Sideburn has a long relationship with Mutt Motorcycle, and its founder, Benny Thomas. the company are based in Birmingham, in the West Midlands, the historic heart of the British motorcycle industry. Their designs of small capacity roadsters and street scramblers, using are now exported around the world. Mutts offer classic style at an affordable price, in a way that encourages new riders onto two wheels.
Sideburn's editor, Gary Inman, caught up with Benny for the first time in a while to see how things were going with Mutt.
Mutt co-founder, Benny Thomas (photo: Andsons)
Hi Benny, I tested one of the very first Mutts, right at the beginning of the Mutt story, what do you think when you've seen what it's grown into, and was that always what you planned it could be? I remember you testing one of the first and the great write up you did! I’m sure that helped get us move along our path so first of all thanks for that (it did take me about a week to clean it though). In answer to your question, from my side there was absolutely no planning involved at all, and I really had no idea what it would turn into. I’m constantly amazed at how it’s grown. I just like making motorcycles. I must add at this point that my partner Will had a very well considered and detailed plan of what Mutt should be from the start and he is the reason it’s grown like it has, although I think I speak for the both of us when I say we are both surprised and excited at just how popular the bikes have become.
Everything that surrounds Mutt, the photography, the films, graphics, headquarters, is all very contemporary and stylish, who is that down to, how much of that is part of the appeal, and how do make sure you move with the times?
That would be Will. He’s a very clever, but very fussy bugger. He literally does all of that side himself or oversees the process, from the design of the showroom to the design of a button on a jacket and everything from photo angles and riding shots in between. When I say he’s fussy I mean he doesn’t have a ‘that’ll do attitude’. Everything has to be just right and if it’s not right it’s re-done and I think that shows in the stuff we put out there. I think in regards to the photography and videos, it is a big part of the appeal. What it really does is just show the lifestyle of the sort of guys and girls that ride our bikes. Most of the ‘models’ are just regular Mutt customers riding their own bikes. We don’t contact agencies and ask for models then dress them up, we generally just put a shout out to see if any Mutt owners want to be in a video and we get a bunch of people getting involved. It’s just people riding their bikes and having a blast. Our bikes have a great community building up around them.
Mutt has competition from other manufacturers, what elevates a Mutt over similar priced options? I don’t see anyone else as competition and I don’t mean that in a big-headed way, I think there are plenty of great small cc bikes out there, but there's nothing quite like a Mutt. For sure there are other black bikes , there are other retro styled 125s and 250s, but they ain’t a Mutt. I’m not really sure how to describe it. As you know, I’ve been riding Harleys since I was a spotty youth, I could buy a Kawasaki Vulcan, but I don’t because I like old Harleys and I get them. I think it’s the same with Mutt, you either get it or you don’t...
Tell us one thing about a Mutt motorcycle our readers might not know. I came up with the name when I was hammered.
You're good at getting interesting people on Mutts, can you give a few examples of them, and how those connections are made? You want me to name drop? I wouldn’t dream of mentioning people like Tom Hardy. Genuinely, we haven’t approached anyone, they have got in touch with us, they want to learn to ride, they have to learn on a 125, so they want to look for the coolest 125 they can. I think interesting people like interesting vehicles. Could you see Bane on a Honda Forza? How important is it for a company like yours to have influencers on board? What’s an influencer?
Where do you see the growth for the company in the UK coming from? I think a lot more people are getting on bikes generally. I’m at an age where when I was young a lot of people had small cc stuff, because it was the cheapest mode of transport, now people are getting on them for all the other reasons, the fun, the cool factor, the community. Just because 125s are classed as learner bikes doesn’t mean all Mutt riders are 17. A lot of the guys and girls are mid-20s to 40s, just people that want to get on a bike but not necessarily use it as a stepping stone to a bigger bike. Small bikes are a lot of fun and great for commuting. Of course, there are also the guys wanting to get into bigger bikes and may want to build up to a custom Triumph or Beemer or whatever, and a Mutt is the perfect bike to start that journey. What about outside the UK? There a huge Mutt community growing in Japan, I mean it’s really kicking off there. There are some really cool cats doing some really cool stuff with Mutts in and around Tokyo. The Japanese dealer network for Mutt is growing weekly. We’re also growing quickly across Europe, South East Asia, Australia. We have flagship stores either open or about to open in Madrid, Singapore, Parma, Paris, Lisbon, Sydney and Tokyo. The USA and China are in the works. Export markets now account for over 80% of our business.
The Razorback (above) is a move from the traditionally-styled Mutts to something more modern, can you tell us about it, and is that going to be the way the company's styling moves? Who knows? I just make it up as I go. The core of Mutt has always been and will always be ‘traditional’ styled bikes and by that I mean they look how a motorcycle should look and the twin shock, spoke wheel thing will always be there in one way or another. The other important part of Mutt is the custom aspect. While they are not custom bikes in the true sense of the word they have that custom vibe, like someone has taken a stock bike and added their touch to it. The Razorback is an extension of that ethos, it’s a bike that has the feel of someone taking a road bike, fitting longer forks and rear shock, sourcing a vintage tank, re spoking wheels, cool tyres, making a low profile seat, fitting short mudguards and all the other stuff one would do to make a custom tracker or whatever name one prefers to give them. We’ve got plenty of plans for variations of the Razorback and the 250 version will be available shortly. Now, the 250 version really is a blast. I've heard that Covid might have encouraged more UK commuters off public transport and onto two wheels. Have Mutt seen that? Without a doubt! It went absolutely bonkers after the first lockdown and I’ve spoken to many customer who confirm what you say. This is a pattern repeated in many other countries.
Do you have examples of owners who have done big miles on Mutts? Like riding to and across the Sahara and back on one? Yep, we hear lots of stories of people going on epic journeys on Mutts, real adventures with the bikes loaded up to the max. It’s brilliant and I love to hear and read about them. Of course theres also the guys that do vast amounts of commuting, 5-6 years of commuting round the city adds up. We have a few regulars with over 30k on their bikes and many in the 15-20k bracket.
I think of Mutt as a stepping stone bike, one at the start of a rider's life with bikes, does that make it hard for the company to keep finding new customers, or is that ideal - people buy, and move on, so there are always, hopefully, new buyers coming along? I think there are two points: firstly, we’ve got the stepping stone guys, who ride a Mutt for a year or two, sell it and move on to a bigger bike, the next guy comes along to learn and he’d rather buy a brand new bike so it keeps going. You’d be amazed how many graduate to bigger bikes, but keep their Mutt as a runaround. But then as I say, there a lot of new people getting into bikes generally and for some people the appearance of Mutt on the market made that more appealing in the way that they can have a proper-sized bike that feels like a proper motorcycle rather than a little tiny thing. Our objective is to create an interesting message about motorcycle culture and attract new riders into it. We all love bikes and believe there are many more out there to bring in to the scene.
You've built dozens, if not hundreds of custom bikes, before embarking on the Mutt journey. What's your best memory, or a stand out moment or emotion from your time with Mutt? Hundreds, Gary, although some of them were pretty hideous. With the choppers I got to know every customer personally which was great and I made a lot of good friends, but one of the things that got me about Mutt was seeing them buzzing round London, just people riding their bikes and going about their everyday business and doing their thing and I liked that. Any final message you want to add? Our brand new Mutt HQ in Birmingham is now open and takes the brand story to another level so come and check out our bikes in person.
All photos courtesy of muttmotorcycles.com (except where stated)