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Mechanical alchemy: Custom meets classic in Red Barn superbikes

By IGAN D'BAYAN, The Philippine Star Published Aug 13, 2022 5:00 am

There is mechanical alchemy going on, all right.

The Moto Builds Pilipinas custom-bike competition of the Makina Moto Show has emerged from a collective pandemic cocoon bigger and hell of a lot bolder. Over 60 well-screened entries were submitted last July in the event held at the SMX Convention Center.

Bagging first and third prizes in the BMW Category was Jay Martin, a much-heralded figure in the field of motorcycle restoration and customization. Jay was the only Filipino sent years ago by Piaggio to Italy. The man has mad skills.

Jay Martin of Jay Martin Garage

The main man of Jay Martin Garage worked on two BMW K1100LT motorcycles from the Eighties owned by Christopher “Kit” Nicolas’ Classic Kit Restorations and The Crucible Workshop’s Red Barn. Oh, how the machines stood out amid a fleet of custom-built Harley Davidsons, Vespas, BMWs, and what-have-you.

Let’s backtrack a little: Kit and Crucible Gallery owner Sari Ortiga featured Alfredo “Wild” Aranda and his functional art piece billed as “The Wild Bike” at Art Fair Philippines 2020 right before COVID locked us all up. The motorcycle-as-sculpture project was an homage to “The Killer” by Craig Rodsmith for Bobby Haas. To date, Sari and Kit have worked on 10 classic motorcycles and a number of customs. Two years after the start of their badass collaboration, the men were itching to do something as radical once again.

Christopher “Kit” Nicolas of Classic Kit Restorations

“I learned that Jay and Kit were joining Moto Builds Pilipinas only three weeks before the ingress,” explains Sari, “which is good because I had fewer sleepless nights (laughs).” All he knew at that time was that Kit (whom Sari calls his “BMW guru”) and Jay (who had previously worked on Sari’s all-black R100 as a tribute to a departed artist-friend) were working on their motorcycles.

Get your motor running: Classic Kit and Crucible Workshop’s “Red Barn Project” superbikes — red, white & gray R50s, a very rare black 1959 R69, and a blacked-out Jay Martin-custom R100

Kit shares how Jay was the only person that came to mind when he got hold of the machines. The duo went to work right away, transforming the luxo-tourer into a “naked, light, minimalist” machine. The form, function and spirit of this relaxed-green bike are intact, but the body is lighter, speedier on demand. According to Jay, in the annals of custom culture, this “flying brick” is the most difficult to customize, since the electrical components are complicated and converting its frame is quite challenging.

The rule is dapat walang kamukha.

The other motorcycle — a café racer bought by artist Kawayan De Guia, who was informed about its entry to Moto Builds 10 days before the event itself — is a looker in brown. (Jay says its color code is “338”).

Before: BMW K1100LT in blue

“This is so different from the other bike,” he adds. “Same model, but almost ‘reversed’ (in terms of palette).”

Sari explains, “Both motorcycles are grounded on the classics, but customized.” The spirit of the brand still reigns, but with a punchier aesthetic. He shares how customizing the two machines for the sake of customization was the initial goal. (Give a true artist a blank canvas or a slab of clay and you can expect him or her to create magnificence from the barest of materials.) Competing against other customizers was an afterthought, but join Moto Builds Pilipinas they did. Rightly so: they have been holed up for years in garages because of the pandemic; now is the time to be part of a community of riders, restorers, customizers, and manic motorcyclists once again.

After: Relaxed-green BMW K1100LT custom (by Manda Built, Classic Kit and Red Barn) with its famous 1100cc “flying bricks” four-cylinder engine — Moto Builds Pilipinas 2022 first place, BMW Category

The attendees and judges of the Makina Moto Show were floored by the customized BMWs. While other entries relied on bolt-on kits, Jay reimagined and reinterpreted the machines entirely.

When customizing, you do all the parts from scratch; no shortcuts, ideally. “The rule is,” stresses Jay, “dapat walang kamukha.” Singularity is king.

Before: BMW K1100LT in white

Kit observes how some motorcycles are so high-tech and souped-up that you don’t feel the ride anymore. He believes, “(When it comes to) nostalgia kailangan may soul.”

Guys like Jay and Kit see a chunk of metal and assorted materials and its propensity for speed, and — right away — they can see the form it deserves: whether restored to the original in the most devilishly detailed fashion, or altogether something different, wild and yet itself still. 

After: Kawayan De Guia’s brown BMW K1100LT custom — third place

“They have raised motorcycle customization to the level of art,” concludes Sari.

If a painting is something that can fill the emptiest of rooms, these customized motorcycles look transcendent on the open road. Art luxuriously touring the grayest of landscapes.