The Gatsby bike is a motorcycle that haunts me. I keep it in a friend’s shop so it’s out-of-sight but, at least once a month my mind explodes with ideas for the bike.
And like a few of my other vintage finds in Alaska, it started with the relationship I had with the late German Patriarch, Kurt Schrieber.
Kurt sold me a '50s BMW frame complete with an Earles fork, fenders and a headlight bucket. The frame didn't have a motor so I decided to build what's called a R100/2 conversion. Basically, it's jamming a mid-to-late-'70s BMW 1000cc motor into an old BMW frame. But it’s not as simple as putting a motor inside of a frame and calling it good. There are a lot of internal modifications including customizing the drive shaft and final drive, and having custom shock mounting brackets manufactured. And we did exactly that. We got on eBay, bought a 1000cc motor, and rebuilt the entire thing with Steve’s help.
Traditionally these conversions have been aimed at giving an old sidecar rig modern power without sacrificing too much of the vintage aesthetics. But this build is different, plus I have a real soft spot for everything Great Gatsby.
I wanted this bike to reflect the Roaring 20's, pre-depression era. I wanted it big and powerful and glitzy, reminiscent of the V12 automobiles that were just incredible and huge and long and such a big show of luxury in their day. I thought it would be really fun to do something that still paid homage to the BMW roots but is steeped in 1920's fashion. So we basically put a whole lot of power into a 50 or 60 year old frame to keep the aesthetics, including the big looping plunger suspension, but we put a more modern power plant in it. We didn't have to deal with computers or anything as it's still a pretty basic system.
I bought a knock-off Heinrich tank as a base but. we ended up spending as many resources modifying the tank as it would have cost to find an original. But you just don’t modify an original Heinrich tank! It's so dominating it makes a standard 6.5 inch motorcycle headlight look silly.
While I was on vacation in 2013, I was drinking and looking at a bunch of 1920's automotive pictures. I thought to myself, "Man, it'd be cool to repurpose a large, old art deco headlight for the Gatsby bike.”
So I started looking and ended up exchanging correspondence with a gentleman on the East Coast that had a huge inventory of new/old stock glass, bezels, housings, bulbs; all the things that you would need to do something like this. But he had no e-mail.
It was my first experience where somebody gave me a lead and said, "Here's his physical address. You have to mail him." And I thought, "You've got to be kidding me?" So I wrote the guy and two weeks passed before I finally got a letter back. By then I’d totally forgotten about it. He wrote, "Yeah. I've got a few," and we started corresponding. After about four or five letters, and a few months I finally received a box containing a 1933 Chrysler headlight with incredible art deco chrome work. It's huge: 9.5 - 10 inches. It's got a real convex shape versus the typical concave. It's incredibly unique. So unique that traditional brackets were out of the question. I ended up tracing angles from the 1930’s BMW R7 prototype to help design headlight brackets and Joe, my counterpart in this project, brought them to life.
The Gatsby bike has a lot of cool features and we're adding others that, for now, are under wraps because nobody has ever done them. They're unique enough that I think a lot of people will copy it or do their own version of it, which is great. But we want to be the original.
Those unique features will be unveiled with the bike reveal. To give you an idea, they combine my love for old wooden barber chairs and motorcycles. As I’ve restored vintage pieces over the years, I’ve discovered the sheer joy that comes from the no-brain activity of sanding and polishing hundred year old wood. You simply drink wine, listen to period music, sand and watch history reappear.
The tail will be a hardwood inlaid with brass. The bike will have leather, brass, and bunch of different features all wrapped in the glitzy 1920’s fashion.
The Gatsby bike is a very rich, wealthy, flashy bike. A one-of-a-kind rolling piece of art. It’s not a “slap a bunch of Internet parts on” design. It showcases the genuine craftsmanship of several individuals involved in its evolution.
A unique creation like the Gatsby bike is not an overnight, or even a several month build. In fact, it’s likely going to be a two to three year build, which both excites me and frustrates me. The impatient side of me can see the finished bike in my head and wants it ready yesterday.
But then, defining pieces can’t be rushed.
*Note: This bike is a fun collaboration with Sub Zero Customs in Eagle River. The average guy’s jaw drops when he sees Joes personal shop. There’s always half dozen projects from custom frames, rat rods, ATV’s, scooters, and more.