The Progressive International Motorcycle Show is making its way across the country. While most of the show is predicable and repetitive from year to year, many of us enjoy perusing the J&P Cycles Ultimate Builder Competition. We should always be skeptical of anything that call itself “Ultimate,” but it is gratifying to see the results of various builders’ dedication of time, talent, and materials to their machines.
This year, the bike to see is the little blue BMW by Jesse Bassett of the Gas Box. This perfect sapphire is radically different from anything else in the competition: radical in its elegance, proportion, and simplicity.
Simplicity is not simple. In a minimalist design, everything must be correct. The design intent must be expressed with only a few notes, as the designer does not have ornament to rely on. While most build-off bikes tend toward over-the-top baroque ornamentation, it is a daring move to pare a bike down almost to the Platonic essence of bike-ness.
Every joint is exposed; every weld, seam, or bend is out there and must be labored over to become pure geometry. This is putting it all on the line – fabricating without a net.
Not only the workmanship, but the design fundamentals are also ruthlessly laid bare. The overall proportions, shape, and lines of the composition absolutely must be right, and they are. The bike is compact but open, like a talented bantam-weight boxer, tough and low. Sinewy. None of the pimpish trappings of a professional wrestler. This has to be planned from the beginning – there is no going back and covering up the fundamental form of the bike. That means the builder needs both the ability to envision the unbuilt and the talent to turn vision into steel.
Although it is a minimalist design, for the careful observer this bike is full of little delights. For example, the little clamps for the spark plug wires running along the intake pipes, which help to visually keep the engine clean. Also, the neat attachment of the driveshaft cover to the rear fender, which only works because this is a hardtail, is a tidy move. The footpegs that are identical to the handgrips create a nice symmetry.
The bike is also a feast of finishes. Various platings and polishings provide subtle variations in sheen, warmth, and brightness of different bare metal components. No exposed material is overlooked. The blue paint – devoid of any pinstriping or embellishment of any kind – is both the perfect color selection and flawlessly applied.
It is always a treat to see all the custom builds, which are such personal statements and represents large investments in time and treasure. It is a special moment to see those bikes that really raise the level of artistry in the builder’s craft. This bike is one of those.