El Solitario's Custom Harley-Davidson Sportsters in a Sahara Desert Adventure

Crazy is the new normal in a changing motorcycle world, David Borras wants to change it faster

Normal. Staus quo. Predictable.

These words no longer apply to the motorcycle industry. Factories released annual model changes, pushing progress yearly, with never-ending leaps in engine or chassis design. That was progress; that was the future visible in a straight line from wherever you stood. It was going to happen. And it did.

el solitario desert wolves sahara desert adventure
El Solitario's Sahara Desert Adventure on Custom Harley SportstersGonzalo Arroyo

Motorcycles became incredibly fast, great handling, utterly reliable, and perfectly fit for their purpose. By the 2000s, bikes reached a new level of perfection, and therefore, perhaps, customers got bored. Sales tanked, not just from the economic collapse but also because bikes grew obsolete as a badge of independence, and young people no longer needed them. Perhaps because motorcycles no longer needed them either—a motorcycle could sit for months, but push a button, and voilà. Just like a toaster or microwave—an appliance. Nobody's passionate about appliances.

Then in the late 2000s, a new wave of custom bikes appeared, with a quirky take on traditional categories and a total rejection of high-dollar, high-gloss machines from the reality TV generation. Call it the alt.custom scene or the BikeExif generation, but the bottom line is young creatives got their hands dirty again, buying cheap old bikes and cobbling them into something different. Trends emerged. Franken-scramblers/café racers/choppers/ADVs.

dirt and sand encrusted motorcycle helmet
El Solitario's Sahara Desert Adventure on Custom Harley SportstersGonzalo Arroyo

As if by magic, young people got excited about motor­cycles again because some really interesting people were messing around with two wheels. And one of the most interesting people messing with bikes, the mad genius of the bunch, is David Borras of El Solitario. His bikes never fit categories, were always controversial, and he crafted a persona as a wild man, dancing naked outside the BikeExif campfire, sticking out his tongue and poking trendies with a sharp stick.

But Borras and his team of Galician irregulars are a serious gig, avoiding the “Instafamous/Instabroke” syndrome by developing their own line of gear. They didn’t do it the easy way, but they made their own jeans and shirts then found a superdenim for safer riding and made stuff like white denim coveralls and silk scarves, none of which was off-the-shelf/rebranded but, instead, actual product lines developed from scratch—long-haul stuff.

david borras sitting on custom harley sportster
El Solitario's Sahara Desert Adventure on Custom Harley SportstersGonzalo Arroyo

And then of course, the bikes. El Solitario notoriously built "the world's most hated custom" a few years ago, the Impostor, a BMW R nineT that looked to have crashed into a shopping cart. And his helicopter-ish Ducati Petardo, and the strange, tiny Pluto dirt tracker, which was street-ridden from Spain to England for Dirt Quake. Becoming popular or making the "it" tank shape everyone wanted was never Borras' goal. The point was exploring ideas, not following trends, and so a lot of folks don't like what El Solitario does.

Then again, savvy marketers love mavericks and genuine individuals. Independents are style leaders, trend creators, ground breakers. Huge, creative businesses (think fashion industry) bank on unique talents, even (especially?) those totally uninterested in pleasing the masses. Business supplies the canvas and steps back to watch the result, hoping for reflected glory. So, when Borras had a big idea to mount an assault on the Sahara Desert with a team of fully kitted-out motorcycles, riders, support vehicles, and all the gear necessary to survive in a hostile landscape, the sponsors jumped. Harley-Davidson, Dyneema, Tudor, Shoei, Kriega, and more, all provided material and financial support to make Borras' mad dream come true.

el solitario custom harley davidson sportsters
El Solitario's Sahara Desert Adventure on Custom Harley SportstersGonzalo Arroyo

“Ten years ago this would not have been possible, but in 2017, young, creative riders have regained control of motorcycle culture,” Borras says. "We flicked our middle finger at the motorcycle establishment, and guess what? We won! Major motorcycle manufacturers have responded and are paying attention.”

The “Desert Wolves” project took shape in late 2016, as the El Sol crew refabbed three new Harley-Davidson Roadsters with the best dirt-savvy suspension from Öhlins, ending up with super-capable (if heavy) enduros. They look terrific with El Sol’s signature tattoo-over-tar-paint camo scheme. It was a big ask for actual giant-sand-dune performance from these dirtsters, but they successfully made a 2,500-mile trek across nasty, visually spectacular, terrain in Morocco.

motorcycle rider covered with desert sand
El Solitario's Sahara Desert Adventure on Custom Harley SportstersGonzalo Arroyo

“We paid honor to the first Sportster, the do-it-all sports motorcycle,” Borras declares. “We took that 1950 program into the 21st century, and the race department at Öhlins made it work. The fork was easy, but the shocks were a problem with the travel we needed and the weight of the bikes—they ended up modifying quad racer shocks! They’re huge! But these 550-pound bikes fly at 100 mph on the African open desert better than any stock dual-sport on the market—I mean it because we did it.”

