A four-stroke life on two wheels

There are those who believe that unlike cars, which transport bodies, motorcycles move the soul. To them, it is experiencing liberation on two wheels, where worries fade with the twist of the throttle.

Faizal Reza is one such person. Falling in love with motorcycles as a teenager, the 43-year of father of two continues to be seduced by the open roads and caresses of the wind.

It is this passion for combustion that led him to quit his previous job as a creative director with an international advertising firm, and trade his design software tools for screwdrivers and wrenches to become a bike builder and customiser.

On a sun-baked Saturday afternoon, Malaysiakini met Faizal, whose brother Fahmi made headlines with his clown-face depiction of the prime minister, at his ‘Gimme Shelter’ chop shop nestled in a back-lane in Cheras, Kuala Lumpur, to find out what fires his pistons.

Inspired by the choppers made popular by the ‘Hells Angels’ in the 1960s, Faizal’s designs often emulate the stripped-down look from that era.

For those who wish to flirt with danger, there is also the option of tearing down the asphalt without a front brake and a suicide clutch, or ‘jockey shifter’.

For the uninitiated, the suicide clutch refers to a foot-operated clutch and hand-shifter to change gears.

“It is a way of life,” responded Faizal when asked what the word ‘motorcycle’ meant to him.

“When I ride my bike to work, back home or wherever… You forget all your problems. You are on your own, with the wind in your face. Everything disappears.”

Faizal said he worked hard to afford his first bike, a Harley-Davidson, and there has been no turning back since then.

“I started tinkering around with my bike, and customising it.

“When my friends saw what I had done with my bike, they asked me to customise their bikes as well. It started from there, helping friends do up their bikes from my home garage.

“Then social media came about, Facebook, Instagram, and more people got to know about my work. From there, it snowballed into this shop,”

he said, explaining that the idea to name the premises ‘Gimme Shelter’ came from watching a documentary on the Rolling Stones.

Apart from learning the skills of the trade on his own, Faizal said he was also fortunate to have mechanic friends who were willing to share their knowledge with him.

Most would balk at the prospect of leaving a secure job with a comfortable income to plunge into the risk-riddled world of business, but for Faizal, the need to pursue his dream outweighed other considerations.

His wife, too, was supportive of the business, something which he is thankful for.

“She was happy… because when I was in advertising, it was stressful.

“I hated pitching to clients. It was an important part of advertising, but I hated it.

“I did not like facing CEOs and datuks… but now when CEOs and datuks come (to the shop), I am comfortable in my world… I am the king of this domain.”

According to Faizal, his wife is fond of motorcycles as well, and the couple have been going on rides together since they started courting.

Think out of the box

Claiming that the motorcycle customisation scene in Malaysia is more than two decades behind, he said the biggest obstacle is convincing people to think out of the box.

“No matter how expensive a bike you have, there will be a 100 more just like it,” he said, pointing out that customisation allowed one to own a unique machine, comparable to none.

However, Faizal said the customisation scene is gaining traction in Malaysia, and this is a positive sign.

Many consider large engine capacity motorcycles, especially American makes, to be overpriced, with numerous models extending beyond the RM100,000 mark.

This has led to the perception that such motorcycles are for the well-heeled, but Faizal argued otherwise, claiming that almost anyone can own such a motorcycle.

“It is just that some people have different priorities. Take me as an example. When I bought my first bike, I did not have a car.

“So instead of using my money to buy a car, and drive around in a cage, I bought the bike. Rain or shine, I rode it. I didn’t care.

“Give or take, the monthly installment for a bike is about the same as that of a car. So it all depends on priorities. If you are really passionate about bikes, then forego the car. You can’t have it all.”

As for the younger generation who are interested in venturing into the customising business, Faizal’s advice to them is to “follow your heart and do it.”

“Don’t be afraid, just do it. This is what Malaysians lack… do it.”

To the question on where he sees himself in the future, Faizal said he would be rolling down the road on his motorcycle.

“I still see this shop running. But instead of being hands on (with the operations), I will be riding around the world… I just want to be free…

“My wife’s dream is to settle in Bali, have a little hut there, and ride our old Triumph (motorcycle), and I share this dream as well.”