Recently, we had the pleasure of attending the 2018 Victory Moto Show in Savannah, Georgia — one of our favorite places on earth. The rise of Savannah College of Art & Design (SCAD) has given the old port city an influx of new creative energy. What’s more, the streets are full of old cars, scooters, and motorcycles.
At the heart of the Savannah’s vintage motorcycle community is Coastal Empire Moto (CEM), located in a former Gulf service station at 57th and Bull Street. Founders Aaron Reed and Mike Garcia each have a love for vintage Hondas — 350s, especially. Aaron, who has twenty years of metal fabrication experience, customized his first CL when he was just 19, and Mike was building CB350s out of a 4×6 shed before they founded the workshop. CEM focuses on customs, restomods, and sales, along with an array of services from vapor honing to machining to full engine building.
We first visited the shop in 2017 and were impressed not only by the quality of the builds, but the sense of family that pervades the place. Says Aaron:
“Our shop…is supported by what we call The Moto Fam’[ily], consisting of the tight group of people who showed up, stayed, and insisted we succeed.”
This CL350 build is a collaboration between Coastal Empire Moto and intern Julia Wheatley, a SCAD student who worked right alongside the CEM crew every step of the way, using the build as part of her Senior Industrial Design Thesis. (Coolest…thesis…ever.) Julia’s key notions of color and design met with Aaron and Mike’s own ideas, creating a bike representative both of Julia and CEM. Still, the 350 itself was the heart of the concept:
“Our idea was to honor the bike, work the details, and leave nothing untouched.”
The result is a build that’s tough yet refined, with bold contrasts and loads of subtlety — a bike that has been touched in every detail yet still screams Honda Scrambler. In November, the bike won Best in Show at Victory Moto Show 2018. Congrats, y’all!
Below, we get the full details on the build, along with some killer photos from Mike Schalk.
Honda CL350 Scrambler: Builder Interview
• Please tell us a bit about yourself, your history with motorcycles, and your workshop.
CEM (Coastal Empire Moto) is based out of an old Gulf Service station at 57th and Bull, in Savannah, Georgia, and was conceived in late 2015 from a need for more workspace to work on bikes.
Our shop has evolved a lot and is supported by what we call The Moto Fam’[ily], consisting of the tight group of people who showed up, stayed, and insisted we succeed.
CEM is focused on restomods, customs, and sales, all based on or around small displacement ‘60s and ‘70s era Japanese and European motorcycles. We offer complete engine building and a host of other refinishing/repair services as well, from vapor honing to welding and machining.
We both came to motorcycling following a traditional model of riding dirt bikes as kids and shifting to the street as teens and adults. I customized a CL100 along with a ’71 F250 when I was 19, and from there I was off to design school, and I have been in Savannah designing and making things, including bikes, ever since. Mike spent an early career in finance and used his free time to rebuild CB350s out of a 4×6 shed and his back porch. Together, we’re super excited to be doing what we love and look forward to doing more.
• What’s the make, model, and year of the bike?
1969 Honda CL350 Type1
• Why was this bike built?
This bike was born as a collaborative effort between us and one of our interns, Julia Wheatley, who used components of the project, along with the process itself, as the basis of her SCAD Senior Industrial Design Thesis. It’s effectively both a customer project and a company promotion. Mike and I love 350s especially, and wanted to throw a bunch of our ideas towards the build.
• What was the design concept and what influenced the build?
The design concept was really about process. We taught Julia, who worked right alongside us every step of the way, about restoring and customizing motorcycles. In many ways, the design concept was itself a concept: to document, learn, implement, empower, experiment. Julia had key notions of color and the overall feel of the bike in her mind, and the design evolved as the bike did. Rather than fully plan the bike based on a design, we discussed, ideated, and worked the design right up until we were out of time. Julia wanted the design, as most of us do, to represent her in many ways. She also wanted it to feel very CEM, which we think it does.
If you want to discuss the concept, though, the key design points are clear.
Both scramblers and Julia are tough and refined. Julia is a talented designer, actor, model, and babysitter; we wanted the bike to carry these subtleties as well as bold contrasts. It’s all function, and yet, all form.
The design concept is also really about the 350 itself. We knew we wanted to play with form and finish, like the different ways we treated the various pieces of metal across the bike—some painted, some polished, some satin, a few hints of the old respectfully left as not to erase a story from the bike’s memory. Our idea was to honor the bike, work the details, and leave nothing un-touched.
The examples are all over: the exhaust brackets Aaron fabricated that both hide and shine, the swing arm mounts that were shortened because they’ll no longer support passenger pegs, the hours’ of hand finishing motor parts because Mike and Julia knew just how they wanted it, Mike’s execution on the wiring—simple and super clean. At the end of the day, we wanted the bike to be absolutely custom and yet still scream Honda Scrambler.
• What custom work was done to the bike?
- Mika Bars
- ProTaper Controls
- Barnett Racing Clutches
- Dynatek Coils-custom mounts
- Pamco Electronic ignition
- Mikuni VM32’s
- AGV Lithium Ion Battery
- Ricks Regulator Rectifier
- Oury Grips
- Sparck Wiring Harness
- Uni-Pod Filters
- Stainless Steel Spokes
- Kenda 80/20’s
- LED lighting
- Modified Frame Tail Section
- Custom Seat-pan, foam, and cover, uses stock latch and mimics original tilt/prop position
- Custom Battery Pan-formed sheet metal
- Custom Aluminum Cowl-formed
- Modified CL exhaust, brackets, and heat shield, with Cone Engineering Mufflers
- Swing Arm Mounted Rear Fender
- CEM Spoke License Plate Bracket
- Custom Paint (every.where)
- Full Engine Rebuild, with Custom Paint
• Was there anything done during this build that you are particularly proud of?
Beyond the whole damn thing? We are super proud that we literally touched, cleaned, painted, and/or altered every single part on the motorcycle. And our Moto Fam. So damn proud of them; they showed up big to help us pull this together, and we couldn’t say thank you enough.
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