Burly Brand Brat Style Star Bolt
“I built my first custom motorcycle, if you can call it that, at 14 using a Puch moped motor and chassis, bicycle wheels, aluminum conduit for handlebars, and a Dr. Pepper bottle for a gas tank, with the singular goal of hitting 50 mph,” recalls David Zemla of Burly Brand, an Orange County, Calif. maker of Harley-Davidson custom parts.
“Half-a-hundred seemed like Mach 3 at that age and it took me several engines to hit it; two stroke porting has a painful learning curve. I’ve had something in parts in the garage since then.”
That success has driven Zemla to continue building unexpected custom motorcycles that stimulate the imagination. Despite Burly Brand’s self-described “obsessive” focus on Harley-Davidson, Zemla has not shied away from Japanese machines for his builds, including a “full body 1984 Yamaha RZ350 from a few years ago. Inverted forks and a complete R1 body made it pretty special,” he explains.
“That was a fun one, for sure, and at full noise it caught the eyes and ears of a number of confused R1 owners and startled local PD.”
However, the connection to Star for inclusion in the Bolt Custom Build-Off came from an American bike. “The Sportster Scrambler and café I did last year were game changers for me,” Zemla says. “The bikes I built for Burly Brand saw a ton of media last year and I was lucky to have the Star marketing team take notice. I spent a bunch of my childhood with Yamaha brochures under my pillow, so it was pretty amazing to have them call and ask if I wanted to build a bike.”
Star had strict criteria for choosing participants in the Bolt Custom Build-Off. “We looked across the industry at builders who do quality work and take pride in their craft,” according to Yamaha Motorcycle Marketing Manager David Docktor.
“We also looked for builders that fit one or more additional criteria, including level of recognition, ability to generate expo- sure through traditional or social media, and ability to produce and sell parts, so owners had additional resources for personalizing their bikes. Dave was one of the few builders that topped our list.”
Other builders in the Star Bolt Custom Build-Off have graced the pages of Ultimate MotorCycling, including Roland Sands Design, Rooke Customs, Palhegyi Design, and Broward Motor- sports. “The level of talent in the rest of the field made it even more of an honor to be part of this program,” Zemla says. “As if it wasn’t crazy enough to be involved in a build for a major OEM, I was doing it with a group I have the utmost respect for.”
“With its back-to-basics design and compact Bobber style, the Bolt is an ideal canvas for owners to personalize their bike,” Docktor told us. “As we say at Star Motorcycles, ‘We Build It, You Make It Your Own.’ We told builders the design was entirely up to them. We wanted them to follow their own inspiration.”
“Other than a very short timeline, we weren’t given any restrictions. I think the Star team figured if we could build something crazy in less than eight weeks, then more power to us! Luckily, many of the builders were industry friends and we stayed in touch during the construction chaos,” Zemla reveals.
“I’d get an e-mail, call, or Facebook PM nearly every day with a status update or question from someone in the group. That made it even more fun, and I still hear from many of them. Most of the builders are also very social media savvy and shared weekly updates on their bikes.”
“Everyone was impressed with the diversity of designs, and the artistry of each build,” Docktor said. “The builders who par- ticipated in this competition, and the custom Bolts they built, help owners to envision and realize the possibilities for their own creativity.”
Zemla’s inspiration for the Burly Brand Brat Style Bolt came from an unlikely source. “I really love what the Japanese do with the Harley Sportster,” he says. “Their amazing renditions of American bikes became my inspiration for a Japanese machine, and I kind of liked the irony. The simple lines of the V-twin brat style, including the high tank, minimal bodywork, and organic exhaust shapes really spoke to me and I knew I could apply them to the Bolt. I sketched three entirely different renditions of the bike and, in the end, the brat style was my favorite.”
Given that the Brat Style Bolt has a real-world appeal, it’s no surprise that Zemla has put some miles on his creation, which has been lightly slammed — one inch in the rear, 2.5 inches in the front.
“The exhaust note is awesome, raspier than an American bike — sort of a Harley mixed with a Ducati,” Zemla says. “Handling is good, but the suspension sits pretty low, so it’ll never be a big mile eater. It’s had four sets of bars on it and I think I finally got it where I want it. The factory brakes work really well, so I retained them, and the OEM chassis is firm and flickable. The bike is light for the power it makes which is always a fun combination, and I’ve yet to come back from a ride without a big smile. I’ll generally finish a build and rarely go back to it, but this one I’ve tweaked several times and will probably keep at it. It told me it wants suspension mods next and I’m pretty sure it has another exhaust design coming.”
With Burly Brand booming, Zemla is looking forward to building for himself again, rather than fulfilling business obligations. “I’m very much back to building stuff just to build and as of late much of it seems to have a tie to my family,” he says. “A 1974 Honda XL350 for my oldest son will be done by the time this publishes, and my 15-year-old daughter just started on a Honda CT90 project she plans to ride to high school.”
“Wrenching with my kids is pretty amazing,” he continues. “The oldest has already become a better welder and probably builder and, as hard as it is to connect with a teenage daughter, quality time in the garage seems to really make a difference. I consider myself lucky to have that opportunity. I also have a 1976 Honda CB550 café that I started two years ago and then back-burnered for builds with deadlines. In fact, I think going forward I may avoid all builds that have deadlines.”
Of course, that doesn’t mean Zemla won’t be returning to the Star Bolt. “As a platform the Bolt had a lot of potential,” he says. “Belt drive, air cooled, and a classic twin shock chassis are perennial favorites of mine, as well as the custom market in general. It also helped that a lot of the motor is shared with other Star mod- els. The bikes that came out of the Bolt Custom Build-Off are a testament to the possibilities—bobber, café, street tracker, and scrambler, to name a few. I have a post-apocalyptic zombie escape design ready to go for the next one I can get my hands on!”
It sounds like the end of the world as we know it, and we’re sure David Zemla will feel fine.
Burly Brand Brat Style Bolt Specs:
- Engine: Air-cooled, 58 cubic inches, SOHC, 4vpc V-twin
- Air Cleaner: Cobra
- Exhaust: Burly Brand one-off
- HandleBars: Burly Brand one-off
- Fuel Tank: Modified stock (narrowed, floor lowered)
- Rear Fender: Modified star raider front fender
- Wheels: Ridewright Wheels. 21″ front, 16″ rear
- Tires: Front: Avon Speedmaster MK II; Rear: Duro HF302
- Seat: Saddlemen Seats one-off
- Footpegs: Burly Brand Moto
- Lighting: LED
- Paint: House of Kolor
- Painter: Paint by Smokey
Photography by Don Williams
Story from the Alchemy section of Ultimate MotorCycling magazine. For subscription services, click here.