The first official U.S.A. Soulfuel R nineT premiered at the “Naked Truth Show” exhibition in Sturgis. This very special R nineT was then exhibited at the IMS bike show, New York, just before Christmas 2015. On each occasion the bike received rave reviews and further underlined the builder, Jeff Wright of Church of Choppers (CHVRCH), as one of the greatest exponents of motorcycle urban customisation – and all this before the bike was finished!
In its first-viewing form, this Project Soulfuel R nineT was presented as a bare motorcycle, meaning it didn’t have a single micron of covering paint. Nonetheless, it was stunning to view because gazing eyes were immediately drawn to the build details, which showed the creative input and hard work of the customisation involved to get it to the stage it was. To put it another way, if you like, the very essence of Soulfuel had been captured in its entirety for the world to see. In a nutshell; the bike was simply awesome.
Moving forwards by two months to February 2016 and a different version of Jeff Wright’s R nineT appeared at the prestigious The One Motorcycle Show (TOMS). Needless to say, once again the bike drew admiration from custom bike owners, fans and fellow custom bike builders. Or as Jeff put it: “There were plenty of high fives!”
When you study the images of Jeff’s completed R nineT it is easy to see why this bike draws the crowds. Quite simply, it is unique by having unique touches built in. Ok, sure, the other Soulfuel bikes built previous to Jeff’s are equally unique, but the fact this bike is as far removed from the usual V-twin powered creations usually seen Stateside, then you can understand why the appreciative crowds at TOMS’ were just so.
Needless to say, Jeff Wright has taken all the applause and written applauds in his stride because he’s been customising all manner of bikes for many years. What is surprising is this was first the BMW motorcycle he happened to lay his tools and hands across.
Having never worked on a BMW machine, let alone a Boxer-engine version, what was his first impression of the R nineT? “I remember thinking how well it was put together. Total quality. The Star bits, the fasteners, are not my preferred way, but they work. I liked how much different from a Harley disassembly it was. I was able to take things off without having to take something else off to get to said part. Engineered very thoughtfully.”
With covering paint in place, it is fair to say key areas of the custom work now tend to stand out impressively more so. One of these areas is the fuel tank. The bottom half has been at the sharp end of Jeff’s fabrication skills and now acts as a window to the CHVRCH installed magneto. A neat touch indeed. And the reason for the magneto? That’s easy to explain...
Jeff has a fondness for making all his bikes minimalist to aid riding dynamics and the overall look in mind. After staring at photos of a standard R nine T, he knew straight away he wanted to clean it right up for a minimal stance. Eliminating the majority of the electrics was his first thought.
Having a magneto to provide the necessary sparks also means the electrics are now a “total loss” system, so after a couple of weeks of starts the battery needs recharging. This is the reason why the battery now lives in the new fabricated tail section with it’s terminals poking out and up into fresh air – it gives quicker access to connect to a charger, plus Jeff prefers it this way rather than poking out the side of the bike. Sounds simple, but the addition of a magneto to a bike designed for factory placed, modern design wiring and controller systems meant help was required. “Yes, I had help from Jim Hickman and Moose. Close friends that know a bit more about spark than I.”
Over the years, prolific customiser Jeff Wright has had to learn certain building techniques most folk would shy away from in order to deliver design thoughts to reality. Not much learning was required but then Jeff’s love of motorcycles goes deeper than riding.
“Everything was natural to my love of motorcycles. The one thing I had to 'learn' was welding. I try and do everything in life the correct way, and after listening to some old timers saying ‘One should know how to Oxy weld before anything’...I went out and bought an old oxy/gas welder and started learning. After many years, a nice Tig welder was purchased. I now know how to Tig weld. Very well.” It’s interesting to note that Jeff lists a welding set-up and Google as the two items he and his custom business could not do without.
When asked what other advice Jeff Wright would dish out to fans of Church of Choppers and who have been inspired by his bikes to build their own custom creation, Jeff typically replied in a thoughtful, deliberated tone that highlights his vast experience: “Go big, never stop and, for god’s sake, put a tail section/fender on it. I am not a fan of the flat seat, no tail-look. Get a good paying job, too, because nice parts are expensive.”
Of course, as with all great bike builds, there are occasions when other people have to be involved. Who and in what measure is irrelevant when the devil drives as most special builders will testify when up against the clock. In this case, Jeff had just seven weeks to complete. This sounds plenty but it most certainly isn’t when you have three or four other businesses to maintain, too, and a family to support.
The final piece to this story mirrors what happens when a great bike build is complete; thanks need to be said. So, in no particular order, Jeff hails out his thanks to Ola Stenegard, a new-found custom soulmate who also happens to be chief designer of the R nineT, and BMW Motorrad, both for such a great opportunity. “I live in Iowa, and at around 2,000 miles from California and 1,500 to NYC, it’s so good to get the chance to mess a bike up. I will forever be 10-feet tall because of this. I’d also like to thank Jim Hickman for the magneto help, and my wife and kids for being so understanding!”
*Please credit images to Michael Lichter.