The motorcycles jostling for position around me look like they’ve escaped from the Island of Dr Moreau. Vicious crossbreeds, custom mongrels or, as they say around here, “a thousand milks.”
“Around here” is Galicia, Spain, north of Portugal and on the rugged Atlantic coast. It’s out on a limb, a lot like the company I’m riding with today. El Solitario has been trying to “do something no one else does” since 2008. The co-founders, David Borras and Valeria Libano (both 35, in love, and the parents of two young children) don’t do things by half-measures.
A former commodities trader, David threw himself into custom building, creating a “season” of bikes in one non-stop, marathon build. The results that have gone up for sale: Trimotoro—a bare aluminium Moto Guzzi; Baula—a chubby, loveable, long-distance BMW R75/5; The Winning Loser—a rigid Yamaha 250; Chupito—a stunning Ducati Single-powered street scrambler; and three 125s with pop-art paint and BMX bars. In addition, there are El Solitario’s personal bikes: Gonzo, Valeria’s BMW Boxer; and La Sal del DIablo, the Triumph David took to Bonneville Speed Week to race in 2012. They were finished in June last year, then he stopped building bikes. He’ll start again in a few months.
Each bike mixes influences and flavors into a spicy curry of metal and leather. I’m riding Trimotoro and loving it. Its similarities to Shinya Kimura’s Chabott bikes are obvious, and something David is a little sheepish about. Trimotoro would’ve been compared less if it had been painted, but the buyer wanted bare metal and David isn’t a fan of freshly painted bikes, anyway.
I’ve ridden a lot of specials (and built a few) and this has been bolted together properly. It’s also the first bike I’ve ridden with a full passage of Hunter S. Thompson’s writings engraved, upside-down, on the alternator cover.
Three El Solitario stalwarts and I ride into the mountains. I’ve known them for a couple of years now, but this is the first time I’ve met them on home turf. Borras is ahead on his own 1959 Harley-Davidson Panhead. I’ll soon discover how bad its brakes are. I’m keeping in touch. Considering how horrendous the Panhead is to ride, I should be leaving him for dead, but his local knowledge is allowing him to anticipate the contours of the road without having to brake and he’s hauling.
The custom motorcycles are only part of the El Solitario story. These Spaniards are the vanguard of a new European movement that is combining motorcycles, art, clothing and events. They are not ashamed to be educated or sophisticated, nor to be interested in more than the stats of racing or the posturing of faux outlaw bikers. They manufacture and sell products no one makes, and perhaps few thought they needed, like $500 selvedge denim riding overalls. They’re treading a tight rope. They have very little competition, because they’re doing what they set out to do: “something no one else is.” That’s hugely commendable whether their bikes or products flick your switch or not. Read more about El Solitario and the BMW custom “Baula” in the February, 2013, issue.