Nic Millan is a photographer and videographer who combines his passion for photography and motorcycles. Growing up in Southern Oregon, his first motorcycle was bought and ridden illegally:
I had a beat up 1974 Honda CB 125 ‘s’ that looked like shit, rode like magic, and never failed to start on the first or second kick. There were so many dirt roads and orchard backroads where I lived that learning to ride the ‘thing’ without my parents knowledge was as easy as telling them I was going for a bike ride – I did, but my bike ride led me to my motorcycle. You have to understand, I grew up with a family that was anti-motorcycle.
God, that’s the kind of story we love. Nic’s CB led him to his first new bike, a Triumph Bonneville he still rides, and it led him to start creating “ride videos” showcasing different areas of Southern Oregon, and photographing the bikes of other riders. He says:
Motorcyclists are a funny bunch. No matter who you meet, if they have ridden motorcycles for some time you are surely going to get a story from them. Being able to help put someone’s history, a good story, into something that is almost tangible makes me smile. However, creating a story, to me, is beautiful.
Amen, brother. We couldn’t have said it better ourselves. Recently, Nic reached out with some incredible shots of a bike he’d photographed, a 1983 Moto Guzzi 850 Le Mans cafe racer. Below, we have the full interview with the owner, Bill, as well as Nic’s incredible photography.
Moto Guzzi 850 Le Mans: Builder Interview
(Highlights by us.)
Please tell me about yourself and your history with motorcycles?
When I was a kid, my brother and I shared a Honda 50 mini trail, and lots of my friends had dirt bikes, but as I grew up I was primarily a car guy. My dad was a car guy who owned muscle cars and hot rods, and so that’s what I owned, and then I got heavily into air cooled VWs.
About twenty years ago, a friend inherited a 1949 Matchless G80 that his grandfather had had since the 50’s. It hadn’t run for years and my recollection is, it was entirely the color of greasy dust, but I couldn’t get over how cool it was. I began researching vintage motorcycles, and vintage moto racing (on the relatively new internet) and soon became obsessed. I fell in love with two bikes in particular, one was a BSA lightning cafe racer and the other was a Manx-style Norton Atlas. Those two bikes made a lasting impression on me, and had a great influence on what was to come. My goal was to someday have a Featherbed framed cafe racer — a goal I achieved about ten years later in the form of a pre-unit Triton.
I’ve immersed myself in vintage motorcycles for the last two decades, and the focus of my interest remains period correct cafe racers. I currently own about a dozen motorcycles of various nationalities.
What’s the make, model, and year of the bike?
This bike is a 1983 Moto Guzzi 850 Le Mans III.
Why was this bike built?
I built this bike as my own personal bike, with the possibility of resale when I was done. That’s usually what I tell myself to justify having another motorcycle, but it rarely happens.
I wasn’t looking for a Moto Guzzi when this one came along. As is often the case when you immerse yourself in anything, whether it be quirky vintage motos, collecting old fishing lures, or Pez dispensers for that matter, they seem to find you.
This particular bike belonged to a friend of my friend, Mike, and had been relegated to second string by a shiny new Ducati sport classic. Mike and I rescued it from where it had languished for a couple years outside, underneath several deteriorated tarps, each placed with good intention over the previous decomposing tarp. It was in Mike’s possession for about a year before he decided he wasn’t prepared to take on the project and made me an offer I couldn’t refuse.
What was the design concept and what influenced the build?
The Moto Guzzi Le Mans holds it’s place alongside a handful of iconic Italian superbikes, and I knew that, but the second, and now third series Le Mans had taken a styling departure from the first series bikes that I didn’t really like. It was a typical ’80’s design trend toward sharp angular lines, and had a square headlight. I wanted it to have the timeless look of an earlier vintage classic. I wanted it to look like it could have come from the shop of Arturo Magni. Of course, it had to be red, and with the brown seat I wanted to evoke the feel of a racing Ferrari from the ’50s.
What custom work was done to the bike?
I’m not reinventing the wheel here, and I don’t believe in customizing just for the sake of customizing. After all, this is not a Game of Thrones theme chopper that shoots dragon fire out of the headlight when I press the horn button, or some perplexity that leaves people wondering how the suspension works. I’m not interested in building something nobody has ever seen before.
A lot of time went into getting the proportions right, and sourcing the new bodywork to make sure it was right. So many people get this wrong — they know when they like a bike, but they actually don’t know why some look good and others don’t. That’s why so many customs, a majority really, miss the mark somehow. After studying countless motorcycles on the internet and in person over the last two decades, I’ve come up with my own mathematical rules of proportion, as to what makes a good looking motorcycle. Of course it’s subjective, but most motorcycles that I like aesthetically, stick within these parameters.
I retained the stock fuel tank, which is large and fits the cafe racer aesthetic. I also used the original side covers with the badges removed, which has the unintended secondary effect of weeding out the people who pretend to know what it is. Next, I fit a round fairing over a round headlight, which was pretty straight forward. I found a tail section with perfect dimensions that had a little kick-up at the back – which is very reminiscent of a Magni bike. Installation was a little more involved, because I wanted to utilize the original seat hinge and latch. I trimmed the original inner fender to fit inside the the new fiberglass tail and glassed it all together. The original seat latch works as intended, as do the inner fender, seat hinges, and seat prop. I built a seat pan and foam, and had it covered with brown marine grade vinyl that has a subtle lizard skin texture. I didn’t know I was looking for lizard skin until the instant I saw it.
For the paint, I took it to my friend and car builder Chris Darland of Chris’s Hot Rodz in Medford OR. I told him that I wanted it redder than a Ferrari. As it turns out, a Dodge Viper is redder than a Ferrari. I get a lot of questions about the color, it’s much brighter than the original Guzzi red.
While the bodywork was at the paint shop, I cleaned everything, repainted the frame and fork sliders. It remains mechanically stock, for the most part.
Please include a list of the changes made/parts used.
- The fairing is from Airtech streamlining and is their “Dunstall quarter“
- The tail is from Steve ‘Carpy’ Carpenter, most notable for his CB750 cafe racers.
- Dynatek electronic ignition
- K&N Air filters
How would you classify this bike?
I would call it a classic big Italian Cafe Racer.
Was there anything done during this build that you are particularly proud of?
I didn’t build this bike as a hip art gallery showpiece or even an internet blog feature bike. I built this bike to ride, and I do ride it.
I’m proud that I took what was essentially a discarded, derelict bike and turned it into my vision, without too many compromises. I’m also happy with the good feedback that I’ve received about the bike. I wasn’t sure what the Guzzi purists would think of my take on this relatively scarce classic, but it’s been overwhelmingly positive. I recently took it on an 850 mile joyride through the glorious back roads of Central Oregon to a National Moto Guzzi Rally, where I was awarded “Best Tonti Framed Sport Bike.” I’m particularly proud of that award because it was a peoples choice, voted on by my peers, fellow Moto Guzzi owners and fanatics.