His attention to detail, motorcycle design aesthetic and skills as a craftsman have also brought him worldwide recognition, not just from an admiring public, but also from industry peers and fellow custom builders.
We ran into Walt Siegl at a design event in SoHo, New York City, and caught up with him after the event to gain some insight into the creative process behind his own motorcycle designs.
REV’IT!: What were some of the early creative influences on your motorcycle design?
Walt Siegl: “When I was a child, I always wanted to be an artist. My grandpa was a painter and he was an early influence for me. As a teenager growing up in Austria and moving around Europe as a young man, I became interested in architecture and eventually entered art school, studying sculpture. That lasted until I couldn’t come to terms with creating art that didn’t serve an applied function. You can look at and appreciate and form a discussion around a beautiful painting, but you can’t ride one down the road.
That is when I turned to design. Motorcycles were always a part of my life since childhood and through my youth, but I didn’t really see them as an artistic outlet until this later point in my life.”
REV’IT!: As a custom motorcycle builder, are there any specific artists or designers from whom you draw inspiration?
WS: The European car industry really influenced me. I was infatuated with the Italians, but I always compared them to what the French were doing in the ‘60s and early ‘70s... How they were pushing boundaries at the time. There were some really interesting Renaults and Simcas that kind of left classic design elements behind and explored new shapes that were all very boxy.
I clearly recognized the difference between classic design, how the Italians would pour over every detail like door handle lines, how the mirrors are shaped, bits of hardware, and so forth. And then Simca came along, threw all that out, and just built this square box with wheels. I was totally infatuated with how they broke the rules of what many considered to be traditional car beauty to up that point. I still hold onto that idea of using classic elements, but try to push boundaries incorporating contemporary design and technology in my motorcycles.
REV’IT!: Would you consider yourself more of a traditionalist or as someone who pushes the boundaries, in the context of modern motorcycle design and custom bike builds?
WS: On one hand, you could absolutely look at my motorcycles and read classic design elements. It’s something I’m very familiar with and don’t want to break away from. But on another hand, for example, I’m developing a new “superbike” project and incorporating all the latest technology into it; traction control, lean angle sensors, wheelie control, ABS, and so forth. It will still visually live through some clearly recognizable classic design elements, but it will have all the performance attributes and technologies of modern bikes found on dealer showrooms.
REV’IT!: Do you sometimes have to say no to customers? Are there things you just won’t do?
WS: For me, once the work has started, it is paramount that a client is happy with the final product. I’ve been very lucky to work with customers who approach me because they like what I’m already doing and what I’m known for, and it has been fairly easy to create something that fits them best still in my style. But yes, of course, there have been times when I’ve had to say no, like when asked for things that I didn’t think were mechanically safe.
REV’IT!: Your motorcycle designs reference racing and competition quite a bit, one example being your Bol d’Or series that draws from your admiration of the endurance racers of the ‘80’s. How do you blend the pragmatic design elements of the classic source material, like large gas tanks and offset headlights, into your contemporary lines and interpretations?
WS: As a child, MV Agusta represented, for me, a beauty in design and performance. I wanted to use them for a donor bike, because at their core, they are simply sexy machines. But it was quite a challenge at times. For example, the cast aluminum swingarm and engine plates, which are quite angular, were a tricky to meld with the brutal beauty of a classic 24-hour race bike with big fuel tanks and large round fairings.
It took me about 3 months of working on the prototype with foam, car bondo, and then fiberglass to have enough to make a “splash” of the bodywork.
REV’IT!: You are known for planning ahead and being a very measured custom builder. Is this still the case?
WS: Yes. Before I even start to build, I have the whole bike finished in my head. It almost just becomes an assembly process from there. Like with this new superbike, I already have an idea of how it will look. There are fine details that will be tuned during the build of course, but I have most of the design solutions already figured out. When fabricating and machining though, I use very few sketches.
I also want to point out, that while I go to bed with a project in my head, and wake up with it the morning, there are future builds that I always keep in my peripheral. A mechanical solution that I work on a project now, can help solve another problem down the road.
REV’IT!: Have building series-run bikes like the Leggero and Bol d’Or influenced, or even changed your creative process of motorcycle design?
WS: I’ve built nearly 30 Leggeros (the original plan for the series was 12 units) and I haven’t been bored with one yet. There is something really satisfying in building multiples. Every bike gives you answers...to make a part slightly better the next time. Also, every Leggero and Bol d’Or has been for a client and that captures my interest immensely...to deliver on something I agreed on and worked on with another person.
Am I looking forward to finally revealing my new superbike? And the Ducati-based adventure bike I’m working on right now? Absolutely, but those all get worked on behind the scenes and take a backseat to my customer’s bikes. Every one of the series builds is part of a learning process, and every bike is somewhat better than the bike before it.
REV’IT!: Do you still road race, or get a chance to cut loose at the track?
WS: Work keeps me so busy, unfortunately I haven’t renewed my CCS racing license or raced WERA in years. I did get to do a few laps at Loudon on a Leggero last season, but that was really just testing a customer’s bike. I would like to get back to competition this year though.
I’ve got a bunch of dirt bikes at home, I do try to squeeze in an hour on my Husqvarna or my trials bike at the end of a long day, just to get the adrenaline going.
Bringing extraordinary customs bike designs to life is the passion of motorcycle builder, Walt Siegl. His attention to detail, classic influences and modern twist is what make these creations so fantastic and so sought after. We are excited to see what he comes out with next.