The owner wanted a bike for the city that was light and nimble. These were his only wishes. A small group of us built inner- city bikes throughout the 80s and 90s, so it was an easy task for me. Our bikes were completely purposefull with no frills attached: Narrow bars on tall risers to white line and clear the car mirrors. Fold up foot pegs mounted as close as possible to avoid car tire contact. Exhausts tucked in and empty so drivers could hear us scream up. Small stroker motors with torquey cams to jump from light to light.
I also started using steering dampers to be able to hold on to the bars after hitting pot holes with the narrow glide. I got a lot of strange looks and some foul comments for using them for a while (European sportbike crap etc.), but eventually the Harley custom world embraced them. No fancy paint jobs either because we rode all year round. Indian Larry started building bikes that were inner city machines, but he used candy paint and fancy plating. Once the tv media discovered him, the outlaw style bike world, as we knew it, started to change. – Walt Siegl
images: stephen berner
NYC is known for a lot of things, some good, some not – but it has been blessed to have some talented folks live on its cold, hard granite. Some of the two-wheel influentials, such as Indian Larry, have been well covered in the press and conversely some have cruised under the radar of the populist media for the most part. These folks are busy doing great work, creating their own distinctive style and aesthetic philosophy based on living in a place that tests you at every corner.
The Horse, back in the early 90’s did a pretty good job of covering this two-wheel ecosystem, they were in fact pretty much the only ones covering the NYC scene. Some of these urban bike building talents, including Walt Siegl, survived the tests of the city and it’s “live-go fast” lifestyle. Some even developed rock solid reputations despite the flighty nature of the times and moved on from the immolating scene, creating businesses from their passions.
Walt is of the latter variety, he isn’t a pursuer of all things media, although over time he’s earned his fair share of press (global, I might add) and has been featured in most every “major” magazine title, either as a feature or a cover – he’s also been recognized by folks outside the H-D community for his hi-level of craftsmanship and his road racing pursuits. Yes, Walt is a seasoned, competitive racer and he rides a VTwin, a Ducati to be specific – and he rides the snot out of it.
Meeting Walt Siegl is a rare treat these days. Not being a scene-ster, busy doing all of his work himself and living in the woods of New England are lifestlye characteristics that don’t exactly point to an action packed social schedule. Walt doesn’t get out much, but he works relentlessly in his well equipped, shop, located in a rehabbed stream-side mill. It’s a cool work space with great energy and it allows Walt to focus, something that as anyone who has lived in a busy city can attest to – is tough to do in a electrically charged environ, especially one such as Manhattan.
But we are not here today to wax poetic on the wackiness of the 1990’s NYC H-D scene, racing, or the merits of Ducati – we are here to take a look at some of the work to come out of Walt’s shop hidden in rural (and beautiful) New Hampshire. He made the move with his wonderful family from NYC over two years ago and hasn’t looked back. I’d describe Walt as a true craftsman of the European order. He does it all: designs, welds, bends tubing, paints, machines parts and tunes – there is not a system on a bike over which he doesn’t have mastery. Walt isn’t a blowhard, doesn’t jump for the spotlight and would most probably blush over my description of his abilities, so be it.
Walt’s machines are the kinds of bikes that builders and people in the know, go nuts over – no screaming yellow honkers or shiny Easter eggs to attract the fanny pack crowd – all the love is in the details of Walt’s machines. You have to look carefully and you need to have some knowledge to appreciate what is going on and what you are looking at. Alot of what makes these machines stand out are the small finessed details.
In Walt’s VTwin, H-D infused world, every part is open to scrutiny and improvement; there are no sacred cows. If he sees room for improvement, he makes it – and he makes it beautifully and respectfully. As an example, take a look at the clutch cable stand-offs on his machines, beautiful, graceful, useful and simple. Through this lens, it is also clear that there are some things that just plain work and don’t need to be modified, allowing the bikes to retain their true and birthed persona – they look like Harley’s, and that’s a good thing. No space shippy Jules Verne-esque machines coming out of this workshop, nossir. Walt’s bikes look purpose-built and importantly, they look like motorcycles.
After spending the day together talking, shooting and moving the bikes you see here, it became clear to me that Walt wasn’t really that interested in these machines. He was done with them, they were complete and as such, were self explanatory – they were what they were – finished. He had moved on, not an uncommon trait amongst artists. What really excited him were some of the projects on the bench and new bees buzzing ‘round his bonnet.
And then it became clear to me – for someone who is as cognizant and respectful of H-D, it’s past and heritage, and unmistakable style, Walt is all about moving forward, he’s got things to make, laps to do, bikes to build and visions yet realized. Studying Walt’s body of work, you can’t help but recognize you are watching an artist maturing, each bike another step in the journey.
Walt Sigel relentlessly leverages the past to make way for the future, with a smooth, clean, well executed classic style that shows a maturity and respect we just don’t see all that often.
Walt Siegl Motorcycles
71 Main Street, Mill #2
Harrisville, NH 03450