May 24, 2016

Birmingham-based motorcycle workshop, Mutt Motorcycles specialise in building custom retro bikes with small engines. Their main aim is to create beautiful machines that are accessible and toe the right line of flashy. No-one likes a show off. We stopped by to talk shop, the buzz of building a bike and seeing it hit the road and the importance of form vs function.

UO: Tell us a little about Mutt. How did it get started?

We are motorcycle fanatics and have a combined background of building high-end custom machines and fashion brands. Essentially those backgrounds, a personal love of motorcycles and a frustration with modern vehicle styling gave birth to Mutt.

Frustrated that mainstream motorcycle styling has lost its way a bit, especially in the small cc sector, we began to look at how we could create a custom machine that is accessible yet not elitist. Hence the focus on lower cc engines. We wanted to create a ‘new’ motorcycle that didn’t look like a lump of injection moulded plastic, but something that had the look and feel of an era when motorcycle design mattered. It was also important to build a bike with all the mod cons of a modern machine, a bike that people could personalise and tinker with, but something that didn’t look like any other small cc bike.

UO: What makes Mutt different from your typical stock motorcycle?

Lots of things. Mostly the fact that no-one else makes a retro small cc bike, or rather no-one does it properly when it comes to styling. We are big vintage motorcycle geeks here, so we spend a lot of time looking at our bikes and getting them to sit right: the right tyres, the right kind of grips, little touches that make them look great. The Mutts are also fully customizable; we can paint them any colour you wish, any handlebars, grips, seat coverings, tyres – it’s kinda like making custom bikes within the reach of the average person. There are very few two Mutts that look the same.

UO: What inspires your custom builds?

The great old production bikes along with classic choppers, flat trackers, bobbers and cut downs, from the 20s through to the 70’s. We’re not pretending our ideas are all new, we just take classic designs and put our own take on them… a classic chopper for example with the right engine, the right frame, forks and tank is always going be a winning formula.

UO: What was your first bike and how old were you when you first rode a motorcycle?

I guess I was around 14 when I first rode a bike. My parents wouldn’t let me have one, they were very anti motorcycles. The first bike I owned was a 550 cc 1975 Honda chopper with 18″ apes. I built it by myself when I was around 15-years-old and I painted the flames on the tank by hand and got a lot of stuff wrong and had to ask for a lot of help. Eventually I got it on the road and it was mine and it was cool as hell when most other kids my age had a 250 super dream.

UO: What do you love most about building motorcycles?

The creativity and sense of achievement for the one-off stuff, standing back and saying ‘yeah, I did that’ – and it’s similar with the Mutts, I love seeing them roll out the door, they sound pretty throaty and I still get a buzz every time we fire one up and give it a blip.

I also love trying different ideas with them, being a twin shocked bike with spoked wheels, there is loads that can be done with them. We can create new bikes based on our stock bikes, I love creating 60′s style British looking bikes out of them. The other guys really dig the matt black industrial look, so we have a great mix of tastes and styles in the team.

UO: Do you prefer American, English, or Japanese Motorcycles?

Personally I ride vintage American bikes and I’ve got a bunch of them, but I’m also partial to 1970′s style Japanese based choppers and diggers…

UO: Do you have a motorcycle hero?

Not really a hero, but I respect certain builders for their vision and skills, Jeff Mccann, Arlen Ness and Billy Budde spring to mind- all 1970′s custom builders and there are plenty of guys I know that I turn to for advice. Never stop learning.

UO: What advice would you give to someone who wants to get into building and designing custom bikes?

Just go for it! There is no school (or none that I know of) where you can learn all the stuff that goes into building a custom bike. You might be a great welder but if you don’t have a good eye for a line your bike is gonna look crap. If you don’t know how set up brakes properly, your bike is gonna be dangerous. Do your research on different styles and parts, don’t rush it and don’t be afraid to ask people that know more than you. Plan carefully and make sure what you do is right. Structural design is of course incredibly important on a motorcycle.

UO: What’s your dream bike?

1951 Harley Davidson Panhead Chopper.

UO: What’s your favourite bike currently in your garage?

1951 Harley Davidson Panhead chopper – I’ve had that bike a long time. I took my wife on our first date on it and then more recently I left her with all my wordly goods strapped to the back of the same bike. We’re inseparable… me and the Pan that is. Of course, for hacking about the city I have a very tricked-out Mutt.

UO: Which do you value more, form vs function when it comes to bike building?

Well, for my own custom builds I’d have to say it’s form over function. I like wild motorcycles, crazy narrow handlebars and long forks that aren’t ideal for handling. But for the Mutts it’s a 50/50 mix of both. The Mutts are designed to look and sound great but be useable for new riders, so form and function.

UO: Tell us- what do you think about Hunter S Thompson’s book Hells Angels?

A good, if slightly warped insight into early club days. But it’s good to read Sonny’s book after for clarification or at least an alternate view on some of Thompson’s writings.