Charlie Stockwell’s greatest gift is his capacity to reach into your subconscious and unearth from it the inchoate goals related to the motorcycle of your dreams. Then, refracted through his own imagination, he will clarify and augment, he will reimagine and express a rolling masterwork of art — air cooled, V-twin, boulevard-decimating art that is greater, more beautifully poised in full orgiastic sculptural detail, than you could ever have imagined. As a result, he has become one of the planet’s most sought-after master-bike builders. However, Stockwell, whose roots are in art and design, represents a new breed of bike designer, one that intentionally works from within the system so that the bikes he builds retain their Harley-Davidson factory warranty. He almost single-handedly ushered in the era of the modern bobber with his contemporary homage to stripped-down, rigged-framed, ‘chopped’ Harley knuckleheads from the forties. At the same time he has become the master of the GP-styled Dyna and Sportster, merging their timeless iconography with high-performance Öhlins suspension, Brembo brakes, and race-tuned engines. It was my pleasure to engage in Aristotelian discourse with Stockwell about what he feels is the future of custom motorcycling…
What is unique about the work you do at Warr’s Harley-Davidson in London?
We are willing to go as far as the customer wants but give them the reassurance of a Harley warranty on their motorcycle. What we do is, mechanically, we keep the bikes 100 per cent Harley on the inside. So even if your bike looks incredibly custom, you could take it to any Harley service centre in the world and they would know what to do with it.
How did you get started working with motorcycles?
I had a Saturday job here at Warr’s back when I was 16 years old. I was studying art and graphic design. One thing I realised during school was that I couldn’t understand how people could grade art. For me, no one is a bad artist. I told my teacher, ‘Don’t grade me, I won’t continue university’. So I started working full-time at Warr’s, at first as an apprentice. The guys were really good to me: they trained me up, I went to Milwaukee and then to Germany for Harley University. Now they have a facility in Birmingham and I go regularly. You need to understand how each new bike is designed in order to redesign it.
After three or four years I was itching to be creative. So I asked the bosses here if I could build a custom bike. At the time there was no custom scene here, it was only what we saw in magazines from the States. This was 16 years ago. They were a bit reluctant but eventually let me build a bike, something very typical of the nineties, and someone from South Africa saw it and bought it.