The Character of Custom Bikes

Motorcycles have distinct personalities. Stock underbones and scooters are your dependable workhorses, the best when it comes to the daily grind. Except for a few high-end brands, most are pretty average-looking. Everyone has them. They blend in with the crowd and they get the job done, especially when it comes to snaking through the city’s gridlock. Custom bikes have a bit more character.

But what owners of custom bikes will probably not tell you is that they can be very moody. After a month of using Fenrir, my Final Fantasy-inspired bike, I started to realize that about him. And I say him, because motorcycles seem to take on a life of their own. I usually think of the motorcycles I ride as either guys or girls depending on how they feel. Fenrir is definitely a guy. A very emo one at that.

Photo courtesy of Cafe Racer Philippines

Fenrir reminds me a lot of Squall Leonheart from Final Fantasy VIII at the start of the game. He’s dark, brooding, mysterious and has a LOT of issues. He’s the type of guy you want to get to know and who you desperately want to like you, but he makes it so damn hard. I was enthusiastic to go on rides with him, only to be answered in aloof one-liners or dead silence. Parang ang laki ng drama sa buhay. Yung tipong paiiyakin ka ng ilang beses pero ayaw mong pakawalan.

The quirks of the base bike (a secondhand Suzuki Thunder 125) made learning to ride him a struggle, especially since I was just getting used to driving a manual clutch one after being on a scooter for so long. For one, the foot gear shift was pretty stiff, making shifting hard. The neutral light indicator was acting up, so I couldn’t tell when I was on neutral. The exhaust pipe feels like this unwieldy gunblade sticking out against my leg whenever I drive. I even got blisters from the heat coming out of the exhaust pipe which burned through my jeans. The ammo cans, as cool as they look, make maneuvering through traffic more difficult because the rear is wider. They rattle a lot and I’m afraid that they’ll just fall off when I ride too fast. I’m also constantly on tiptoes when at traffic standstills.

To be honest, Fenrir looks so cool and I want to show him off and take him everywhere. Ang angas niya eh! But most of the time he’s just not in the mood to go out or will act up. On our year-ender ride, both he and I got soaked in a rainshower that fried his batteries. I also ate a lot of mud and dirt because of the lack of fenders. During a ride to Pagsanjan, one of the bolts came loose on the exhaust pipe. Another time he just died on me in the middle of the road and our neighborhood mechanics couldn’t figure out why. Most of the week, he sulks in a corner of the garage. I’m kind of afraid to ride him alone in case something happens.

I am very grateful to Detour Motorcycles for taking on this project and to Marvin of No Barriers, Just Horizons who designed the bike, but I guess it will take time before we fine tune everything. When Fenrir was back with them for adjustments, Marvin lent me Wander One, his tribute motorcycle to Wrangler Philippines, which he built after winning True Wanderer in 2015. Wander One is the reason I decided to get a custom bike of my own. I got to test drive her a bit last year, so it was nice to get to use her again.

If Fenrir is the angsty silent type, Wander One is a more fun-loving spunky girl. I instantly felt more comfortable using her because of my height. She feels very agile, lighter to use and easy to maneuver. I love the stylish leather touches of the comfy seat and the leather saddlebag on the side. Wander One looks really good in a down-to-earth, rugged kind of way. The curves of the tank are sexy, the seat curves upward, while her tires are knobby like oversized combat boots. Overall, she reminds me of Tifa Lockhart from FF VII.

Her shifting is very smooth and she was such a joy to use, especially after I had been having problems with Fenrir. Her engine is a bit on the noisy side, but not loud pipe-annoying. It can sound pretty scandalous though if you’re passing by quiet villages or parking in the basement late at night.

Wander One is very easy to get along with and fun to use, which sort of reflected my mood whenever I rode her. You can take her anywhere. She’s not afraid to get dirty.  She’s comfortable on dirt roads and mountains as she is hanging out in neighborhood cafes. I wanted to use her all the time. Sobrang saya kasama. Instant morale booster.

I took her camping, used her for city drives and off-the-beaten path when I checked out the broken bridge to Marifanta over several weekends. I kind of didn’t want to give her back when improvements on Fenrir were done.

Last April 20-23, Fenrir made it to the shortlist of Motobuilds Pilipinas 2017, the largest custom bike show in the country. He was one of the finalists in the Scrambler below 200 category, which Wander One actually won last year. He was displayed in the Mall of Asia SMX Arena along with hordes of other custom bikes.

