A night with Matt Machine

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.

The menace is loose again running loud and fast on the early morning freeway, low in the saddle, nobody smiles, jamming crazy through the traffic and ninety miles an hour down the centre stripe, missing by inches ... like Ghengis Khan on an iron horse, a monster steed with a fiery anus, flat out through the eye of a beer can and up your daughter’s leg ...
— Hunter S. Thompson circa 1965.

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.

While the British were being boy racers between the cafes and pubs of England the Americans were developing a style where performance took a back seat to artistic expression. Right at this point you can see the split between utility and rolling expressionism. Paul de Orleans likens it to folk art in his book The Chopper.

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. 

It’s so easy in our world of imagery brought to us every moment via our iPhone feeds that plug directly into our imaginations to be taken by details that we feel we would like to replicate on our bikes, a seat shape, a tank paint job or a nifty crazy exhaust system but the reason for my talk, and why I discuss this with so many people is that we owe it to our culture to protect what the millions of people have done before us building motorcycles. The lineage. You only need to ask this question. In twenty years, will people look back on our generation and see motorcycles that were born for the right reasons or will they see a mish-mash of crazy ill conceived motorcycle weirdness. I know what I am trying to build and the only way I see forward is to understand the past.
— Matt Machine

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. 

 

 

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Heleana Genaus

Heleana is a force of nature. Our Editor in Chief, the founder of In Venus Veritas and The Petrolette, and a co-founder of Rising Sun Workshop. Heleana shares her love of vintage cars, riding motorcycles, and (not-so-secretly) dreams of flying planes and piloting a riva aquariva (a la Sophia Loren) very fast through the canals of Venice. Supportive and connected, community is her lifeblood, and she is as real as they come.