Zen on Two wheels
Itâs 6:30 p.m. on a bone-chilling Monday night. I arrive at the Hi Hat Garage to meet up with Keegan Trester, a
custom bike builder. Trester began âtinkeringâ on motorcycles in 2002
after deciding that he needed an outlet for his creative energy.
His first bike was a stock Honda Shadow VLX 600, which he later rebuilt into a bobber, a style of bike that was popular in the 1950s for its stripped-down aesthetics and âbobbedâ off rear fender. In the bike circles in Milwaukee, however, Trester is known for his custom-built cafe racer, which won Best Custom-Built Cafe Racer at the Rockerbox two years in a row. Despite tinkering on bikes for only six years, his cafe racer has made it into Cafe Racer Magazine, a quarterly publication that specializes in anything hot and fast on two wheels.
one thing to start riding motorcycles and being an enthusiast, and
another to start building them. How did you initially get involved with
motorcycles and building them?
My dad was into bikes before I was born. He tinkered around with that. I got influenced through that and being around a clan of people where motorcycles were popular. So, when I got out of college, all I wanted to do was ride. I took out an extra Stafford loan and bought a motorcycle with plans to rebuild itâthank you, Wisconsin, for paying for my first motorcycle.
How did you learn the trade?
I researched magazines, like Classic Bike, Horse Backstreet Choppers, which is probably the magazine thatâs the most usefulâŠand also through a lot of people in the industry. When you hook up with one guy who knows a guy who does powder coating and he hooks you up with another guy who knows how to do electric wiringâŠ he scratches your ass, you scratch his, that kinda stuff.
Do you view working on bikes as more inspiring than just riding?
They both have their own thing, I guess. Sometimes I like working on them more than I like riding them, but then you get to the point where youâve been working on a bike all winter and all you want to do is ride it, ride the piss out of it, beat it up and then next year you rebuild what you broke the year before. Itâs a good release, something that you can bury yourself into. You just turn off the world and youâre into it. I thought, âHey, if Iâm going to ride them, I might as well learn how to work on them, and if Iâm going to learn how to work on them, I might as well learn how to rebuild them and make them the way I want.â Iâm big into the classic â50s motorcycles. The Brits had their cafe racers and the Americans had their bobbers. They both have interests that I likeâstripped down and fast; itâs just two different styles.
How fast can your cafe racer go?
My cafe racer has done a ton, which is over 100 miles per hour. Iâd be categorized in the âton up boys.â Thereâs a big discrepancy about saying âton up club.â Itâs not really a club; itâs just something you get by breaking a ton. Americans decided to make it a club for some odd reason, but the only cafe racer club is the 59 Club in England, the original cafe racer club.
What would you compare bike building to, or bike âtinkeringâ?
Putting a puzzle together. I was a geek growing up, building [airplane] models. Thatâs probably why Iâm an industrial model builder right now. Itâs something I like doing, but riding bikes to me is like the old days of skateboarding and snowboarding: You just let the road dictate your path; all you have to do is go left or right. Building is more precise. Things have to go together a certain way. They either have to go that way or they donât work.
How do you feel when you ride?
I donât want to give that bullshit excuse âfreedom,â because thatâs a given. Youâve got no windows, no doors. So, yeah, there is that sense of freedom. Thatâs everyoneâs line. But, to be able to ride something that you took apart and went through every little nook and cranny and put it all back together perfectly, or as perfect as you think, and people say that they like it and give you props for building itâitâs gratifying. Itâs a functional piece of art. Itâs an amazing feeling to be able to blow a ton on it. Itâs a moment that you have when everything is going by you so fast that you get lost in the moment. When youâre so focused, everything goes away, but youâre completely aware of whatâs going on around you. You get in this mode where everything disappears and there isnât a goddamn thing in the world that can penetrate that.
Photo by Christopher Bluhm