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Thursday, May 4, 2017

Christian Newman

What comes to mind when you think Buffalo, New York? Cold, tons of snow, small town, mediocre football, and probably a handful of other non exciting details. Buffalo is probably not even on most people's radar. For me that's the complete opposite, I see Buffalo as staple in the midwest custom culture scene. From extraordinary artists, to amazing hotrod builders, photographers and even a handful of brilliant bike builders, Buffalo is home to a ton of talented hardworking people. One of those talented people in particular that I have had the pleasure of getting to know more over the year's is Christian Newman. I first learned about Christian and his motorcycle building wizardry when putting together the first Fuel Cleveland. He was the very first bike entry in a contest we were throwing to fill the last spot of the show via social media. One look at the Turbo Shovel and it blew not only my mind but Tyler, and Jesse's too! It's said that a persons bike represents their character and I can tell you Christian's bikes do just that. He is probably one of the hardest working people I know and his visionary outlook on not only his design of bikes but life itself is extremely refreshing to see.

When Christian told me his ideas of the Knucklehead as he was starting to build it, I immediately extended the invite for him to show it off at Fuel Cleveland. To see where the bike started and to where it is going, it is safe to say that this bike is going to be one for the ages. A bike that will be remembered by all and revolutionizing the game of building custom motorcycles. Christian has made the final 6 in this year's Show Class People's Champ contest with this insane build and I couldn't be more stoked for him! With countless hours that no human should ever spend on one motorcycle, I hope he doesn't just take home first place at the Show Class Party but at Born Free too!

I had the chance to sit down with Christian the other day and ask him a handful of questions, and even I learned a few things I never knew about him, enjoy!

-Mikey Revolt

Christian's Turbo Shovel that was featured at the very first Fuel Cleveland. Photo by: Mikey Revolt

Who or what got you in to motorcycles? 

C: My dad bought me an RD100 when I was about 12 years old. It was a street bike but I rode it off road anyway. I remember laying on the floor of my bedroom looking through the Dennis Kirk catalogue and trying to find dirt tires that would fit it. My first street bike was also my dad’s first street bike that we reclaimed at a garage sale for 10 dollars. He was the first owner, a CB550. After riding it in stock trim for a few years I began to mod it. That was my first motorcycle project.

Did you have an crazy stories when you first learned to ride, did you keep that bike for a long time or do you still have it?

C: That CB550 that my father had purchased new in 1975. He sold it, then we came upon it at that garage sale. I jumped it and rode it home. No license no tags. It was the first time I ever rode on the street. I still have the bike and probably will never get rid of it.

Christian's CB550. Photo by: Kyle Cuviello

What’s Buffalo’s motorcycle Scene like?

C: While I’ve been into motorcycles for a lot of my life, I was pretty far removed from any “scene”. In the past 4 or 5 years though the scene has been ramping up steadily. I know of a couple cool choppers floating around the city. A few years ago I didn’t know of any.

Buffalo, NY

What do you do in your spare time when it’s not motorcycles? Not that you have much...

C: There really isn’t much time for anything else. The building process actually consumes more hours a week than my full time job. Spending time with my girlfriend and her son is about all I have time for aside from bikes. I just got the little guy a dirt bike, so teaching him to ride over the coming months is going to be fun too!

Christian's first bike a CB550. Photo by Kyle Cuviello

Who or what do you find inspiration from?

C: I try to draw as little inspiration from the motorcycle scene as possible, which is pretty hard to do when you live and breathe it. I find myself looking at a lot of old industrial equipment, modern lighting fixtures, architecture, etc. I get a lot of pleasure in devising alternate methods of doing things that are already “established”. Occasionally this comes at a sacrifice of a small degree of efficiency. I don’t want function to follow form, but I do want them to work together.

What is the most challenging thing for you when it comes to building and designing a bike?

C: It depends what day you ask me. Sometimes it’s just motivation to get out there and do it. It’s such a massive time investment that when my friends are out having fun, I’m alone in a dark shop grinding (literally) away. Other days it’s just working through a design block. Often, it’s forcing myself to remake or redesign a part that I have spent lots of time on because it isn’t exactly what I want.

Christian's Sportster has tons of modified parts including extended Fork Shrouds made from scratch! So good!

Are there times you find yourself designing a part and they just don't work out the way you envisioned it or is always as flawless as it looks?

C: I should have read all the questions before answering any of them. Yeah, that happens ALL the time. I scrap lots of stuff. I spent 2 weeks making some foot controls for my Shovelhead a few years ago before realizing that I didn’t account for belt clearance and had to scrap everything. These days I will often make chicken-test parts to test function before making a part that has tons of polishing time in it. My process generally involves polishing before welding, so a fucked up weld will totally ruin a part that I have days of work into. Sosa Metalworks posted something recently about this and I completely understand his feeling.

B-side of Christian's Turbo Shovel. Photo by: Mikey Revolt

What is your favorite piece or pieces you enjoy making or fabricating most?

C: I like small jobs where I can have a finished part at the end of the day, whether it be a bracket or a bolt, or just any small component. These aren’t my favorite pieces at the end of the build, but they are the easiest to get motivated to do. It’s hard to say “ok, today I am going to spend 10 hours sanding some parts" and 10 hours later you just have some parts that are maybe a little smoother but not necessarily ready to use and need a lot more work.

