I feel as though I've just walked onto the set of Mad Max. Scattered all around me is an eclectic selection of motorcycles, but many of these aren't like any bikes I've encountered in the real world. A handful look vaguely conventional, but an equal number don't seem to have been designed for the average biker. A few look to have been teleported from some post-apocalyptic dimension where rogue riders rule the roads.
Offbeat, and in some cases obviously not built with practicality in mind, they’re well removed from the typical customised – in other words, generic high-handlebar, graphic-laden and eardrum-shattering – Harley-Davidsons you might encounter on a Friday night on Jumeirah Beach Road or some of the other cafe strips in Dubai or Abu Dhabi. The Harley epidemic has spread so far and wide that the genre has become almost clichéd. What was once seen as a rebellious, anti-establishment movement is now mainstream and heavily commercialised. It seems that every second well-to-do executive or banker these days has one of the V-twin-powered American bikes.
Consequently, there’s a niche for motorcycles that don’t conform with the formulaic customised herd, and 86 Cycles, the brainchild of biker brothers Zeid and Saad Salman, was conceived a year ago with the intention of filling this vacuum. The brothers are part of a family business with a big stake in the construction industry, so the retro-focused bike shop was established purely as an expression of their passion for all things two-wheeled.
Their warehouse-style workshop has a towering ceiling, and a back wall that’s partially covered in corrugated iron. If you blindfolded someone and walked them in here, there’s no way they’d have any inkling they were in the heavily industrialised backblocks of Mussaffah. The ambience is more akin to a loft apartment in Brooklyn.
Although 86 Cycles can source and fit pretty much any off-the-shelf part for your bike, or repair it after a spill, its passion is to create bikes that shatter all conventional norms of what constitutes a customised bike. To achieve this, the brothers set out to recruit the best personnel they could find, and the search was international.
“I have the best guys in the country for each of the specialities,” Zeid says. “Our workshop manager is a guy named Artur [Bojarski]. He’s from Poland, and has a heavily pimped car [a gargantuan 1970s Cadillac DeVille]. He has 22 years’ experience working with Harleys and Ducatis, and knows them inside out. That’s Nizar over there. His speciality is Japanese bikes, so he’s working on that Suzuki there, and that Honda. He’s got 18 years’ experience, and is another great resource.
“I give the baker the goods to bake. I don’t get a dishwasher to build a bike. I don’t get the bike cleaner to service an engine. I get the right guys to get the job done properly. Usually, that’s not a successful business model here, because the costs are high … but I do it because I love the business.
“I’m really not doing this for the money. If 86 Cycles covers its costs, I’m happy. I do this so I can build bikes like that.”
The bike he’s pointing to is a modified Royal Enfield that bears no resemblance whatsoever to the bike to which it owes its origins. With a heavily asymmetric stance, and a melange of design influences, it looks nothing like any other bike you’re likely to encounter on Sheikh Zayed Road – or anywhere else, for that matter.
“We built this with the actual manufacturer [Royal Enfield] as a showcase of what the bike can be. The only condition Enfield imposed was to keep the engine the same. So we stripped the bike, and completely rebuilt the front suspension. I wanted this to be the embodiment of all the styles of bike that I like.
“You see this fairing [the shell over the frame of motorbikes]? This is called a cafe racer fairing. Usually, the whole bike has a fairing. But in this case, it’s a three-quarter fairing. So if you see the bike from the right, it’s a cafe racer, but if you see it from the left, it’s a vintage bobber – in other words, it’s been chopped from the back, and has a little rear fender.
“The look from the left side is also meant to mimic scrambler bikes from Japan, which were used by the Yakuza [members of local crime syndicates] to speed through the narrow, poorly surfaced backstreets of Shibuya [in Tokyo]. So the exhaust pipe is mounted high, and the vintage tyres are in keeping with the era of the bike.”
The go-the-extra-mile mentality of the Salmans and their crew is reflected by the Enfield’s bespoke hand-operated gearshift and clutch assembly in lieu of the traditional foot-operated gears. The standard turn signals were also dispensed with and cleverly incorporated into the foot pegs.
Why do all this? “We just wanted to show our creativity. Every single piece of this bike, except the engine, was built by us here. That bike over there [a Honda CB1100] was also 100 per cent built by us for a member of the royal family. We’re the first company in the UAE that fabricates and builds here. A lot of workshops do custom work, but they mainly just order in fairings and other parts and install them here.”
Zeid says a particularly wild custom bike can take up to six months to complete, with costs reaching up to Dh160,000 if the makeover is a substantial one requiring extensive handcrafting of bodywork and components from scratch.
Much of 86 Cycles’ business is from Emiratis. There were also a handful of expat customers milling around when I visited the shop. And it’s not just a male domain either, because an increasing number of women in the UAE are embracing motorcycle culture.
So where to from here for 86 Cycles? Zeid says for the coming year, the focus will not be on chasing customer orders but on building the types of bikes he wants to build, and these will be further expressions of the originality and creativity of the company.
Zeid says one of his aims is to ensure 86 Cycles remains profitable, but he’s more intent on establishing the UAE – and Abu Dhabi in particular – as a place that’s capable of turning out world-class customised bikes. Surely that’s a worthy ambition.
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