, and continues, “I just loved the simplicity of it, and wondered how changing the rubber band’s tension would cause it to slow down or speed up.” That simplicity is something Storm continues to value, and it’s evident in every product the Malibu, California designer of SONDORS two-wheel electric mobility products brings to market.

The SONDORS Rockstar emtb, capable of 28mph without pedaling, or more. [SONDORS]
Born and raised in Latvia, Storm’s other passion were bicycles. With very little money to afford anything ‘brand name,’ he made do with whatever fell his way and always enjoyed the ride. “I spent a lot of time on a bike, that was my mode of transportation,” Storm says. “Two-wheelers took me further than I could walk, and as long as I had a pump, I was happy; I hated to ride soft tires. And I always paid attention to the chain because that’s super critical on a bike.” Attending an art-focused high school, Storm sat regular classes in the morning. Then, during the afternoon and evening, he’d study design and sculpture. College was never an option he considered, and today, he takes great pride in that. “I think further education would have ruined me,” Storm declares. “I had enough skill set to be pretty good from early days in that space because I had a passion for it; once you have a passion, where does the learning begin, and your lifestyle continue? It just blended together and with all that continuous learning, it’s been ‘What’s the next target? What’s the next target?’ ever since and I always have something to look forward to instead of waking up and being miserable in something I don’t enjoy doing.”

Storm with crates of SONDORS e-Bikes ready for shipping. There is no middleman, all bikes are direct to consumer; a significant method of reducing costs to consumers. [SONDORS]
At age 19, Storm moved to Chicago. He very briefly dallied with fashion design before completing an internship at a company specializing in building prototypes for model and die cast kit maker ERTL. By the time he was in his early 20s, Storm was working at Rehkemper Invention & Design, a firm dedicated to conceiving toys and other consumer products. In this bustling Illinois metropolis, his bicycling continued, and he often commuted to work an hour each way. Storm says he was not a gearhead; while he admired good-looking vehicles and motorcycles, he would be a fraud, he explains, if he claimed to occupy any of that design territory. At Rehkemper, his creative and innovative personality blossomed. It’s also where he got his first taste of fast paced design, for example, one day working on a project for Nike soles, the next a toy for Mattel. He says the number and variety of design projects taken from concept to pre-production prototype “really propelled me to start on a lifelong journey of innovation, that evolution aspect of never really stopping, that was embedded there,” he says, and adds, “I give those guys credit. It’s where I learned and got practical real life experience being surrounded by people who are better at doing something than you are.” While there he worked on projects for McDonald’s, and later became a contractor for the fast-food giant doing prototyping for the company’s Happy Meal toys. That experience took him frequently to China, where he evolved and started his own toy company in Hong Kong. “I worked there for about 10 years and our customers in that business were Walmart and Target, that’s where you could buy our toys.” The toys? They were radio controlled flying ships, and everything was electronics-based.

The SONDORS Cruiser, available at Costco. How do you sell a lot of e-Bikes? ... [SONDORS]
Storm moved to California approximately 15 years ago, and says it wasn’t long after that he saw his first electric bike. Ridden by a friend, the machine was moving at a high rate of speed, and Storm was impressed. “What fascinated me about it was you could see something so familiar, but the way it performed was just so foreign. It was so cool because it made no sense. You go through the check list -- it’s got pedal assist not gears. It’s got a tiny hub motor in a wheel. And here's a battery pack.” Put together by an old-school mechanical engineer, the electric bicycle had been garage built but looked and performed like a factory machine. “That’s what really caught my attention,” Storm says, and continues, “Here's something really interesting and undervalued, at least at that point. We were all just excited about looking at Cadillac Escalades and Ford F-150s, and I was thinking, ‘I have to fix that,’ you know what I mean? That’s what caught my attention the most, the ability to transform such a prevalent item like a bicycle into an (improved mode of) transportation.” When he got home, he Googled electric bikes. “That’s when my moment of truth came around – I can’t afford this. The reality kicked in, and wow, this sounds familiar. Even now as a grown up, I can’t reach something because it’s out of my price point and that’s when my head started to move, and I saw an opportunity to create something.”

The SONDORS Fold X, the ultimate in convenience when traveling. [SONDORS]
It started for himself, but Storm’s mindset has always been to create for scale production. “I never did any garage prototypes, I did more refined components and whatever needed to be done was done with soft tool molds -- the idea was to see if it could be executed at scale production. It’s relatively easy to put something together once, but it’s really difficult to see a gazillion pieces come together at the production level. So, right from the start, I was thinking, ‘How I could scale this?’” It was, essentially, a passion project and Storm simply wanted to democratize the electric bike industry that had been pushing exclusivity. There was no business plan. There were no five year expectations. To create his vision, Storm visited many factories in China before selecting suppliers. The challenge wasn’t so much sourcing the hardware, such as the Bafang motor; it was the battery. Storm didn’t want to use generic cells and finding the correct sized cells in optimized packaging wasn’t easy. Rather organically, however, Storm’s concept became a reality with the first model SONDORS e-bike.

Fat tires were the original concept for SONDORS electric bicycles, but their model line is more varied now. Utility in snow and wet conditions was always important to Storm. [SONDORS]
Getting the details right from the start helped bring the big picture together. When the first SONDORS model launched, the 67-pound e-bike had fat all-terrain tires, a top speed of 20 mph, and could be ridden some 25 to 40 miles. But how to get it to market? With his past working relationships, Storm could have approached Walmart or Target and pitched buyers, but he didn’t enjoy that process. That’s when he considered crowdfunding, which was still in its early stages. “(Crowdfunding seemed to fit) what I was about to do, with an audience who might be hungry for this type of product, and that’s literally how SONDORS was born. It went on Indiegogo in 2015 and never looked back. That campaign was extremely successful.” The SONDORS campaign, at that point, was the second-most successful mounted on Indiegogo -- between Kickstarter and Indiegogo, $12 million was raised. And right from that start, the price point of the product was extremely important. Storm says, “It’s what we’re dealing with right now in the motorcycle space. If you’re going to offer people something they’ve never seen and expect they’re going to pay premium, you’re in for a failure.” SONDORS first bikes were a tremendous success, with deliveries of 7,000 bikes shipping to 47 countries.

"We’re not going after bicycle riders, we’re going after every person in this country who has not ridden their bicycle in 20 years." [SONDORS]
With the first model SONDORS, Storm says, people didn’t perceive the electric bike as something they knew, rather, they perceived it as something they wanted to experience. “I was at my first demo event in Santa Monica when an older gentleman put a leg over the bike and whispered in my ear, ‘I don’t know how to ride a bicycle.’ That was an a-ha moment for me. My revelation was we’re not going after bicycle riders, we’re going after every person in this country who has not ridden their bicycle in 20 years. That single event taught me we weren’t going after people who are riding pedal bikes right now.” SONDORS sold direct-to-consumer, and a WordPress page was set up for the company’s first website. Storm was basically a one-man operation in the earliest days looking after everything from shipping to logistics to customer support. If a purchaser had a problem or a question, they left a message and it was Storm calling the buyer back, working to troubleshoot the issue. Because the bikes were designed with simplicity in mind, every component was, and still is, a plug-and-play proposition. Problem with the controller? Unplug it, take it off the bike, and a new one is shipped out to take its place.

