Gareth Maxwell Roberts
MEET THE MAKER
We encourage you to watch the full film. But in order to give a little background about how the documentary came to life, we sat down with Gareth Maxwell Roberts, one of the founding fathers of The Bike Shed Motorcycle Club and the man behind Oil In The Blood, right after the documentary’s premier in downtown London. What started out as an attempt to interview him ended in a one-on-one chat about a shared passion for motorcycles.
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Gareth, you’ve just spent the better part of the last three years documenting the custom motorcycle scene. Why would a busy film director like yourself go into that much trouble?
I’ve been fascinated with bikes for as long as I can remember and ever since I first came eye-to-eye with a Norton Commando when I was 6 or 7 years old. I started riding when I was 14, borrowing bikes from my older brothers. I am a filmmaker by profession, and with everything happening in the custom motorcycle scene which I’ve been a part of ever since its revival, I saw the two worlds mix together.
When did you decide it was time to start the cameras?
I started planning the film in late 2014. By that time, I felt like I missed the early years, when the new wave was small and niche, when it was a true subculture. In actual fact, people have been customizing bikes ever since they started producing them on an industrial scale, so in a way, I was already a hundred years late (laughs)! Initially I always told myself it was necessary to separate work from play, but as I saw this phenomena grow, I felt it needed to be documented.
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Having spent much time closest to the core of the current custom wave, how would you describe this scene?
The custom motorcycle scene is like that circle in the center where all the different circles intersect. Although it might not look like it from the outside, it’s actually the common ground between different genres of motorcycling. It’s diverse, anarchic, and above all, inclusive. As you can see from the documentary, it’s on topic all around the world, but the values of everyone involved are pretty much the same. I think this is something you don’t find in any other subculture inside the motorcycle world.
We’re quite some years down the timeline of what started off as a new wave, signed off by many as “a trend that would pass by.” How do you look at this?
I’ve always disagreed with this way of looking at it. I think the custom motorcycle scene - as we know it today - is very sustainable, mainly because at its core exists an enduring set of values and principles. Sure, styles and trends change, but the soul of it remains. This can be seen at events around the world. The direction of the events is determined by new style influences, but the atmosphere and the inclusivity of the events remains constant.
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Talking about change, what were the biggest changes you’ve noticed in the years of capturing the footage around the world?
During our efforts in capturing the spirit of the scene, we noticed the culture matured. When we came close to wrapping all the footage, it was no longer the “new genre” that it was when we started this. The mainstream motorcycle industry staked a claim, and there’s been a clear split between those who embrace the scene and those who reject it. There’s certainly been a bedding in process, most of those who give it a shot have really burrowed into their own niches, both in work practice and style.
How do you see the involvement of brands in this process?
It’s hard to answer this in general, but take yourself for example. You guys have embraced the new wave custom culture with an unprecedented level of sensitivity and understanding while staying true to what you believe as a brand. I think this is crucial in being accepted by the whole custom scene, not forcing your products or preaching safety but rather coming up with solutions that are appropriate and engaging. I see some motorcycle manufacturers doing the same, but I also see brands that are more aggressive in their approach.
Ultimately, within a subculture like the custom motorcycle scene, you’re dealing with individuals who have a certain passion, and if you don’t share that passion, it’s hard to be credible. No matter if you’re an individual or if you’re a brand.
How did you get involved in the custom motorcycle scene in the first place?
As said before, I’ve been fascinated with bikes for as long as I can remember. When I was 16, I saved up from part-time jobs to buy a 1972 Vespa 50 Special. Even then I was attracted by subcultures, and I was a “Mod” back then, caused by my love for old scooters. From owning a string of pretty but very unreliable vintage scoots - including a 1957 Lambretta LD150 - I switched to two-stroke hooligan machines. From a Yamaha RD250LC and a Suzuki PE250, I then switched to superbikes in the ‘90s, the climax being a Ducati 916SP.
I became something of a track day warrior, and in 1999, I even started racing at club and national level on a Honda RS125, which was massive fun. After a few seasons I switched to an RS250 - the most frightening bike I’ve ridden to date - and after three seasons of going very fast but not fast enough, and crashing more times than my bank balance allowed, I hung up my racing leathers. I returned to riding on the streets, and the custom scene, for me, was immediately the right mix of truly passionate motorcycle people and the lack of bragging about how fast you could go or how much power your bike had.
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What would your life look like without motorcycles?
For starters, the last three years would have been less stressful (laughs), but jokes aside, I can’t really imagine life without it. I ride motorcycles because I don’t have a choice, really. I would say it’s both an obsession and an addiction. Even when I was in art school, and I didn’t own a bike, I would still ride, borrowing my mates’ bikes whenever I could. Through motorcycles, I met my partner, Megane, and we now have a little boy who I can channel my bike obsession through.
As the documentary shows, the world of motorcycling is constantly evolving. How do you see the future for motorcycles?
Despite truly having Oil In The Blood, to me, the motorcycle future lies in alternative power sources - electric, hydrogen fuel cell, etc. The internal combustion engine will still be preserved and treasured, and rightfully so, but it will cease to be the primary mass manufactured power source. That doesn’t mean that motorcycling on its own is doomed, but I think governments need to encourage motorcyclists to embrace and adopt new technologies rather than punishing bikers through increasingly punitive legislation. Motorcycles may very well be the answer to a world that’s getting ever more crowded, and for that to work governments need to incentivize change, not force change through penalization.
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Talking about the future, Oil In The Blood aired after gathering three years’ worth of footage. What happens now that the cameras are off?
The documentary is three years of filming boiled down to two hours, so we have a lot of material that we didn’t use. First, we’re looking to repurpose that material into a series of short films which we will then launch on a platform dedicated to host custom motorcycle and film content.
We also have a TV documentary series pitch going on. In this series, we’re looking at the strange and eclectic aspects of motorcycling that sit outside of the mainstream -pro flat track, women riding clubs, collectors, wall of death, bike collectors, that kind of thing. We’ve got a few more interesting series dedicated to motorcycles in the pipeline, for which we need to get commissions and finance.
If OITB would get a sequel, it would be fun to look at the custom culture in more remote locations, or locations away from the hubs of custom culture. Vietnam, Tasmania, Finland, Alaska, Argentina, Chile; you name it.
Before we let you go off and celebrate the premiere, there’s one final question we have to ask: what do you hope the effect of Oil In The Blood will be?
That it champions the individualism and eccentricity of motorcycling. The anarchic, counter-culture of rejecting the focus on mass production and the focusing on one-off expressions of self. Understanding that in amongst the mass of throwaway consumerism there is a movement that marries analogue values with the digital world. One that is both nostalgic and future hungry.
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