above/below > white falcon / ian barry / 2013 / unique
how can one-off machines compare to production models beloved by the masses? can we draw any conclusions looking at a few very exceptional motorcycles ? and if you’re more comfortable comparing another category of objects go ahead, the rules apply to anything:
[ the production objects ]
production motorcycles can be judged somewhat objectively: by their performance, innovation, their pedigree, their impact on the larger motorcycle world.
above> vincent black shadow / built 1948 – 55 / hunter s. thompson once remarked that “if you rode the black shadow at top speed for any length of time, you would almost certainly die.” the 50-degree v-twin was completely baked in black enamel and produced enough grunt to carry riders to 125 mph in an era where the 100 mph benchmark was barely attainable. the vincent employed extensive amounts of aluminum throughout, and its motor hung from the cross-bar, acting as a stressed member. this kept weight down to 450 pounds, which meant the vincent black shadow would balance a see-saw with contemporary 500cc singles. innovative front forks, a four-speed transmission and finned brakes at both front and rear rounded out a package widely regarded as the world’s first superbike.
above > harley-davidson xr750 street tracker / built 1970 – 79 / essentially a parts-bin special slapped together to meet changing ama dirt-track rules, the xr750 is an example of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. after years of domination, harley’s racing department were forced to completely rethink their efforts for the 1970 season. so in under a year they did — and in doing so created the winningest race bike in the history of the ama. thankfully, homologation rules stipulated that 200 race-ready road-goers be made available to the public; a legend was born. evel knievel began jumping the xr-750 at the height of his career between december 1970 and october 1976 (although a failed practice jump was made in january 1977 and captured on film). prior to the failed practice jump, knievel jumped either cars or trucks (or a combination of the two) on the xr-750.
above> ducati desmosedici rr / built 2007 – 08 / only 1,500 models of this street-legal version of ducati’s 2006 motogp entrant were produced. the all-new 200 hp, 90-degree “double-l twin” v-4 engine would scream through its vertical exits in the rear tail all the way to its 10,500 rpm redline and 194 mph top speed. componentry was top notch all around with ohlins, brembo and marchesini put to the task of keeping riders alive and justifying the $72,500 sticker price. the desmosedici rr is often regarded as the ultimate ducati experience, a mechanically and aesthetically faithful reproduction of a genuine motogp racer — it even came with sponsorship stickers, were you so inclined.
[ the custom objects ]
custom motorcycles, as they divert toward art, demand a more subjective judgment: the celebrity of the artist, a track record of recognized style and quality, and in the artworld’s subjective judgment, the black and white of the price of the art for confirmation.
above> white falcon / built in 2013 / acrylic, 7075 + 6061 aluminum, brass, cloth, chromally, copper, enamel, epoxy, glass, light-emitting diodes, leather, magnesium, nickel, pyrex, rubber, silver, springs, stainless mesh, stainless steel, steel, titanium, 1967 works ‘squish head’ velocette venom thruxton engine, gp carburetors, avon venom tires, 21″ wm1 avon, 19″ wm2 borrani, archimedes mount / 33 x 30 x 73 inches – sold for a rumored $750,000 at the kohn gallery in los angeles.
below> bsa 500 black / hazen motorworks
“every bike that I create is 1 of 1, made by my own 2 hands here in my workshop, each bike is unique and never replicated. i push myself to make something new with every project and build the most interesting designs that i can think of in the most elegant way possible.” ~ max hazen
below > captain america / built c 1967 – 68 / arguably the most famous iconic custom bike because of the 1969 movie, easy rider. called “captain america” and before it was customized it was a 1952 harley-davidson hydra-glide police bike built by two chopper builders, cliff vaughs and ben hardy. the bike kept its original h-d panhead engine. two captain america bikes were made but before the movie aired one was stolen and parted and the other bike was crashed in the last scene of the movie.
[ npr backstory ] [ captain america sells for $ 1.3 million ]