Custom Motorcycle Couture
“I never look at other motorcycles for inspiration,” says Cyril Huze. “I spend my time in museums and art galleries, and traveling. For me, designing custom motorcycles is like haute couture. I create a unique, wearable art object that is the client’s personification in kinetic metal.”
French-born Huze admits he would just as happily design for the catwalk, as fashion the unique rolling sculptures that have made him one of the top custom builders in the world. “Just like a fashion designer, I am obsessed with the line,” he says. “I fuss over every aspect of the finish. I bury myself in even the smallest detail. I will work on the shape of a bolt until I am convinced it is perfect.” Paris style mixes with American myth in Huze’s ethic and esthetic. Just as Brigitte Bardot’s 1966 pop hit proclaimed “Je n’ai besoin de personne en Harley-Davidson,” Cyril Huze declares the custom motorcycle as the ultimate and final remaining expression of the true individual. “On a motorcycle, you need no one,” he says, echoing Bardot’s song. “You are fused with the machine. You are empowered, and humbled. Because most of all, the motorcycle is the great equalizer.”
Looking at Huze’s creations, which take as long as eight months to build and start at $80,000 apiece, this declaration incites further discussion. “I will not build a motorcycle for someone who does not appreciate it, no matter how much money I am offered,” Huze insist. “On the other hand, if someone who is really sincere has saved for years just to have me create for them, I am moved to do so.” His mission statement posted on his web site spells out his 12 rules for customs, crowned by the last one: “There are no rules.” This singularity of vision—he calls his bikes “Absolute Customs”—has only made his work more desirable. With no more than a dozen bespoke motorcycles a year, Huze’s order book is filled for the foreseeable future.
Cyril Huze’s reasoned elegance is the antithesis of the chopper-builder-as-grease-monkey. His spare, pristinely compact Boca Raton, Florida, studio and workshop are as far removed from that perception as Paris is from Orange County. He sees himself following the path traced by Michelangelo and the court artists of the Renaissance. “Just as the powerful of the past made these creators the architects of their imagination, the custom motorcycle is a way for this century’s affluent elite to make a truly personal statement.”
Each project begins with Huze’s intimate study of his patron. “We talk about everything—except motorcycles. I discover what is under the skin of my client, so I can create the new skin and skeleton which becomes their motorcycle. They will become one with this machine. So I must know what excites them. What challenges them. Perhaps, even what animal they might imagine themselves as. Their philosophy. Their passions.” After a series of interviews, he develops a psychological profile of the client. He then draws the motorcycle and presents the sketches. “I am, to my knowledge, the only custom builder who does this. Because, each time, I am starting from scratch; I never build something that is like something else I have done before. I want my client to see the motorcycle being born, and I provide them with a ‘storyboard’ of the process.” (Click image to enlarge)
Huze grants his haute couture is a platform for development of his line of accessories rather than a profit center. “We invest almost as much as we are paid to build these one-offs. But they serve as a laboratory to develop the technical innovations we market through our catalogue.” He takes another puff on his endless chain of cigarettes. “The accessories are my prêt à porter. My catalogue is a way for people to buy ‘pieces of the dream.’ They can, piece by piece, add a little more of Cyril Huze to their bike.” As the custom motorcycle becomes a more rarified acquisition, he sees the trend towards step-by-step personalization increasing. The up-trend in his accessories business validates that perspective.
The bikes are as much about “go” as they are about “show.” “Everything is meant to add not only beauty, but also value and performance to the bike,” says Huze. He personally road tests each machine—judiciously, but rigorously—like a sculptor giving the marble a final polish. In the tradition of Rodin and Renoir, modern maître Huze combines intellect with esthetic muscle. His manifest Gallic sensibility merges with a playful and profound love of American icons, from motorcycle cops to James Dean, Marilyn Monroe to Mickey Mouse. Collectors of Huze’s creations treasure each one, not as museum pieces, but as precision tools to carve the road ahead.
Think of Huze as a master tailor who builds the bike his client will wear. He conceals the fuel and brake lines inside the frames and bars, so the look is clean and undisturbed. “Clients are more interested in the look and the end result, rather than the technical details. That said, I design specifically for the conditions in which my client will be riding. I match power delivery, wheel and tire combination, rake and trail, to the type of roads and speeds that are anticipated. Anything else would be illogical, and even unsafe. It’s a bit like wearing a tuxedo when what you need is a leather jacket.” He smiles. “Or maybe you need something that is a bit of both—and still works.” And how does it feel to ride a Huze? “When I see the finished bike for the first time and I start the engine, it’s like a baby being born. When I ride it, I feel like a king. And that’s how I want my clients to feel.”
Huze considers three of his most recent projects as representative of his current vocabulary: “Kiss My Wheels,” “Mirage,” and “Viva Texas.” “Kiss My Wheels” is a bobber born out of one of Huze’s cross-country excursions in search of America and a chance encounter with a truck-stop girl. As he recounts the experience, he wistfully evokes The Byrds’ song of the same name. “I tried to imagine the bike I should arrive on to impress her.” His diary records the process: “A rigid gooseneck frame from a Santee, an EVO TP engine dressed with Pan Style Rocker Covers from Exotix for the retro look, a narrow primary drive from PM to match the small size of the bike, an Exile chain sprocket system for simplicity, and some of my new parts: Z bars, a spade sidemount, Spikee coil bracket and a Huze Springer front end.” Voilà. The bike premiered at the 2005 Las Vegas Bikefest and was immediately snapped up by one of his most ardent clients. No word on whether Cyril got the girl, but these parts have made their way into the extensive Huze accessories catalogue for those who care to own a piece of the magic.
A sneak peek at “Bombshell,” a work in progress, provided some insights into future Huze creations. This bobber draws its inspiration from the pinup nose art of vintage World War II American aircraft. The image of a Petty Girl in air force garb, crisply saluting, long legs dangling, is affixed to the teardrop gas tank. The oil reservoir under the seat takes the shape of a nose cone. One can almost hear Glenn Miller revving up the orchestra.
Cyril Huze sees beyond the conventional parameters of the custom, and its variations on the basic Harley-Davidson configuration, with the SMS engine. One of his clients has asked him to give an Ariel the Huze treatment. “When I look at ‘retro’, I take myself back in time and imagine how I would have designed these kinds of motorcycles back in those days—and build it ‘better’ than the original.” Huze’s eyes sparkle even more when he speaks of his dream of transform a Vespa. “I have a very big following in Italy. So I would love to do the Vespa in the spirit of those classic movies like Roman Holiday and La Dolce Vita.” The next chapter in the story of Cyril Huze’s moto couture is about to be written.