Storm with the original SONDORS X, produced after one of the most successful Indiegogo campaigns ever. [SONDORS]
Feedback on the early bikes led to further development, including the Fold X – a foldable bike with a forged frame to allow for easy transportation. When it launched, on its first day of sales, more than $1 million worth of Fold X machines sold. This kind of popularity increased challenges for Storm because approximately 30 forged frames were being produced per day. “In reality, we needed to be producing 300 frames a day,” he says. “We would get there, but we wanted to take things slow and get things right so we could scale. I want the product to be epic. I don’t want it to be so-so. That model was an extreme success, and then it just snowballed. Originally, I wanted to keep very few models on the electric bike side but then I changed my strategy. The space was growing, and the experience requirements were growing as well. Customer’s developed a taste, and I decided we couldn’t be stuck here.” Currently, SONDORS is preparing to launch 12 new models, including the Metacycle – a machine that moves SONDORS into the realm of the electric motorcycle. Weighing close to 300 pounds, the Metacycle employs a weld-free cast aluminum ‘exo-frame’ that surrounds a 4,000 watt hour battery. At 8 x 4 x 3 inches and just 7 pounds, the removable and transportable battery will charge in 3 hours and 45 minutes using a 110-volt U.S. home outlet -- able to take the Metacycle up to 80 miles per charge with a top speed of 80 mph.

First production versions of the MetaCycle will start shipping in a few months: it's the most eagerly awaited electric motorcycle in history, and a potential game-changer for the industry, with its low price and useful performance. [SONDORS]
“This is very similar to the e-bike mindset, where we are shying away from motorcycle riders,” Storm explains. “I don’t personally believe that motorcyclists are the right people to embrace what we’re creating at SONDORS. What we want to do, we want a mass market audience. We’d like California to be like Bali, where one lane is just scooters and motorcycles.” Storm came to embrace the idea of a more powerful, motorcycle-like machine because he felt that market was somewhat neglected. “We didn’t come in here to compete with motorcycle companies, they’ve done their work, but once you go electric it really democratizes the space. Right now, its price driven and experiential. Is the machine narrow enough? Is it light enough? Is it scary? If it’s scary, it’s not going to work for most people and that’s what drives us. I don’t view this so much as a motorcycle space, but as a two wheeler space as a viable alternative to (internal-combustion) vehicles. I think we’re on the verge of real growth here as long as we stay away from what the average person perceives as a motorcycle. We’re not here following; we want to create new riders who will get their motorcycle license to ride something that’s a legitimate alternative to their car.”

Ever cast an aluminum chassis? Getting it done without porosity issues is a vexing process, but Storm thinks he's got suppliers who can do it right at the right price. [SONDORS]
At the start of SONDORS, Storm says, “It was so crazy busy back then, once I got into production, I was more excited to be in the present and less worried about what the future was going to look like. I was in my element. I was in the factory, on the creative side, on the testing side. There was so much going on at that point that I kind of felt complete. Money has never been my motivation, and I wasn’t calling venture capitalists looking for investment,” and he concludes, “I didn’t feel I set out to participate in an industry. I simply set out to create a new option for people wanting to go electric.”



Greg Williams is Profiles Editor for The Vintagent. He's a motorcycle writer and publisher based in Calgary who contributes the Pulp Non-Fiction column to The Antique Motorcycle and regular feature stories to Motorcycle Classics. He is proud to reprint the Second and Seventh Editions of J.B. Nicholson’s Modern Motorcycle Mechanics series. Follow him on IG: @modernmotorcyclemechanics

The Current News: June 23, 2022

Hello dear readers and riders! Before we dive into this week’s roundup, we wanted to draw your attention to some pretty exciting stuff happening over in Europe this weekend.

Reload Land, Europe’s first ever all-electric motorcycle festival, is taking place in Berlin, Germany from June 24 to 26. Exhibitors include both big-name brands, like Deus and Zero, and lesser-known EV companies, including Ovaobikes and Black Tea Motorbikes. It's being hosted by our friends at Craftwerk Berlin, so if you’re over in Germany, be sure to check it out!

Reload Land is coming up this weekend. Look for more info on their webpage, and on their Instagram page.

If you know of any cool events or new EVs we should cover, drop us a line at Now, without further ado, let’s roll into this week’s top EV stories.


Citroën's Compact Khaki Buggy Sold Out in Minutes

The metallic khaki Citrôën Mehari EV was an instant hit, as is their base model. [Citrôën]

Earlier this week, French carmaker Citroën released a limited production run of their My Ami Buggy concept. While 1,800 customers wanted to scoop up their own khaki-green compact EV, all 50 buggies sold out in just 17 minutes. While the standard model costs about $9,200, the premium khaki buggy had a price tag of about $10,300. Over in Europe, Citroën has enjoyed mild success, selling around 21,000 models. Any person over the age of 15 can legally drive the My Ami on public roads because it’s classified as a quadricycle.


Audi to Recycle EV Batteries for e-Rickshaws

Finally, an automaker grappling with the major issue of battery recycling. Or, in this case, re-purposing the batteries for a low-demand vehicle. [Audi]
Luxury automaker Audi has partnered with German-Indian non-profit Nunam to give used electric car batteries a second chance at life. Audi will recycle the batteries they use for test vehicles to power an e-tron rickshaw fleet. To do this, Audi is funding Nunam, which is bringing e-Rickshaws to India. The startup developed three rickshaw prototypes in collaboration with Audi’s training team. A pilot project is slated to hit the roads early next year.


Meet the World’s First Solar-Powered Production Car

It's been mused for years, and there have been cross-country contests, but a solar-power car just might work for limited or slow runs. [Lightyear]
Netherlands-based startup Lightyear just dropped the world’s first solar-powered production car. Dubbed the Lightyear 0, the vehicle will be able to drive over 6,800 miles a year without a charge thanks to its “double-curved solar array,” which takes up over 54 sq.ft. on the car’s roof, front, and rear. The EV is powered by four in-wheel electric motors that churn out a combined 174ps of power. It took over six years of research and development to make the Lightyear 0 production-ready. The company states that their car is the world’s most energy-efficient electric vehicle, only consuming 10.5kWh for every 62 miles traveled.


FedEx is Going Electric

Now you can lose your packages and go green as well as red! FedEx unveils its new fleet. [Fedex]
Earlier this week, FedEx received their first batch of 150 Zevo 600 e-Trucks from BrightDrop. The vehicles are the first of a larger order that includes over 2,500 electric trucks.  The vans, available in two different models, can travel up to 250 miles on a single charge. Walmart has taken notice of the startup’s vans and put in an order for some 5,000 vehicles.


Volvo Developed First Hydrogen Articulated Hauler

Haulin' hydrogen: Volvo's commercial truck division is a global heavyweight, and they're looking towards a greener future. [Volvo]
Volvo recently announced that they have partnered with PowerCell Sweden and a handful of research organizations to develop a hydrogen fuel-cell articulated hauler prototype. The construction dump truck will tip the scales at 35 tons, has a four-hour operating time, and will carry 12.5kg of hydrogen.




Stephanie Weaver is the EV Editor at The Vintagent, and a Philadelphia-based freelance writer. When she's not locked to her laptop, she can be found riding horses and motorcycles.


Brooklands History by Postcard

Dai Gibbison sent me scans of some old postcards depicting Brooklands under construction and in its first days of racing, 1907 and 1908.  The first photo shows the bridge near the Test Hill, which is still extant, and the cars don't have enough speed to utilize the banking at this date. When the course was built in 1907 by Hugh Locke-King (on his own property, using his own money), the speeds possible for cars and motorcycles would barely top 60-70mph, not enough to justify the near-vertical banking at the top of the track. Clearly someone envisioned higher speeds necessitating the banks - it took until 1913 for a car to reach 100mph on the track, and 1921 for a motorcycle. Too bad they hadn't built the track in a manner to ensure it remained smooth - the surface was notoriously bumpy on the joins between the concrete paving. There is a good timeline on the construction and history of Brooklands here.

