Sideburn 37 includes a portfolio of images by London-based German photographer Horst Friedrichs. The subjects are a mixture of stylish motorcyclists, drivers and cyclists. When the magazine came out, Tomas Cichecki of OCDconnection custom cycles got in touch to say one of his bikes was featured and what did we think of his custom motorcycle inspired bike, El Payaso. I told him I wanted to put it on our blog and interview him...
SB: What was the inspiration for El Payaso?
TC: This one is a bit of an oddball, typically my work is more on the cruiser/chopper spectrum, but I wanted a change this time. Since London is essentially a dirt road, I’ve attempted to build some full suspension road bikes before, which provided a lot of useful lessons. When my friend Koen from Belgium remotely mentioned “cafe racer” while brainstorming on his build, I thought it’s time to make use of them. As soon as he approved the concept drawings I got straight to fabrication.
I knew the lines I was going for but wanted to bring some volume to it, hence I succumbed to using the diamond tubing, which lent itself perfectly to extending it into the tank dummy and the tailpiece. I was meditating on an aviation-based theme for a while which resulted in the swingarm mimicking rear end of an airplane and making the whole thing more streamline. Koen, who gave me a 100% trust, did not really interfere with the concept and gracefully gave a nod to everything I proposed (a perfect customer) and brought the name to the table halfway through the build (Spanish for clown). I decided to deal with the task of integrating that identity into it via a medium of paint, which while remaining a classic Nascar job, has discrete circus hints.
We have achieved a fairly aggro and agile, yet comfortable machine. The bike makes for a pretty crap cruiser actually - it simply does not want to be ridden slow. It’s more of a thing you take out on days when you have some excess steam to let out. Unfortunately, Koen suffered a heart attack last year. Luckily, he survived and is still with us - loving life more than ever, nevertheless that brought about some lifestyle changes and rendered the bike unadvisable for him. We’ve built up more of a relaxed cruiser since to replace it.
Do your bikes start out as shop bought machines that you chop up or are they entirely from scratch?
My background is in skateboarding and fine arts, engineering is a relatively new realm that I’ve embarked on simply cause I wanted to be making my own bikes. The more I learn about metal working the more possibilities open and the more interesting = harder it becomes. In the beginning I’d put things together from existing parts in my mate’s living room by nights. When I picked up welding, I started to chop bits of bikes, shower curtains, chairs and whatnot, whatever shape caught my eye. As things progressed, I’ve moved into designing and building from scratch everything I could. Nowadays I try to use as little ready-made parts as possible, I’m truly in love with the notion I used to loath - starting with an actual blank page.
How many hours and money are in a build like this?
This one started out without much of a plan and we’ve set the budget around 2K. All Koen asked for was a one off, so I made things interesting enough for myself not to want to do it again. As things go, I got carried away, which made me stop counting hours pretty fast and obviously messed the budget up a bit. I’ve reached a stage where I just couldn’t afford to compromise. In the end it was spread out across one year between other projects I was involved in. I have only recently started to keep track of my hours, to judge by my current 200 hours build, El Payaso must be something similar. The good thing about such process from a customer’s perspective is that as the build is spread out in time so is the cost.
Is it all your own work?
Essentially all ideas come from me and I try to do majority of the work myself too as I really enjoy thinking in the actual material’s possibilities. The projects tend to grow in the process, it’s fun tracing it back to the original sketches. Nevertheless, ever since I’ve built first couple of bikes, they’ve been opening new doors. A whole array of amazing people I looked up to and am proud to call friends by now offered help and showed me their generosity in sharing knowledge. The list goes on, but the biggest credit is due to Marc Singleton of the DBR/Garaje de los Muertos fame who let me play in his workshop and stepped in with his engineering expertise in the crucial moments. The whole girder setup on El Payaso’s fork was developed and CNC’d by him, I’ve cut my own fork blades on the bandsaw and finished it by hand. Likewise, the machined alloy parts on the swingarm pivot are his execution. The seat itself had 5 different people involved. Spoke adapters were done by Marek of Kahaki bikes and Rob from Gonzo Customs laced the wheels up. All the custom lettering is an effect of a midnight long distance brainstorm with Stevie Ray Moore.
