After leading a successful career as a U.S. security consultant and deciding to drive some of the world’s most dangerous roads last year on a Royal Enfield 500 classic motorcycle, Vernon local James Leigh recently began a new venture — one that encapsulates both of these passions.
He began building nostalgic military motorbikes.
“I’ve always loved the 1940s World War Two bikes and Indian made a limited edition motorcycle called the Indian Bomber in 2010 that was army green – it was exactly what I would have wanted. They were hand-painted and I even found one in Edmonton but because Indian had shut down and changed names, and I couldn’t even find an oil filter for it so I figured I should just make one for myself.”
With a general idea in mind, he bought a black Triumph Bonneville Bobber motorcycle and started doing research. Inspiration hit.
“I looked up a lot of historic pictures and a lot of motorcycles from the Second World War and the Vietnam War and I designed this one,” he said, gesturing to his now nearly-finished bike. “The ones from that time had these girls on them and they were called Victory Girls and they were on every American bomber and British bombers too.”
The more he researched, the more creative he got and the more details he added.
In addition to depicting the hand-painted Victory girl on the side of the bike, some other details he added include: a serial number from the tail of a American helicopter that crashed in Vietnam during the war and a yellow stripe used as an indicator for the centre of gravity when dropping caged motorcycles in parachutes to soldiers in the field.
After customizing the first bike to his liking, Leigh decided to take it for a spin around Vernon.
“As I’m taking it out that first day — I had put a permit on it and I go downtown and guys are coming out of Kal Sports Bar and taking pictures and giving me thumbs up and I didn’t realize until that point that it was that interesting. I just thought it was different but then this kept happening. Everywhere I went with this bike, people are taking pictures. There’s something about it and I think it’s because it looks like it’s fresh out of 1940 World War Two.”
Because he was getting so much attention, he said he thought he’d post it to an online Triumph forum and see what people thought of it there. Suddenly, it started picking up steam online.
Soon, what began as a passion project snowballed.
“Actually, the actor Edward Norton, his agent got ahold of me because I guess he [Norton] had seen it on the website, and said that he wants one in battleship grey.”
“I’m using all local people for the production and that was really important to me when I started building,” said Leigh.
So far he has the artwork, including the victory girl paintings, done by SignArtz in Vernon, machining and fabricating done at Eagle Industries in Vernon, the leather work done at BlueRose Leather, and the mechanical work done by local Joe Adams of Adams Aero. The first custom seat was done by a U.S. company Mother Road Customs —but Leigh said BlueRose Leather will do the seats in the future. He also noted that Bentley Motorrad, the Triumph dealer in Kelowna, has been of particular help to him by spreading the word and helping Leigh with the purchasing of the bikes.
Eventually, he hopes to create a online forum that will allow people to customize the bike to their liking.
“When I start the website, what I envision is people can pick the country they like: the logo, the girl, the seat, the colour, whatever they want. There are so many possibilities because it’ll all be hand-done and locally-made. There’s so many possibilities.”
He also said that each bike will come with its own identifying military dog tag to match the serial number on the bike.
“Before I really get into this big-time, I want to finish five bikes to really showcase the possibilities. It was just supposed to be one bike and now I’ve got a few ordered and it could get crazy.”
So far, he has bought four motorcycles for customization and plans to launch his website later this year.
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