Chicago's Finest Bond Over A Classic BMW Boxer.
WORDS Wes Reyneke IMAGES trashhand
It often takes nothing more than a serendipitous sequence of events to spark a lasting friendship. In this story, a sketchy eBay purchase and a well-timed photography job led enigmatic Chicago-based photographer, trashhand, to local custom motorcycle workshop, Federal Moto. That connection birthed a rock-solid relationship, built on mutual respect and trust — and produced this rowdy BMW R-series custom.
Things were set into motion when trashhand bought the donor — a 1979 BMW R100/7 — off eBay, from a seller in California. “The bike had some work done so it was about halfway to a café racer,” he says. “When it arrived, it was absolute shit. The whole thing was a mess: carbs, brakes, shocks, cables, seat ... everything.”
trashhand had only just obtained his motorcycle license — an off-the-cuff decision to act on a quiet desire that he'd had for a long time. But the unreliable and borderline dangerous BMW was hardly a top pick as a first bike, so he started hunting for a workshop that could get it to a point where he'd feel safe riding it. “I came across Federal Moto, and I never really looked back.”
Federal shop boss Michael Muller was no stranger to trashhand's work. “I mean, the dude has half a million followers,” he quips. “He's kinda popular in our Windy City here. I'm also a fan of his work, it's just raw, and it's interesting to see all the places he sneaks into to get those shots. A wannabe urban explorer myself, it was only natural I wanted to meet the guy.”
Right around the time the two met, moto gear company SA1NT reached out to trashhand out of the blue. They wanted him to shoot some product for them, so naturally he roped Federal in on the project.
“We had a fun day of shooting around the city in his secret spots,” says Muller, “and ended up back at the shop drinking beers and talking about an old airhead he had. He said it was a 'custom' he picked up on eBay from a home builder, and it was just ugly and full of issues, and he would love for us to take a look at it. From there we became friends and started the build process on FED-015 trashhand.”
For trashhand, something clicked. “The shoot only fueled my fire to be a part of the moto world," he says. "It left me wanting to shoot more motorcycles, more product around motorcycles, and more of the culture of motorcycles, in and outside of the shop. Between having this newfound fire for motorcycles and a new friend in the motorcycle world, l let Mike have at it with my motorcycle.
“I had very few insights on the build. The biggest decision I made was what type of handlebar I wanted. I really just told Mike to make a motorcycle he thought would best fit me and my brand. From one artist to another, I know what it's like to have a client come in and tell you how to do your job to every detail, and it's annoying. I came to Mike for a reason — for his vision. So I let him do this thing, and I couldn't be more hyped.”
With the help of Federal staffer David Pecaro, Mike tore into the BMW — meshing scrambler and bobber elements to transform it into a wily crossbreed. But this urban brawler's compact dimensions and murdered-out finish belie what a capable machine it actually is. That's because the Federal boys treated it to a host of sensible chassis upgrades too.
Up front, they installed the forks and twin disc brakes from a Suzuki GSX-R, anodizing the fork legs black to match the rest of the build. The conversion was done using a kit from Cognito Moto in Richmond, Virginia, which includes a new top triple clamp and front hub. Federal laced up a pair of 19-inch front and 18-inch rear rims using Buchanan's spokes, wrapped them in Avon AV54 dual-sport tires, and propped the rear up with a pair of Öhlins Blackline shocks.
trashhand's boxer is a lot more reliable now, too, thanks to a top-end, clutch, and carb rebuild. The carbs were then tuned to run with a pair of custom-made velocity stacks and the new exhaust system. Federal fabricated a pair of upswept exhaust headers, capping them off with a pair of slash-cut mufflers from Cone Engineering that flare out from under the seat.
They treated the bike to a new wiring harness, too, built from scratch around a Bluetooth-enabled Motogadget mo.unit blue control box. There's also a lightweight lithium-ion battery stashed in a hand-made box just behind the transmission, which has been designed to mimic the arch of the rear wheel. The electronics package also includes a Motogadget keyless ignition.
As for the bodywork, all Federal kept was the OEM fuel tank. It's been treated to a pop-up gas cap and CNC-machined emblems that vaguely mimic the original roundels. Sitting behind it is a bobber-style seat perched on a sharply angled custom subframe. The detailing on the upholstery alone is noteworthy; it's been done with suede and leather, with perforated sections between the pleats.
The cockpit features a set of Biltwell risers and Tracker bars, and a Motogadget speedo, grips, bar-end turn signals and switches. Lighting is by way of a PIAA headlight up front, and an LED taillight and turn signal combo unit at the back. A set of custom rolled fenders round out the parts list.
Federal went all-out dark on the finishes, with matte black on the tank and black Cerakote on the exhaust headers and motor. A few polished engine fins add some contrast, along with subtle details like a red anodized steering nut and swingarm caps with Federal's logo laser-etched into them.
trashhand's BMW is worlds away from where it started, and the perfect urban runner. “This motorcycle is meant to ride around with, to shoot, and explore,” he says. “Mike and I weren't interested in building something I couldn't rip every day.
“I think one of the best experiences of the whole thing was being able to document the build myself from beginning to end. I got to see the entire process, the good and the bad. I saw moments of frustration that ended with shit being thrown and calling it a night, just to return the following morning and finish it in two seconds.
“I feel deeply connected to my motorcycle, just seeing it being put together in front of me, bolt by bolt, cable by cable. I also grew a deeper respect for Mike and his team putting that thing together in front of me every day.”
His relationship with Federal Moto has now evolved far beyond just this one project. trashhand is spending a ton more time at the shop now, and recently helped them launch their fledgling DIY project. And it's all because of a random eBay find, and a desire to start riding.
This article was originally featured in Issue 041 of Iron & Air Magazine