West Coast Motors Fatbob Special Project 2020
The automotive world has a wonderful niche: Special Coachbuilding. We are all familiar with the rich history of famous design houses like Zagato, Touring Superleggera, Pininfarina and Figoni & Falaschi to name a few, who created many exclusive body artworks fitted to existing rolling chassis by high-end brands like Ferrari, Alfa Romeo, Aston Martin, Bentley and Rolls-Royce. These wonderful pieces of automotive artworks were purposely built for well-to-do customers looking for something different and unique. This way many one-off creations and limited series were born, and still are. Cars that breath uniqueness, often becoming instant collector items showing high market values over time.
But what about two-wheeled machines? Does motorcycle history offer these one-of-a-kind specials too? There’s hardly any sheet metal to change, so what’s left to sculpt and individualise? Time to find out!
Adapting motorcycles has always been popular, over the decades resulting in thousands of so-called “choppers”. Often wild designs stripped from most parts, with exciting paintwork, spartan comfort and limited usability. Major drawback: the functionality wasn’t there, as they usually were unridable & uncomfortable, you couldn’t ride them long distance, they were loud but not fast, showing bad reliability and suffering fast depreciation. The customer base for special designs didn’t disappear though, with many demanding individuals still willing to spend serious budgets on fulfilling their dreams.
This is where manufacturers and specialists jump in: creating unique ex-factory limited series or bespoke one-offs on customer demand.
For all artistic quality, technical expertise and labour required, also motorcycle special designs don’t come cheap. Like with cars, to justify your investment in such a project the rolling base brand to work on shall preferably be of a ‘royal bloodline’. Which leaves only a limited number of iconic brands available operating in the high-end segment, like Harley-Davidson, Indian, Triumph, Ducati and MV Agusta, and small-scale manufacturers like Bimota, Buell, Curtiss (formerly Confederate), Arch (by Keanu Reeves), Brough Superior (revived) and Midual (France).
The first brand that comes to mind in this respect is of course Harley-Davidson: an iconic brand with character, history and pedigree, with its own unique culture cherished by a worldwide loyal fan-base community.
To serve demanding customers Harley-Davidson Inc. offers their high-end ‘CVO’ series and the recently introduced ‘Icon Collection’.
The CVO ("Custom Vehicle Operations") series are a family of models created by Harley-Davidson for the factory custom market. For every model year since the program's inception in 1999, Harley-Davidson has chosen a small selection of its mass-produced motorcycle models and created limited-edition customisations of those platforms with larger-displacement engines, costlier paint designs, and additional accessories not found on the mainstream models.
In 2021 Harley-Davidson introduced their “Icons Collection”: an annual limited series of motorcycles inspired by some of their most recognisable and sought-after models like the 1969 ‘Electra Glide’. Each Icon in the collection will celebrate H-D’s signature colours, designs and parts, along with the latest technology. Each series is limited to 1500 collectibles.
Harley-Davidson ‘Icon Collection’: Electra Glide Revival 2021
Next to the official manufacturer brands offering their own specials in limited series, exciting customs and one-offs are created by dedicated independent specialists. Being curious to understand what drives them, how they work and what distinguishes them in the special motorcycle segment we interviewed Bas Leek, CEO of West Coast Motors in Alkmaar, The Netherlands.
Bas Leek (5th from top left) + team
INTERVIEW WITH BAS LEEK OF WEST COAST MOTORS:
Who is WCM?
West Coast Motors is a motorcycle specialist and official dealer of Harley-Davidson in The Netherlands. The family company was established in 1976 by my father Jan Leek, and taken over by me in 2012.
What makes WCM special?
For many years WCM specialises in making HD more sportier, by tuning utilising our own Dyno bank and improving on amongst others brakes and suspension. By now we have many WCM Specials and sporty ‘ sleepers’ on the road!
What is your view on HD’s history and their present position and developments?
HD has a magnificent rich history and has always been represented in various categories of motorcycling.
That is why in this context we experience the current developments at HD very positively, for example the Adventure segment that HD is now entering is very important in Europe. In terms of performance and road holding HD's new motorcycles are also something that has a lot in common with WCM.
Why do you work with HD?
I couldn't imagine any other brand for my daily routine, it is of course a hobby and where your feeling lies. Other brands don't give me and the team this feeling. The world that has been built around the brand, the people, the countless possibilities for customisation etc. make HD unique.
What makes a Harley so attractive or suitable for making 'specials'?
Because everyone can compose their own HD with the huge range of original and aftermarket accessories, customers come in with the craziest ideas. We help them with advice and to realise their dreams. The resulting emotion that is invoked by both our team and the customer can’t be matched anywhere else.
