Max Schaaf

‘I live in a bubble’ - Max Schaaf

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Meet Max Schaaf. Painter. 4Q Conditioning Orator. Ex-pro skater. And chopper dude.

Chances are, if you’re into old skool choppers you’ll have read Max Schaaf’s 4Q Conditioning blog – an entertaining wealth of thought-provoking comment, cool custom bikes and cool music. He builds some amazing old Harley customs and does a wicked paint job.

He was at Art and Wheels so we grabbed a few words:

How come you’re here at Art and Wheels?
I know Mario [one of the three guys behind the event]. Him and his wife are happy people. He invited me last year but I had to build my bike for Born Free and said no, but also said that if he invited me early enough I could plan my trip and still do a bike for Born Free. So he invited me early and here I am. Shame you’ve not got one of your bikes here… I know. These guys are on a tight budget so it wasn’t possible.

How come you don’t do more European shows?
This is a special treat for me but some of these kids do it [attend custom shows in a pro capacity] all the time. But I couldn’t do that. I’m not into commercialism. I’ve got an old truck, old van, old bikes and live in an old house. It’s what I like and I’m happy. But you do Born Free each year which is now massive… When Born Free started it was in a parking lot. Then Vans and Harley got to be a part of it and now it’s sponsored by Red Bull and is this huge thing with hundreds of vendors each paying hundreds of dollars to buy space. The organisers need that money to keep it going [to pay for all the extra security and regulations etc].

Me going there?
It’s a contradiction, I know. I get to meet a lot people. But I’m against corporations taking over. The Brooklyn Show is good. Like this, only a little bit bigger. And the vendors are the patrons of the show. So you were a pro skater at one point? I got into bikes early. As a kid I had a lawnmower-engined bike. It’s not that different to a Harley-Davidson – an engine, a frame and two wheels [laughs]. Skateboarding took over and I did Europe something like 30 times. People don’t know that and mark me down as a rookie in Europe. I’ve done skate contests in Marseille, Lussanne, London etc. I see a lot of bikers desperately trying to follow the road trip lifestyle gig but skaters were really nomadic – and still are. I know San Francisco skaters now who just cruise around, skating, partying, traveling. There’s a lot of parallels with the chopper guys.

What did skating give you?
I enjoy the independence I have now that skating gave me. I learned how to travel. How to be around people. You have to find the right places to drink and the right places to eat and you only do that by interacting with people. When did you make the transition to motorcycles?

In 1998. Sixteen years ago I bought a Shovel frame and started to build a bike. It took me two years to get it done and I bought everything bit by bit from a grizzly old biker who used to do a kind of yard sale each month. I’d just buy bits off him. I got to the point where I couldn’t understand how to assemble the clutch on my generator Shovel motor – so I bought a second bike. This time it was a complete Panhead, which I paid $5000 for. But it was in one piece! I took that apart completely, figured out how it all worked then re-assembled it. Then I went back to my generator Shovel and was able to finish that.

But why did you get into bikes?
Because I’m a man [laughs]. We have to do danger and have fun right? And I loved the noise. The thing that got me into skating was hearing a dude riding the street on a board. It was the sound that attracted me first. I lived in Oakland which has a rich history of outlaws. So I heard the noise of unsilenced Harleys every day and was curious about those bikes.

What is it about custom bikes for you?
Riding a chopper is an expression. It’s yours. It’s your way of saying it’s mine – my noise, my purple paint. You stand out. And if you’re on an old Panhead or Knuckle that you’ve built there’s a real sense of pride in riding. And that you’ve built it.

You seem like an old skool, hands-on kind of guy. What motivated you to sit at the computer and start the 4Q Conditioning blog?
4Q started because I wanted to offer an alternative to the tough guy thing. I’d like to think my generation helped take the custom motorcycle scene back to that artistic side – it’s gone beatnik and bohemian again. We’re back to simplicity. I love the genuine thank yous from guys I might have influenced. For me, riding a chopper is fun. For some it seems to have become an accessory.

You ride bad-ass bikes but don’t seem like a bad-ass…
I ride a chopper and I never have mirrors or brake lights, not because I’m some kind of bad-ass but because you’re invisible anyway. I’m a man. Motorcycles are a danger thing. But they’re also cool. To me, a chopper offers an opportunity to change parts. It’s fun doing that but it’s also fun to scour the swap meets. It’s all part of it. Is everything motorcycles in your life? No, I’m not all about motorcycles. I live in a bubble. Most days it’s just me, my girlfriend and my dog. My girl is my favourite critic. I live in my shop – it’s an old corner store, like an old grocer’s shop from back in the 1930s. I took the market out of it and turned it into my workshop and live in the rest of it. I surf in the mornings now. It’s a new hobby I’ve had for about 14 months. And I still skateboard when my body lets me.

Are you interested in trackers or baggers?
[The question receives a wry grin and then a screwed up face.] I’m not for switching styles. I stay in the same box. I like the same box. I’ve collected lots of parts so why not use them? And why not stay with this 1960s style? It can be the same but with subtle differences. I’m not saying it’s good [compared to other bikes] but it’s a formula I like. I like that creative side of things. Tanks, bars, controls and paint are really the only things I can change. I don’t change frames – I like Harley frames. My Born Free bike for this year is a bit shorter than normal but only three per cent of people will notice anyway.