In the two short years since Ian Barry launched Falcon Motorcycles, an LA-based bespoke workshop, he’s produced some of the most covetable rides known to man. Along with partner Amaryllis Knight, Barry builds each Falcon model in homage to a classic British racer of the 1950s and 60s, from the classic Triumph Bonneville to the extraordinary Velocette Thruxton. The duo’s first masterpiece, the Bullet, based on a 1950 Triumph Thunderbird (and commissioned by skate legend turned actor/photographer Jason Lee) won “Best Custom” bike at the Legends of Motorcycle Concours d’Elegance on the day it was completed. Equipment- and tool-manufacturers, entranced by the Falcon craftsmanship, have since come calling with sponsorship deals, while numerous celebrities and enthusiasts are queuing up for their own M2M ride (all bikes are made to commission, with no fixed price but a fee of $90 per hour of Barry’s work). Photographer Travis Shinn (whose previous subjects include P Diddy, 50 Cent and Marilyn Manson) is one such Falcon devotee, something that’s plain to see in his fetishistic ode, produced in concert with OTMFC and Safe Camp, and starring the designer himself riding through the LA river in downtown Los Angeles, which we exclusively premiere today. We spoke with Barry about his passion for bikes, fabricating the tiniest details of the finest materials (including bronze and even goldleaf), and building a bespoke bike company, like it’s products, from the ground up.
How did you get into motorcycles?
I’ve always been into taking things apart and putting them back together. I took a ride on my friend’s bike, a Triumph, in my teens, and I was meant to just ride it around the block and I just kept going. As soon as I could get money together I bought my first bike, a 1967 Triumph Bonneville. I had it apart in hundreds of pieces a month later. I think I sensed that this thing wasn’t made for me. It was made for the masses. It didn’t fit, and that was the impetus to take it apart.
And you put it back together and it worked?
I went down to a place called Raber’s in San Jose—I grew up in Santa Cruz. I didn’t have a manual, I didn’t know the part numbers. I asked questions like, “You know the part with the… thing?” I was that guy. They were really patient with me. I bought a manual, learned all the parts, learned to use all the right nomenclature. I learned very quickly that British bikes are different from any other bike—they’re very quirky, there’s a lot of nuance. You’ve gotta love them to get them to run right. I’ve been addicted to learning about engines, engineering, and metal fabrication ever since.
So how did you build the company?
I started the company by moving to LA. I lived in a tent in my friend Jay’s back yard, it was a sacrifice from the way I was living before, but comfort is sometimes the sacrifice of doing the thing you love. I made bikes in an adjacent tent, on a Pep Boys lift I bought for $40. I didn’t know how to put a price on my work, but at that time eBay had started to become widely used, so it was very serendipitous and people put their own value on it. That was ten years ago. It’s been a lot of hard work, and a lot of custom motorcycles since then. Falcon was started in 2008 when I met Amaryllis, and she and I shared a dream to make a collection of custom bikes that started from the engines of our favorite historic British marks (Triumph, Norton, Vincent, AJS, Brough etc.), and to do it on a whole new level.
How do you build for your clients now?
Each bike I build is built on commission, I design the bikes from the ground up. Conceptually, I take an engine, or a piece of a frame, and start from there. In some cases, the quality of the metal used back then wasn’t that good, so I’ll remake those pieces using the highest quality metal available and upgraded engine components – the engineering and performance is more important to me than anything else. What I think is essential to the design, I’ll keep—but I’ll modify even those pieces. The rest of the bike is hand made and built from scratch. My designs and ideas are inspired by British motorcycle pre- and post-war racing history, but it’s important to me that every bike in the Falcon collection is a design filled with ideas that have never been done before, that’s the point of a custom bike, that it’s unique and personal.