The Members' Bridge at Brooklands, which still exists, although the track is a ruin. [The Vintagent Archive]
The second photo shows the Clubhouse with its charming green bell-dome, which now holds a museum and the offices of the Brooklands Society. Those low lean-to sheds to the left of the clubhouse are surprisingly still there as well, and now shelter racing cars before they enter the track on demonstration days. Third photo shows the 'public enclosure', which nowadays is overgrown or built over with new construction. If you click on the pic, you'll see the Victorian outfits (those hats!) and a sporting runabout parked on the grass. Anyone for a picnic? By 1909, an aerodrome was built in the middle of the track, but I don't see it these color postcards, so they must be ca. 1908 - certainly they're pre-WW1. The trees have grown considerably since then as well, and now a shiny Mercedes Benz delivery center/test track sits across the river, just behind the Clubhouse, which would sit right between those two trees.

The Brooklands Clubhouse, which also still exists, and currently houses the Brooklands Museum. [The Vintagent Archive]

The Public Enclosure was a lovely spot for a picnic, although its totally overgrown now, and partially developed as a shopping mall. [The Vintagent Archive]
The construction of the track was a feat in itself, as the banking was created by moving earth to create huge berms 30' high. The concrete track is 100' wide, and the circuit was ~2.8 miles long; all this cost £150,000, representing an enormous sum in those days. The bottom 3 postcards show the method of constructing the banking and laying the concrete, which was mostly done by hand, although a small railway was installed temporarily to help remove or create earthen hills. Clearly the name 'Brooklands' hadn't been applied to the nascent circuit, as it's still called 'Weybridge Motor Track' in these 1906 postcards. (As an aside, these photos look incredibly bleak to me, as do many from the turn of the century - is it the muddy hard work and animal smells which show through, or crude photographic composition, or?).

The construction of the banking at Brooklands, which involved an earth base and concrete poured on top. [The Vintagent Archive]
All this is in total contrast to the construction of the Montlhéry circuit in France, which rivalled Brooklands for speed events. Montlhéry is an engineered concrete and steel structure - no earthen banks, just a lot of reinforced concrete beams and posts holding up the banking (see the history here). Not enough of Brooklands remains to give a riding impression, but I've ridden the Montlhéry banking at speed on a Velocette MkVIII KTT and several other vehicles, and riding nearly horizontal to the ground at 100mph is a most unusual sensation!

Built by hand! And many horses; ironic given the nature of the racing on the track, which was intended to promote technological development of the automobile. [The Vintagent Archive]
The bottom photo was recently sent to me, showing some of the serious horsepower used to haul material and grade the banking here as the Railway Straight. This part of the track, while badly decomposing and covered in moss, can still be seen across the road from a new shopping mall in Byfleet.

Horses for (motor) courses! What it took to build the banking with an earthen base: a lot of horses. [The Vintagent Archive]
Finally, how the motoring press saw Brooklands in 1910: this is a Motor Cycle illustration, looking mighty heroic, although speeds would have been in the 60mph range...[The Vintagent Archive]
Paul d'Orléans is the founder of He is an author, photographer, filmmaker, museum curator, event organizer, and public speaker. Check out his Author Page, Instagram, and Facebook.


DKW's Remarkable Streamliners

The incredible photo below was taken on October 26, 1938, during 'World Record Week', a week of racing sponsored by the Ministry for Sport in Nazi Germany, on the new autobahn just outside Frankfurt-am-Main.  It's a fairly straight and flat autobahn deemed suitable for land speed racing, and I presume the 'Record Week' meant that the various car and motorcycle factories had access to the autobahn for a period of time during each day, and the timekeeping facilities/staff were kept on hand full-time.

The future, from the past. The amazing DKW streamlined recrod-breaker from 1938. [The Vintagent Archive]
DKW participated 500cc model (a supercharged two-stroke twin of course, since that's what the factory was racing at the time), and the body was designed by streamlining expert Baron Reinhard von Koenig-Fachsenfeld, the inventor in 1936 of the chopped tail on cars (later called the 'Kamm' tail after Wunibald Kamm developed the idea). The Baron used windtunnel testing at F.K.F.S. in Stuttgart - home of DKW - to find vehicle shapes with minimal drag. The tail on this bike (not a 'Kamm' tail - that was designed for cars as a production compromise to 'ideal' streamlining) features a novel 'air brake'; the end of the tail fin has two flaps which can spread out to create drag.

Baron Reinhard von Koenig-Fachsenfeld, demonstrating the air brake on the DKW streamliner. [The Vintagent Archive]
I don't know if those flaps are hydraulic, or if the rider had a 'brake pedal' to push, or perhaps even linked braking, as seen on Rudges of the period. There were aerodynamic problems with the DKW's full enclosure, though, and a combination of handling issues (the record runs in '38 had to be abandoned due to prevailing winds), and poor rider visibility/fumes/discomfort while sealed into the 'egg' put paid to this remarkable shape.

The open-topped DKW streamliner, found necessary after wind buffeting and fumes/heat made record runs dangerous. [Private Collection]
Thus, in later runs, the top of the streamliner was cut off, to the level shown on the pic above. This version still had handling issues, and the enclosure was cut down further to the shape seen below; interesting as this progression presages the trend from 'dustbin' fairings to 'dolphin' fairings in GP racing, post-war. Dustbins and other front-wheel enclosing streamliners are extremely sensitive to side winds, and can be dangerous at high speeds. Leaving the front wheel 'in the breeze' makes a huge difference to the ability of the machine to take an angular blast of wind, and remain stable enough to make course corrections.

Another DKW streamliner shape, wtih a dummy rider for wind-tunnel testing. [Private Collection]
Several factories in Europe experimented with enclosures on their fastest machines during the 1930s, most famously BMW and Gilera, and put up some very fast speeds before the War - almost 200mph from 500cc ohc engines.  They are amazingly sculptural, but not especially stable!

The plans for the original DKW fully enclosed streamliner. [Private Collection]
DKW began building motorcycles in 1922, the 142cc Reichsfahrmodell, and by the 1930s was the largest motorcycle factory in the world.  They always used two-stroke engines, even in their automobiles, designed by Hugo Ruppe originally.  Ruppe's racing engines used the ladepumpe system, using an auxiliary piston to force the gas/air mix into the combustion chamber via the crankcase - a kind of two-stroke supercharging.  When Adolf Schnürle developed a new porting system for two-strokes (as used on every two-stroke motor since, and to this day) DKW were the first to license the technology in 1932, with Arnold Zoller adapting the design for DKW. Schnürle's patented porting system, when used with a tuned exhaust (or better, with expansion chambers), produced excellent fuel scavenging principles and much more power than a four-stroke engine: they're the reason why all GP bikes turned to two-stroke motors by the 1970s!

An earlier version of the DKW record-breaker, a 250cc model from the early 1930s. The DKW two-stroke engines were remarkably powerful, a 5-piston design with an integral supercharger! Note the 'Audi' logo on the tail - DKW was one of the four founding partners of Auto Union, with Wanderer, Horch, and Audi. Note also the gorgeous finned casting for the cylinder, and the 'egg' enclosure of the motor. [Private Collection]
But for racing, the Schnürle system was problematic, especially with a supercharger, which blew the fuel mix right through the combustion chamber and out the exhaust pipe.  DKW's solution was a split-piston design, in which fuel was drawn into one cylinder, then pushed into another cylinder for combustion, making it possible to compress the fuel mixture for maximum power, at the expense of complication!  Thus, DKW's 'twin cylinder' two stroke racers of the 1930s actually had five pistons: two pairs of split-piston combustion chambers, and one supercharging Ladepumpe!  These made wickedly fast 250cc and 350cc road racers, of the type that won the Isle of Man Lightweight TT in 1938, with Ewald Kluge riding.  The 500cc two-stroke streamliners were not ultimately as successful as their smaller siblings, regardless their wicked bodywork. After WW2, DKW continued developing road and racing two-strokes, including their remarkable 'Singing Saw' three-cylinder racers, featured here.


