Sunday, December 02, 2012


From the New York Times 'T' December design issue....the skeletal, 1967 Velocette Thruxton-based 'White'
You might have seen glimpses on my Vintagent Facebook page, if you were quick, or at Shinya Kimura's blog, before 'those' photos were edited out...but since work-in-progress shots of the 'White' showed up in the New York Times 'T' design section today, I suppose a further few discreet images won't hurt.
Ian Barry with the in-progress handlebars...the whole assembly is built from solid aluminum
A lot has happened since 2011, when Falcon Motorcycles débuted their Vincent-based custom, the ‘Black’, at the Quail Motorcycle Gathering.  In my Cycle World article ‘Back to Black’, I pondered the ‘Tidal Wave’ of time and effort required to build that exquisitely intricate Vincent special, and mused whether Falcon’s business model was sustainable.  The answer turns out to be no, but it’s a more nuanced ‘no’ than economic consideration alone.  True, Falcon has shrunk to a two-man shop, from the sprawling gang of ultra-skilled artisans who once kept the warehouse humming deep into the night.  But what’s more important is a profound re-definition on the part of the man on whom it all depends: Ian Barry.
The Velocette Thruxton engine...
Barry, the artisan-savant behind the three previous Falcon creations, had become by necessity a team manager, allowing other talented artisans to bring his work to metal.  Managers and visionaries are rarely the same people, and Barry was never just a ‘designer’ who hands over evocative sketches to be fabricated. He’s anxious to do the work himself, to solve the problems arising between graphite lines and welded tubing or shaped aluminum. Rather than become the next JesseJames or Arlen Ness, Ian Barry said ‘fuck this’, handed his crew their pink slips, and went back to work on what he loves; making motorcycles.  One naturally wonders what sort of motorcycle Barry will build without a veritable factory, and how long it might take to finish his next machine.  A lot simpler, with a slower build time, right?
A construction detail; I won't say where on the bike, but this is typical of the kind of workmanship we expect from Ian Barry...and of course, this assembly 'does stuff'...
Surprise.  The next Falcon project, the ‘White’, based on a ‘one-of-8’ 1967 Velocette  Thruxton factory racing motor (and sister to the 1967 Production TT winner), appeared in unfinished form at Soho Housein LA on November 11th.  Has Barry skimped on all that crazy detail work, and gone back to a simpler Custom?  Well, here’s the trick – the White is by far the most complicated and deeply crafted bike yet to emerge from Ian Barry’s shop.  In a departure from previous Falcons, the chassis is no longer based on or even resembles the original Velocette item, nor is it a ‘what might have been’ if  Velocette were in business today.  No motorcycle factory can afford to build bikes the way Barry does... extravagance is expected of a Custom, but nobody else is paying this much attention to detail.  The silhouette of the many imitation Falcons may be the same, but Barry is deep in the Woods, and what emerges from his lair is so radically different, it will be a long while before anyone truly follows his example.
From the NYT; the interior of the new Falcon warehouse in LA
Good bike builders create harmonious lines and clever details to wow the viewer, but brilliance in any medium makes you stare, ponder, and repeatedly return, discovering more with every visit.  If you’re lucky enough to see the White in person, I guarantee you’ll be doing exactly that.
I'll post more photos of the complete White build, from drawings onwards...when the bike is properly unveiled.  Full disclosure; I have no financial interest in the White, but I did sell them the ex-Works Velocette Thruxton 'Squish' engine, one of 10 built by Veloce as 'loose' engines for special race-supporting dealers in 1967.  One of these 10 engines, the sister engine of the White's, won the 1967 Isle of Man Production TT in the hands of Neil Kelly.


Btyres UK said...

Just perfect!

GuitarSlinger said...

I'll have to be honest . With that single NYTimes article yesterday any and all respect I might of had for Falcon etc has gone straight out the window : along with any credibility I may of held for them . The fact is it took all the restraint I had not to throw my copy of T-Magazine across the room in abject disgust seeing as how the wife hadn't read it yet . I'll also place odds I'm not the only one in the M/C world that'll feel this way once others have read the article . Honestly I feel as if I've been ' Had' by the whole Falcon thing . Falcon now feeling more ' Hipster Marketing Hype ' than craftsmen/reality .

BTW - Has the ' Black ' yet to have been ridden ?

The Vintagent said...

@GS: Regarding the Black; yes, I've ridden her, and my report will appear in Cycle World and The Vintagent soon. It goes amazingly well, but I've ridden good Vincent racers and Lightnings; what really surpassed was the chassis. Excellent suspension, road-holding, and brakes; vastly superior to the original, of course, but more importantly, superior to the Featherbed specials I've ridden too. Never ridden an Egli to compare - must amend that.

Regarding 'Hipster Marketing Hype': welcome to modern media. This is perhaps the first time someone you 'know' has been profiled in a major mag, but the article is a textbook example of Curated Image-Making 101. The 'reason' for the article seemed little about Falcon, and much about them as a media-sexy couple, plus Amaryllis' aspirations beyond Falcon, as described.

My take? Don't conflate the 'hype' with the motorcycles. They stand by themselves as a statement of Ian Barry's talent, skill, and vision. Whether or not you 'like' him, or Falcon, is immaterial in the end. It's all about the Work.

Don O'Reilly said...

Hey Paul

Thats some fascinating work there... I see mr Barry as a genuine post modern artist as well.

It comes as no surprise that he and his customers posses the substantial means needed to maintain such a lifestyle. That simply has been and always will be the nature of the arts.

Keep up the good work.



GuitarSlinger said...

Paul - FYI . I not only ' know ' people personally but ' have been ' profiled in major publications myself as well : and perhaps you're right in saying I should separate ' what I know about Falcon et al ' from what was presented in the article . But that still leaves me with a plethora of unanswered questions/contradictions that I will not air publicly : but does leave me with a level of ... discomfort that the ' media ' excuse simply does not reconcile

e.g. My head wants to take your word for it .... but my ' Gut ' right now says otherwise . But do know I do appreciate your reply/wisdom regardless

Time ultimately will be the final judge on this . We'll see .

Anonymous said...

@GuitarSlinger. a little confused, what is wrong with the article? They have multiple creative successful businesses and income streams, good for them, I don't really understand what the problem is or how it's hype. I'd love to be in their position! As for craftsmanship, just because they are successful on different levels, why does that change the level of craftsmanship of Ian's work?

Anonymous said...

Read about the Falcon White in last week's Times and was happy to see that you were quick to be on top of it. Thruxtons forever!



The Vintagent said...

What good could come of Falcon being inserted into a NYT 'lifestyle' piece? I don't imagine a fellow of Ian's talent will be confined to revamping British bikes forever, and if, for example, he'd like to collaborate on a new motorcycle project with a major factory, or experiment with alternative power sources, he needs both credibility and visibility with a different audience...

I wish him all luck in his future endeavors.

Anonymous said...

Who wants to be a starving artist?
Not me, I like to eat. I'm sure they do too.

GuitarSlinger said...

Paul - Just wanted to say I've been doing a bit of digging as well as asking around and I'm glad to say you were right on the subject . This being one of those times I'm genuinely glad my suspicions and cynicisms were proven wrong .

I might suggest though to I & A that in future they take a bit more caution/care when dealing with the mass media so's they might take a bit more control of their image in the public eye .

Jeeze I hate mass media in general . And folks wonder aloud why I've gone ' underground ' over the last decade

Thanks again Paul and glad to admit you were right

Rock On ! ( to I&A as well )