A lot has happened since 2011, when Falcon Motorcycles debuted its Vincent-based custom, the “Black,” at the Quail Motorcycle Gathering. In my CW print story “Back to Black,” I pondered the tidal wave of time and effort required to build that exquisitely intricate Vincent special, and also whether Falcon’s business model was sustainable. The answer on the latter turns out to be no, but it’s a more nuanced no than economic consideration alone. True, Falcon has shrunk to a two-man shop, from the sprawling gang of ultra-skilled artisans who once kept the warehouse humming deep into the night. But what’s more important is a profound re-definition on the part of the man on whom it all depends: Ian Barry.
Barry, the artisan-savant behind the three previous Falcon creations, had become by necessity a team manager, allowing other talented craftsmen to bring his work to metal. Managers and visionaries are rarely the same people, and Barry was never just a designer who handed over evocative sketches to be fabricated. He’s anxious to do the work himself, to solve the problems arising between graphite lines on paper and welded tubing or shaped aluminum.
So, rather than become the next Jesse James or Arlen Ness, Ian Barry said “f**k this,” handed his crew their pink slips, and went back to work on what he loves: making motorcycles. One naturally wonders what sort of motorcycle Barry will build without a veritable factory, and how long it might take to finish his next machine. A lot simpler, with a slower build time, right?
Surprise. The next Falcon project, the White, based on a “one-of-eight” 1967 Velocette Thruxton factory racing motor (sister to the 1967 Production TT winner) in its final stages. Has Barry skimped on all that crazy detail work, and gone back to a simpler custom? Well, here’s the trick: The White is by far the most complicated and deeply crafted bike yet to emerge from his L.A. shop.
In a departure from previous Falcons, the chassis is no longer based on or even resembles the original Velocette item, nor is it a “what might have been” if Velocette were in business today. No motorcycle factory can afford to build bikes the way Barry does, and extravagance is expected of a custom, but nobody else is paying this much attention to detail. The silhouette of the many “imitation Falcons” from other shops may be the same, but Barry is deep in the woods, and what emerges from his lair is so radically different, that it will be a long while before anyone truly follows his example.
Good bike builders create harmonious lines and clever details to wow the viewer, but genius in any medium makes you stare, ponder and repeatedly return, discovering more with every visit. If you’re lucky enough to see the White in person, I guarantee you’ll be doing exactly that.