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


Electric Revolutionaries: JT Nesbitt Interviewed

Now on view at the Petersen Automotive Museum in LA is our latest moto-centric exhibit: Electric Revolutionaries.  Curated and concepted by Paul d’Orléans, the exhibit focusses on 11 designers making an impact on the electric mobility scene, each in very different ways; from top speed to accessible mobility, from aesthetic perfection to hand-cobbled and crude, from luxury to mass market to one-off.  Each of these designers is tackling a different set of issues, illustrating the wide-open nature of EV design at this early stage of the industry.  Our 11 designers are brave pioneers, embracing what could be the future of mobility, digging in on what design features make EVs unique, and challenging our ideas of ‘what is a car or motorcycle?’

JT Nesbitt is a legend for his fiercely independent status in the motorcycle world, and two of his designs - the Confederate Wraith and G2 Hellcat - are among the most distinctive designs of the 20th Century. A New Orleans native,  JT received his Master of Fine Arts from Louisiana Tech University’s School of Design.  A stint writing for Iron Horse magazine led to a job with Matt Chambers of Confederate Motorcycles, and after Confederate left New Orleans after hurricane Katrina, he founded Bienville Studios, and drove his Magnolia Special CNG car across the USA, setting a record for an alternative fuel vehicle.  When Matt Chambers changed course on his bespoke motorcycle business to focus on electric vehicles as the Curtiss Motorcycle Co., JT Nesbitt joined him once again to design The Curtiss One.  While JT’s earlier designs flexed with aggressive, exposed structures, the One is an entirely different animal: elegant in an old-world way, with Art Nouveau lines and a joie de vivre surely reflecting his New Orleans roots.

JT Nesbitt awheel on his latest design, Curtiss Motorcycles' The One, in prototype form.  The production version uses carbon fiber suspension arms. [Curtiss]
Paul d'Orléans interviewed JT Nesbitt in January 2022, with the assistance of our EV Editor Stephanie Weaver, and their conversation is below, lightly edited for clarity.  It's a long interview, and full of gems!

Paul d'Orléans (PDO): Are you in New Orleans?

T Nesbitt (JT): Yeah, I'm joining you all from the what is now our [Curtiss Motorcycles] manufacturing facility.  I'm in the electrical subassembly area of my shop, and this is where I do all the tuning; it's all done via computer, the same computer that I'm talking to you with right now.  We're going to be lifting torque values, raising the torque limits.

PDO: Whose software are you using?

JT: We've engaged with the company called New Eagle, and they do a lot of EV integration This is a whole new world for me. I mean, I've built a fuel injected wiring harness before, but I've never done anything like all this high voltage stuff, I mean it's dangerous. I've learned more in the past two years than I learned in the past 10.

You know, New Orleans actually has a pretty vibrant history of motorcycle manufacturing. Here's one for for Paul, I bet you maybe you know this; in 1952 when Indian went out of business, the second largest producer of motorcycles in the United States was Simplex.

The Simplex motorcycle from New Orleans was once the second largest motorcycle manufacturer in the USA. [Mecum]
PDO: That's right, I've written something about Simplex for a Mecum auction. It's kind of like who? Sorry Simplex!  But they became the second biggest manufacturer of motorcycles in the USA for years.  So are you in the old simplex factory?

JT: No, it's not that poetic. The old Simplex factory is now a Home Depot on Carrollton Ave. The funny thing is, it's a history that that people here in New Orleans don't celebrate because it's so crazy that it could actually happen here. But it's legit; the next motorcycle factory in New Orleans was Confederate. I'm going to call the Legacy Project, because it was serious production. So Curtiss is actually the 3rd bite of the apple.

PDO: Let's just dig right into this: how long you been working on the Curtiss project?

JT: To be a motorcycle designer. I think you have to know a lot about motorcycles.  You and I are kind of birds of a feather, we really embrace that history.

PDO: Right, nerds!

JT: Moto nerds. I'm a blood and guts kind of guy, and other designers are more conceptual. Well, it brings it brings up the whole question about contemporary motorcycle design.

PDO: And why is it so ******* awful? I wrote when the new Indian FT series came out, 'this looks like a remarkable motorcycle. But why did they make the engine so ugly?' Do people think it doesn't matter anymore?

JT: Well, you know what I think man. I think it's about who your heroes are.  In all the time that I've been interviewing interviewing motorcycle design guys, the first question you should ask them is 'who are your heroes?'  And in the EV world, it seems like their hero is Elon Musk. Not known for his exceptional taste. Elon Musk is not a motorcycle designer. He not even an automotive designer; he's a visionary, which is a different matter. Therefore, he is not my hero. Steve Jobs is not my hero.

PDO: So who are your heroes then?

JT: well, let me let me show you something - I want to ask your opinion. What's the most valuable motorcycle in the world?

PDO: The most valuable? Well...

Glenn H. Curtiss aboard his remarkable record-breaker built around his V8 dirigible motor in 1907. The machine now lives in the Smithsonian Museum. [The Vintagent Archive]
JT: [Shows photo of 1907 Curtiss V8] I could tell you what that's one of them.

PDO: That's one of them.

JT: So, the Vincent [that currently holds the record for most expensive vehicle at auction] is a very cool motorcycle, right? But this is a national treasure. This lives in the Smithsonian. It's not in private hands. It could never be in private hands. So who are my heroes? Well, Glenn Curtis, who went 136 miles an hour in 1907. Yeah, I'll take that guy.

PDO: On a machine of his own construction.

JT: That's right: design, manufacture, construction and riding. Amazing what a what a person.

PDO: And he never crashed an airplane that he designed.

Glenn H. Curtiss; builder of the first American V-twin motorcycle, the first successful motorized dirigible, and the first successful airplane, among other things. [The Vintagent Archive]
JT: Actually, he invented the airplane.

PDO: Pretty much so, I think: his was the first to take off under its own power, and return to its start location.

JT: The Wright brothers had a kite with a little lawn mower engine in it.

PDO: You don't have to tell me: I'm firmly in the Curtis camp on this one. The Wright brothers needed a slingshot to launch their kite with a little putt putt on the back,  and Curtiss made an airplane that you could actually maneuver.

JT: Yeah, take off:  the Wright brothers hated him.  It's about ailerons - Curtiss invented the aileron instead of the wing-warp thing the Wrights used. That's a good place to start, don't you think?

PDO: Yeah, for sure Glenn Curtis's probably the original. I mean, it's just a shame that he basically gave up motorcycle manufacturing in 1912. I mean he licensed his name after that, but only briefly, to carry on motorcycle  manufacturing. But then he just became involved in airplanes.

JT: So you know, people who are real motorcycle geeks know the Glenn Curtis story. But sadly, very few people know the history of the things they love.

PDO: Well, that's why I'm so excited to be talking to you.

JT: Because your audience gets it.

JT Nesbitt at the Electric Revolutionaries exhibit at the Petersen Museum, in which he is featured. [Motor/Cycle Arts Foundation]
PDO: For sure. I love your take on design being about heroes, and who inspires you. That's great.  I'm friends with several OEM designers who are motorcycle history guys as well.  But they're also working within the strictures of an internal combustion industry which is heavily regulated, and with a Board which is in an intermediary between their passions and the product, that must ultimately be sold and delivered.  So there's a lot of compromise on their designs. I feel sorry for internal combustion designers, unless they're customizers, which I think is why a lot of very talented people go into custom machinery and not into manufacturing.

