T-Bird

T-Bird’s green shop, with its antique sign-written windows full of classy biker clothing and engineering artefacts, is a magnet for anyone into vintage motorcycles or period riding gear 

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Stephane Saladin

After three decades riding And fixing bikes for A living, what next? easy: open A shop selling top notch bike gear 

Stephane Saladin and his wife Beitina established T-Bird four years ago by embracing his own passion for top-quality old school biking fashion. He only stocks high-end brands, with Eastman’s, Aero Leathers, Buzz Rickson’s, Schott USA, Vanson, Edwin, Lee, Pike Brothers, Johnson Motors, Red Wings, Chippewa, Bleu de Chauffe, Eat Dust, etc among an extensive portfolio. And backing up the quality gear is a shop environment more like your dream living room – shelves are crammed with books, rock star shots, and ‘objects d’art moto’ and a juke box plays great music from early rockabilly to 1970s classic rock. 

How did all this come about?

Stephane: I was in the police force here in Paris for 20 years. I worked as a motorcycle cop and as a mechanic – motorcycles are the story of my life. The person inside here (puts hand on heart) has had a passion for motorcycle for 35 years. I opened this shop four years ago and it is my passion. It’s for men who like airplanes and cars as well as bikes.

You always rode bikes?

When I was young that’s all I did. I had Suzukis, Yamahas, Hondas, Harleys and a Buell Thunderbolt with luggage. Then I bought a Buell XB12S, which was a good bike but I also had Triumphs and BMWs. In the police we only rode BMWs. Very good bikes. My favourite brands are Triumph and Harley but I like old school Triumphs. I like old school altogether. I’m not one for supersport style bikes.

What bikes do you own now?

I have a Harley WLA 1942, 750cc. It’s a military bike but I have it in civilian style – it looks very much like an old dirt tracker. I also have a 1952 Triumph Speed Twin in original red. It’s almost standard but I have the alternator pot with electronics inside it. I also fitted a new carb. Instead of an Amal, which I could not get, I bought a Wassell copy. It is not such an easy change – it took a day to sort out the settings. 

You have modern bikes too?

Recently I bought a W650 Kawasaki, which I built as a custom bobber. It’s got a headlamp with speedo, different seat, short pipes and Firestone tyres. I also have a Harley Crossbones 1600cc. This is the bike I use for long distance. I changed the bars because I don’t like the ape-hanger style and it’s got a more traditional wheelbarrow style now with pullbacks. It’s also got a single police-style seat. The tank is red and black and I added the old speed diamond logo to the tank. It’s got a fender from a Fat Boy, but adapted.

But aren’t you equally interested in motorcycle clothing?

I’ve met different people throughout my life who have the same interest as me – old bikes and old cars. I like the 1930, 40s, 50 and 60s – bikes and clothing. The 1970s bikes were good but the clothing was not – it didn’t have the same style as earlier. I think up until the 1960s the technicality of the cloth was so good – military and civilian. During the war the companies had special contracts to produce flying jackets etc – these were very good quality and they had to do what they were designed for. After the war they became perfect for civilian wear.

You have many brands here but not many are local?

That’s true. We sell Vanson Leathers for example. They make a jacket especially for us to sell in the shop. Like in the 1940s, when they developed their military jackets to make them suitable for motorcycle riders. We also work with Japanese and British companies.

I saw a copy of Gary Eastman’s WWII flight jackets book on your shelf...

We work closely with Eastman Leathers [see Built #2]. Gary’s book is an incredible work, especially when you consider he has the entire collection of flight jackets, one for each contract during WWII, represented in his book. I was a customer of his before I opened this shop and I called him and said, ‘this is Stephane and I have a plan to open my own shop,’ and he helped me. We are the only shop in France selling his products.’

I see you have Buzz Rickson’s gear from Japan

Like Eastman’s products, Buzz Rickson’s is also high quality, expensive, but very different. We also sell Schott Perfecto and there’s the Toyo brand from Japan. We have good brands. You mentioned being a motorcycle cop and then a mechanic.

How did you make that transition?

In my old job as a cop I was looking for promotion and the only way was to leave the motorcycle division and become a police mechanic preparing the BMW and Yamaha bikes. I was lucky to be working in a garage with old tools and was able to modify my own bikes. I worked with several old guys who had a lot of experience with mechanics and they became good friends. It changed my life. I had a new view of mechanics – the way you can go about changing your own bike. I built a chopper – a Harley Sportster with old parts. Everything was handmade – I imported a frame, used Springer forks and a special tank. 

How else did being a mechanic change your life?

I came to appreciate the materials much more. This gave me a new vision. I began to make other things like the mirror in the Ford A grill I have here in the shop. I had a passion like this [to recycle stuff] when I was young but my new job as a mechanic brought it all back. And building my bike gave me a new appreciation for customs.

What was your mindset as a motorcycle cop then?

When I joined the police it was purely to ride a bike every day. I spent all my working time riding the streets and suburbs of the city and loved it. I met with different people who liked old motorcycles but at that time it was all about having a clean bike, clean riding kit, polished boots. During this time I appreciated a good machine and had respect, as you would expect of a policeman. But the mechanic job changed me again and my attitude is different now. When I decided to open this shop I decided it had to respect all the men who like this kind of thing.

How important was it to put your own personal stamp on the shop?

Everything in the shop was fitted out by me and a friend. And everything has a story. For example all the scaffold pipe which I use to hang clothing from was sourced, cut and fitted by me and my friend. I was out walking the dog and found a pile of scaffold pipe on the road. It was there for weeks and I realised it had been dumped, so one by one, I carried the pipes home. The dog went for many walks! The shop is fitted out in the memory of the old men I met as a mechanic, in particular a man with special spirit called Lovis. He was my mentor. I met three or four people like him and they still come to my shop and we are good friends. The anvil is a souvenir given to me by Lovis. 

How about the carb in the bottle?

It was from a smashed illegal bike brought in to the police yard – the frame and the engine numbers did not match and the engine was blown up but one of the mechanics gave me this carb – a Mikuni HRC 42mm. The display cabinet, by the way, is from an apothecary – a medicine cabinet. Two years ago someone came in the shop and said, ‘this is not a shop, it’s somewhere to live.’ I agree. It is my passion. 

How would you describe a typical T-Bird customer?

My principal customer is between 40 to 50 years old. The spirit of motorcycling has changed – it’s all about fashion now and although everyone is welcome here, I prefer those with real passion for motorcycles, those who have many stories of the riding lifestyle. Many customers are old school, with old bikes and respect the clothes. I prefer the authentic older people who understand the history. We also have young people who appreciate the quality but I understand they cannot maybe afford the expensive leather jackets but there is still something here for them to buy and enjoy, even if it only a T-shirt or cap.

How did you arrive at the T-Bird name?

It’s three passions under the one name: bike, car, planes. I looked at a photo of Marlon Brando when he played Johnny in the Wild One and rode a Triumph Thunderbird. I thought, ‘ah this is good.’ The name is used by Ford for one of their cars and there is the aircraft [the Thunderbirds are the US version of the Red Arrows).

What’s with the jukebox?

It’s mine. I brought it just for me because I like music – I was born in 1968 but I like 1930s, 40s, 50s and 60s music. I was in my 20s during the 1980s so I like metal too – Kiss especially. People say, ‘oh you like Kiss?’ and we’re getting more visitors who also like them. Open your mind and you find a lot of people will find something they like. I think this is good for the future. 

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