PHOTOS | PETE CAGNACCI
We were very honoured to have motorcycle builder and rider Matt Machine in our space to offer a well researched and lived talk on the history of motorcycle modification and where it's headed. A ticketed, intimate evening that included communal dinner, Matt greeted all guests individually before delivering his talk, introducing his passion for modification with words by Hunter S. Thompson.
Matt then went on to illustrate the evolution of modification and the cultures they fostered as he jumped between Europe and the US over the decades. Acknowledging the first two-wheeld vehicle in 1867, believed to be Michaux Perreaux Steam Velocipede in France, the world wars and the beginnings of motorcycle racing in 1904 and how they influenced motorcycle modification by manufacturers at the turn of the century.
The First World War and the 19 teens saw the battle between the larger manufacturers turn their attention to producing machines that could be used as transport during the week and raced on tracks for sport on the weekend. In the mid teens we saw for the first time the modification of motorcycles in order to achieve a faster machine. Indian and Harley-Davidson saw the need to get on board with this stripping back of the motorcycle and hotting up of the drivetrain and for the first time we saw "works racers" emerge. Companies like Cyclone were at the forefront of building machines suitable for use on the board tracks and dirt tracks. The 61ci Cyclone tracker of 1914, still regarded as one of the most beautiful and mechanically advanced machines ever produced, showed the world what was in store for the years ahead. A cyclone tracker like this can fetch in excess of 1million USD a hundred years after its production.
Having framed up the notion that modification began with a specific function, he then took us through the 1920-60s in the USA as the "Era of the cutdown and then Bob-Jobs" as influenced by two World Wars and economic depression of the time, where modification became the answer to improving the look and performance of motorcycles without having to buy new.
Meanwhile in Europe "The era of the featherbed norton and the race to the cafe" unfolded around the Isle of Man TT race and the evolution of the Manx Norton motorcycle as it continued to contest every race for over 4 decades. As the featherbed frame brought the Norton a new racing life in the 50's it also inspired a generation of street racing and ultimately the birth of the biker subculture that many of us attribute to the cafe racer culture. Bikes stripped back to race on streets... insighting moral panic while they were at it.
Matt then finished on the Chopper era simultaneously unfolding in the USA, an era defined not by performance but outright, unapologetic expression. The outlaw and antiestablishment movements surround this movement in motorcycle modification and formed the basis for films like Easy Rider and Wild One.
The talk was followed by Matt walking through the first four motorcycles featured in The Machine Files and a great animated discussion on the future of modification. The chat followed on over a great communal feed of sticky pork belly, slaw, milk buns and miso corn with house made ice cream sandwiches and chocolate lime tart for desert.