JT: Because that whole world is dead. I mean it, it's just gone, there's no way to fix it, not not in our lifetime and moving forward. Then all these cars are going to be self-driving at some point, and I think in the fairly near future everybody's going to have transportation pods...except for motorcyclists, because there's almost no way to make a computer understand how to self-drive a thing that requires countersteer. So the only freedom the only freedom  in 50-60 years is going to be on two wheels, right?

PDO: I agree, and it'll be safe because all the cars will be programmed to avoid them. It'll be the greatest time to ride motorcycles since 1912.

JT: Here's the question for you. What are the electric motorcycles that are being made now? How are they going to be viewed in 50, 60, 70 years?

PDO: They'll be the awkward Pioneers.

JT: No, they're all going to be on the trash pile. They're going to be in a landfill.  Except for the Curtiss One. Because this one is designed to last forever.

PDO: In what ways - talk to us about that?

'This motorcycle is like a tube amplifier', says JT Nesbitt. An all-aluminum prototype of the Curtiss One. [Curtiss]
JT: This motorcycle [Curtiss One] is like a tube amplifier. It has the least amount of connectivity, the least amount of circuit boards, and digital bric-a-brac. Like I said in the video, this is an analog electric experience. I have a lot of Macintosh audio equipment, and the one thing that that you can't get repaired is the CD players. Everything else you can get repaired. But when it goes that far down the digital rabbit hole, it is inherently going to become obsolete.  [The Curtiss One] doesn't have complicated displays. There's no servo motors that make things happen, there's no screens with modes to fail, our VCU is the simplest VCU we can get. We don't have traction controls. We don't have crazy modes. All of that stuff in 50 years is what's going to fail. So all the other guys, I'm not going to mention any names, but the other guys, there aren't going to be vintage electric motorcycles from them.

PDO: When I curated our Electric Revolution exhibit at the Petersen Museum, we featured the Mission One, built way back in 2009. A dear friend of mine, Mitch Pergola, who actually used to work for me, was President of a design firm called fuseproject, belonging to Yves Béhar.  He's an internationally famous product designer, who teamed up with a bunch of ex-Tesla employees who called themselves Hum Cycles, which became Mission Motors.  They built the first electric sportbike - the Mission One - and it debuted in January of 2009, and Mitch did me the favor of letting me break the story: I wrote about it for The Vintagent. When I curated Custom Revolution, I reached out to my Mitch and we eventually tracked down the Mission One.  Mission Motors only built two motorcycles.

JT: And then they got hired by Harley, the Mission Motors design became the basis of the LiveWire.

PDO: Seth LaForge eventually found the Mission One and the Mission R racer. The Mission One went to the Isle of Man, and was featured in the Neiman-Marcus Christmas catalog in 2009!  Definitely the first eBike there.  Anyway, I asked Seth, who owns both bikes, 'can we can we ride this around?'  He said, 'no man if you try to charge this thing up, it'll probably burst into flame because of the old batteries; we would have to remanufacture batteries because they're obsolete now.'  And we're talking like 9 years later, and it's an important piece of history. It was the first electric sportbike. It's a beautiful machine, and it was the first time a famous designer had put put their hands on an electric motorcycle; it's super important to history but can't be ridden.  It was an interesting lesson. I'm so used to dealing with old motorcycles, you know; it doesn't matter how old it is...1904?  Sure, man, it's just basic principles. You get the clearances right, you sort the parts, it'll run.

Since this January 2022 interview, Seth LaForge has rebooted the 2009 Mission R with new batteries, and rode it on The Quail Ride: surely the most historic machine among the 100 bikes present. [Paul d'Orléans]
JT: That is no longer true with with digital and a battery. You've seen you've seen pictures of the motorcycle, our battery is in that cylinder. That's an aluminum extrusion, and is internally and externally finned. So that extreme vision is our leader.  To be able to swap a battery pack out, once you know you're what you're doing, it's 2 1/2 hours. It's like swapping out a motor.  So, it drops, you can actually see the hardware that holds it in. When you're looking at the motorcycle, that whole extrusion drops out; the back of it comes off, the front of it comes off. You push that battery pack out and put in whatever is the latest and greatest.The EV guys who are making bikes right now, the reason why their proportions are so off is 2 reasons: one is most of them are buying in their batteries. The reason is that they're so worried about range that they're trying to stack in these battery packs that are available today, right? With no consideration for what's going to be happening in five years. The progression is a 10% increase almost every year in battery capacity. So I'll put it to you this way: our bike has less range and that's a choice that I made, because this bike is in it for the long haul, so the future is going to fix our range problem. I wouldn't call it a problem, actually. It's going to increase our range, but the future can't fix ugly.

PDO: What a great quote!

A pair of remarkable Confederate Wraiths during Pebble Beach week, 2009, after being road-tested by Paul d'Orléans and then Confederate Board President Francois-Xavier Terny (now also working in EVs with Erik Buell, at Fuell). [Paul d'Orléans]
JT: So I think, what are these guys are doing? They're so concerned with with sales that they're missing the point: good design is forever.

PDO: And so is bad design.

JT: Right?

PDO: I'm so with you. And you know the truth of the matter is, it's just my personal editorial policy, we just don't cover something if we don't like it, you know, it's like, I don't need to tell the world that this thing is ******* ugly. You know whatever it is, the world will decide this.  I'm often shocked at how little taste people can have, but in general, people vote with their feet, they'll let you know in the comments section how freaking ugly they think something is.

JT: Well, everybody thinks the Curtiss One is ugly.

Breathtakingly unique and beautiful; the Curtiss One. [Curtiss]
PDO: That's not true, actually. You you may be hearing that because you're a designer, but when I look at the comments section, when I post a photo or a video of the Curtiss One, two out of 10 are saying that's ugly. The other eight are like holy ****,  so I I don't agree with you.

JT: I think it's because we're getting lumped in with the other EVs. And not getting putting the bike in in context. All right, let's pull up the image of that Moto Guzzi.  I'm a huge fan of William Henderson, but my heroes are Glenn Curtis and Carlo Guzzi. There's something about the radially finned cylinder [of a Moto Guzzi Falcone], man, I don't know why I'm so crazy about that. I've never been able to give that radially-finned round object out of my head. It's just lovely, isn't it? It's the best part of the motorcycle.

A 1951 Moto Guzzi Falcone; an inspiration for JT Nesbitt. [Mecum]
PDO: Yeah, I mean, they're fantastic. They're gorgeous. I see where your inspiration lies.

JT: And it's funny that the Guzzi singles are not better known. I mean, Carlo Guzzi was amazing, and what a life.

PDO:  Yeah, Moto Guzzi probably, of any motorcycle manufacturer ever, had the greatest range of engine designs they explored: single cylinder, V twin, V 8,  inline triple, inline4 four It's like incredible what they built.

JT: You can't go to the Moto Guzzi Museum and not be overwhelmed with the amount of sheer joy that man lived his life with. That's my hero as far as how do you live? What's a life well lived ? And Carlo Guzzi nailed that.

PDO: Absolutely.

The 1931 Indian 402 four-cylinder has a distinctive stance and silhouette, and was a big influence on The One. [Mecum]
JT: Let's look at some American four-cylinders: Henderson, Ace, and Indian.  Look how beautiful this Indian 402 is.   So, if you overlay my bike with the Indian, and draw a line at the top of the motorcycle, and at the bottom, and here's our wheels, and distance between the wheels, the wheelbase...what you're going to find is something very, very similar to our bike. What do you see here? [Shows overlaid images]

PDO: I see your motorcycle - it's almost the same silhouette, that's amazing.

