There are a lot of people building beautiful, inspiring, innovative custom motorcycles these days. I mean a lot.
As I’ve started working on my own motorcycles, however, I’ve come to a realization: For every build published in BikeEXIF, there are dozens that never get published, hundreds that never get finished, and thousands that never even get started.
When I began my XL250 project, I thought surely between a good manual, a few friendly (and patient) mechanics, and Google, I’d have all the help I needed.
I was wrong. Yes, YouTube tutorials and bike-specific forums are abundant, but they tend to only focus on achieving specific tasks. They’re brimming with information, but low on education.
I’ve learned that when you’re building a motorcycle, if you don’t know the principles, theory and basics, you’re going to have a hard time finding the resources you need. You simply don’t know what you don’t know.
(Re-)Introducing Matt of Krank Engineering
A few years ago, Matt McLeod (remember him?) had this same insight, which became the foundation for Krank Engineering, an online community dedicated to teaching new builders the skills they need to build their first custom motorcycles.
I joined that community when it launched, and since then I’ve been very impressed with Matt. He’s attentive on his forums, dedicated to finding solutions to his members’ problems, and he creates the kind of basic content most beginner mechanics don’t even realize they need.
A few weeks ago, I caught up with Matt to learn a bit more about his history and what inspired him to start teaching new mechanics about building custom motorcycles.
When A Lifelong Tinkerer Meets Vintage Motorcycles
All his life, Matt has loved working with his hands. He got it from his grandfather, whose influence led him to become an engineer.
“He taught me a lot,” Matt said. “I always spent time with him in the garage while I was growing up, and that got me interested in the physical world, which led me to engineering.”
Despite riding motorcycles since he was a teenager, Matt didn’t get into vintage motorcycles until later in his riding career. Before that, he owned a series of Japanese sport bikes and one Street Triple.
But then, at a meetup one day, one of his friends pulled up on a CB550. Matt had never ridden an older bike, so he asked his friend if he could try it out.
I remember getting to the end of the street and tipping into the first corner, and I thought, ‘Oh wow, this is what motorcycling should be about.’ The bike was slow, the brakes were no good, the suspension was no good, and it vibrated, but it was just so much more engaging than a modern bike.”
After that ride, Matt was hooked. Because of his lifelong tinkering, it was only a matter of time before he started tearing down vintage bikes in his garage.
Teaching Others to Work on Vintage Motorcycles
Fast forward a few years, DIY garage Kustom Kommune opened its doors in Melbourne, where Matt lives. Because Matt had experience running trainings for his day job, he volunteered to run some workshops.
“The workshops took off pretty well for the Kommune, because there were heaps of people who wanted to learn,” said Matt. “The first one was a very basic motorcycle introduction, which turned out to be the most popular course.”
That first basic course spun off courses on brakes, wiring, oil changes, and even a few welding courses.
“I really enjoyed helping people learn and passing on knowledge, and helping with their projects,” Matt said.
Before long, Matt became busy from the workshops and side work helping his students with their projects — not to mention his day job. So busy that he realized he needed to make a change.
“I got to the point where I was like, ‘I’m really not enjoying this very much.’” said Matt. “I didn’t want to stop, but I wasn’t ever going to be busy enough doing the jobs that I was doing to pay the bills.”
So he started to consider alternatives, and that’s when he came upon the idea of an online course, which appealed to his desire to educate.
“In a workshop, I can only help 10 people at a time,” Matt said. “But if I create an online course, in theory that’s infinitely scalable.”
A Pivotal Insight
Matt had been blogging about his motorcycle projects since 2012, but now he had a new purpose — write content for absolute newbies. To figure out where to start, he turned to his workshop attendees.
As I started this process, I was still doing the workshop. So I’d go to the workshop and I’d ask people, ‘What’s your biggest challenge?’ That feedback gave me some direction as to what sort of things I could help them with.”
Using the feedback from his workshop attendees, Matt began to write articles and plan his community. But his key breakthrough happened one afternoon when he was reading an article on wiring on BikeEXIF.
