Written by Gerald Harrison – The Harrison Collection
I clearly remember the day I got the custom bug, and I’m not talking about a hybrid strain of COVID but my passion for custom motorcycles. A friend and I had started what we called “Monster Monday,” where we’d get together and tinker with our Monsters for a few hours every Monday evening, a phrase that definitely sounds a bit odd to the uninitiated. Not being in the slightest bit mechanical I give up after the first week, my friend goes on to actually produce something half decent, but what I come away with from my one day of pretending to be a mechanic is an image of a chap in a greasy t shirt standing next to the most beautiful motorcycle I have ever seen, it’s Max Hazan and his Ducati M900.
Whilst tackling his first ground up build, a Royal Enfield, Max buys the M900 on eBay for twenty five hundred bucks as a run-around, and for a while he merrily runs around New York without a care in the world, until one day some mindless plonker drives into it whilst it’s parked outside a supermarket. With one remaining handlebar Max somehow nurses it back to his windowless woodwork-shop in Brooklyn and from this broken mess, more out of necessity than anything else, creates a bike of pure aesthetic beauty, almost unintentionally. Built simply to fix a problem, the rest is a by-product. The result beggars belief, I wish I could accidentally whip up a similar masterpiece; “Whoops, I just happened to create this incredibly beautiful object from a wreck, ‘didn’t mean to or anything.” Even the photo that shakes the burgeoning custom motorcycle world is happenstance, it was taken by a friendly neighbour to add to his photography portfolio, not to publicise the bike itself, little could he have known the impact that that image would have. What wasn’t mean to be, has become an undeniable symbol of greatness. The finished article is only enjoyed for a few days before, also out of necessity, being sold as Max moves to California.
The cleanliness of line and delicate simplicity of the frame strikes a chord with me and it isn’t long before I’m on the phone pleading for a mark two version of that bike. What is now known as the GHDucati is born. As Max rightly puts it, the second one always comes out better, I know this from my pancake making experience, the second iteration is aluminium, rather than steel, the shape is perfected to be more comfortable and useable, a 1098 swingarm is bolted to the back and it wears slicks that Max kindly carves a few lines into to make them look vaguely road legal. The 2 to 1 exhaust emits a wonderful baritone note that is unlike anything I have ever heard, the volume is certainly noticeable but not overly gregarious, believe it or not it was shaped using stainless cones and funnels from the food industry. Hitoshi Umekage paints the bike the deepest of deep greens, a pigment mixed by Max, while well placed pinstripes bring out the elegant lines of the bodywork.
Buz Ras of Seattle Speedometer makes a beautiful rev counter that is embedded into the tank itself, the size and lettering of which mirrors a favourite watch of mine; made by Zlatoust, it was used by Soviet military divers and special forces about fifty years ago, in this homage the Russian emblem on the face has been replaced with my initials; a nice detail. Behind the gauge is a simple, milled aluminium fuel filler cap, nothing fancy. It’s functional and neat, it does the job in a rather matter of fact kind of way, much like Max.
If Max were a doctor, he’d be a cosmetic surgeon that also specialises in brain surgery on the weekend, but doesn’t boast about either. Delighting in augmenting the existing beauty of an object, able to create beauty from nothing and also incredibly capable of the most complex mechanical procedures. Taking everything in his stride and forever unfazed by the wildest of ideas he therefore barely flinches when I propose turbocharging a bevel drive Ducati, he actually seems to relish in the challenge. The GHDucati2 is born, using an 860GT, this time the engine is built first and the frame second, thus ensuring a perfect fit. Max likens the building of one’s own frame to building a house from scratch, the lack of existing structure allowing him the liberty to plumb the turbo and the various pumps for the fuel and oil as he pleases, Max explains that the turbo blows through the carb, but I’m sorry to admit that my eyes glaze over at the mention of “boost references.” Often thought of as a delicate Italian jewel the bevel engines are built like a tank and massively detuned, the standard unit produces a rather feeble 57 horsepower, combined with the Leviathanic weight of the machine it was never a sprightly ride and being totally honest, adding a bit of forced induction doesn’t suddenly make it exactly fast but it’s certainly very theatrical with all the whooshes and crackles!
The original 860 was fitted with a single calliper and disc, thinking somewhere far outside the box these are replaced with four callipers and discs from an old GSXR 750. Of course Buz makes another beautiful gauge, this time using the casing from the airspeed indicator from a Westland Lynx helicopter that I supply, I initially had the idea of running the the ASI as it was, with a pitot tube sticking out the front of the bike, but that farfelu concept was vetoed, no idea why! Needless to say the 860 turbo, with its fountain pen exhaust is a crowning jewel in The Harrison Collection and much admired for its finesse and mechanical eccentricities.
In early 2018 Max and I were having a sort of tele-symbiosis, separated by 5000 miles of land and ocean, we were simultaneously geeking out on landspeed videos on YouTube and a friendly call to say hello had us both excitedly chatting about Bonneville. Within weeks a bike is procured and this time, working as a collaborative entity, we strove for high speed on the salt. We choose to use the last of the truly raw Ducati superbikes, the monstrous 1198S. In September of that year we meet on the icy white surface of the salt flats with the bike wearing slightly modified fairings and a few other minor tweaks. Heart pounding, we rocket down the nine mile speedway at ever increasing speed, the weekend’s endeavours are filmed by Josh Allen, he later produces “The Salt Flats – Eleven Ninety Eight,” a quarter of an hour’s worth of nervous giggling, fabulous photography and of course Max’s six-pack which makes me endlessly self conscious of my dadbod.
The waxy surface of the salt is a fickle thing, it seems to absorb power in the form of wheel spin, even at full chat the back wheel squirrels and squirms, “traction” is the by-word for the weekend. My primary tip for anyone travelling to Bonneville would be to avoid The Wendover Nugget like the plague, you can read my full slating of the hotel on tripadvisor, it is horrific in every way! After our initial weekend I am predictably diagnosed with “Salt Fever” the horrifying symptoms of this debilitating ailment are an all consuming obsession with going ever faster on the salt flats. The only medication I can find is a bottle of compressed Nitros Oxide, Max gently pops this up the rear end of the 1198 and we hope to achieve a verified 200mph in 2019. Sadly, a bereavement at my end has my usually nonchalante sister imposing a temporary ban on land speed racing and I stay at home to placate her. The 1198 now resides alongside her Italian family, waiting for the next adventure, maybe Sultans of Sprint.
Since having first spoken to Max nearly seven years ago, a constant theme has been my fascination with his original M900, I have perpetually asked about it and stalked its whereabouts. My spirits rise about a year ago when the Long Island resident who bought the bike from Max in 2012 finally replies to an email. It takes several months to strike a deal but a deal is eventually struck and the forlorn carcass is transported to Max’s lab on the third floor of an industrial building in the fashion district of LA. It’s currently undergoing regenerative surgery, having been left out in the rain for many years it requires restoration. Max, who claims to never become emotionally attached to a motorcycle definitely seemed a little flustered when he took back his early creation and is rebuilding it with his usual eye for detail and perfection.
As I type this last paragraph, Hazan jnr turns two weeks old, I can only imagine the incredible adventures he’ll have with his dad who has achieved what many strive for in this little niche we enjoy; being able to make a living from what he feels so passionately about; creating beautiful machines. Long live the king.
[ All the images of the GHDucati2 by Shaik Ridzwan ]