Either BMW Motorrad has caught the custom bug in a bad way, or it's finally figured out how to recycle all those pre-production test bikes that usually end up in the crusher. Latest among their far-flung network of factory-blessed custom shops is a pair of K1600GTL tourers sent to Japan. Ken's Factory and Hot-Dock Custom Cycles received the little-big 6s along with instructions to do as they pleased, and the results couldn't be more different. It's 21st Century Arlen Ness vs. Mad Max 4, illustrating how incredible fabrication skill, a fertile imagination, and a hefty dose of design talent can take a single platform in polarized directions, both of which are conceptually solid.
Yes, I know it’s already 2015, but Arlen Ness, the king of the Digger style, has hardly updated the genre like Kenji Nagai. Diggers are ultra-low choppers, on which Ness built his reputation in the early 1970s; the inspiration blew straight from the drag strip, where long and low and supercharged were actually functional, and Ness was among a very small cadre (along with his buddy Jeff McCann) to build them for the street. For Ken’s Factory to see a Digger inside a BMW 6-cylinder tourer is akin to Rodin carving a nymph from a lump of marble. Or, in this case, a nymph who can bench press 240 lb. While the “Ken’s Factory Special” is long and low, it’s hardly delicate, as it still encompasses the width of that 6-cylinder motor. With the no-paint chassis and bodywork (barring a black frame), and the one-eyed mini-cowl up front, the machine oozes personality (as in creature). Nagai’s shop-made aluminum girder forks are a nice touch.
Keiji Kawakita went Big for his “Juggernaut,” an intimidating beast with an exoskeleton of aluminum tubing. Apparently the ghost of H.R. Giger still haunts us, as both the monochromatic matte-gray hue and ribbed (boned?), organically curving bodywork would look perfectly at home in an outer-space horror film. It’s his “urban darkness iron,” a bike you wouldn’t care to meet in a dark alley...unless you had the keys, in which case you become the monster. Kawakita’s inspiration was “the near future, and I got the idea of making a bike that had that kind of atmospheric feel. Looking at the front fork and Duolever suspension, I thought I could do this with the K1600GTL. But the actual work was long and hard, a tough job to handle. Even when I finished, I still wasn’t really sure whether the work was complete. But that’s the thing about customizing, isn’t it?”
Indeed. This pair illustrates the “thing” about the custom scene; it isn’t finished, and never will be.