Is this a business or a hobby or side-hustle?
It’s neither, it’s more of an itch that needs a scratch. OCDconnection is only about 7-8 years old now, I always wanted to keep it small and personal and I’ve allowed it to grow organically. Somehow, I gave it a name and a logo early on because I felt I’m onto something. In reality I don’t know where it’s going, which is how I stay interested in it I guess, but given I had no idea what I’m doing when I started it seems to be going somewhere. I’ve always made an effort to confront with broader audience and the feedback has been very encouraging too. Some of the bikes exist simply because I want to build them and worry about it later, some are keepers. Gradually there’s more interesting and courageous people approaching me about a build who are happy to largely leave me free reign. They always bring something interesting to the table – a theme rather than a drawing and I’m grateful for it cause otherwise I wouldn’t have built that stuff. For now, commissions I do mostly feed right back into it and I still do reserve myself the luxury of turning them down if I don’t feel the scope is right. I’m still involved with other projects too. Obviously making endeavour like that sustainable is the ultimate dream, and I think it goes for anyone who ever encountered the custom bug, cause then one can simply build more. I know where I’m going though and I’m enjoying every step of the way, so I try not to ruin it by rushing to get there.
I'm aware of lowrider bikes, but what is this genre of bikes known as and what's the history of them?
The whole scene, even globally, is so tiny, grassroots and underground it doesn’t even have a unified name, I could probably only compare it to how small and innocent skateboarding was in early 90s. Chopper bikes, stretch cruisers, kustom bicycles, lowriders are some of the monikers. Originally it grew stateside on the fringe of motorbike and car cultures but always remained comparatively low key. They also have a lot of cool old stuff to play with and a bunch of people building sweet rides out of old Chicago steel are around till this day. Likewise, the original Chicano 20” lowrider culture is going strong. Within it all there’s handful of talented builders who developed their own original styles over the years and continue to inspire and push the boundaries of creativity today. The “new school wave” took off a bit in the 2000s when some production frames started to become available. With building your personalised ride getting more accessible, a word wide circuit of organised rides and a club scene have flourished. Obviously, it’s the biggest in US, the OBC Cruiser Con in Vegas earlier this year saw some 1500 people from 100s of different clubs and many countries riding to the sign, but Europe also has a strong and diverse scene too.
Do you ride and/or modify motorcycles? If not, why not?
At first, I thought it will inevitably lead to this. I was even given a Yamaha XS250 by my good mate Charlie a couple of years back. Interestingly enough it’s still on the shelf. I still don’t have a license but have two kids instead. I love all sorts of custom motorbikes and cars and I obviously keep up with that circuit even though I don’t really look at it for direct inspiration. Usually it’s just one line or some obscure, blurred out image I spot in the distance or an abstract reference altogether that I’d choose as a starting point. The beauty of our times is that we can draw from tradition freely and it has become possible to respect it without having to approach it on our knees. I like to be up to date with my context as the challenge remains to be current. I also like the freedom that comes from the novelty of it, it’s easier to explore new ideas as simply much less has been tried. It’s also a fairly peerless and unregulated discipline, no licenses or running costs. Compared to a motorbike project it’s way less demanding as far as time and resources are concerned.
I’ve stopped counting a long time ago but I’d say that doing this on the side over the last 7 years I must have completed around 40-50 bikes. On the technical side of it I enjoy the challenge of having to accommodate for the additional motion of pedalling on a stretched and lowered plan all the same achieving solid comfort and rideability yet different dynamics every time. Function is key, especially with London streets as my proving ground, but style matters. It’s a bit hard to shake off the stigma of cruiser bikes being hard to ride, when you get it right, they really go. With my current build I have stepped into the e-bike world, which is a separate category altogether, a phenomenon in the making. And an exciting one at it. But getting back to the original question - never say never! Not that I ever did.
Tomas „Oddball” Cichecki
Tomas on another of his bikes, London Stop, shot by Horst Friedrichs