There’s no doubt about it, today’s custom bike scene is a tough nut to crack. It takes seemingly endless amounts of creativity, hard work and time. And once you’ve heaped all that onto the altar of the biking gods, there’s still no promise of success. You could spend the rest of your cold, greasy life toiling away in a dimly lit garage and never sell a single bike. And that’s if you live in America. Now try rising to the top of the heap while living in a country that most people couldn’t point to on a map. Sound tough? Not for Slovenia’s Blaž Šuštaršič and his ER Motorcycles team. How do they do it? We quizzed the man recently to find out more.
Can you briefly introduce yourself to our readers?
“My name is Blaž Šuštaršič and I am a founder and lead creative of ER Motorcycles. I come from a small European country named Slovenia. I’m passionate about graphic design, industrial design and building bikes.”
Where are you right now?
“Currently, I am sitting in a nice coffee place, just a few hundred meters from my design studio. Our team often meets here to discuss new project, ideas or business issues and of course to celebrate finishing a project. It’s a comfortable place, the coffee is good and the music is not too loud.”
What is your background?
“I was pretty much just a normal kid trying to make it through school having as much fun as possible. I loved to draw and play volleyball, which is still my favorite sport. I was always enthusiastic about creating something from scratch and it’s probably why I wanted to become a designer. So after high school I went to university to study graphic design and I eventually ended up working as a graphic designer in a number of small ad agencies. Having bosses and deadlines always made me nervous; I felt like I couldn’t really express myself the way I wanted to and that I couldn’t bring everything I have to the table. It’s why I started drawing bikes in my spare time and dreaming about owning my own workshop.”
What was your very first bike?
“My first bike was an Italjet scooter. It had a 50cc engine with two disc brakes but somehow I still managed to crash it three times It’s probably because I didn’t have a license and I was running from the cops all the time. They are also the reason why I was constantly trying to make the bike go faster by installing and tweaking multiple engine kits and exhausts. The end result was a very noisy, multi-colored bike that was missing lots of parts and was almost impossible to sell. But at the end the cops didn’t really stand a chance. They were fun times…”
[superquote]“It had a 50cc engine with two disc brakes but somehow I still managed to crash it three times.”[/superquote]
Why and how did you start ER Motorcycles?
“It all started about 6 years ago while I was still working on product catalogues and brochures as a graphic designer. I put a lot of effort into learning how to draw bikes and I also started building them, too. Years passed and I got better and better at it, learning from my mistakes. By then, my day job was really starting to get to me. I was frustrated and stressed out and I was beginning to realize that it wasn’t worth it.
After some deep thought I quit my job and started working on the bikes and opening my shop. It was 2009 and the GFC really started showing its teeth in Slovenia and across Europe, so the decision to quit a safe job and start a business of my own seemed like a very bold decision to my friends and family. But I just had to follow my instinct.”
“It was a tough start. It all began in a big, cold, remote garage with no water (except on the walls) and no heating. It’s where our BMW R80 ‘Mobster,’ Yamaha XV750 ‘Cosmic’ and few other bikes were built. I learnt a few valuable lessons the hard way from some so-called friends and business partners. I’m a bit of a perfectionist when it comes to building bikes and this created a few problems when working with other people and craftsman in my country.
I am not a person who likes to complicate things, it’s just that I like making things the right way, the best way possible given the circumstances. So it was a real struggle to find co-workers who could think alike and share the same vision. It took me more than 3 years to gather up a team in which I have real confidence. And it was at that point, last year actually, that everything fell into place – big projects, international clients, published articles and a real, professional workshop.”
“I’m also really proud of my team and I wouldn’t trade them for anything. Like I said, it was very hard to find the right people for the job but I knew from the get go that you just can’t do everything by yourself. I was lucky to find true specialists in their field of work who also understand my vision and who have the drive and enthusiasm to make it come true. Right now there’s four guys who work closely on the bike builds and a further six guys (or five guys and a girl) who help out with everything from painting and photography to copywriting.
As for how we have managed to do what we do, I like to think it’s down to six key rules we always try to follow. Listen to the bike’s own story. Always innovate and push the boundaries. Make every bike you build unique. Keep it simple, and pay attention to the details until everything feels right.”
What is the custom bike scene in Slovenia like?
