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APTOS — An Aptos mechanic who bought a $100 1972 Yamaha motorcycle and lovingly gave it new life as a Van Halen-themed café racer has won top honors in an unusual international contest of mechanical craftsmanship.
The Deus Boundless Enthusiasm Bike Build Off held last month simultaneously in four countries drew hundreds of entrees from bike mechanics that rehabilitated, refined and transformed their motorcycles into works of singular expression.
Eric Christie, 32, who lives with his family in the Rio Del Mar area, bought his rusted, dented, nonoperational Yamaha from a Craigslist ad in July. A car mechanic by day, he spent nights and weekends for nearly three months in the backyard of his in-laws’ house refurbishing the neglected and weathered two-stroke bike.
It garnered fourth place in the U.S. contest, which drew more than 50 entrees. Currently his bike is one of 20 motorcycles in an online People’s Choice Award contest that ends Monday morning. In addition to the contest in Southern California, bikes were judged in Camperdown, Australia; Canggu, Bali; and Milan, Italy. The top five winners in each contest are posted online for the People’s Choice Award.
The criteria for the Deus contest was “to create the most from the least.” The bikes had to start, run on their own power “for a few meters” and stop. They were judged on creativity and ingenuity in design and function.
“The contest drew a lot of amazing bikes,” said Nevin Pontious, spokesman for the Deus Ex Machina shop in Venice, which cosponsored the event. “Some were great ideas but were executed a little rough around the edges. The show was about the enthusiasm and the story behind it, the character of the build.”
Judging these kinds of bikes is extremely subjective, said Dave Calloway, a Capitola vintage bike enthusiast who got his first chance to see the bikes on the People’s Choice site.
“These look like truly homemade labors of love that were built by normal people, which I think is awesome,” Calloway said. “I love the fact that they are cobbled together from parts of different makes and models of bikes and even parts from other non-motorcycle sources that make each one unique and an expression of the builder’s tastes and preferences.”
“Café racer,” according to Calloway, is a term coined in post-WWII England when young men were refurbishing motorcycles like hotrods and touring local gas stations and restaurants. “These became popular hangouts for these kids and one of their pastimes would be to race each other on these over-powered, under-braked, deathtrap motorcycles from café to café,” Calloway said.
Christie’s style is to strip away everything that is unnecessary, he said. In an understated homage to the rocker Van Halen’s “Fair Warning” album, which he listen to while working on cars with his dad, he added a paint design and a vintage microphone on the tailpipe. He spent about $1,300 in total.
The journey included a lot of challenges and doubts that began for Christie when the bike was dropped off at the house late on a summer evening.
“My first thought was maybe I could fix it or take some parts and use them for something,” he said. “The next day it was even worse when I saw it in the daylight.” But, he could see the potential and his little brother wanted a bike to ride in San Francisco so he began working on a tight budget. When he learned about the contest, he was inspired to raise the bar a little higher.
His family cheered him on. “I think I quit about 42 times. They were, like, ‘Dad, you can’t quit.’ They reminded me, ‘We don’t quit.’ ”
Like any good story, the bike’s clincher was that it didn’t start until right up to the end when it was time to leave for the contest. Christie was going to go anyway.
“When it finally turned over, I was howling,” he said.
His dream is to one day open a café-mechanic shop, the Mixture Motor Co., which would merge motorcycling with surfing sports lifestyle and a good cup of coffee.
Follow Sentinel correspondent Jennifer Pittman at Twitter.com/jenniferpittman