SPECIAL HD MODELS
HD of course has its own special models, the CVO models and the new 'Icon Collection' (such as the Electra Glide Revival model 2021). How do they stand out?
It's nice that HD is doing this, especially the latest Icon series are a nice statement from HD that emphasizes their rich history. I think they have lost sight of this for too long by only focusing on new and modern.
CVO models are also a wonderful surprise from the factory every year: beautiful high-end ready-made motorcycles with a good residual value. These will be built less in the future and therefore become even more exclusive.
You also design and build your own models. How did you come to create your own designs?
That usually happens in the head, and strangely enough not on a drawing board. I collect parts for the project, take a new HD and start the project. Because of my experience as a mechanical engineer and through internships at, for example, Bakker Framebouw, you know what is possible; years of experience also play a role. A project should also always “grow” while you are at it; nothing is predetermined.
West Coast Motors Fatbob Special Project 2020
Of course you go much further in terms of modification and looks than HD Inc. itself. Tell us more about that?
For example, we use components from other brands, or market-leading components that are not specially made for HD but are adapted to it by us. Brands that you should think about are, for example, Brembo brakes, Öhlins suspension and Marchesini wheels.
You don't hear the term "chopper" often anymore. Does that term still apply today? Don't your models go much further than the classic 'chopping'?
Chopping was always about removing excess parts and creating a pure naked bike, purely for the 'looks'. We go further than just the appearance and want to create a usable, nicely handling HD with which you can also make a week long ride in the mountains without back problems.
In addition to frame and parts, do you also upgrade the engine blocks?
Engine blocks are mainly tuned by us with original HD Screamin' Eagle engine parts. This ranges from crankshaft, camshafts, cylinders to cylinder heads and throttle bodies. Some go up to 131 cubic inches (2150 cc). After running in these parts, the engines are then fine-tuned in house on our Dynostar test bench. This is where the ECU programming is written for maximum horsepower from the tuning and to ensure the engine runs smoothly and economically. Even for mild tuning with, for example, only camshafts and dyno adjustment, this is already a significant difference for the normal rider: more power and flexibility without compromising on reliability is for many customers a major improvement of their bike.
How are the special HD models received by the Harley public?
People who appreciate our style know us from all over the country because of our reputation, and because their dealer around the corner isn't specialised in it. So the audience that comes to us is always very positive. ‘Creating your own market’ does apply here!
West Coast Motors X-BOB 2021
As already no Harley is the same, is there enough interest in the market for the more expensive modifications?
Budget-wise most people of course stick to the modest modifications, but come to us with confidence because they see the more extreme work we do. Every now and then there is a customer allowing us to “go wild”, willing to pay a lot of money and really wants something special. The trust that we receive from these customers is also an extra motivation for the entire team to really peak with a Special Project.
How many special models have you made so far?
No idea; when do you call it a "special" model, what is the threshold for that? We probably created hundreds of them, with usually between 5 and 10 new specials every year.
Do you have any great projects in the pipeline?
Yes, we are now completing a project with 2 of the same Old Skool Breakouts, no-nonsense bikes with ultimate 131 cubic inch performance blocks.
Do you come up with all ideas yourself, or is this in consultation with or at the request of the customer?
We first inquire what the customer likes and often let him send some examples of what they like; then we will work with their ideas and make something unique out of it, not a copy but his own 'bespoke' Harley.
West Coast Motors XLR Competition 2016
How would you characterise the customers for your special projects?
This varies from people who are big fans of our style, to people with a big wallet who want something exclusive.
What technologies do you use when customising a Harley?
We have everything in house, such as a complete machine shop, bench, welding equipment, dyno test bench, etc. We also have specialised partners for CNC assignments, painting, powder coating, anodizing and seat upgrades.
You have an engineering background yourself, which will of course come in handy?
Yes, without that background you don't know what is possible, and I would be too afraid to just grind a new Harley in 2 pieces at the start of a project. Now you know from experience that everything will be fine.
Do you have any new developments or plans in the future?
In the future we would like to get started with the new platform of the Harley-Davidson Adventure and the performance custom model with the new Revolution Max 1250 engine. This one already has 150 hp as standard, so let's see what you can get out of that and what cool specials we can build "our" way with this new HD platform. We would like to be the first to come up with something like this again; that's what we are known for and thus what people implicitly expect from us.
West Coast Motors Special Streetbob 114 Cross Bobber Special 2021
West Coast Motors
Madame Curiestraat 6
Alkmaar, The Netherlands