The co-director of the Brisbane custom motorcycle shop says that boredom could lead to a creative change in the direction of custom bikes. “I think it’s splintering in different directions, but I can see it developing into taking a bike from one purpose to another. For example taking an off-road bike and turning it into a street bike and vice versa. Why? Because it’s a challenge.”
It’s that element of challenge, as well as risk and fun that influenced Leo to start Ellaspede with uni colleague Steve Barry. “I’d done 12 years of school and four years of uni and then went straight into a job and I thought there had to be more,” he says. So the pair started an industrial design company called Heluva Studios and from that grew Ellaspede which is a “mish-mash of Greek and Latin that means the beauty of speed”.
“It was a bit of a risk and a challenge and an opportunity to have some fun,” Leo says. Their first project was a 1971 Honda CB350 that they called “01” for obvious reasons. Four-and-a-half years later their shop is working on build #152. Number 01 ended up being selected for display at Artisan Gallery in trendy Fortitude Valley, which drew attention to their bike design abilities. “One thing led to another and people started asking us to design a bike, then to build it. Demand grew and grew and we moved to a full-time space two years ago.” More recently they have added a coffee shop and a retail section for motorcycle accessories. “We never dreamed it would go this far.” Last year 01 was also one of several designs selected by the Queensland Government to go to LA for their annual design week last year. Due reward for their creativity.
Ellaspede marketing manager Hughan Seary says the company now employs six design staff, four full-time mechanics and one part-time. It not only builds custom motorcycles and services bikes but also designs t-shirts, wallets and other leather goods, and has a thriving coffee shop that is the centre for custom bike culture in the bohemian West End area of Brisbane. It’s sort of a Deus ex Machina concept, although its scope with custom motorcycle designs is much broader.
Leo says they do cruisers, cafe racers, flat trackers, classic restorations, even scooters. “Because we do a lot of variety – not just American, or Japanese or European bikes – we get a lot of guys that fall between the cracks. For example, we get a lot of Harley guys that come in and don’t want the typical custom take on a Harley. People bring in the oddest ideas – for example we’ve had a guy who wanted to turn a Sportster into an off-roader. “People want to return to spinning spanners because they have been sitting behind a computer all day. They think, what can I buy cheap but have a fair bit of fun with. They want a slice of their own uniqueness.”
Ellaspede is also unique as it offers customers a graphic design service where their six designers can turn a bike owner’s dreams into images of the finished product just from a photo. Creating the design costs $500 and includes a breakdown of all the work involved and accessories required, plus costs. Customers then have the option of doing the work themselves, having Ellaspede build the bike, or a combination of the two. Prices for a custom bike can vary from a few thousand right up to $40,000. They do most of the work on site, except for CNC machining, and they sometimes outsource painting and upholstery.
Hughan says they do a lot of restorations and customisations of old bikes, but they are increasingly getting customers who want a brand-new bike customised. “We are getting a lot of people buying new bikes, from sports bikes to cruisers, who go out for a ride and see three bikes just like theirs so they want their bike to look different,” he says.
Leo says the most popular donor for a custom motorcycle project used to be the Yamaha SR400 and 500, but there has been a swing toward the Guzzi-like Honda CX500. “I’ve always liked bikes for their aesthetics. It’s the purist form of design. A lot of car design is hidden. Bikes are a lot more on show.”
He came into riding bikes “pretty late” because his parents didn’t like the idea. “I’d had a few close calls with a turbo car, so it was probably just as well I didn’t ride earlier,” he says. Leo now rides a Suzuki DRZ400 that has been “heavily converted” into a hybrid of motard and flat tracker which he takes adventure riding with his mates. His business partner, Steve, rides a Yamaha VMAX. “He’s all about power,” says Leo.
Their business is now flourishing with more than a dozen custom motorcycles on the go when we visited. The shop is open weekdays from 7.30am to 6.30pm and on Saturdays from 7am to 3pm, plus they host evening events such as their second Mexpedition on March 28, a night-time motorcycle treasure hunt followed by a Mexican feast.