parallax background

Driving: Malibu motorbikes by Hazan

2 November 2020
Wine: great vintages for anniversaries
2 November 2020
Falconry: the sport of kings and princes
2 November 2020

Two Wheels Good

Hazan motorbikes are custom made to meet a client’s every need – and the end result is a roadworthy piece of art

M ax Hazan spent three months lying on his sofa recuperating from a serious motorcycle accident that had left him badly bruised and for some time incapable of walking.

That is a lot of time to think, when not reading the newspaper or watching hours of mind-numbing daytime television. And think Hazan did – ultimately having a light-bulb moment of rather profound proportions.

Sitting in his Manhattan flat, Hazan cogitated: why not start building motorbikes from scratch?

‘I had one of those classic Schwinn bicycles,’ Hazan recalls of the iconic marque that dominated the US market from the 1950s to the late 1970s.

‘The top of the frame looks a bit like the fuel tank on the top of a motorcycle. I was staring at it for months and when I finally was able to walk I threw the bike in the back of my truck and drove it out to my dad’s house and added an engine. I cut it up so it didn’t look like a bicycle with an engine in it – and it turned out to be really cool and vintage looking.’

That was some four years ago and provided the origin of a new business that now crafts highly stylised bespoke motorcycles for connoisseurs. The first was sold to daredevil Felix Baumgartner, the Austrian extreme skydiver, who set a world record in October 2012 by donning a spacesuit and jumping from a helium balloon an impressive 21 miles above the New Mexico desert.

Having studied psychology and architecture at Tulane University in New Orleans, Hazan did not initially appear to be destined for a career building luxury motorcycles from scratch. His first move on graduating from university was to join an up-market interior design company based on New York’s Long Island.

‘It’s a bit of an intimidating process because I try to do something completely different each time.’

From there he set up his own similar business, but by the time he tumbled off his racing bike and was consigned to the sofa, the interior design lark was leaving Hazan distinctly cold.

Building bespoke motorbikes, however, reinvigorated him, although initially he could only engage in the practice as a sideline to his main business.

‘But bit by bit I gravitated more towards the bikes,’ he says. ‘I was having lunch with my dad one day and he asked me if I was happy doing what I was doing. I said I was miserable; and he suggested that I just build bikes, so I decided to give it a shot on the basis that I could always go back to doing what I had been doing before.’

Hazan’s first custom-made bikes were sold from a clothing shop in Malibu in California, which originally installed them as an innovative window display. But along came Baumgartner who spotted and bought the first, triggering a rush on Hazan’s other efforts.

‘After the Baumgartner sale I sent another bike out to the shop, which sold before it was even unloaded from the truck. So I sent them a couple more and that’s when the light came on and I started to build bikes full time.’

Until then, Hazan was building bikes from a converted warehouse on the Brooklyn waterfront, which afforded spectacular views of the Manhattan skyline.

But as that part of the New York City borough became increasingly trendy, rents went through the roof, so Hazan upped sticks and headed west. He’s now based in a former sewing factory in central Los Angeles’ old fashion district.

Hazan’s first custom-made bikes were sold from a clothing shop in Malibu in California, which originally installed them as an innovative window display

The operation is definitely focused on the bespoke, producing no more than two or three custom-made motorbikes annually as they are effectively built from scratch.

‘It’s a bit of an intimidating process because I try to do something completely different each time,’ says Hazan. ‘I find I do the best work when I’m going into the unknown – it forces me to concentrate – to look closely at the engine and to see what type of lines I want to build round it, as opposed to repeating and tweaking something I’ve done before.

‘I try to approach the process in a humble way, as though I’m experiencing it for the first time. If you go in with a mindset of I’ve done this before, then you can overlook design possibilities.’

And while Hazan generally assembles his creations from the ground up, that doesn’t mean he’s not grateful when occasionally a pre-made part that works pops up. ‘I love it when I find an existing part that fits. But that almost never happens.’

Prices depend on the overall levels of customisation. Hazan’s semi-bespoke Ducati, for example, while a heavily modified bike, is not as customised as others and therefore sells for around $30,000 (£19,000).

At the other end of the range, his Royal Enfield and Harley Ironhead are in the $80,000 bracket, with the most customised – a supercharged Ironhead that runs to eight and a half feet of aluminium and was built entirely from scratch – has a price tag of about $100,000.

‘The most expensive bikes take the longest time to build,’ says Hazan. ‘The last three fully customised bikes started life as a pile of steel and took about six months to complete, with an additional month of testing.’

Indeed, that testing is crucial. While Hazan’s motorbikes look like pieces of art, he insists they are all fully functional, albeit not always offering the most comfortable of rides.

Testing is time consuming, he explains. ‘When every single piece is built from scratch, there are certain frictions and distortions that have to be worked out. You have to ride the bikes to find the problems, fix the problems and then ride them again.’

‘The last three fully customised bikes started life as a pile of steel and took about six months to complete, with an additional month of testing.’

What about smoothness of ride? ‘Everyone always says they don’t look very comfortable – and they are not super-comfortable bikes,’ Hazan acknowledges. ‘But they are fully ride-able. You can ride them for an afternoon but I wouldn’t ride them long distance.’

But then it might be difficult for clients to complain directly to Hazan about the bumpy rides as he does not have a huge amount of contact with those buying his bikes.

‘I’ve never met any of the buyers,’ he says, pointing out that all his highest priced bikes have been sold through brokers. He is aware that some of his customers may be somewhat unpredictable in their tastes.

One recently bought a bike to put in the middle of the living room of a southern California house. At a later date he bought an expansive beach house, which he decided would be better suited for the bespoke motorbike motif, but he didn’t want to risk moving his recent purchase.

So the customer ordered another bike.

While many of Hazan’s clients don’t ride his motorcycles, their creator himself remains keen on two-wheeled motorised transport. And as such, like so many others, he has fallen victim to the perils of urban bike ownership.

‘I had to go to Las Vegas for a show recently and someone stole my bike from right outside my house,’ he says. It was a dual sport and road Suzuki Supermoto bike.

‘It’s a fun commuter bike, but not too valuable. I told myself I wasn’t going to touch it, but of course, I did, so it was a little modified.’

As for his assembly-line bikes of preference, Hazan is not a big fan of the newer breed of Harley-Davidson, preferring the older models, along with Britain’s Triumph. But primarily he’s a keen supporter of smaller modern manufacturers, such as Johnny Pag Motorcycles.

As for the British bikes, while a fan, Hazan maintains their image has been sullied by modern fashion. ‘A lot of the English bikes got ruined by the whole hipster movement, with people trying to look like they’re from a Ralph Lauren catalogue – the three-quarter helmet and Ray-Bans look while sitting on a Triumph. It’s all a bit clichéd.’

Words: DH

This article was originally published in Halcyon magazine in 2014

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *