A World of Influence Makes for World-Class Bikes
Hugo Eccles is British, married to a Canadian, lives in America and primarily works on German and Italian motorcycles. Outside of his shop, he’s a design consultant for international brands including TAG, Nike, Peugeot and Ford. With such a blend of influencers and their respective design cultures, it’s no wonder he produces beautiful machinery.
An industrial designer by trade and training, Eccles started his career in London, England, with Adam Kay, founder and chief of European shop Untitled Motorcycles. Also involved in the launch of the Bike Shed Motorcycle Club, both guys have been around bikes and rich moto culture for a long time, and they understand what people like to see.
On a recent stop through San Francisco, I joined Eccles and one of his clients for lunch, some design discussion, general chat about custom bike building and the chance to admire some of his creations. Eccles and the California outpost for Untitled specifically caught my eye for their BMW efforts: The brand’s boxer twins are close to my heart, as I ride a ’78 R100/7, and Bike EXIF called the shop’s UMC-021 build “one of the best BMW customs we’ve ever seen.” As a result, it was a fascinating 90 minutes climbing into the head of a designer-builder who’s in-tune and aligned with my personal design dreams for what I may one day be fortunate enough to have done to my bike (because let’s face it – I don’t have the chops to do it myself). I found great joy in getting the inside scoop on how a bike goes from donor bike to concept to beautiful, functional custom.
Function is key. In Eccles’ mind, a bike that’s beautiful but doesn’t run well or can’t be ridden across the country isn’t worth building. whether the donor is a 40-year-old beater or just landed at the dealership. The process begins with a client’s collection of ideas and inspiration (don’t we all have a folder of favourite bike photos on our phone or computer somewhere?), which is then amalgamated and massaged into a singular working system. A 2-D schematic is then drawn up before the research and real leg work truly begins. As with most custom builds, major parts such as fuel tanks, seat pans and rear subframes come and go, either sourced and re-purposed from the world’s selection of vintage and modern motorbikes, or built from scratch out of steel or aluminum.
To that end, it’s in the details where creativity shines. Eccles used a fog light from a semi-truck as the headlight on his showpiece 2016 HyperScrambler custom, commissioned by Ducati America, and a throttle cable splitter for a 1983 BMW R100 build came from an old Triumph. This resourcefulness, coupled with using the best pre-made systems available (read: Motogadget et al) is what makes Untitled bikes stand out as carefully crafted systems of mechanical and aesthetic harmony.
Sometimes the entire bike gets a rebuild, as with Eccles’ current big project, a 1975 Moto Guzzi 850T. It’s got a handmade aluminum gas tank, Showa forks, Brembo calipers, original hubs with modern Excel rims, a modified Tonti frame, bigger Dellorto carburettors, custom inlet manifolds and trumpets, lightened flywheel and bespoke engine brackets, etc. Every piece that’s made in-house or sourced from elsewhere is considered with the singular mindset that anything custom should look like it hasn’t been customized. The best custom bikes look like they came from the factory that way, end of story.
There are many great custom bike shops around the world, from one-man yard-shed outfits to top-drawer shops like Revival, Dime City Cycles and Diamond Atelier, which develop and sell parts around the world for others to build their own creations. Untitled is currently developing several standalone pieces of exactly this nature – you will soon be able to purchase an entire rear subframe, seat and pan for any airhead BMW.
What I really came away with was a deeper understanding and appreciation for the value derived from having an experienced professional walk through the process with you from start to finish. Today’s and many of yesteryear’s bike manufacturers build tremendous machines, but economies of scale, cultural aesthetic appreciation, government regulations and other obstacles of the trade limit them and their final product to what would work for the masses. There’s no individuality, something that bike culture is built upon.
Fortunately, there are men (and a handful of women) out there who can build a bike that’s miles ahead of those. Of course taking a brand-new bike from the showroom to a custom workshop is going to cost more than most would consider reasonable. But providing a great builder with a secondhand donor – a Honda CB, Yamaha XS, BMW R-series, or any number of other more affordable bikes with great potential – and having them rebuild it to your one-off specifications, shouldn’t set you back so much. In fact, it should only cost about 1.5–2 times as much as a brand-new fully kitted BMW R nineT, Ducati Multistrada, Yamaha XSR900, or Triumph Bonneville, bikes anyone with a bit of money and no creativity can pick up today.
I know that’s what I’m aiming to do, and while I am not a wealthy man, I’ll feel rich when I’m riding around on the only bike in existence that looks like mine and rides like the day it left the factory 10, 20 or even 40 years ago. That’s value; that’s something to be excited about. Check out Untitled Motorcycles and start dreaming.
15 Rosemont Road Hampstead NW3 6NG
Tel. 07989-134-297, Adam
San Francisco, CA 94107
Tel. 1-415-713-5778, Hugo