Winston Yeh: Please allow himself, to introduce... himself. In a bizarre twist of the whole prey-becomes-the-hunter schtick my TV loves so much, bike builder Winston Yeh interviews himself about this 2002 Harley-Davidson Softail chopper he created...
So Winston, how did you end up building custom V-twins? It seems like you are a long way from Milwaukee.
WH: V-twins have always been a great canvas to do any style of custom with. Also it’s a global standard platform that doesn’t change much throughout the years, making it even better to work with!! The year I worked with Mr. Roland definitely helps a lot too!
We know you have a background in street art. How did you get started writing and how does this influence you now?
WH: I like all kinds of creations, especially bikes, cars, painting, graphics, and furniture. I enjoy working with anything I can do with my own hands. To me it’s all about creating something you like and fitting it with the style that you’re interested in.
It seems you have a pretty unique vibe to many of your builds. Where does this influence come from and what do you think are the most important elements to getting your look?
WH: I live in Taiwan, a small Asian country, and we tend to be a little conservative. Plus the regulation from our government does not allow for customization, so I can only work without major frame modification in case the bike gets called in for an inspection and I have to change back. At first it seems like a limitation, but it ends up being fun to work within the “rules,” which creates bikes that are appealing to stock bike owners, as they can still relate their bikes to rather than super ground-up builds that are far more beyond regular people’s imagination. As for the style, I must say that the year at RSD/PM influenced me a lot. From the styling philosophy, the production-oriented design, and the business point of view, combined with the raging popularity of old-school vintage bike building from Japan, we have what I’d like to call the “New Old School” direction that I’m obsessed with.
What do you love and hate most about building motorcycles?
WH: I love everything about building bikes from designing the whole shape, to dealing with all the little parts, going through the machining and fabrication, working with different people for different needs, and coming out with this work that you can call your own. It’s fascinating and exhilarating! I hate it when it became a business and a job, but I still do what I like to make a living, so I guess I have nothing to complain about.
At what age did you start working on bikes?
WH: At 19, I bought my first Yamaha 150. The bike was modified in a different style three to four times. It was my “motorcycle building 101” class.
What advice do you give to someone who wants to get into building and designing custom motorcycles?
WH: It still gets back to riding. A bike has to be cool and beautiful, but if it’s too outrageous just to get the wow effect from people, it’s probably not worth it. Ignore all the critics if you believe in your vision and prove them wrong with your work.
Do you get any shit for being in a country that notoriously makes copies of American-made items? How does this affect your design work?
WH: Even I’ve gotten copied already within this super-small circle where everyone knows everyone. It’s that people wouldn’t take pride in your work, but it’s just a different culture. Luckily I never had any reason to get shit for that! The good side of it is the OEM ability is so strong in my country that I can make my own products or any kind of machining very easily.
Do you see yourself having an influence on any other builders in Taiwan? Are there other builders there doing cool stuff you respect and who are they?
WH: I think the most important part is I try to do it the way people used to be scared to do. I’m doing this as a designer, not just a metal worker who does whatever the customer wants. And my work can be internationally accepted, not just something you can only be proud of on your own and ignore all the greater work that has already been done around the world.
Where do you see yourself fitting in the form vs. function side of bike building?
WH: Form over function a little bit more. I like the bike to be fun to ride, have good brakes and good handling, but I will never sacrifice the look for extra padding, super-comfortable seat, super-complete gauges, or even a GPS and cup holder. As for this Softail build, I like to see what I can push my styling with stock Softail frame, the modern-retro, neo-vintage style that Rough Crafts are always working on.
If there was one bike you would have to have, what would it be?
WH: At this point, I would have to say a custom late-model Sportster, which has been a pivotal point of my motorcycle life, with all the parts from all my friends and inspirations, RSD, PM, Todd, Bad Land, Hot-Dock, plus custom body work and paint to pull it all together. At the end it’s not about performance or great engineering, it’s about a bike that you will always be proud of.
HB: Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
WH: Designing custom bikes, cars, furniture, parts … and everything I like around me.
Check out more of Rough Crafts work here.