Photo grabbed from Carmudi

You think your bike is unique and the coolest thing in the world and then you see all these other awesome bikes on display. My confidence level during the ingress quickly dropped when I saw the craftsmanship and quality of the other bikes being brought in. It was like entering a grand Cosplay Convention in a DIY costume, when other garages obviously had all these resources, sponsors and teams behind them at their disposal making their bikes look store-bought. Some builders came with trucks carrying the bikes so as not to ruin their perfect finish and wash. Other bikes on display are owned by guys who have numerous rides in their garage, and can just strip apart brand new Harleys, Ducatis, BMWs and Vespas without a second thought.

On the other hand, I had to drive Fenrir through traffic to get to MOA in time. It rained on our way there, rendering the bike wash useless. We had planned to buy new knobby tires for him in time for Motobuilds, but my budget was kind of stretched with other trips and the cost of repairs. As a last-ditch effort to make him look more scambler-esque, Marvin agreed to swap Wander One and Fenrir’s tires.

I was out of town during the whole Motobuilds weekend but based on the event coverage, I didn’t think we stood a chance of winning. The competition was really fierce this year. True enough, the bike that won in that category was a retro looking Honda XR200 brat tracker with a bright red tank. Built by Bjorn Pabon with FreeSpiritmoto and Jets Q Kustoms, the bike recently participated in the custom flat track series “Keep it Dirty” at MX Messiah Fairgrounds. It’s very eye-catching and cool-looking.

Second place went to a Suzuki bike with a classy blue tank by Iron Macchina Customs, a garage which entered ten bikes in the competition. I have to say, all their bikes have sleek lines, a clear aesthetic and super clean finish. Ang linis ng gawa! The colors they use really pop and they look like they all belong to the same collection. Fenrir was literally the dark horse.

I went straight from the airport to pick up Fenrir for the event egress, riding him home with Art who brought my helmet and papers on his Royal Enfield. More adjustments need to be made now because the tire-swapping apparently causes the rear tire to grate against the back fender, which I have to get fixed.

Despite all his flaws, he’s gotten a lot of attention just from participating in Motobuilds. When I use him on the road, I get a lot of questions from other riders especially during traffic stoplights. One random guy even asked me to pull over “to check out the bike” and asked for my phone number on the spot. It can get a bit embarrassing. Lately, I find myself using my friendly scooter Chocobo more for city driving and errands just because he’s more practical to use in traffic and when I want to remain anonymous.

Fenrir is still a work in progress. I guess we’re still in that limbo adjustment phase where you’re not really sure what’s going to happen. Anyone who’s played FFVIII knows that it took a while for Squall to warm up to the group, but eventually he did and we got the happy ending we wanted. I really want this to work out. I just hope that he opens up and accepts me as his rider soon.

Additional photos courtesy of Detour Motorcycles, Cafe Racer Philippines & Carmudi. Motobuilds 2017 video coverage by Weekend Rider.

6 thoughts on “The Character of Custom Bikes

  1. Nice! I get the feeling there will be other bike projects in your future. So Kara I have been following you since 2014 and have wanted to visit Philippines. I have some travel ideas but you are way more knowledgeable about PI travel than me. Could I hire you to design an itinirary for me that would be both safe & fun for a solo US traveler? Please contract me at email below. Thanks! Pat

    • Hi Patrick. Thank you for the words of encouragement and glad to hear from someone who has been reading my blog through the years. Will shoot you an email. You can also reach me at my FB Page: Travel Up.

  2. Awesome Kara! I hope u would keep on posting pictures of ur rides. Also, I inquired on ur blog about Caramoan. Planning to ride there this August from Manila.I hope you have some idea if the road from Naga to Paniman is fully paved na. Thanks

  3. hi ms. kara!
    the struggle is real talaga with a custom bike lalo na pagmay mga nasisira dahil di na stock na parts gamit mo and kapag DIY pa, wag mo sana susukuan si Fenrir! hahahha! ridesafe mam! 🙂

    • Hi Mike, after I had the exhaust pipe moved sa ilalim, medyo nagkakaintindihan na kami 🙂 He doesn’t look as aggressive now and has lost a bit of the “scrambler” look, but at least hindi na nasusunog yung leg ko while driving. I’m enjoying using him more now and took him to Daraitan on our last adventure 🙂 So it looks like this will be a happy ending for both of us. Yay! Thanks for the words of encouragement!

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