Is there a lot of crossover from the car world and the bike world?
We have another customer who loves his Singer Porsche. So he said he wanted a bike that from a distance would like a classic Hydra-Glide, but when you got closer, you would realize that it had all the most up-to-date performance parts from Ohlins suspension to Brembo brakes. At the same time, we changed all his hoses to copper pipes to give it a real artisanal feel.
What would be one of your most radical projects?
A bike called the Burning Man for a customer who has the biggest camp in the Burning Man festival called Black Ocean [entrepreneur Timur Sardarov]. He’s a super-cool guy. He said, “Can you create a float for me for Burning Man?” So I replied, “I can’t build a float as I don’t know anything about that. Let me build you a Burning Man bike instead. Something really aggressive and that looks like ‘Mad Max meets Star Wars’.” It features high-performance Ohlins suspension and raw bodywork with windows in the gas tank. My biggest headache was figuring out how to make these windows work. It was a lot of new practices and techniques. It is really important to us to push what we can do.
Tell me about the bike you built for Huntsman chairman and owner Pierre Lagrange…
It was such a pleasure to build a motorcycle for a man like Pierre. Pierre has been a long-time motorcycling enthusiast and he used to ride with this famous group of actors, which included Lauren Hutton and Jeremy Irons. He has a very sophisticated style. I loved that he drives a vintage Aston Martin DB5 Shooting Brake and so his motorcycle had to be very elegant, timeless with great vintage-inspired styling. The details on the bike are really interesting. For example, his rear fender looks like an old hinged rear fender. In fact, I fabricated it to look like this. I really tried to imagine what Pierre in his capacity as the chairman of Huntsman and as a champion for Savile Row would ride. Pierre famously had the interior of his Aston Martin upholstered in Huntsman check tweed and so we decided to also craft his saddlebags with tweed to match this theme.
Where is the creativity coming from today in terms of bike building?
Interestingly, I think that Europe and Asia now are a little bit more innovative than the United States when it comes to building custom Harley-Davidsons.
Would you say that, today, the custom bike builder has become a celebrity?
Television shows like Biker Build-Off and Orange County Choppers certainly helped custom-motorcycle building be recognized as an art form. Then, the Internet and social media helped to internationalize the culture. We can see what people are doing in different parts of the world and the creative energy is galvanizing. That is very exciting. My second language is Thai and it’s incredible to see how vibrant the motorcycle culture in Thailand is. Friends of mine who run the Indian and Zero Engineering franchises also create festivals for bike culture. It’s also nice to have international competitions like the Battle of the Kings, where dealers all around Europe try to create the best Sportster in their country and from there, the best bike in Europe. We’ve been the UK champs twice in a row.
Which companies do you work with the most for the parts of your bikes?
There are no limits. For example, Pierre’s saddlebags were made by a small family of artisans in Italy who were delighted to be part of the project. I also have relationships with what I feel are the most innovative companies on the scene, including Ohlins, Vance & Hines and Roland Sands. I’ve always been a fan of their work and looked up to them, so it’s nice that they seem to like my work too. And it is nice to be able to exchange ideas on where we see motorcycles evolving in terms of design and style.
Is it true that you have customers coming from around the world to have a Charlie Stockwell custom bike?
We have a lot of international clients. What many of them do is buy the bike at their local Harley dealer then ship it to us. We do the work then ship it back to them. Since the bike is already pre-registered in the right country, this is the easiest and most legitimate way to do it. Probably 40 percent of what we do is for foreign customers.
You do realize a bike made by you is quite collectible…
Maybe. If you say so.
Would you ever work for Harley-Davidson in a design capacity?
It might be interesting to work for a corporation but only if there were no restrictions. If I worked for Harley-Davidson, I would have to build bikes for millions of people and I think that would come with restrictions in terms of what I could do creatively. When I build a bike today, I build it for one person. Possibly you. And as such, we are only limited by what you and I can dream of.