Wednesday, May 28, 2014

In conversation with Steve Willis of Shaw Speed & Custom

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The impressively handsome XR1200TT. We love this bike!

Based near Brighton, in the UK, Shaw Speed & Custom (SS&C) create some of the best Harley-Davidson custom bikes in the world. Led by Steve Willis, SS&C have already created more than 90 amazing machines, which have been sold to customers in the US, Australia and practically all over Europe.

The best Harley custom bikes in the world? Yes, that’s correct. Just take one look at their latest machine, the stunning, beautifully-made XR1200TT, which is SS&C’s interpretation of Cal Rayborn’s 1960s Harley XR750 TT. The SS&C XR1200TT features a heavily modified version of a fairing used on a land speed record-setting streamliner, front fender from a Suzuki MotoGP bike (!), aftermarket headlamp, custom-built rear seat unit with flush-fitted taillamp and indicator lights, 17-inch Dymag wheels, Ohlins suspension at both ends, Brembo brakes with radial-mount calipers at the front, and a custom-built exhaust system with Akrapovic carbon end cans from a BMW X6.

With fuel-injection mapping taken from XR1200 Cup racebikes, the SS&C XR1200TT already has 100 horsepower at the rear wheel, and the engine might be tuned further for even more power in the near future. The stock XR’s belt-drive has been replaced with a chain and sprocket system, which is in keeping with the XR1200TT’s sporting intent.

We were so impressed with the XR1200TT, as well as with other Shaw Speed & Custom motorcycles (many of which you can see below...), we decided to catch up with SS&C’s owner, Steve Willis, for a quick chat. Here are some excerpts from what Steve had to say to us:

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The Husqvarna-inspired 1200 Cross Sportster. Details here

On how SS&C got started with building customized Harleys

We have been a Harley-Davidson dealer here in the UK since 2003, we have always been into the customising side of Harley-Davidsons and encouraged light modifications from what was on offer, with accessories from Harley, and custom painting, handlebar and wheel changes etc. As time passed and our experience grew, we dealt with more complex customs and gained a good reputation for delivering highly finished projects.

In 2009, we lost Buell, as Harley-Davidson decided it was time to end the Buell legacy. So we decided that we needed to do something else within the dealership to fill the gap that was now apparent with the loss of the adventure and street bikes. So, we decided to take customising to another level, make it a better experience. In 2010, one of our bikes won the World Championship in Sturgis, in the modified Harley-Davidson class, after which we gained a lot of attention globally.

On how SS&C gets started with ideas for new custom bikes

The ideas now come from the portfolio of bikes we have. Most clients email or call saying they like a certain style of bike, from what we have done, but would like something different for themselves. We then get excited and discuss what we can do. We are always looking at changing things around and keep taking things to the next level. Always, while working on cosmetic details and performance, we want each bike to be a seriously good ride, and keep our ‘rideable custom’ tag into whatever we do.

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CRXR Sportster. Details here

On SS&C's design process for their custom bikes

No CAD design, no sketches, pretty old-school stuff really. Communication, understanding, getting to know the customer as best we can, so we know where the bike is going. The person's lifestyle, their shape, size, use, style - our job is to know who we are working for, and we then work as a team to come up with ideas that are hopefully fresh and give the customer what he or she is looking for. My job is to help with the first steps and understand and connect with our client, so I can give the best brief to our team and technicians.

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XR1200RR Sportster. Details here

On customers' response to their bikes, and support from Harley-Davidson

So far, so good. With our customers, there is a massive amount of trust that is involved from their end, to let us have the freedom to build something that is unique for them, and fits them in many ways. I have got to know the team at Harley-Davidson in the design department - they are very complimentary of our look and take on many of the customised Harley-Davidsons we have created. I have noticed that our take has influenced bikes out there, but that could be my imagination! :-)

On where most of SS&C's customers come from

Our overseas list is quite extensive now, with bikes that have been delivered to Angola, Beirut, Gibraltar, Paris, Milan, Monaco, Stockholm, Rome, Switzerland, Germany, Perth Australia. We are currently building a bike for a client in Las Vegas in the US.

Rockstar MXR Sportster. Details here

On what kind of bike SS&C would build, if resources were no constraint whatsoever

I am happy with the builds that we are currently doing and have done in the past. We have covered scrambler-inspired bikes, tracker-style, cruiser, and vintage styles. Every day I see new ideas and creations in our workshops, which is very satisfying. A dream project for me would be to be involved in builds for motion pictures - I would love to see a collection of bikes built for a movie. We nearly got to build the bikes for the Captain America movie, but the project was taken back to the States. I did meet and discuss bikes with the famous movie Director Joe Johnson though, and we did support the film for a few weeks at the Shepperton Studios with technical back up for the forest and chase scenes, repairing and maintaining the Softail Crossbones that were jumped through the air and given fair tests of durability!

Bell & Ross B-Rocket Softail. Details here

See the full range of Shaw Speed & Custom's motorcycles here

Many thanks to Steve Willis for taking the time to speak to Faster and Faster. We wish him all the very best for his future work and hope his team gets to build some really cool bikes for a bunch of blockbuster movies sometime soon!

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