Gearheads Exclusive: Winston Yeh and his Graphite Speedster!
Rough Crafts Boss Winston Yeh Talks To Us About Custom Bikes
Winston Yeh has been making some serious waves across the custom motorcycle scene over the last few years and his unique aesthetic approach, meticulous attention to details, outstanding build quality and award winning results have got us curious. We wanted to know more, so we got in touch to find out about the man himself for a bit of clarification – and took a detailed look at the Graphite Speedster, a 2014 HD that has achieved no less than fourth place at the 2014 AMD World Championship of Custom Bike Building, (as well as the 2014 ‘Best in Show’ at the CUSTOMBIKE SHOW in Germany, and 1st Place in the Championship Class at the 2015 MOTOR BIKE EXPO) while we were at it!
Honestly, this Graphite Speedster deserved to place higher but that’s not the way the world works. The bike has a gorgeous shape, with vintage lines and pristine finishes complimented with modern features and technology. The idea was to fuse a classic rigid, springer bike with modern accoutrements, including CNC billet parts and tubing bolted together to achieve a ‘lug’ frame look. The frame has been complimented with a unobtrusive under-seat rear shocks and a springer front end with air shocks, and sports a sleek pair of quick release half tanks that hold the gas in the right side and the electrics (including the battery) in the left.
The rims have been updated to Roland Sands Design Diesel Black-Ops 18/16” units, shod with Firestone Dirt Track ribbed tires. The brake system has been revised with Beringer technology and the rear assembly has been modified with a sprocket to give the HD a vintage drum appearance.
The engine has been treated with dual Keihin FCR carbs and Rough Crafts’ original lifter blocks and rocker cover, push rod tubes and intake and exhaust. The controls are a combination of Rough Crafts’ own gadgetry, such as the foot controls, and a few select pieces from Performance Machine.
The Graphite Speedster also sports some gorgeous features from Rough Crafts, including the bespoke head and tail light, the grips, the gas caps and the seat. The stunning paintwork was undertaken by Air Runner Custom Paint in Taiwan.
After seeing the bike in detail, it was time to ask one of the most exciting bike builders in Asia (if not the world) a few questions!
Winston Yeh: The Interview
So Winston, how did you first get into bikes? What was your first bike? Or first custom? And what got you started?
I’ve been doing painting and graphics since I was a kid, but never treated it as a potential career and at age 20, one of my classmates got a 150cc Yamaha, changed headlight, handlebars and I just thought it was so cool. So, I went and bought one too. Since I was in Industrial Design, I started making parts in the school’s workshop, but it was still not a career possibility for me.
When I went to grad school, I got this scholarship from the Ministry of Education here in Taiwan to study at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California. During the time I was there, I figured that since I liked customizing bikes, I should get some parts back, so I looked online and found some PM (Performance Machine) parts on eBay, and the listing said something like “close out deal” – I thought it was a bike shop or something, I won the bid, and called the guy saying if I can just come over to pick it up ‘cause the apartment that I stayed in could never really receive packages. The guy on the phone said “Sure, come over,” and the address wasn’t that far anyway, so I drove over and found it and it turned out to be the headquarters of Performance Machine. And the guy was actually a manager of their R&D department!
He was curious and wondered why an Asian kid would wanna buy their parts, so I told him that I was studying product design and did some graphic design and graffiti stuff, and he just said, “Roland is inside, why don’t you talk to him?” (Roland Sands of RSD, back in the day when RSD was still under the same roof of Peformance Machine) – I showed Roland my graffiti photos online, and he just said “Our wall is empty, why don’t you come paint it?” So I did, after another 2 weeks, his assistant called me and said that they want me to do some T-shirts, then they asked me if I wanted to come and work as a graphic designer – and I did!
I spent nine months or so there, observing all their work from designing bikes, designing parts, how parts relate to their builds, to promotions… etc. It opened my mind and I learned a lot, I must say. And when I finished my scholarship and have to come back to Taiwan, Roland even gave me a set of PM wheels of my choice, which started my bike building (and that exact set of wheels actually is the ones on my 2013 AMD champion bike)
When did you decide to start building customs for a business?
I started Rough Crafts at the end of 2009, I did some freelance graphic design after I finished my mandatory military service back in 2008. I just couldn’t see myself doing freelance work as my ‘lifetime career.’ so I decided to pick something that I could think of doing 24/7 and not get tired of it and the answer was simple: custom motorcycles.
How did you land with the name Rough Crafts and what does it mean to you?
I just randomly picked 2 words I like, “Rough” is like a state of mind, you gotta be bold, challenging; and “Crafts” is about the way of doing it: you have to be like a craftsman, be precise, be picky and be focused. Those two words combined together opened a whole new idea to me, which just felt so cool – and the name wasn’t registered either 😉
When it comes to aesthetic and design philosophy, I’d say harmony is the key ideal behind Rough Crafts. I’ve got this theory for building a custom, I don’t want any particular feature to overpower the others, I don’t want anything to stick out too much, I don’t want people to see my bikes and say, “Wow that paint is cool!” or “That pipe is radical!” because to me, that’s a failure. Everything on the bike should add a little bit to the bike as a whole, and the whole thing together should create a desire. I always think about the whole picture, and everything should be designed to achieve the final goal, so when the audience sees the bike, they’ll like and want the whole bike, and then, you look into it and see all of the details and the attention I’ve given them, all the tricks put into it – then you’ll love it even more.
Despite the fact that your builds shouldn’t have a ‘defining feature’ – what’s your favorite part about the Graphite Speedster?
The frame itself, because it pretty much made the whole bike; it sets the tone for the whole design, everything else is almost there just to compliment the idea more and more.
I’ve heard that Taiwan has some tricky custom laws, how do you get around them?
The regulations from our government don’t really allow for customization, so I can only work without major frame modifications, just in case the bike get called in for an inspection and we have to change it back! At first, this seemed like a limitation, but it ended up being fun to work within these “rules”. Now, I build bikes that are appealing to stock bike owners, as they can still relate their bikes to them, rather than those super “ground up” builds that are far beyond regular people’s imaginations. It’s a very special experience when you build something new out of the same thing that people have seen a thousand times, people will stand in front of your bike, scratching their heads, trying to figure out what you did to the same bike they have at home and make it that much cooler. To be called “Inspiring” is one of the best compliments that I’ve ever received.
What would you say to any guys out there looking to take on their first build?
Firstly, study the trend, stay up to date, and know what’s happening and what the standard of quality and technology is today – so that you know where you stand. Also, understand yourself, your own strengths and weaknesses – make the most of your strengths and figure out how to hide your weaknesses. If you’re building a stock modify bike, look deeply into the frame: what’s possible and what’s not, what is your ability capable of and what’s not. Don’t bite off more than you can chew… And you’ll be fine!
What have you got coming up in the pipeline? We’re always interested to see where you’ll go next!
Right now I’m building a Softail RockerC tuned drag race inspired bike, a Yamaha XJR1300 for the Yamaha Yard Built Project, another Dyna “Guerilla” series tracker bike… Oh yeah! A XR1200 turned- vintage-tracker built for Dickies Taiwan. It’s almost ready…
Thanks Winston – it’s a pleasure to talk to you and we’re looking forward to your next build!
For more information about Winston Yeh and Rough Crafts, check out some of his previous builds like the Bomb Runner, Urban Cavalry, Slate Hammer or Forty-Eight Streetfighter. Want more? Check out the Rough Crafts website for full details!