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Essential Journal

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High (Speed) Art

Hand-built around classic engines, Falcon Motorcycles blur the line between custom bike and cultural artefact

Light, lean and aggressive, the café-racers of the forties and fifties were stripped-down, tuned-up bikes purpose-built for hell-for-leather endeavours. Barebones by necessity, these custom bikes were relieved of excess weight and resistance to help their riders hit the then-legendary hundred-miles-an-hour benchmark, also known as ‘the ton’. Accordingly, ‘ton-up boy’ was the name often given to post-war thrill-seekers that, returning home from the war, soon found new, inventive, two-wheeled ways to dance with death.

Fast forward fifty years and the rise of Japanese-made super bikes have made a hundred miles an hour look like a snail’s pace. Save for a few choppers here and there – custom bikes have largely fallen by the wayside to a more casual market looking for user-friendly riding experiences. But the rugged charm and rebellious spirit of the café-racer has endured all the same. 

Across the pond in present day Southern California – the undisputed heartland of classic chop shops and self-confessed gearheads – the custom scene is positively thriving. At the forefront of this scene you’ll find Ian Barry and the ‘Falcon Ten’, a collection of ten unique motorcycles that depart from the familiar framework of customising existing motorcycles. With exception to the engines at their hearts, the tyres, and a few rare parts on each bike, Ian Barry makes each of his Falcons from scratch, using sheets and blocks of solid metal, and exotic extruded materials. With a nod to the café-racer craze of yesteryear, these one-off, custom Falcon motorcycles are a perfect marriage of Californian style and ease and post-Blitz, rubble-born, British rebellion. 

With four machines already completed and a further 6 to go (each carrying the name of a particular species of falcon), the Falcon Ten collection is both a celebration of classic ton-up culture and a loud-and-clear artistic manifesto. Each of the four finished Falcons – The White, The Black, The Kestrel and The Bullet, have arguably become two-wheeled icons. They not only sit at an intersection between high-art and meticulous engineering, but each one also carries the heritage of motorcycle history at its heart. 

And that’s no exaggeration: There’s a legacy at the heart of each of these bikes. The White Falcon is built around a 1967 Velocette Venom Thruxton racing engine, famous for holding an average of 100 mph for 24 hours in a record-breaking endurance race back in ‘61. It still holds the record to this day. The Black Falcon’s engine comes from the now legendary 1952 Vincent Black Shadow: The world’s fastest standard motorcycle for over 25 years snce its (limited) release in 1948. The Kestrel Falcon’s engine started out as a highly modified 1970 Triumph ‘Bonneville’, itself an ode to Triumph’s land speed record (of 214.4 mph) on the Bonneville Salt Flats of Utah in ‘56. And finally, the Bullet Falcon runs on nothing less than a 1950 Triumph Thunderbird engine, made world-famous as Marlon Brando’s machine of choice in László Benedek’s controversial The Wild One. 

Theirs is a legacy of speed and fury, no doubt. But there’s more to the existing Falcon four than their legendary engines. The one-of-a-kind design, engineering, fabrication, and detailed flourishes that grace each bike have transcended the principles of the custom build to create something with art-house levels of visual and architectural splendour and sophistication. Each one-of-a-kind bike showcases a distinctly 21st century design sensibility that somehow maintains a classic, post-war edge. The Black is currently exhibited, suspended by cables at the entrance of the Los Angeles’ Petersen museum, where it is a centrepiece of the ‘Custom Revolution’ exhibition, a collection of the most avant-garde and influential motorcycles from independent builders around the world. The Kestrel, the Bullet, and the White were exhibited at Los Angeles’ notable Kohn Gallery.

In the Falcon Ten, Ian Barry has set about carving out a spectacular niche that sits between sheer, artistic elegance and cold, hard mechanics. ‘What interests me the most,’ says Ian, ‘is harmonizing and synthesizing form and function with the ephemeral, using materials and shapes to express: power, control, surrender, acceptance, and release. For me to be comfortable calling a motorcycle that I’ve created a Falcon, all of these elements, and more, have to coalesce.’ 

And coalesce they do: Whether in the workshop, the art gallery or on the open road, Falcon motorcycles give new meaning to the concept of poetry in motion. EJ

Words by Will Halbert
Image Credit by Ian Barry