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15th April 2004

Customs & Cruisers on the South Coast

Delicate souls avert your eyes! Russ Gannicott pushes the envelope of classic motorcycling so far that even Sellotape wouldn't save it. He leaves old bikes behind to investigate how the other half live...

Sitting here typing this, a couple of phrases come to mind; 'Every picture tells a story' and 'A picture is worth a thousand words'. Just as well really as I don't have the faintest idea what to write to accompany these pictures! I've just spent a couple of enjoyable hours as a complete uninformed, wide-eyed novice at the annual Battistinis open day in Bournemouth.

Battistinis are one of the country's leading exponents of the art of custom motorcycles... well, Harleys to be precise. Every year at their Bournemouth premises they throw open the doors, fire up the barbeque and strike up the band to the delight of custom Harley enthusiasts from all over the country and indeed, Europe and the colonies as well. For me this was a case of being an opened-minded spectator as I have no interest in either Harley-Davidsons or cruiser-style customising. I do however admire artistry and workmanship and these two elements were present in abundance.

My old dad had an Austin 1800 that was the shame shade of beige as this.

I can't really get my head round the whole cruiser/custom scene though. The people involved in it don't seem to have any interest in motorcycling in general, the whole focus of their attention being on lifestyle and image. I know this is a pretty sweeping generalisation, but these people tend to view classic enthusiasts in rather the same way - they just don't get the point! Anyway, it's a big world and there's plenty of room for us all to pursue our own interests, so I thought I'd spend a little of my time seeing how the other half live.

Can you improve on the look of a Sportster air cleaner box?I was pleased to see that a large proportion of the bikes on show were ridden to the event despite being somewhat less than rider friendly; one or two made a sprung hub Triumph look like the pinnacle of luxury! Needless to say chrome and trick paint were in abundance and the standard of finish on most of these bikes was truly awesome. However, it was nice to see one or two real old warhorses which shunned the glitzy glamour of the day and in some ways captured the essence of the rebel biker. The retro image of many of the bikes mingled well with high-tech, state-of-the-art construction of the others and made an interesting mix which worked well… better in fact than parking a couple of classics in a row of modern race reps!

I know we can moan at the cost of restoration work, but it pales into insignificance alongside the kind of budgets being spent on some of these bikes. Battistinis are of course showcasing their services and they will obviously go 'over the top' on their own show bikes - but at what kind of expense?

Well, when I photographed a certain bike in their showroom I deliberately concentrated on separate shots of the back wheel and the engine areas. The parts in the back wheel shot would buy you a good MV America, the ones in the engine picture would cover a decent Black Shadow whilst the front end (which didn't do a lot for me) would be about the same as a nice Manx with a race history! Yes, we are talking seriously big money if you want to play at the top end of the custom scene.

Engineering be damned - look at the curves...

One thing seems to prevail though; there is a huge industry built around this scene as none of the owners I spoke to build their own bikes. They might buy and fit the odd (expensive) bolt-on goodie themselves but all the major work is placed in the hands of the various specialists who seem to be cropping up around the country.

The event was quite an eye-opener for me as I found myself looking at bikes which, whilst I didn't understand, I could certainly appreciate. What's more, I saw things which had been done to bikes that I couldn't fathom out. How do you get an entire bike polished, plated and then colour laquered?

Seeing this seat could give Graham's children nightmares...

All said, it was a good event, the band were great; the very aptly named 'Skint' which you certainly would be if you built one of these bikes! The barbeque did cracking steak rolls and decent coffee, and the mood was friendly with a polished professionalism.

I still don't understand it, but I'll be back there next year to see how the other half live again.

Relevant or Revolting?

No.  Just... no.


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