Producing custom motorcycles for 20 years has earned Unique Custom Cycles (UCC) an enviable reputation for excellence. Starting off with Triumph custom specials, today this Swedish company produces exceptional V-twin custom chopper builds and specialist drag racing chassis. But UCC’s latest project – The Stockholm Syndrome – is very different. It is the first time UCC has worked its magic on a BMW motorcycle – in this case the new BMW R nineT...
Building a customised bike with a European flat-twin Boxer engine is, for sure, an unusual departure for UCC. But it is a venture that Ronna Norén (47) and Gordon Roth (53), of UCC relish with smiles. But how did the appearance of a BMW R nineT come to be in the UCC workshop, located 50 km from Sweden’s capital city of Stockholm? And are UCC worried that its huge fan base will question the association with a BMW machine and not the usual American big V-twins?
“We were asked by BMW Motorrad if we were interested in customising the R nineT,” says Ronna. “We thought it would be interesting to undertake because it's always fun with new challenges and we believe that our customers appreciate a good build whatever brand or style.” That ‘style’, in UCC’s case, is Modified Stock Bike, a category that differs from their usual Custom Bike profession by making use of the donor bike’s original frame, which is only slightly modified. UCC will always try to use modified original parts as far as possible so that it’s clear to see the bike and the model that is forming the basis for the construction.
All custom bikes have their difficulties, but a full custom bike requires more work hours when building everything from scratch. The main difficulty with a Modified Stock Bike, according to UCC, is to retain the original feel while changing many details. But there are many associated difficulties involved with this - especially time… or rather the lack of it!
Time, as we know, is an important commodity. There never seems to be enough time in a day to fulfil our needs and duties. Time seems particularly short when building a custom motorcycle, especially when you have a reputation for excellence and a healthy demand for your talent that needs feeding. But throw in a deadline and the months, weeks and hours you had planned to create something stunning suddenly disappear.
At the time UCC took on the R nineT project in April, it seemed feasible that the bike would have its first public airing at the major event of the Swedish biking calendar, the Custom Bike Show in Norrtälje, on 7 June. Part of the criteria to enter the show is that the bike has to arrive under its own power and before 1:00pm when polling closes. One thing is certain about achieving this deadline, according to Ronna, is that Gordon and he “will be working their butts off until the last second!”
The Swedish Custom Bike Show is Europe's largest and oldest bike show today for home-built bikes and has become legendary and a tradition in many bikers’ lives. For UCC it is the first show of the season before the northern summer begins. Then UCC will go on to exhibit at both the European and World Championships in custom building.
Because of UCC’s long-term involvement with other makes of machine, we asked Ronna and Gordon if they had managed to ‘find’ time to ride the R nineT in standard form and how they found it. “The nineT is a bit of a classic style of bike that is appealing to us too. But the design can always be improved on all bikes. That's why UCC exists. We took the R nineT for a spin around the block before we tore it apart. It was clearly okay and has a nice engine character.”
Because the R nineT is so modern, there are many electronic and mechanical systems on the machine that make the bike what it is. Have such components presented a problem in order for UCC to realise its project vision? No, not at all, it seems. Ronna and Gordon are used to working with new bikes, especially Harleys, which have modern and advanced electronics nowadays. But since the R nineT is not a full custom build, where every component will be bespoke, many of the original BMW Motorrad parts are retained or slightly modified in order to achieve the finished look.
“Although our main field is choppers, we are looking at everything and all types of bikes. Where to get the exact inspiration for a particular bike is hard to say because we believe that inspiration comes from so much more than just the branch that you work in. It can be music or cars or just something neat you see in a magazine that inspires you when you are at work. When we saw the R nineT for the first time, we immediately felt that it would fit nicely as a modern café racer – its roots are traditional like the ones we grew up with, one with classic lines.
With all the years of experience behind UCC, do the two gentlemen from behind its workshop doors think the art of custom has turned full circle and become fashionable again? “We know that custom bikes will never go out of style,” answers Ronna. “There will always be people who want to put their own spin on what they are riding, whether it is a chopper, a drag bike or a street fighter. We know that the trend to personalise things today is great. This covers everything from fashion clothing to the houses we live in. Putting our own stamp on our surroundings defines us as people, makes us stand out and distinguishes ourselves from the masses. So yes, we definitely think it's in the air, even within our branch!”
Ronna Norén and Gordon Roth, the men of UCC, refuse to be fazed by the ever shortening timescale in which to produce their unique visualisation of a custom R nineT, which they have tagged ‘The Stockholm Syndrome’, although the sweat produced in the cool air of night as they work says otherwise. Thankfully, they have back-up assistance with the exacting components they are using in the build from the people who know them.
Ronna’s brother, Benna, is a former UCC founder before starting a new life in the guise of Tolle Engineering, which specialises in long-forks and many other specialist engineered parts for custom bikes. Benna is man of advice and charmed engineering hands, and calls in to the UCC workshop to help out when he can. Ohlins and ISR Brakes are two other famous Swedish motorcycle component specialists who receive UCC’s praise because of their assistance in supplying freshly developed aftermarket parts – because the R nineT is so new UCC has been working in close association with the two firms to complete the project.
Time allowing, UCC will exhibit its take on a customised R nineT at the Swedish Custom bike Show (www.custombikeshow.se) on 7 June – and before the 1:00pm deadline. In case you can’t make this wonderful event, World of BMW Motorrad will showcase the finished machine in the same glorious detail you see today. All images of the project have been kindly supplied by ace lens-person Jenny Jurnelius – another famous Swedish product and, of course, friend of Unique Custom Cycles. The clock is ticking, gentlemen.
For more information on ‘new heritage’ custom boxers, please see the R nineT web special at