The catalog for the 1957 NSU Supermax. [The Vintagent Archive]
JT: Alright, let's look at the NSU Supermax. It was designed by Albert Roder. You know who Roder was? He's like really underrated and kind of unknown for some reason.

PDO: It's partly because NSU got sold to Volkswagen in 1969, and the problem with so many of these companies, it wasn't convenient for car manufacturers to celebrate motorcycle DNA. So they become these lost characters.

JT: Here's something you may or may not know. In 1953, I believe it was when the NSU Max debuted, Soichiro Honda bought one.

PDO: Of course he did.

JT: And they reverse-engineered it and that's what became the Honda Dream. He took this beautiful shape that we're looking at, with all these sensuous curves, which I have absolutely used on my bike. All these beautiful curves.  Soichiro Honda took this and he squared it all off.  Like everything. The headlights square and the shocks are square.  He took the most beautiful little motorcycle ever and ruined it.  But, one of the things that he did is copy the shift pattern. NSU was strange for a European motorcycle because it shifted on the left. The reason why all motorcycles now shift on the left? It's because of what we're looking at right now.

PDO: I think the Japanese had a different agenda around design. I've thought a lot about Japanese science fiction and their motorcycle designs after the War. It's just fascinating, but anyway, that's a little too esoteric for this discussion.  But yeah, as far as I know through my research, Soichiro Honda visited the NSU factory in 1955, when they were at the top of their game winning every Grand Prix race they entered.
And they shared everything with him, and he may have even - I've never been able to confirm this - they may have sold him an obsolete racing engine. And that was the true basis of the twin-cylinder overhead camshaft Honda design.

JT: Let's look at that image of the NSU one more time. One of the things I want you to notice about this, Paul is the distance between the exhaust pipe and the front fender. It's so tight. And if you look at the Curtis One in the sport position with the 27 degree rake, you'll see this super tight clearance between the front fender and the battery zone. Something you could never achieve with a telescopic front end, right?  Can we look at the Imme You know that bike?

The Imme R100 designed by Norbert Reidel. [Mecum]
PDO: Of course,  I think it's the most brilliant example of economical design in motorcycle history. It's incredible.

JT: Tell me why?

PDO: Because they use a single-diameter of tubing in the whole chassis, and duplicate functions; the swing arm is the exhaust pipe, it's crazy. He he took it a little bit too far, though, because he was into this whole one-sided thing and used a an overhung single-sided crankshaft which was the weak point, and bankrupted the company because it failed early and they had warranty claims. But what an incredible design.

JT: You know he drank a little of his too much of his own Kool-aid,  but the chassis worked. What this motorcycle represents is true minimalism.  That doesn't mean minimalism as a styling key. Because its styling is not minimalist, right? It has no flat surfaces. This isn't a minimalist styling exercise. It's actual minimalism. Minimalism is about the bill of materials and parts reuse. What I'm drawing from Norbert Reidel, from his most excellent project, is the ability to reuse parts in very creative ways. I don't know if you've noticed on our bike,  but the suspension members are all the same. Have you noticed that?

The single part for the suspension arms for the Curtiss One appear in 4 places, flipped and reversed: a difficult design choice, as any change for one use changes the design for all uses. [Curtiss]
PDO: I had not actually.

JT:  So our girder our girder blades: part #1, quantity 4. There's no fore and aft,  and there's no port and starboard. It's the same part that does all of the suspension work on the motorcycle. Which is way more difficult to design, because if you make a change on the front right, it changes the front left and the rear right and the rear left. It changes it in three other places.  So it's a lot more work, but at the end of the day, you get this melody.  The Imme has it has a melody to it, because of its minimalism.

PDO: That makes sense. It's like a Steve Reich composition, if you repeat things and then have a variation on a theme,  you create a new kind of music.

Alexander Calder's mobile sculpture 'Vertical Foliage. [Calder Foundation]
JT: Well, let's let's have a look at a Calder sculpture,  OK? It's so lyrical. This on is 'Vertical Foliage', from 1941. It's one of my favorite works. When I look at these shapes and the way that they interact, not only with themselves, but with the negative space; it makes a lot of sense. This is who I followed in school, and I was a Fine Arts major.

PDO: So was I.

JT: There you go. Who'd you follow?

PDO: I was a huge fan of Max Beckmann and the Expressionist and the Blue Rider group in Germany and people like that. This was the early 1980s, I was into punk, and for me it was about expression. But I certainly learned my art history up and down.

JT: OK, I love Calder, Calder invented kinetic sculpture. And kinetic sculpture actually translates quite well into our chosen passion. Sculpture that moves, and what we love are sculptural things that move.

PDO:  Would that more designers adhered to such a philosophy, or acknowledged it, or even looked at art. God knows what they're looking at these days.

JT: Or had any philosophy?

PDO: Can we kind of explore the importance of beauty to you? You know, a form over function almost. Can you talk about that?

Not a bushing to be found on the Curtiss One: this $75 needle roller bearing required a unique 15mm shouldered bolt to fit. [Curtiss]

JT: OK, let's have a look at this.  So I think this is one of the most beautiful parts on the motorcycle.  This is our hardware; I designed all of our own hardware. And I designed it because of this bearing. So this is a very rare bearing; a double-row sealed needle bearing with a 15 millimeter shaft. There are no shoulder bolts for 15 millimeter shafts. Therefore you have to make one. So if you look at our bolt, you see a little lip on the inside of it. That fits a fiber washer that serves as a guard for a 15 millimeter double sealed needle bearing.  There's a chamfer on the center; that's so that our tool is self centered.  The little divot is for a set screw that actually locks the bolt in place. This system is used everywhere on the motorcycle where there's reciprocating motion. We don't have a single bushing on this motorcycle. There is no stiction anywhere. As you well know, with hydraulic fork tubes, one of their main issues is stiction. This eliminates all the stiction.  And this bearing retails for $75. When people ask me 'why is this motorcycle so expensive?' It's because this bearing is 75 bucks. Just this. So when it comes to beauty, there's a great quote by Ettore Bugatti: "There is nothing that is too beautiful or too expensive."

PDO: I love that. Sounds like something Coco Chanel would say.

The 'tool kit' of the Curtiss One: "This is every tool needed to adjust the rake, trail, compression, rebound, preload, ride height, footpeg location, 2-up or solo seat, handlebard width/angle/pullback/height, steering neck bearing tension, kickstand/centerstand height, and completely dismantle the machine. Took kits are a symbol of self-reliance." JT Nesbitt. [Curtiss]
JT: So my my point is that beauty is not a goal, it's an outcome of solid engineering.  Everything that's on this bike, every decision that was made, everything you see visually, it's 100% engineering. There's actually no styling on it. And Paul, I'm going to take you to task on that, because you said, 'oh, it looks like some architectural stuff.' I'm gonna show you why it looks like that. This is our chassis aluminum side plate. So it needs to be so it can be threaded, so that we don't have to have nuts. It's self-supporting and threaded,  so I need to have some some beef to it, but if we made the whole thing that thick it would weigh a ton. These pockets are machined to lighten it. These are lightening pockets. But they do a second job; they're also structural to connect the part that experiences the most stress to the motor mount.The part that is the most stressed is the steering neck. The other advantage of the lightening ribs is that you increase the surface area, because it's a heat sink. It's unlike any other EV motorcycle chassis, which more or less an adaptation of a tube chassis. And motorcycle tube chassis are designed to isolate the motor, to isolate the heat and vibration of a motor. Ours are different because we have two other components that get hot, the inverter and the onboard charger. You need someplace for that heat to go so these ribs, increase the surface area. These are cooling fins.

