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Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Comment by Editor-in-Chief, Robin Bradley

Window into the soul of the market …

With the custom bike show season headed to a spring crescendo, looking back at prior AMD World Championship of Custom Bike Building results for the ‘Custom World’ 8-page center section in this month’s AMD Magazine was a scarily interesting process.
Scarily, simply because it was a graphic reminder just how quickly time flies, interesting because it also graphically showed just how quickly custom bike styles change and morph.
I still think of myself as a “newbie” in this business, and still eye the archive of AMD World Championship bikes we have built up online at the event website ( as something that may be of value, one day, perhaps.
In truth, it actually only took six or seven years before we started meeting people who said they found it one of the most informative and important reference resources available, but now, with the 12th AMD World Championship loaded, it really has become a powerful window into the soul of the market.

Roger Goldammer’s Board Tracker, the first AMD World Championship winning bike, still looks fresh and innovative today, bearing a lot more in common with the leading customs of a decade later than it did with those of a decade earlier, when it burst onto the scene like a Red Bombshell in 2004

We have a suite of photography for each bike that has ever entered any of the 12 (so far) AMD World Championships (well, over 95 percent of them), and the six of the AMD European Championships we operated in conjunction with Custom Chrome in Europe, consisting of five pictures and a basic ‘Tech Spec’ shown.
They number something in the region of 1,200 unique custom motorcycles with about 6,000 studio grade photographs taken by internationally respected custom industry photographers such as Horst Roesler, Frank Sander and Onno Wieringa.
I was delving deeply back into the archive in order to trace the prior AMD World Championship appearances of some of the 2016 competitors who have become regulars - acclaimed custom motorcycle designers and engineers such as prior World Champions Fred Bertrand and Andreas Bergerforth, and some who surely will become World Champions one day, such as Yuri Shif and Larry Houghton.
In doing so, it was interesting to see how builders’ own personal styles have evolved, sometimes radically, sometimes more subtly, and to see how the trends in the market itself have evolved through the “Peak Custom” chrome and paint job fest that were the boom years, through the harder times that replaced them, into a market today that (certainly outside the United States) is definitely in a robust state of recovery.
With ‘Retro’ now the default ‘vibe’ of the market, indeed with some saying that we have already passed “Peak Hipster”, it was interesting to be reminded that the ‘AMD’ crash-landed into the middle of the custom bike scene in 2004 like a rock, creating enthusiasm and opprobrium in equal measure with its fancy new class concepts, voting and judging systems, and insistence on treating all participants equally, fairly and honestly.
Yes, that made us as many enemies as it did friends, I’m afraid to say, but with impeccable timing, the win of Canadian Roger Goldammer (the first of his three wins) with his “2004 Goldammer Board Tracker” caught a wave in just the same way that the “new gen” shows of recent years (The One Show, Mama Tried, the Handbuilt and the like) did a decade later.
However, Roger’s homage to the racing culture of the early 20th century was a radical departure from the dominant chopper culture of the time, from the catalog bikes and trailer queens that had dominated since the first crate motors and rolling chassis kits had started to emerge a decade before that.
Goldammer’s “Little Red Lovely” is often referenced as ‘ground zero’ for what has become known as the “retro” movement, but the “new gen” bikes and their builders share much more in common with the trend that got kick-started then, and still dominates to this day what Roger and his “Old School” fellow travellers did to the generation they were challenging at that time.
The present developments we have been seeing in custom motorcycle design and engineering have been much more of an evolution, with their foundations firmly rooted in the changes that hit the market then, than the revolution that the advent of “retro” represented.
Regrettably much of the “I’m too sexy for my shirt” arrogance that got the so-called “builder community” into so much trouble and debt in the post build-off, post Lehman years has persisted – with some of the so-called “new gen” of custom shop proprietors appearing to put more effort into their beards than their craftsmanship.
That said though, the evolution, the fascinating change that has taken place, is that the collapse in available investment capital and discretionary leisure Dollar spend that defined the landscape against which dark became the new shiny has responded to the over-inflated, absurdly unrealistic and, frankly, dishonest price points that brought about the market’s downfall by falling back on the very simplicity of design and affordable and accessible platforms that gave rise to the market in the first place.
So far from bad news for the parts and accessory industry they are currently eschewing, in the long term the “new gen” riders represent rebirth and renewal. As I have said before, once the waistlines and wallet books fatten and the mid-forties median demographic comes to be recognized as a self-replenishing gift that just keeps giving, then the spend will return, the price points will increase, and, crucially, sales of factory customs will grow again.
The big question remains though, as we await Harley’s 2016 financials (due for release towards the end of January 2017), what kind of share of that market Harley-Davidson will have. Here is a stunning little factoid for you – as things stand, it is quite possible that 2017 will see BMW sell as many, if not more, of its R nineT parallel twin platform variants as Harley will sell Softails.
In which connection, and apropos our cover story this month about Harley’s share price staging a near 60 percent recovery in calendar year 2016 … as this edition went to press, guess what? Yes, that’s right, the share price was back down into the upper $50.00 region, headed towards a two-month low!

Robin Bradley