KEVIL'S SPEED SHOP
Independent bike builders We are all aware there is no longer a UK motorcycle industry (most Triumphs are now built in Thailand). But there does exist a network of innovative bike builders, whose imagination and engineering skills produce specialist builds and custom bikes that are sought after by riders who want a machine that is unique, a one-off, and stands out from the mass production that now dominates.
Through the winter months, we will visit and profile a number of these inventive and original bike builders. We begin the series with a look at Kevil's Speed Shop, where they turn ageing BMW Boxer Twins into unique and very desirable motorcycles.
Six years ago, Kevin Hill was driving a truck to landfill sites. Like so many motorcyclists, he had ridden bikes since he was young and kept a long-term interest, even if not owning a bike all the time. Perusing eBay one day, as you do, he spotted an R65 BMW for sale for £400 and snapped it up.
The way Kevin describes it, he 'stripped it and played around a bit.' The result was what he called a 'rat rod,' which he put back on eBay for sale, with a huge response from potential buyers. Having turned a surplus on this one, he did the same again twice; on these occasions too, Kevin's modified and customised Boxers were snapped up.
He carried out these builds from home, using the money from the sales of his bikes to buy more tools and parts for the future. This exercise had set him thinking about wider sales, so he advertised himself as a custom bike builder and received a positive enough response to set up in the business.
The experience and expertise to work with bikes and components didn't just spring from nowhere. His father had a model ship building factory in Weston Super Mare, and Kevin spent four years working alongside him, learning to apply the intricate skills and quality that has now been transferred to motorcycle restoration and rebuild. He also worked in the motor parts trade for a while, which added to his experience of securing and working with components.
About four years ago, Kevin decided that premises were needed to cope with his expanding market and demand. So Kevil's Speed Shop was born in a large workshop just off the main road that links Paignton and Torquay, in South Devon. He has gathered around him a small team of self-employed specialists; leather upholstery, paint and powder coating; mechanics; and welding and fabrication. He tends to keep all the work local - within a four-mile radius.
His growing reputation meant that the imagination and innovation built into Kevil bikes were in demand for shows. They have been displayed at the Kick Start shows, the Bike Shed extravaganzas at the trendy Tobacco Dock in London, and he has created bikes to appear on the BMW stands at the NEC Motorcycle Live and the MCN Excel shows in London's Docklands (we've included a picture of RnineT 'Rat Tracker' that appeared as part of the BMW Motorrad display). If you're ever down Los Angeles way, you may even spot a couple of Kevil creations in a BMW car showroom, ordered for display by the owner who found what he wanted on Kevin's website, which has proved to be an excellent marketing tool, racking up 1.2 million hits from around the planet.
When I visited, there was a lovely restored R80 parked up; a customer in the Czech Republic had specified this one, and it was waiting to be delivered. A striking red and white Boxer was waiting to be viewed by potential buyers – he usually turns out a couple of bikes a year for sale on the open market. And next to this, a new BMW RNineT that BMW Motorrad has handed over temporarily, on which Kevin has had some enjoyable mileage this summer.
Lurking in the shadows was a BMW that rarely has much attention or admiration lavished upon it: a K100, the one with the flat four engine known as 'the brick'. It was always the 'ugly duckling' of BMW's range, but this one has been subjected to the Kevil treatment, and has now taken on a design persona somewhere between 'punk' and Mad Max. The revamp is an improvement in my eyes, as the custom components take the eyes from the engine; the bike will probably be put up for sale.
Apart from the individual and exclusive nature of the builds he takes on for clients, Kevin's reputation rests on the quality of components that he sources globally, and his role has increasingly become one of co-ordinator. He ensures that everything from the engine rebuild, which is carried out at an engineering shop in Lincolnshire, through to the powder coating, fabrication and parts that reflect the clients' imagination and wishes, comes together.
Once all the build segments are there, they can assemble the bike in a couple of weeks. But before, and during this process, Kevin has to ensure that he has interpreted his clients' instructions and desires correctly, and has given them regular progress reports and updates.
I asked Kevin about sourcing older Boxers, thinking that tracking down decent examples will become more difficult in the coming years. He acknowledged this and said that they were beginning to look to the possibilities of diversifying with Japanese machines, especially smaller capacity bikes that people acquire because of the changes in licencing regulations, and who want to buy into the custom scene.
If a custom Boxer is on your most-wanted list, get it while you can. Alternatively, you can go to the website or Flickr to view more of the range of bikes Kevil's has turned out, or look out for them at upcoming shows.
Are you a custom bike fan? Share pictures of your builds, or your thoughts about what inspires you at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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