“Moto Guzzi isn’t about getting there the fastest,” explains Melissa MacCaull, Vice President of Piaggio Group Americas, the U.S. distributor of Moto Guzzi motorcycles. “It’s about enjoying the ride, and getting back to what true motorcycling is really about. Moto Guzzi is approachable, it’s stylish, and it’s accessible to anyone. That’s the reason we partnered with James for this collaboration. His custom bikes really capture the essence of that experience.”
“James” is James Hammarhead, owner of Philadelphia’s Hammarhead Industries, a small boutique brand quickly building a reputation for producing clean, perfectly edited reinterpretations of iconic modern motorcycles like the Triumph Bonneville, Royal Enfield Classic, and Ural Solo. This latest prototype, dubbed the “V7 Wayward,” is Hammarhead’s first street design—his others were all scramblers of some sort with knobby tires—and is his attempt to create something that “gets back to a more basic, simple motorcycle experience.” We sat down with Hammarhead a few hours before the bike’s official reveal, during a party at New York City’s hipster hotspot The Ace Hotel, to get some insight into his design aesthetic and process.
Motorcyclist: How did this project start?
James Hammarhead: Someone asked me to do a streetbike, so I started to look at what was out there. I didn’t want to do another Triumph, but I wanted an air-cooled twin, which led me to Guzzi. They were immediately enthusiastic, and gave me a V7 Classic Café to work with. (Incidentally, this donor bike was a former Motorcyclist magazine “Streetbike Surgery” project featured in our February 2012, issue—Ed.) There’s so much great history behind the Moto Guzzi brand, and that made me want to do this bike even more. Guzzi gave us a great opportunity, with a solid platform that’s an excellent and unique alternative to the more common Triumph twins.
MC: What’s your first step when building a new bike?
JH: First I spent some time with the bike and got to know it. I rode the V7 and immediately fell in love—it reminded me of my old Le Mans III, Guzzis haven’t changed that much at all. Pretty quickly I had a sense of what I wanted to do. The simplicity of this bike made it easy to take away the elements dictated by mass production, to open the frame a lot, and really change the look of the bike. So we started by stripping bodywork and de-tabbing the frame to open it up.
MC: It looks like you kept a lot of the stock components, just changing them in subtle ways.
JH: I try to transform as much of the stock bike as possible, to keep the cost realistic. It’s not acceptable to me to create a $30K bike. I also try not to do anything too radical. I want to build a bike you could ride every day, take care of business on, and also hit the road and do light touring, too. People might say it’s not “custom,” but I’m doing something different. When you start from an experience, and think about encouraging a concept like just wandering, not know where you’re going, and trying to create a bike makes you want to do that, that’s something different. And, I think, that’s so much harder to do than just making a bunch of CNC parts.
MC: You’ve decluttered the bike.
JH: Exactly. Removing the clutter puts you back in a more experiential mode of riding, where there’s less between you and the road, between you and the mechanics of the bike. It seems silly, but it completely changes the experience of riding the bike. It’s not just aesthetic changes. The aesthetics determine the experience.
MC: How do you describe this bike? It’s got elements of a café racer but it’s not a café racer. It’s got elements of a scrambler but it’s not a scrambler. What is it?
JH: I would call it a lightweight sport tourer, or even adventure bike. It’s my ultimate travel bike. It’s low, close to the ground, and you can’t carry much on it, so you have to deal with people and get what you need on the road. If you don’t have it with you, you’re going to have to rely on people you meet on the road, and you’re going to have more fun and a better trip. I love that idea of going out on the road. That’s different than going for a ride, and I wanted this bike to convey that experience. I’ve been wondering, are there ways to do traveling, riding, and commuting more simply? The Wayward is my answer to those questions.
MC: Why doesn’t it say Hammarhead anywhere on the bike?
JH: It doesn’t need to. We don’t brand our bikes, but one look at it and there’s no mistake that it’s a Hammarhead. You can see the shared DNA across all our bikes. We like to have elements in common across bikes.
MC: Do you plan to produce and sell the Wayward as a customer bike?
JH: We don’t design any bike that we don’t see as being a production offering. I never want to build just one bike. You’re always going to lose money on just one bike, and you rarely make money on a second bike. If you can sell five of a prototype, you’ve basically covered the cost and you’re in business. I’d like to do that with this bike. We would like to have a portfolio of at least five or six models, and selling five of each one would be fine with me.