“Actually, it’s not very inspiring. Here people mostly buy stock motorcycles, the trend of customizing is not so well understood in Slovenia. That is why we are mainly focused on foreign markets. Customizing is perceived as a hobby here and is mostly on the level of personal garage projects with very tight budgets. We do have people who are true masters of what they do – like tailors, painters, mechanics etc., but they are not easy to find. Slovenia also has a few brands and individuals that are well established in the word of motorcycles and beyond. There’s Akrapovič and Robert Lešnik , the Head of Exterior Design at Mercedes-Benz, to name a few.”
[superquote]“The trend of customizing is not so well understood in Slovenia.”[/superquote]
Can you talk us through your latest builds?
“The Honda GL1000 ‘Nordiq’ was a project commissioned by Italian client a few months ago. He was planning a road trip to Nordkapp so our main challenge was to design a robust, nice-looking touring bike while also keeping its original vintage feel. In terms of usability we wanted to build a comfortable, maneuverable, technically flawless motorcycle with lots of luggage space for long journeys. It was a special project for us since we haven’t had a chance to work on any cruisers yet.”
“The BMW R100 RT ‘Stannum’ was also a commissioned project that was featured on Pipeburn just a few months ago. We were thrilled to be able to design and build a dream bike for our first Austrian client. The biggest challenge was the strict Austrian rules regarding modified vehicles which made us constantly search for workarounds while trying to build a rough, elegant and street legal bike. The brushed aluminium effect on the fuel tank and the interchangeable sub frames really tested our mettle.”
“There’s a BMW R69S that we just had featured on BikeEXIF. It’s an old BMW with 800cc engine that was revealed at the Cosmic Nozems Motorshow in Belgium at the end of August. We are planning to sell it soon via an internet auction.”
What are the next builds you have planned?
“There’s a Ducati 900 SS Bonneville which has been our most challenging project so far. It’s a commissioned build for an Italian client who wants to participate at the Bonneville race in 2015. We are now in the tear-down phase. We are searching for ways to make it as fast as possible without losing its looks. And there’s a BMW RnineT idea in the works which we hope has enough potential to inspire a collaboration with BMW Motorrad and Akrapovič. The first design sketches are already finished and waiting for the right person to see them.”
What’s your personal bike you ride every day?
“Ha! I knew you were going to ask me that eventually. Maybe it’s hard to believe, but actually I don’t have my own bike. We have a saying for that in Slovenia, I guess the exact translation would be ‘the blacksmith’s mare is always barefoot.’ For me, the toughest thing would be to build a bike for myself. I’m much better at understanding my client’s wishes and translating them into sketches and builds. At this point, I really can’t imagine what bike I’d see myself riding every day.”
What’s your ultimate modern bike?
“It’s funny you should ask this because we were just discussing modern motorcycle designs with ER team the other day when I was creating the first design drafts for our 2015 Ducati Bonneville project. There are some great modern designs out there but the main objects of our discussion were the new BMW Concept Roadster design sketches and the new Lotus C-01. I’m inspired by Martini version of Lotus C-01 the most; this build has some fantastic lines. I am not a big fan of aerodynamic shields but this one looks very clean and functional. It’s the minimalistic, aggressive yet elegant design of this bike that fascinates me.”
And your ultimate classic bike?
“Without doubt it’s the amazing BMW 750 Kompressor ridden by multiple land speed world record holder Ernst Jakob Henne. It’s a beautifully designed racing bike which shaped the history of racing BMW motorcycles design. Every time I take a look at it I get inspired by the shielded frame, the handlebar lines, larger front wheel and disc-shaped rear wheel.”
Where do you see ER Motorcycles in the future?
“We have a lot of plans. Our main priority is to constantly develop in terms of design, technical innovation and collaborations. We would really like to connect and co-operate with BMW Motorrad and Akrapovič exhaust systems for certain projects as well as artists and creative people from other fields. We strive to be among the best European builders along with WrenchMonkees, Blitz, CRD, El Solitario etc. Last but not least, our goal is to someday win Pipeburn’s Bike Of the Year contest, where we came just a bit short in 2013 and fill a few pages in BikeEXIF’s The Ride. We would also like to present ourselves and our builds on some of best-known European custom motorcycle shows, as soon as possible.”