Where is one of the best places you have been to on one of your bikes?

C: Riding west from Portland to the coast was really incredible. The road we were on was incredible (Alsea highway) and breaking through the trees to the ocean was just breathtaking. Actually just immediately stopped my bike, sat down in the dirt and stared west over the Pacific.

Photo by: Brandon Fischer

Have any crazy stories you can share from the road trip you took last year with Andrew Woz and Brandon Fischer?

C: Man, Andy got clipped by a car and went down. Trashed his bike, but didn’t hurt him too much. I still think about that every time I’m on the bike.

Changing Brandon’s softail drive belt in a field in Sturgis with minimal tools. Primary parts all over a damn field.

Meeting @Bluetodd in a Fred Meyer parking lot was really awesome and changed the whole last leg of the trip for the better.

Always the go to guy when fixing stuff. Photo by: Brandon Fischer

Where is one place in this world you would like to see and haven’t yet?

C: Base jumping has taken me all over the world, but I’ve never been to south America. I think some day I would like to ride there. Another thing I’ve always wanted to do was ride along some of the routes that Sal took in On The Road by Jack Kerouac. It’s my favorite book. Some day.

Christian base jumping... whoa!

Whoa man Base jumping thats crazy... what go you into base jumping? What is the experience like?

C: Hmm. Well I went to an event called bridge day, saw base jump in real life, got inspired and spent the next year prepping to do it. Time does sort of slow down when you are jumping. It's really a pretty incredible experience but I think I miss the times not jumping more. Like the hikes and the lead up to the spots where you jump, building up the anticipation. And you're usually sharing that experience with someone. Often someone you don't know all that well but you develop a bond because you're about to do or just did do something that can kill you in a heartbeat, so I think about those times more than the actual jump. What got me out of base was my good friend Ian dying. I might do it again some day, but I can't build bikes at the level I am and do base too. Base requires a lot of currency, planning and training and I just can't do that right now.

Can you tell us a little about this iconic Knucklehead you have been building for this year's People's Champ and will be bringing to Fuel Cleveland? 

C: I wouldn’t call it iconic, but that’s flattering. I’ve been thinking about doing the external drive and the open kicker for a pretty long time so I’ve been working through it in my head. It was nice to get it out of my head and onto paper and then subsequently into steel. Rene from Mercury Moto really pushed me into building the fork. The original plan was a telescopic fork. I’ve been learning so much as I’ve been building this. Gotten a lot better at polishing and welding, too. Stainless is pretty difficult to work with, but it sure makes machining aluminum seem like a breeze.

Christian has been building this 1940 Knucklehead for Show Class Magazine - People's Champ 5. Photo by: Jesse Ladowski

Photo by: Jesse Ladowski

Photo by: Jesse Ladowski

Just one example on how Christian see's things differently. Photo by: Jesse Ladowski
I know you are a vegan, what’s your all time favorite dish that you would recommend everyone to try?

C: Ethiopian food. Every time I suggest this to people they make some dumb joke about it, starving people or eating dirt. But Ethiopian food is unique, delicious and very flavorful.

What was 13 year old Christian like? What would you tell 13 year old Christian if you could go back in time and give yourself some words of wisdom?

C: 13 year old Christian was focused on school and making things. I think around this time I had bolted two bicycles together to make a 4 wheel bike. I had built an elaborate tree house in my dad’s backyard with many planks and bridges and floors. I modified a lawn tractor to be a wheelie machine. Made a giant wooden dinosaur that I could sit inside of and control the arms and head. I’ve always been a tinkerer and always will be. I wouldn’t tell 13 year old Christian not to change a damn thing, actually.

Surfs up! Photo by: Kyle Cuviello

What kind of jams do you have blasting when you are working on a bike?

C: I listen to the same shitty late 90’s early 2000’s hardcore I have been for the past 20 years. I like what I like, I guess.

If you were deserted on an island and you could have only one thing with you, what would it be?

C: Probably a hatchet. Mostly because I really loved the book Hatchet as a kid. In the book the main character is a young boy who gets stranded in the wilderness with nothing but a hatchet. I've always wanted to try to live life like that, simple and using basic skills to stay alive. Being on an island by myself would seem like a good time to try I guess.

Are there any life mottos or codes you live by?

C: Sounds cliché, but just WORK HARD. Don’t bother doing something if you’re going to half ass it.

Anyone you would like to give a shout out to or thank?

C: BA Enterprise for helping me with the motor work.
A.Titan machine shop for making me a few parts for my build here and there.
Andy Zion for paint.
Ginger McCabe for upholstery.
Rene at Mercury moto for inspiration.
All my friends who have helped me out here and there.

Photo by: Jesse Ladowski
You can follow the madness / progress of Christian's build on Instagram at @ctnewman and make sure to check out the finished insanely beautiful Knucklehead at this year's Fuel Cleveland Show on July 29th. I'm sure you will see Christian rolling around on one of his other crazy bikes and at the show so be sure to say hi to him if you see him walking around!