Teaming up with sponsors meant top-notch gear, all co-created with El Solitario, all looking very Mission Impossible. "Our vision was to create an international multi-brand collaboration to design and produce the necessary vehicles, garments, and artifacts needed for a cross-Saharan motorcycle adventure," Borras says. "We designed and produced special helmets, protective gear, boots, shelters, and of course our motorcycles. This is first El Solitario project that isn't just me creating a work of art with different companies and our direction. In a way we were half creating the products and half acting as a creative agency. The best part is to be a nobody, a newcomer, a crazy punk, working with all these big companies."

el solitario david borras sitting on a camel
El Solitario's Sahara Desert Adventure on Custom Harley SportstersGonzalo Arroyo

With this project, Borras and his El Solitario crew have arrived. They've evolved from oddball nya-nya outsiders, to resentful collaborators, and grown to be independent tastemakers and happening-organizers. The Desert Wolves is a Gesamtkunstwerk—a total work of art, in which the riders, their gear, their machines, their backup, the photography, and the film made of their adventure, were shaped to one vision. Borras' crazy films for El Solitario are the most interesting in the alt.custom scene and the most avant-garde in the motorcycle industry, period (who could forget Grandma beheading a chicken?).

The Desert Wolves project reveals Borras as a film director of real life, curating scenarios for page and screen, and ultimately for the mind, that are exciting and new for motorcycling. It’s time to drop the first half of his “mad genius” tag. The impact of the Desert Wolves project will be subtle but wide, as businesses will inevitably use Picasso’s dictum and steal Borras’ ideas. I predict the sheer grandiosity of the Desert Wolves concept will shift the axis of the industry a few degrees, and magnetic North will move a little closer to Spain.

Check out more photos from the Sahara Desert:

el solitario harley riding in the sahara desert
El Solitario's Sahara Desert Adventure on Custom Harley SportstersGonzalo Arroyo
el solitario desert wolves boots
El Solitario's Sahara Desert Adventure on Custom Harley SportstersGonzalo Arroyo
el solitario harley riding in the sahara desert
El Solitario's Sahara Desert Adventure on Custom Harley SportstersGonzalo Arroyo
el solitario desert wolves sahara desert adventure
El Solitario's Sahara Desert Adventure on Custom Harley SportstersGonzalo Arroyo
el solitario desert wolves sahara desert adventure
El Solitario's Sahara Desert Adventure on Custom Harley SportstersGonzalo Arroyo
el solitario desert wolves sahara desert adventure
El Solitario's Sahara Desert Adventure on Custom Harley SportstersGonzalo Arroyo
el solitario desert wolves sahara desert adventure
El Solitario's Sahara Desert Adventure on Custom Harley SportstersGonzalo Arroyo
el solitario desert wolves sahara desert adventure
El Solitario's Sahara Desert Adventure on Custom Harley SportstersGonzalo Arroyo
el solitario desert wolves sahara desert adventure
El Solitario's Sahara Desert Adventure on Custom Harley SportstersGonzalo Arroyo
el solitario desert wolves sahara desert adventure
El Solitario's Sahara Desert Adventure on Custom Harley SportstersGonzalo Arroyo
el solitario desert wolves sahara desert adventure
El Solitario's Sahara Desert Adventure on Custom Harley SportstersGonzalo Arroyo
el solitario desert wolves sahara desert adventure
El Solitario's Sahara Desert Adventure on Custom Harley SportstersGonzalo Arroyo
el solitario desert wolves sahara desert adventure
El Solitario's Sahara Desert Adventure on Custom Harley SportstersGonzalo Arroyo
el solitario desert wolves sahara desert adventure
El Solitario's Sahara Desert Adventure on Custom Harley SportstersGonzalo Arroyo
el solitario custom harley davidson sportster
El Solitario's Sahara Desert Adventure on Custom Harley SportstersGonzalo Arroyo
el solitario david borras with custom harleys
El Solitario's Sahara Desert Adventure on Custom Harley SportstersGonzalo Arroyo

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