The world of bikes is huge, some see it as a way of transportation, others see it as a sensation or even a piece of art. Paradoxically, the evolution of bikes has always been trying to make faster bikes, super technologic, in a world where driving faster than 80Mph will soon be an homicide attempt. For those who are passionate about it, the arrival of the electronic injection has made it inaccessible to its mechanics. The designs and aerodynamics have transformed bikes into plastic monsters with no heart, no soul. It’s in a short film called “Riding September” where we discovered Fred’s and Hugo’s work. Purists whose happiness is defined by some salami and a glass of red wine while sitting by the fire of a mountain chalet, the whole after having been cruising the wild spaces on their brand fresh rebuild, flat twins. Their job ? Resuscitate old bikes by making them from scratch. We’ve met them in their workshop of Paris. Just arrived, Fred apologises for the dirt, whereas we already felt too clean.
Jacker / Tell us how did everything start.
Fred / We met here, about 6 or 7 years ago, making the long story short, Hugo was repairing some old Vespas here. Back then, about a year before we met, I had just finished my formation in mechanics and I was working with a friend near Paris repairing old BMW. First mine, and then for two or three other people. Hugo’s cousin that I know really well said to me once “you should go meet my cousin Hugo, he has a nice place, not far from yours in Paris, and I’m sure that he would be interested by what you doing”. So I came here and asked if we could share the place. I remember I had that black mat BMW, then I changed to another colour but well, Hugo said to me “fuck, I love your bike, could you make me one ?” and I replied “ok, as you had the amiability of sharing this place with me, we’ll make a deal I’ll show you how to make them”, and that’s how it all begun.
J / What are your inspirations ?
H / A bit of everything that surrounds us, the architecture, the transportation, le bicycle, sailing and aviation, all this stuff since the very beginning. After all, what we really appreciate, it’s what is surrounding us, it can be photography, it can be anything really.
F / An exposition of photography or art too. Mixtures of colours that we like and we would apply on a bike.
J / Which of your creations required the most of you, which is your chef-d’oeuvre ?
F / The thing is that, the answer we will give now won’t be valid in a month, that’s what we hope in any case. Because we haven’t stop improving, we always add technical difficulty or aesthetic. Nowadays, it’s a BMW cross that we are about to finish, for plenty of reasons. First because we went really far in the aesthetic choice. We made a blue-duck structure, it’s not something very usual, so we first had to convince the customer. We’ve added a well-known old Husqvarna tank, the one that appeared in the cover of Sports Illustrated in 1963 with Steve McQueen on it. Well, it’s not that one, but it’s the same. And on top of that, Husqvarna was bought by BMW, which we found funny with Hugo because we usually combine tanks and bikes from different brands. It works from the design, it gives a very vintage motocross touch but it over all gives something that neither BMW or Husqvarna could make, they can’t, however they belong to the same company.
J / How much time do you work on each bike ?
F / We make 5 bikes at the same time for around 4 months, we work from Monday to Friday 9am to 7pm non-stop. Well, obviously we have to bring the bikes to the painter, saddler and all the providers we need to build the bikes.
J / All your videos are recorded in the countryside, is it maybe that Paris doesn’t match your lifestyle ?
F / Yeah for sure, at least me. I consider myself to be originally a citizen, but then I spent all my holidays since I was born in the countryside. The real countryside in middle of France, go get fresh milk straight from the cows, but I also consider myself to be a citizen, it defined me as a person and influenced what I do.
H/ Then what is also important , is that if we want to enjoy those road trips and rides, living in the countryside would make it a lot more complicated to enjoy it. When we leave and we know that we are coming back, makes us enjoy it a lot more. It gives the coherence to this thing and we are happy to be there so we can leave.
J / What’s your best memory in a road trip ?
