Interview Motorcycle Trader Magazine New Zealand, Edition 253, published 30.3.2015

Wellington hides one of the world's best-known authors of custom bike books. Here's his story.

Unless you have an interest in modifying standard motorcycles, chances are you haven't heard of Uli Cloesen.
The Wellington-based German is the author of six books on custom bikes and café racers, all published by Veloce in the United Kingdom. His books are written for an international audience and are available worldwide through online booksellers and technical bookshops. MT interviewed him recently and it's a surprising story.

What fired your passion for bikes?

My technical interest stems from having grown up at the outskirts of Stuttgart in the south west of Germany, a region heavily populated by Mercedes- Benz owners. Once a week, on my way to vocational school in the morning, I encountered Porsche test drivers heading from the Zuffenhausen works towards the motorway. My route also meant commuting past the equally prestigious Kreidler factory. Back then, whoever owned a Kreidler RS moped was the king of the roost. I couldn't quite stretch to a Kreidler and settled for a Maico MD50 road moped instead.

My first clerical training was with a freight-forwarder in the neighbouring village, right next to a BMW and Yamaha dealership. It's not surprising then that, before long, I ended up with a Yamaha RD250 as my first proper bike. While at work, I also had daily exposure to our neighbours working on two-valve boxers, hence I developed a liking for BMW motorcycles.

In general, I'm a sucker for '70s wire-wheeled, big twins or retro bikes fitting this category.

How did you end up in NZ and what prompted you to write about custom bikes?

I was backpacking around New Zealand in the late '80s when I met my future Kiwi wife. The next 20 years were spent raising our daughter and me working in various roles in the NZ tourism industry, based in pre-earthquake Christchurch.

For the last few years I have been living in Wellington with my new partner, Alexandra.

A lifelong passion for motorcycles and a redundancy from a teaching job provided the impetus in 2009 to explore my creative streak. I always had an interest in how people modified their rides to their taste, be they European or Japanese bikes. At this time, the idea grew to produce the kind of motorcycle books I perceived lacking in the library or retail outlets – books I would have liked to see published but which weren't in print anywhere.

My first book, released in April 2011, BMW Custom Motorcycles, was an attempt to showcase how cool standard BMWs can become when turned into choppers, bobbers, trikes or even quads. The positive response to this work encouraged me to continue writing.

The logical sequel to my first publication was BMW Café Racers, published in February 2013, showcasing the growing trend of custom BMW café conversions. I felt particularly honoured collaborating with Günter Michel, one of the surviving Michel BMW brothers, on reviving their illustrious racing history for this book.

What was your impetus to write about Italian motorcycles?

 I'm a big fan of Moto Guzzi and it led me to investigate the rich Italian and German Guzzi custom scene using the same format as BMW Custom Motorcycles. It would not have been enough material, though, to solely write about Guzzi customs so I featured other customised Italian brands including Ducati in Italian Custom Motorcycles, published in March, 2013 as well.

My second Italian motorcycle book, Italian Café Racers, soon followed. It covers marques from Aermacchi to Paton and provides great coverage of café racers with Italian engines. Maybe it's just me but it would warm my cockles to see a modern Guzzi Falcone variant next to a more powerful version of the modern Guzzi V7.

You also produced books about customised Japanese and British motorcycles, right?

Yes, Japanese Custom Motorcycles came out in December 2013 and was a project which felt almost too big for me to tackle.

It was very complex bringing all the material together, especially the Japanese domestic custom scene section. The language barrier was a real issue but the hard work paid off in the end. Nippon chops are way cool, and it shows.

There is a worldwide resurgence of custom Brit parallel twins and a noticeable emergence of custom bikes powered by Hinckley Triumph Bonneville engines. It doesn't stop there as British Custom Motorcycles will prove. Anything British can be turned into a custom bike to suit. A soft spot for Royal Enfields and actually owning a Hinckley Bonneville T100 provided the inspiration to produce the British motorcycles book.

You mentioned that you're also working on a book about sidecars? 

I initially planned to produce a book about BMW sidecars as my dad had a BMW sidecar in the '50s in which I was a regular passenger on my mother's lap from the age of one. I found out during the planning stages that some German authors beat me to this.

This prompted me instead to compile a book about Italian sidecars, this time for German publisher Reisebuchverlag Kastanienhof. The book is called Italienische Gespanne. It was a labour of love to research and compile material for it and it will be available by the time this issue of MT gets to print. You will indeed find some rare stuff in it.

Any more projects in the pipeline? 

I have plenty more ideas for new titles but after this many books in such a short time, I need to catch my breath!

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