Custom motorcycle builder Säm Luginbühl has motorcycling fused into his DNA. Growing up in Switzerland, Luginbühl’s father took Säm and his brother for rides on his Suzuki GT550 air-cooled two-stroke triple as soon as they were big enough to hold on. Every year, his father took the boys to Switzerland’s largest motorcycle exhibition, ingraining a passion for two-wheels.
Luginbühl describes that craving, citing “the noise, the speed, the look, the feeling of being free when you are riding. I think every motorhead knows that feeling when you sit on a bike and start it—preferably with a kicker.” After getting some time on ATVs and pit bikes, Säm Luginbühl stepped up to a Yamaha DT125 two-stroke dual-sport bike—all with kickstarters.
It didn’t take Luginbühl long to show an interest in customizing. When he was 18, he built a Yamaha 650 bobber for a friend in exchange for a tattoo. Then, 12 years ago, Luginbühl founded Sam-Customs. “It's just a side project to my daily job, and I’m fine with that,” he says. “I can do what I really want to—build special stuff without compromise—and I'm happy with that.”
In 2014, Luginbühl picked up a vintage 1978 KTM GS 250 motocrosser. “I was looking for an old MX bike, and this was the one I found,” he said. “I like KTM. I have a new KTM 350 EXC and have had KTMs—200 EXC and 450 SX-F.” Clearly, Luginbühl motorcycling blood bleeds orange.
It took Luginbühl five years to complete the Sam-Customs KTM SC250. “I started with the KTM. Then I was building a 1954 Chevy pickup over one-and-a-half years—then back at the KTM. Then another project was coming between. But after hundreds of hours, the bike was done, and I was so happy with it. I’m still happy when I see it, and all the setbacks I had are gone away. It was way more intensive than I was expected at the beginning!”
Although clearly a restomod motocrosser, Luginbühl refuses to pigeon-hole his SC250. “I don’t want to say it's this style or that!” he adamantly states. “It's just what it is. Sometimes I'm bored that everything has to choose a category! I love the style of the flat track bikes, but I don’t want to build a flat track bike because there is nowhere a flat track I can go ride. It’s also not a full MX bike because I don’t wanna ride on an MX track with it. It was more about the building and how it looks.” He says that, noting that the “2” on the number plates is inspired by two-time and current Supercross champion Cooper Webb, who rides for Red Bull KTM. Also, the “2” recognizes the bike’s two-stroke powerplant.
“I also like different styles of bikes—flat track, motocross, and others,” Luginbühl continues, “so my idea was to build a bike where I can bring all this together—an old classic bike with the narrow look of a new bike. I love old bikes—the engine, the sound, the size. But, I also like the new bikes, the graphics, the narrower shape. Since I started, it was more important for me to build this, to bring my idea to reality, than what I gonna do with it when I’m done. It was more about the work.”
That leads to one of the most controversial aspects of the Sam-Customs SC250—the lack of a front fender. “That’s a big question I have read several times in comments under pictures. It’s because I like how it looks without a front fender,” Luginbühl says bluntly. “I go and ride some mountain roads with it, and for this, I don’t need a front fender.”
The SC250 is certainly about riding, and Luginbühl recounts his love for the motorcycle exuberantly: “It's just braaaaaaa! Hahaha! With the FMF shorty [muffler], it's loud! It screams, and the vibrations are hell! I’m always scared that the gas tank will break into pieces! On the first runs, I lost several screws, and things I made too thin were broken. It's very small because I chopped the fork. It's very low and hard—a little devil to ride!” Yes, we removed a few f-bombs that were dropped along the way. English is certainly not his native language, but he speaks it with abandon.
Not every choice is purely functional. Luginbühl had a novel reason for going with Hoosier tires on the Sam-Customs SC250. “They just cool-looking, with a cool racing background, and they are new in the MX business,” he says. “I never saw someone in Switzerland with Hoosier tires before—it’s just something special.”
We asked Luginbühl about his Swiss roots and how that impacts his aesthetic perspective. “I don't know,” he admits. “Maybe the Swiss thing is to keep it simple and clean and not too crazy—not crazy paint jobs or freaky shapes on gas tanks and stuff who say, ‘Helloo! Look at me!! I’m so special!’ [laughs] I don’t know!”
“For me, it was a big step to paint the frame of the KTM orange and not black,” he continues. The only thing I never knew till the end was the color. But then I met Chiko, the great pinstriper from Germany—Chiko’s Pinstriping. He helps me with the colors and the graphics. I was not sure if it's too crazy, but it was the best decision I made! I mean, I like crazy colors—blue and red, or a nice mint green. For myself, I always keep it simple, but things change. “The frame of my newest project—a Harley flathead—is chrome. That will definitely say, ‘Helloo! look at me!’” Luginbühl laughs about the contradiction.
Luginbühl has a long list of influences, as most artists do. “I like a lot of things—old bikes, new bikes, old cars, new cars, choppers, hotrods, custom cars, pickups, racecars, trophy trucks, motocross. Back in the day, I was a fan of Trevelen Rabanal, a bike builder from Los Angeles. Today, I mostly like some bikes from Japan—also custom cars and hot rods from japan builders. I'm also a fan of RWB, a guy from Japan who customizes Porsches.”
Moving away from wheels, Luginbühl expands on his inspirations: “I also like the architecture of Japan. Music is a big part of my life. I always listen to music—mostly punk, hardcore punk, hip-hop, rap, and a lot of other things. I like furniture, and I love to build it by myself! I like the art of bonsai trees, and I try it by myself. Try! [laughs] For me, it's very similar to custom bikes. You take a natural tree or original bike, and then you create your own thing out of this. Both you can [foul] up. You bring your own style to it. At the end, you have something unique! The difference is, bonsai takes more time just waiting, and you can't ride them—just looking at [laughs].”
The Sam-Customs KTM SC250 is indisputably a labor of love. “I built for myself,” Säm Luginbühl says. “If someone wants to buy it, and pay enough—I’m not sure what’s enough right now—I want to sell it. But, it's not a bike for the street. It's not a bike for the track. So, I think it's hard to sell.” We think he might be surprised.
Sam-Customs KTM SC250 Photo Gallery