I am Greg Westbury, and I've been in the hot rod and motorcycle business for 18 years now. And with every new bike project I take on, you would think it would get to the point where it gets easier to build something even more bitchin' every time.
The truth of the matter is that the toughest thing for me is trying to outdo myself every time. When I was asked to build my bike "Lucky" for the 2006 Artistry in Iron competition, the hardest part was trying to come up with an idea or concept that hadn't been done over and over a million times. My whole thought process on that bike was to do everything the opposite of the current trends, so that meant no fat rear tire, no long chopper frame, no crazy-ass exhaust pipes, and no billet wheels that look like a Chinese weapon.
When it was all said and done the bike turned out very well, and it looks like it was planned out in my head from start to finish-but that wasn't the case at all. When Lucky was just a rolling chassis I had no idea what the handlebars or the gas tank were going to look like. If you look at the bike closely, those are the two key design features that make it what it is. So do I have this super extraordinary talent that enables me to just grab a piece of metal and build a part that has perfect continuity with every other part on the motorcycle? No. Instead, I think it's a combination of a always wanting to keep things very simple and understated, never being afraid to try new things, and most importantly, I'm not afraid to say "You're an idiot" and grab the torch to cut something off if it doesn't fit with the rest of the package.
The hardest thing to do when building a bike, or even just a part like a bracket, is to make it look simple and not dominate its surroundings. Never-ever-should one part on a bike stand out and grab your attention. It's hard to teach people that, because the natural reaction when building a new bike is to spend as much money on every part as possible without realizing that you're going to end up with a 10-inch wide billet belt drive that looks like a treadmill hanging off the side, or a rear wheel so wide it has different zip codes on each side!
Here are some pointers that I've kept in mind over the years:- Exhaust pipes should be kept minimal. They should fit and flow with the engine and the frame components.
- When buying billet wheels, avoid the ones that look like a salad chopper blade, and avoid hose scrollwork.
- Sissy bars shouldn't look like they were stolen off a screen door.
- When ordering a frame, no 12 inches up and 10 inches out on the neck (these clowns on TV build shit like that, and it's embarrassing).
- Just remember three things: Keep it simple, enough is enough, and learn when to say when.
My newly adopted philosophy is "The simpler the better." When I set out on a new project I not only labor over what it's going to look like, but what it will look like 10 or 20 years from now. I'm not building stuff that has a shelf life or an expiration date when it won't be cool anymore. My bike "El Pobre Gringo," built for Biker Build-Off, has a few modern touches like a 23-inch rear wheel, but you can still see a lot of traditional roots also, making it a cool mix of old and new.
I guess what I am trying to say is developing an eye for style isn't easy, but once you do develop that, it can be applied to anything you do with amazing results. Being trendy is easy. Bolting every accessory from a catalog onto your bike is easy. But neither one of those will give your bike style; style comes from stepping back and deciding my bike would look a lot cleaner if...
Style isn't something that has ever come in a box. Sure, certain elements can be bought from a website or catalog, but it isn't the parts themselves that make a bike timeless and memorable; it is the way it is all put together as a whole. I can't count the number of times I have sawed up a brand-new $300 fender or cut the whole back of a frame off to get it to look right with the rest of the parts I have built for a project. It looks like building a bike like Lucky would be easy, and there is the rub, because it is actually harder. And that's why I do it, because not everyone will take the time and make the extra effort to make it look easy.
You may love or hate my style when it comes to the bikes I build, but you know you're looking at a Westbury original when you see one. Can people say that about what you build?