published at 28.03.2014, 14:04
Heritage

The young, the old and the new

Recognised custom shops, specialised urban customisers and other experienced advocates of motorcycling have produced stunning examples of BMW-powered café racers. Now meet Antoine Meister from Switzerland. With 30 café/custom racer builds already to his name, he’s developing a wide fan base. Not bad for a 23-year-old with no mechanical training, just a passion for BMW engineering, learning and café racers.

Switzerland has a long and interesting association with motorcycling. In 1900, Geneva-based Motosacoche manufactured small engines to power bicycles before eventually producing its own complete motorcycles. In 1965, ex-racer Fritz W. Egli produced a chassis to tame the famous Vincent Black Shadow engine. Egli’s bike became known as the Vincent Egli and pushed Egli and accomplished motorcycle engineering onto a worldwide audience.

As the saying goes: from little acorns great oaks will grow. If we can judge Antoine Meister by his performance so far, he will grow into someone equally well known within motorcycling’s custom circle. At the age of 23, this former law student has, without question, a talent for building unique, eye-catching motorcycles – Boxer-powered café racers mostly. But why predominantly choose BMW motorcycles as donors for his creations?

“Being from Switzerland, we obviously live close to Germany and we know how well made the BMW motorcycles are – we like good engineering. Even though the ‘R’ air-cooled models are old, they are very good engines with nothing much to worry about. Because of this and the very style of engine it makes them a good basis for a café racer.” When Antoine talks about ‘we’, he doesn’t just mean his father who, after building his own Rickman Triumph Bonneville in 1972, is obviously a guiding light. The ‘we’ in this case is his group of knowledgeable senior friends.

Antoine only started building and customising motorcycles professionally as Meister Engineering just three months ago after dropping out of university. Leaving a promising and lucrative career was due to the realisation he could have fun and make money from building specialised motorcycles. This was partly based on his early days when, aged 13, he would come home from school and play with motorcycles in his father’s workshop. It was at this young age that Antoine performed his first customisation on a Puch Maxi S MK-47 moped.

It is the last ten years’ of custom builds that has given Antoine the experience to progress into full time motorcycle customisation inside the family workshop. Experience and a healthy desire to learn anything and everything about motorcycling, either via the internet or from friends, has certainly helped give Antoine a wise head on young shoulders.

“Switzerland is a small country and this helps make new contacts and friends very easily so learning is not a problem. I have two older friends close by who are experienced in electrical systems and they can be called on to help if it is needed. They will always explain because they love what they do. Problems with BMW engines are not common but if I buy a bike that needs engine work I am not sad or afraid to open it. It is all part of the learning process.”

Antoine’s ability to turn his hands to all areas of custom builds is plain to see with the finished examples shown here. The black beauty is a BMW R 100 S. Now labelled ‘Veteran’, this bike clearly demonstrates that detail, e.g. the handmade top fork yoke, is the key to a fine looking café racer.

The same studious qualities also shine through the white finish of the former R 80 RT Police machine. Although some components that go onto Antoine’s bikes are purchased from other countries, it is Antoine that prepares the chassis to enable them to fit. Buying parts from outside of Switzerland is another life lesson learned: patience! Because Switzerland is not in the EU most of his spares are delayed by the absurd regime of customs. He has also learned the mystical art of paint spraying and now paints all his own bikes. The same learning process also means he can build his own seats and craft intricate and ornate metal parts.

For many people who would like to build their own special motorcycle there is an age old problem that affects them. From artists to motorcycle builders, they all need inspiration. For Antoine, this is not a problem. “At an early age I was sensitive to the form of the car and the design of all things mechanical, especially if it is in front of me. From this view point I can see the way ahead.” An aid to Antoine’s design mind was visiting the Ace Café in London to see original and modern day café racers. Going to Brooklyn, New York, to see workshops of longstanding professional builders also started the thinking process.

There is, however, one problem for Antoine and that stems from living in such a glorious location as Geneva, Switzerland. There is a shortage of available BMW machinery. It appears everyone in Switzerland appreciates the values of BMW workmanship and design and do not like to relinquish their two-wheeled pride and joy. To find and buy respectable machinery, Antoine and his father travel many, many miles searching for decent donors. “We are the BMW Hunters,” says Antoine, laughing at the thought of another trip in the family Chrysler Voyager, which most of the bikes fit in ok.

So what of the future for this bright young star of the custom special world? Apart from more visually appealing creations, Antoine has a special project in mind that will come to fruition in time for the 2015 Swiss-Moto show held in Zurich. What the end result will be is only known by Antoine.