These guys don't do compromise. If they think a customer's idea is rubbish, the design won't get built. Simple.
What does an IT designer with a soft spot for motorcycles do in Athens? He finds an engineer partner and starts making beautiful classy bikes of course.
Back in 2013 Michael Kork had a Triumph Bonneville but didn’t want to butcher it: “The Bonnie was too special to cut the frame”. So he sold it and with the money bought an old Kawasaki W650. He wanted to customise it, but couldn’t find anyone to do it to the level he wanted. So with paper and pencil he started drawing and designing, and with the help of his friend Tanos at the local bike service centre they built the Urban Mechanics 01.
Pleased with the results they formed a business. Tanos had worked at a garage called Ducati Meccanica, so when it came to a name they were inspired by the mechanic element but wanted something that spoke of city bikes: Urban Mechanics.
Today they commission the best engineers for each phase of the build: exhaust pipes, frame cutting and so on. Michael does some illustrations, chooses the materials, textures, and colours while Tanos looks after the engine from his service garage.
Urban Mechanics have made four bikes so far, well actually five, but they wrote one off their books after a fall-out with an annoying client – the build went the wrong way and they had to take their name off. There is a clear vision for the brand, and no client will bend that. Their compact and ‘urban’ rides are very clean, streamlined to perfection with a touch of chic. They aim for a classic design that’s going to last, not a flashy ride of the moment.
For Michael building bikes is for now his second job, not a full-on business, because “most people wanting these kinds of bikes have no idea about the amount of work involved. The guys who know this kind of stuff buy stock bikes, they don’t care”. It turns out most requests come from young riders, usually around 25 and trying to get their first proper bike.
UM builds great machines, but they are in no rush to dish them out. The people buying their builds are mostly friends or friends of friends. The duo try to stick with clients they can communicate well with: “Most people turn up with pictures of customs they’ve seen wanting the same build. Then the job is to convince them to take the design further, and convince them to trust us, so we have to be good communicators”.
It seems it’s always the same story with customs these days; people have to be helped through the path to beauty and personality. What’s the point of replicating a custom bike you’ve seen already? You may as well buy a stock factory bobber!
So why doesn’t Michael dive into the custom market? “The bike scene in Athens was at its peak about a year ago with lots of young builders making just one bike, mostly their own. But nobody was an engineer. Just Petros of Jigsaw (see p30), Tanos my business partner. Even Dinos who does amazing bikes (see p34) will commission other engineers to do some jobs. At the end of the day it’s difficult to ask a professional mechanic to stop his service business and just build bikes. The market is not ready, and I am happy to continue like this for now. We’ll see what happens in the future”.
These guys seem to know what they are doing; their builds speak for themselves, so who’s to blame them for keeping their jobs? It’s much better than selling out your vision. After all, we’ve been riding around all morning in the sun and we’re now sipping coffee at an old garage turned cafe called Bell Rey. The quality of life is good. If you have a steady income you can be a king in Athens, and the Urban guys seem to have their own crowns.