Sometimes, a strange sequence of events sparks a lasting friendship. In this story, a sketchy eBay purchase and a work commission led the talented Chicago photographer trashhand to a local custom motorcycle workshop, Federal Moto.
That connection led to a rock-solid relationship, built on mutual respect and trust—and this custom BMW motorcycle.
It all started when trashhand bought a 1979 BMW R100/7 from an eBay seller in California. “The bike had some work done, so it was about half way to a café racer,” he says. “When it arrived, it was absolute shit. The whole thing was a mess—carbs, brakes, shocks, cables, seat, everything.”
The enigmatic photographer had only just obtained his motorcycle license—an off-the-cuff decision to act on a desire that he’d had for a long time. But the unreliable (and borderline dangerous) BMW was hardly a top pick as a first bike.
So he started hunting for a workshop that could get it to a point where he’d feel safe riding it. “I came across Federal Moto, and I never really looked back.”
Federal boss Michael Muller was no stranger to trashhand’s work. “The dude has half a million Instagram followers!” he jokes. “He’s kinda popular in our Windy City. I’m also a fan of his work—it’s just raw, and it’s interesting to see all the places he sneaks into to get those shots. As a wannabe urban explorer myself, I wanted to meet the guy.”
Right around this time, the moto gear company SA1NT reached out to trashhand. They wanted him to shoot some product for them, so he roped Federal in on the project.
“We had a fun day of shooting around the city in his secret spots,” says Mike, “and ended up back at the shop drinking beers and talking about an old airhead he had. He said it was ugly and full of issues, and he would love us to take a look at it. We became friends and started the build process on ‘FED-015 trashhand’.”
For trashhand, something clicked; “The shoot only fueled my fire to be a part of the moto world. It left me wanting to shoot more motorcycles, more product around motorcycles, and more of the culture of motorcycles, in and outside of the shop. Between having this newfound fire for motorcycles, and a new friend in the motorcycle world, l let Mike have at it with my BMW.”
“I had very few insights on the build; the biggest decision I made was what type of handlebar I wanted. I really just told Mike to make a motorcycle he thought would best fit me and my brand.”
“From one artist to another, I know what it’s like to have a client come in and tell you how to do your job to every detail, and it’s annoying. I came to Mike for a reason—for his vision. So I let him do this thing, and I couldn’t be more hyped.”
With the help of Federal staffer, David Pecaro, Mike tore into the BMW, meshing together scrambler and bobber elements to transform it into a cross breed. But the compact dimensions and murdered-out finish belie what a capable machine it actually is—because the Federal boys treated it to a host of smart chassis upgrades too.
Up front, they installed the forks and twin disc brakes from a Suzuki GSX-R, anodizing the fork legs black to match the rest of the build. The conversion was done using a kit from Cognito Moto, which includes a new top triple clamp and front hub.
Federal then laced up a pair of 19F/18R rims using Buchanan’s spokes, wrapped them in Avon’s road biased AV54 Trailrider tires, and propped the rear up with a pair of Öhlins Blackline shocks.
trashhand’s boxer is a lot more reliable now too, thanks to a top end, clutch and carb rebuild. The carbs were then tuned to run with a pair of custom-made velocity stacks and the new exhaust system. Federal fabricated a pair of upswept exhaust headers, capping them off with a pair of slash-cut mufflers from Cone Engineering that flare out from under the seat.
They treated the bike to a new wiring harness, too, built from scratch around a Bluetooth-enabled Motogadget mo.unit blue control box. There’s also a lightweight Lithium-ion battery, stashed in a hand-made box just behind the transmission, which has been designed to mimic the arch of the rear wheel. The electronics package also includes a Motogadget keyless ignition.
The cockpit features a set of Biltwell risers and Tracker bars, and a Motogadget speedo, grips, bar-end turn signals and switches. Lighting is by way of a PIAA headlight up front, and an LED taillight and turn signal combo unit at the back. A set of custom rolled fenders round out the parts list.
As for the bodywork, all Federal kept was the OEM fuel tank. It’s been treated to a pop-up gas cap, and CNC-machined emblems that vaguely mimic the original roundels. Sitting behind it is a bobber-style seat, perched on a sharply-angled custom subframe. The detailing on the upholstery alone is noteworthy; it’s been done with suede and leather, with perforated sections between the pleats.
Federal went all-out dark on the finishes, with matte black on the tank, and black Cerakote on the exhaust headers and motor. Polished engine fins add contrast, along with subtle details like a red anodized steering nut and swingarm caps with laser-etched Federal logos.
trashhand’s BMW is worlds away from where it started, and the perfect urban runner. “This motorcycle is meant to ride around with, to shoot and explore,” he says. “Mike and I weren’t interested in building something I couldn’t rip everyday.”
“One of the best experiences was being able to document the build myself, from beginning to end. I got to see the entire process, the good and the bad. I saw moments of frustration that ended with shit being thrown and calling it a night, just to return the following morning and finish it in two seconds.”
“I feel deeply connected to my motorcycle just seeing it being put together in front of me, bolt by bolt, cable by cable. I also grew a deeper respect for Mike and his team putting that thing together in front of me everyday.”
trashhand’s relationship with Federal Moto’s now evolved far beyond just this one project. He’s spending a ton more time at the shop now, and recently helped them launch their fledgling DIY project.
All of this because of a random eBay find, and a desire to start riding.
Article adapted from issue 41 of Iron & Air magazine. Subscribe.