Describing a motorcycle’s look, stance or genre isn’t easy.
Every superlative must surely have been used a hundred times over 125 years.
One or two exceptions will always surface and the latest surely has to be Bavarian Fistfighter by customisation shop Rough Crafts. This BMW R nineT is definitely, as the name suggests, beautifully brutal.
Winston Yeh, 36, is no stranger to hard work and even less of a stranger to custom bikes.
This affable Taiwanese gentleman has learned his trade through going to various universities. Graphic and industrial design are two by-products of his further education and have assisted him to design and craft all manner of products. From tables to chairs to stunning urban wall art, Winston has talents most of us can only dream of.
“I was into bikes when I was in college. One of my classmates got a 150 Yamaha. He started with putting a different handlebar and headlight on it. I thought that was so cool. So I got one for myself. It all started there and has never ended… I don’t what my classmate did with his bike in the end – I just concentrated on getting mine built.”
Through his intense custom work and growing reputation, Winston’s finished bike projects started appearing at all kinds of shows. It was at these shows that he began to bump into Ola Stenegard, BMW Motorrad’s head of vehicle design.
“Ola is super cool. I’ve known him for around three years. We’ve been talking at every event we met at. He’s always into what I’ve been doing but nothing more.
“Then one day last year I got a call from BMW Motorrad Taiwan. They were saying ‘Hey, have you seen what BMW Motorrad Japan has done with the R nineTs for the Soul Fuel project? Would you like to do something like that?’ I’m like, yeah, of course I would. It turns out that Ola has spoken to BMW Motorrad Taiwan and that’s how I started with my official R nineT Soul Fuel project bike.”
At the end of 2015, Winston took delivery of an R nineT. Work started straight away. Mental power was key to his first move in the direction the customisation process would take. Design thoughts bounced around what little space was left in his head and then inspirational cues were sought. Winston is first to admit that sometimes ideas come easy – and sometimes they don’t.
“It depends on which bike,” he says. “For example, I have been building many big American V-twins, which are super easy for me. But for the R nineT, this was brand new. I have never worked on a BMW– in fact I have never worked on a bike with so many computers and electrics!”
Inspiration for Bavarian Fistfighter came from inside BMW Motorrad’s rich heritage. All the lines on the bike have been inspired by BMW machines from the past. Winston loves the design of vintage bikes but really likes crossing these over with touches of modern processes and quality. The gas tank lines and front fairing of Winston’s 9T are based on classic BMW bikes, as is the wheel design, seen originally as cast aluminium ‘Snowflake’ wheel rims on older ‘airhead’ Boxers.
Winston’s modern touch, as one example, shines through with these wheels. “The wheels are cut from solid blanks by RSD to my design. And the engine covers are also by RSD with my touches and logo. Because RSD had worked on its own 9T, the hub dimensions were already in place for machining.”
From conception to finished article can often lead to many complications. So what route does Winston go to keep design criteria brilliant but easily applied? “Usually if it’s a bike that I’m familiar with, for example the big V-twins, I will just do it because I know exactly how the proportion is and how everything works. But when I work with a new bike, like a BMW or something else, I always do a render with Photoshop before I start.”
The render is to make sure the proportion is ok, confirms Winston. If he was building and working on a bike, making everything from scratch by his own hands, then he probably wouldn’t make a render. But because so many other people are involved producing components or adapting the chassis for him, he has to supply exactly his thoughts and hopes for the finished item.
“I’m a one-man-band in my shop but I work with various different shops, all of which can make anything happen. I have a friend that does fabrication, so I will take the bike to him. In Taiwan there are many, many machine shops. One shop will do milling for me; another doing CNC; and so on. There are a lot of plates spinning. It is easier for me because I don’t have to feed them all at the same time,” he says laughing.
Asked what part of Bavarian Fistfighter stands out in his mind as the component that summarises the finished machine, Winston pauses for thought. Finally, he speaks and the words instantly point to what makes his work so obviously his – it’s the way everything new is added or modified to fit as a functioning piece as if it was a standard factory item. Winston didn’t remove any of the main electronics but has carefully hidden them. Like when he removed the standard airbox, he had to have somewhere to place the electronics, so he made a new, camouflaged unit to hold them.
Winston: “When I design a bike I try not to make any one thing stand out. It is all about trying to harmonise the bike. Everything just works together. I like the wheels. I like the tank, front, everything. Ok, probably the part I really like is the part that isn’t there, and this is the part that most people don’t like! Everybody asks me why there is no tail section. I say it’s because it works without it and works with the bike. To me it looks great. It’s not what people are used to but this doesn’t mean it’s wrong!”
Winston Yeh’s Rough Crafts is growing in terms of popularity and appreciation. With this comes more commissions, more ideas and, of course, more late hours. Since he formed Rough Crafts at the end of 2009, how many custom projects has he laid his magic across? “I never counted how many bikes I’ve built. Around 20 to 25, I guess. 80 per cent of these have been big V-twins but the 9T was the first BMW.”
Based on the worldwide appreciation Bavarian Fistfighter has received, it looks highly likely the 80% figure given to working on other makes of motorcycle will drop considerably in favour of BMW Motorrad machinery in the future.
Images: JL Photography