PDO: Of course they are!

The raw chassis of the Curtiss One, showing the finned battery housing and chassis ribs. [Curtiss]
JT: So the way the bike looks, what you would mistake for styling is actually thermal management. Now regarding the color, and I think this is quite clever.  There's a little lip machined on our interchangeable water jet cut chassis panels.  The panels can be any material, texture, any color of the rainbow. I can do it in powder coated aluminum, stainless steel, copper, brass, bronze, carbon fiber, aluminum, wood.  I'm waiting for somebody to ask me to give him a wood inlay bike.  It's a way doing a custom motorcycle that's not disruptive to production. They just attach panels in those little in those cavities, it's all machined to accept them. The pinstripes on the bike aren't painted, they are actually water jet cut.Now, this is the swingarm pivot and the output shaft for the driveshaft. This is a shaft-driven motorcycle, believe it or not. This is a really important invention because this is where the swing arm pivots. It's centric with the motor output, and we patented it. And also our kickstands; the reason we have to have these crazy kickstands is that the whole motorcycle adjusts, it's got adjustable rake, which has never been done before. You know that, right?

PDO: Well, Bimota SB2 has an adjustable rake.  We had one in our Petersen Museum exhibit, 'Silver Shotgun'.

JT: It has adjustable offset; functionally the same, but we can have another conversation about that. But no, it's not the same at all.  Adjusting the offset is the angle of your fork, that is not your rake. Your rake is your steering head angle, and that's fixed, right, so you can adjust the offset not the rake. This motorcycle has an adjustable steering head per se. I'm talking about an actual adjustable rake, right?  Rake is dictated your steering axis, which is dictated by your chassis.

PDO: What's your history with EVs?

The Magnolia Special, designed by JT Nesbitt, and driven across the USA on compressed natural gas. [Bienville Studios]
JT: I've built a compressed natural gas (CNG) car and drove it from New York to Los Angeles and established a coast to coast record for all alternative-energy vehicles. That was in 2011 and 2013. Elon Musk took my record from me by building an infrastructure, but he had to build charging stations all the way.

PDO: And he had a grant of $400 million from the government to do that.

JT: I was just a guy in a car with a credit card.  Leno did a did a spot on it for Jay Leno's garage.  When I got to LA, I reached out to Ian Barry. One of my fenders had a hairline crack in it, it used all aluminum fenders and I needed somebody with a welding machine to tack it up. He brought me into his shop and was real nice to me.

PDO: I'm just thinking that you two have a similar philosophy about design. When he's building custom motorcycles, I've written about how he approached reassessing design decisions on existing motorcycles. It's like, OK, let's look at the shifter mechanism on this Triumph. That part was designed by someone within certain parameters.  So how can we re-approach this design problem, and see if we can make something better,  maybe improve it, maybe make it more beautiful, maybe make it lighter. I've talked to a lot of motorcycle designers. and not a lot of them think that way.

JT Nesbitt chatting with Ian Barry of Falcon Motorcycles at the Electric Revolutionaries reception. Ian Barry designed the layout of the exhibit. [Motor/Cycle Arts Foundation]
JT: That's the way that we think about a component; how can we push that farther so that we arrive at a completely new destination in terms of the final design? It's like, don't just knock it off and say, OK, that's good enough.  Good enough is not good enough, what we're received is not good enough.  I think a lot of the custom bike builders are really cool guys, but not one of them is thinking about ergonomics.

PDO: Yeah, that's true. I've ridden those bikes. I mean, some of them hurt.

JT: Why go to the trouble of coming up with all those very crafty, clever solutions, yet produce something that doesn't solve one of the most fundamental problems of motorcycles, and that's ergonomics. Something that nobody's talking about.  Now, let me let me grab a part.  [Picks up Curtiss One seat]

Stephanie Weaver: It looks like a horse riding saddle!

JT: Very perceptive - and an English saddle at that.  The problem is that motorcycles ergonomics are all based on the early days of a mashup of a bicycle with a little motor clipped into it. When you're pedaling a bicycle, you don't use the seat. You're standing on the pedals and and any friction that that you would encounter between your thighs and ass would slow you down.  Using bicycle seats on motorcycles is like putting lawn chairs in sports cars. It's crazy. Where should we be looking for inspiration? 2700 years of research and development. That's the interface of man and animal. That's where it all comes from. This is where you grip the motorcycle, and one thing that I've noticed is I can tell when I'm looking at a female riding a motorcycle. They ride differently than men: men do this manspreading thing. Women grab that motorcycle with their knees. Now, why in the hell do we have human beings grabbing a piece of painted steel with the most sensitive parts of your knee? That's crazy. All of the surfaces of of interface between man or woman and machine need to be reconciled. We have to start over with this whole proposition. First principle, originalist thinking dictates that we rethink motorcycle ergonomics, and we make them gender neutral.

The solo seat of the Curtiss One resembles and English riding saddle: "2700 years of research and development." [Curtiss]
PDO: Or toward gender-specific, that's another possibility.

JT: Well, here's the thing, Paul. You've never ridden a motorcycle where you could feel the chassis through your inner thigh, and the it's sensitive part of your knee. No one has. It's delightful because you can really understand what's going on with the exchange of information from the chassis to your body.  It gives you much more confidence, you can actually for the first time really feel what the chassis is doing. The thing is, when you eliminate, all of the vibration, all these little things that you don't really notice on a bike that's buzzing around underneath you start coming to the surface. Because your your mind is now free to think about those things.

PDO: User interface (UI) is a huge industry now.  I actually have a niece who studied brain/computer interface as her postdoctoral research at MIT, and then she went to work for the train industry. Because we haven't designed a new train in the United States since, what, the 1950s really, and you know and and the number one problem with train design is keeping the operators awake and interested.  So you've got this huge investment that's happening in user interface for very specific reasons. For all sorts of industries, but I don't see a lot of UI research going into motorcycling.

JT: It's because all people care about is the way a bike looks on the sides; that's not how how motorcycles are actually seen in the wild. They're all seen with a rider on board. So while this motorcycle [the Curtiss One] might look a little weird, once you snap the person into place, it completes the object. It's incomplete without the rider attached to it.

Can a motorcycle be art? We're in the ballpark here. [Curtiss]
PDO: It's part of the discussion around 'Can a motorcycle be art?' What makes a motorcycle unique is the experience of riding. It leaves art in the dust.  And it's impossible at the current state of museums to present that experience to you as an observer. You can look at a painting or a sculpture, and you can appreciate the design of a motorcycle, but you can't appreciate what makes it truly special until you ride it.  So in a way exhibiting motorcycles in museums is such an incomplete experience. It's like, you missed the point.

JT: You know why people treasure this object? You know it's about the experience. It's completely unique. You know there's nothing, nothing that comes close. But a Vincent, I'd much rather experience it on the side stand.

PDO: Is that right? Well, I love the experience of moving through space under under the power of my right hand, on the throttle or lever or whatever my vintage motorcycle is. And sometimes sometimes they're uncomfortable.  But it's also sheer joy.

JT: I got to tell you man, my Norton Commando is now up for sale. Because I've seen a new way and man, this is  just better.

PDO: You've been ruined!

JT: I have.  It's better because the feeling, the sensation is so much more connected.  The stress level is like down because of all the things that we've done to elevate the riding experience, that analog riding experience. It's just better in every way.  I have no desire to ride my Commando. I'm a Vincent owner who's getting rid of his Vincents.

PDO: How interesting. I can't wait to ride your machine.