“I read that post and I thought, man, the people I work with, this is too advanced for them,” said Matt. “Nothing was wrong with that post, it’s just the people I was used to working with needed more detailed help than that.”
Because he had spent all his life in the garage, Matt realized, he had intuitions and habits that helped him to make sense of new projects — whether that was fixing his plumbing or fabricating a custom tank.
But his students, and the people he wanted to teach online, didn’t have that background to work from.
Something as simple as oil change, for some people that’s just a no-brainer. But for people who have never touched a motorcycle, you need to go back to the start and remember that they don’t have that intuition.”
Building the Krank Engineering Community
Armed with this idea, Matt built a membership community with all his resources for building custom motorcycles, including a forum and video-based courses on basic metalworking, which he adds to every week.
Currently, Matt’s working on a vintage Harley chopper project, dropping a running ’78 Harley engine into a hardtail frame, and he’s using that project to create content for his forums and Metalworking 2 course.
“I’m really focusing on asking myself, is there a lesson here that I could be passing on to someone else?” said Matt. “The list of things I still want to create gets longer and longer every week.”
When asked for his best advice for moto-builder hopefuls, Matt zooms in on expectations. At Kustom Kommune, he said, people would show him pictures off Pipeburn and BikeEXIF as inspiration, and Matt would try to help them understand that on their first bike, they weren’t likely to produce a bike of that quality.
“People get the bikes in pieces and they run out of steam or they run out of knowledge,” said Matt. “I like to encourage people to stick it out, but don’t make it so hard on yourself that you quit because you can’t see a path to the end goal.”
Through our entire conversation, Matt maintained that he wasn’t about building amazing bikes, he just really wanted to help others learn.
I’ve stayed very clear on my value proposition. My job’s not to build bikes, my job’s to teach people the skills they need to build a bike.”
Learn to Build a Custom Motorcycle While Supporting RIDEWELL
Interested in joining Matt’s community? I’m pleased to announce that RIDEWELL is now an affiliate!
Now, when you join the Krank Engineering community from this link (or the button below), a portion of your subscription payment every month will help support the RIDEWELL blog.
Being an affiliate for Matt’s community helps me continue to create quality content for readers like you. If you’re interested, you can read more about my affiliate policies here.
Wonderful article Miss L. You rock!
Sheldon R Stephens says
love the Ridwell blog! I have been building my own bikes for over 40 years. not looking to join any new endeavor. just very glad that a younger generation is getting into old bikes. Ill keep reading and riding thank you
P.s I recently had to tare down one of my bikes in the license office parking lot because a state trouper thought my frame was restamped . even though I had all recites. I had to leave the frame with them to be destroyed. just a word of warning don’t get too custom before checking with the license office .
Sheldon — I’m so glad you’re enjoying the blog, thanks so much for commenting! I know I have readers from all walks of moto-life — hearing from people like you is one of the things I love most about having this site.
And jeez, that SUCKS about your frame!! So far I’ve had decent luck with titling (and re-titling) my old bikes, but… you never know ;P Thanks for the advice!
Always a great read, LT … solid interview between you & Matt … Thank You! I won’t be joining the subscription to the Krank Engineering Community, because as you well know, meching is not my thing (yet); but I would love to support in any other way possible, because I believe in RIDEWELL and its creator. I don’t know if you saw my response to “Emergence: The Motorcycle, The Mechanic,” but as I wrote, you are both builder AND mechanic. You have earned both titles. One isn’t designated a martial artist only when one has a black belt. That recognition / title simply denotes the level of proficiency one has attained. The learning never stops; and now, teamed up with Matt, I know you two will create something powerful – even greater than the sum of its parts.
Ride on and Write on, because you’re Right on! ??
Thank you Ohene!! You have been one of my best supporters and I can’t thank you enough! And yes, I did see your comment on the Emergence post, thank you so much for boosting my confidence 🙂 Matt’s an excellent teacher and a lifelong learner as well, which is why I wanted to team up with him in the first place! Maybe someday you will want to learn to build your own bike, and in that case Matt and I will still be here 😉 Hope you’re having an awesome summer!! 🙂