F / I’m laughing now about it but If Hugo wasn’t there at that time I would have exploded my head against a wall. It was in Germany, coming back from Copenhagen, it was raining cats and dogs, we were well equipped though. We were coming out of the ferry from Denmark to Germany, did about 30 -35 km no more than that and at a traffic light I said to Hugo that the rain was significant. So there was a refuge not far away from where we were and we decided to go there. At that moment, it was like if god pressed a button and from intense rain we went to something that you have never seen in your life. I mean, at some point, it was raining so much I was lying on the bike and I said to myself “it’s not possible, someone must be empting barrels of water over my head”. We got to this shelter and I undressed myself so I could dry off a little bit. We ended up at an old woman’s place which we found the address in a tourist information office, the granny was super nice, and she had a really thick carpet so we could dry off. It was around 5.30pm and the old women told us: I could make you some dinner if you want and we accepted her offer. We were in a room both of us in a separate bed facing each other. I was under the duvet and I said to Hugo “well let’s have a little nap ?”. When we woke up it was 9am. Today it’s the most amazing memory, but on the moment, we were about to die.
H/ Yeah, we had it strong, we had a lot of water.
J / “Shit always happen”, what was your biggest problem with a bike ?
F / With Hugo and another friend, we were about to go on a road trip one morning. It was the day before the annual close down so we had to go that day. I had just finished building my BMW, brand new, I unscrewed and built everything back again, my bike was completely green, I called her “the green hornet” in reference to the movie. I left with Hugo and 1km after I see oil everywhere. Hugo said to me “Fuck man you smoking like a fighter that has been taken down”, behind me there was a massive white smoke coming out of my exhaust pipes something I’ve never seen before. I just rebuilt the whole engine. We were still inside Paris so I told Hugo that I was going back to fix my bike and they told me “common its fine, we will refill oil every now and then”, and I replied back “ man I’m burning more oil than fuel”. When I came back, I unscrewed the whole engine and I couldn’t find the problem, so I told Hugo to leave, that I will catch them later. As our engine shop was closed I had my bike parked outside. The day after I went to the BMW concessionaire and bought some pieces and on the sidewalk I unscrewed and rebuilt the front part of the engine. People were complaining of the mess I made, there was oil all over the place. Its true it wasn’t very civilised thing to do. Finally I called a friend that helped me find the problem, he made a hole with a drill, and then, everything was perfect. I didn’t realise that I blocked the oil breather and my engine had too much air pressure, this separated the joints that weren’t isolating anymore. I tried to join my friends and I did Paris – Biarritz in 15hours non-stop. By the meantime, they were already in Portugal, I couldn’t contact them, so I decided to do my own road trip on my side. I never had any other problems with this bike.
H / My biggest problem was in Marseille, I lost the axle of the rear wheel on the motorway when I suddenly realized, it was like a rodeo. Fred stopped and joined me by foot, we were on the emergency shutdown rod, everyone was brush passing us with their cars. Finally he pulled me to the end of the motorway towards the north part of Marseille. People were telling us to not leave the bike there. A kid came ten times asking “do you need help ? Do you need help ?”, and at the end he said, “Do you want me to call my older brother ?” so we negotiated with a police station to leave the bike for the night. We left the bike there three days the time to receive the piece I needed, fixed the bike and continue our road trip. We went to Spain, Biarritz, then Paris, around twenty-five hundred miles with no problems.
J / Finishing this interview, what do you dislike from the modern bikes ?
F / First technically, because it’s injection and we don’t do that. It’s more about electricity and electronic, and those are the limits to our knowledge. We know them, we have the,, and we admit them. Then because modern bikes look like insects, like some type of transformer, and I don’t identify myself with them. The evidence is that my first bike when I got my licence was a BMW of 1961, so I don’t lie to myself when I ride old bikes, it’s really what I like, it’s the aesthetic I like, the spirit I like, the sound I like and the vibrations I like. Modern bikes don’t vibrate, I dislike the sound they make and the 18000 rpm doesn’t interest me. It’s like war weapons, this guys go 30 mph with bikes that can reach 75 mph on the first gear, I don’t see the point. On top of that, you look like everyone else, everyone has the same bikes, it’s inevitable.
H / And for the majority, those bikes aren’t for cruising, we can’t transform them like we want, only few things, it’s full of plastic, fibre work is not something interesting for us. Those are other techniques, it’s something else, some people do it really well, but not for us.