JT: I hope that you'll agree with me.

PDO: Well, it's a motorcycle and I love motorcycles. I already think it's beautiful. I'm really curious to see how it feels to ride it.

"Beauty is not a goal, it's an outcome of solid engineering." JT Nesbitt. [Curtiss]
Paul d'Orléans is the founder of He is an author, photographer, filmmaker, museum curator, event organizer, and public speaker. Check out his Author Page, Instagram, and Facebook.


How You Find Them #1: 1923 Douglas Racer

I'm often asked how I find such rare motorcycles; the answer is being ready to buy when the opportunity arises, and by keeping my eyes open. I found this 1923 ohv 600cc Douglas racer on eBay of all places. I was the only serious bidder; perhaps no one else recognized this seemingly rusty hulk for what it was. I knew that an intact overhead valve racing bike from the early 20's was extremely scarce proposition, especially in basically unmolested condition. I was reminded of my purchase of a 1925 Zenith supercharged JAP twin, in similar condition: a little rusty on the surface, yes, but Australia has a dry climate like Southern California, and metal might have a haze of red, but it doesn't grow real rot, and can easily be cleaned up.

The 1923 Douglas OB/OC racer as advertised on eBay. [Paul d'Orléans]

The seller knew the bike had been raced on the dirt tracks near Sydney in the 1920's and was able to provide a photograph of the machine in the day - ridden by a fellow named Ted Reese. I've subsequently found a photo of an identical machine, ridden by an L.C. Peterson; the bikes are so close in spec and geography that I have to think they are the same machine - that droop of the silencer is distinctive. Both photos were taken near the Newcastle track - Peterson is shown after winning a race on his Douglas. The OC engine of 600cc is from 1924, and would have been a capacity increase, and/or a spare engine!

Original owner! And racer, Ted Reese of Sydney, Australia.  Dirt Track racing, which later became Speedway racing, was the most popular motorsport in the world in the 1920s, surpassing Board Track Racing as that sport died down during WW1: the world had seen enough carnage. [The Vintagent Archive

Douglas was almost alone in 1923 in offering an overhead valve racing machine; almost universally among other manufacturers the norm was a sidevalve engine, as the overhead valve system was considered fragile and unproven. Douglas led the way with successful efforts at Brooklands and the Isle of Man, winning the senior and sidecar TT races in 1923 with machines very similar to this bike (Norton's Model 18 was also introduced in '23... and they fetch astronomical prices). The OB/OC used a total-loss oiling system, with an oil pump driven by the camshaft (inside the airbox). It uses two Amac TT carbs, which are linked by a rod system for synchronized slide movement.

One of legendary racer Freddie Dixon's innovations was the 'still air box' for the carburetors. Note the twin AMAC TT carbs feeding into the box. [Paul d'Orléans]

The airbox was a Freddie Dixon innovation - he reckoned that motorcycles would breathe better using a 'still air box', rather than sucking from a swirl of moving air. He was right, of course, and big ugly airboxes can still be found on motorcycles for the same reason; they make better power breathing still air. The airbox also makes a convenient air filter housing for dirt-track racing, which must have increased the longevity of the piston rings. Douglas made their own 3-speed gearbox, and the clutch is housed within the external flywheel. Two 'dummy rim' brakes, and an EIC twin-spark magneto complete the picture.

The external flywheel houses the clutch, which connects by chain to a Douglas 3-speed gearbox with a cush drive. Final drive is by chain, and all braking is by 'dummy rim'. [Paul d'Orléans]


Another Douglas racer of the same period/location. These early OHV Douglas racers were the hottest machines on the planet at the time. [Paul d'Orléans]

Beneath that red dirt (not rust as it turns out) is an original-paint 1923 Douglas racer. [Paul d'Orléans]

[This article was originally published on on January 7, 2007.]

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


'10 Wheels and Waves': Biarritz in a Book

Earlier this year I was asked if I'd be interested in writing an introduction to a photographic history of Wheels and Waves Biarritz. I responded, 'who else?'  Which might need a little back story if you haven't been following The Vintagent since 2009.  That's the year the Southsiders MC, whom I'd met at the Legend of the Motorcycle Concours, invited me to come riding with them in the Pyrenees over a long weekend.  They knew I'd had a rough year, and that the 2009 edition of the Legend concours had been why not fly to sunny Biarritz and borrow a Norton Commando to blast around the area with a dozen like-minded vintage motorcycle friends?  

Two page spread of the Punks Peak race on the summit of Jaizkabiel mountain. [10 Wheels and Waves]
From my Introduction for the new book '10 Wheels and Waves':

"If you’d told me that a pays Basque border raid with 13 vintage bikes would come to shift the motorcycle industry, I would not have believed you in 2009.  But the ground was already shifting under our feet, and we felt it. I’d met two of the founding Southsiders MC members [Vincent Prat and Frank Charriaut] at the Legend of the Motorcycle Concours in Half Moon Bay. The Concours changed my career, as I started The Vintagent in 2006 to post photos and tell stories about the event; mine was the first old-bike blog.  In 2008 The Southsiders escorted the badass custom ‘Norton Ala’Verde’ to Half Moon Bay, as the Legend was the first Concours in the world to include a Custom Motorcycle category for judging.  It’s where I met the new generation of customizers creating an alternative motorcycle scene right under our noses.  A new energy was building, and we wondered how motorcycles would change."

The ArtRide exhibit showcased exceptional motorcycles and relevant artwork/photography to the scene. [10 Wheels and Waves]
14 years later, it's pretty clear what's changed and is still changing in the motorcycle industry.  If you read my writing in either of 'The Ride' books, or my columns in Cycle World when I was Custom & Style editor, or my recent piece in BikeExif on how customs have influenced OEM design, my thoughts on how the alt.custom motorcycle scene changed the motorcycle industry for the better, dragging the big OEMs out of their slumber, and tricking them into building bikes that resembled what younger riders actually want.   That seems like a tall order for a book about a moto/skate/surf event in southern France, but that little seed of a riding event in June 2009 turned into a behemoth, and its success spawned multitudes of imitation events, but only of its parts (the Punks Peak Sprint was widely copied, for example), and not the whole thing, as that is simply impossible.

Skate and surf culture are a big part of the succesful mix making up Wheels and Waves. [10 Wheels and Waves]
An impressive list of photographers and filmmakers made it to at least one of the past 10 Wheels and Waves events; they're well documented by very talented people.  That didn't make a 200-page book covering ten years of week-long events any easier to assemble, but it did assure that the photography is first rate, guaranteed. '10 Wheels and Waves' is the only official book documenting the event, and is intended as a tribute to all the creativity and hard work it took to make this event a world-beater.  It's a photo history, set against the stunning backdrop of the Atlantic Ocean, the town of Biarritz, the Basque country in the foothills of the Pyrenees, and the wild mountain roads that connect them all.   Plus, of course, the ArtRide exhibits, the Punks Peak racing, the El Rollo flat track, the surfing and skate contests, and the film premieres (we brought the Motorcycle Film Festival to Biarritz twice, and premiered our film 'The Ended Summer' there too).

Some of the significant characters in attendance: the late Austin 'Sugar' Johnson, skater Steve Caballero, photographer Bill Phelps, and clothing manufacturer Keith Hioco. [10 Wheels and Waves]
'10 Wheels and Waves' is at the printer now: you can order a copy here.  The book was assembled by the team at Super Special Magazine, a cafe racer mag from Italy, and the galleys look amazing.  I can't wait to see what all those photographers captured for eternity.   If you'd like to see some of The Vintagent's coverage of Wheels and Waves in the past, including coverage of our co-production of Wheels and Waves California, click here. 

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