Lifestyle: Workshop

Building customs against the state

The birth of the Vampire Bike

At Vicious Cycles Singapore it’s all about the passion for motorcycles and the people who ride them. Run by owner Matt and a small team of mechs, VCSG delivers quality builds with bespoke customisation services as well as the usual garage fare.

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Q. What was the inspiration behind Vicious Cycles Singapore?

A. Matt and I (Mervyn Goh) founded it in late 2011 during one of those late-night hang-out sessions. He’s always been around motorcycles, after starting with dirt biking and then becoming a mechanic for a race team. He has been through a great spectrum and variety of motorcycles but decided to settle in Singapore to concentrate on dirt bikes. I came from advertising. I could take an engine apart, but I certainly couldn’t put it back together again, which is why Matt’s here. I’ve always loved motorcycles, ever since I was a kid hanging around town. Being trained as an art director, I tend to be particular about the bikes I own and ride looks-wise, which is why I want them to be awesome. We met four or five years ago and clicked almost immediately because we share the same passion for good-looking motorcycles. The first bike we pushed out under Vicious Cycles Singapore (VCS) was a ’94 Yamaha FTW200. Although a bike may be a factory-produced machine, people aren’t. The bike should reflect who you are, your passion, your desires and your personality. We want to promote and cultivate individualism. We want to influence that thought and concept to the folks here in Singapore.

Q. What’s the biking culture like in Singapore?

A. It’s a very conservative place where people are often afraid to try new things or push their limits to achieve more. The authorities are super-strict and play a big role in how people think and feel. For instance, using after-market exhaust pipes can get you fined up to 500 bucks and repeat offenders can end up in jail. Badass, I know. Another thing stopping people from customising their motorcycles is the fact that we have the Certificate of Entitlement (COE), which applies to vehicles for 10 years. So if an old motorcycle was bought at $800 in 2000 and when it’s time to renew the owner has to fork out $6000 just to be ‘allowed’ to own that motorcycle for another 10 years, then most owners would scrap the idea and their motorcycles, so donor bikes are hard to come by. Vehicles are expensive, fines are hefty, so it’s a hassle to custom your ride. On the plus side we do have very nice roads, night lights and a rather pretty view to ride and appreciate. And because the rebel in us is telling us to continue chasing our dreams, we got to do what we got to do. Our website urges people to break out of their comfort zone to Ride Without Fear. Not to get them to break the laws but to be more open to things, to be different and not to be afraid of getting judged.

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Q. So it’s a battle to build your dream ride?

A. With more blogs and websites coming up, people here are definitely more exposed to the custom scene and culture. They like the culture here and are aware of the motorcycle apparel brands out there, but to take it to the next step and actually work on their bikes is still a 50-50. There are a handful of people here who really can’t be bothered with all the bureaucracy though and still go ahead and build their dream rides. Much respect!

Q. Have you experienced any difficulty doing what you do?

A. There’s a lot for the owners to consider. Not getting caught, annual inspections and so on. That’s why some people here call their rides ‘vampire bikes’ because they only come out at night. That aside I think we’re OK. We always make it clear to our customers what are the things that are definitely safe and what are the things that will be a major no-go. Sometimes, some things are in the grey area, where we leave it completely to the customers to decide.

Q. What do you ride? What’s your riding history?

A. We pretty much ride whatever bikes we have at the shop. From scooters to dirt bikes, so yup, pretty much anything two-wheeled, we ride them. Matt used to be an avid dirt biker, until he got injured and stopped for a long time. That doesn’t stop him from popping a wheelie every now and then. I’ve always been more of a city cruising kinda guy (boooooring).

Custom bikes and the scene all over the world are being viewed as a form of art, so on behalf of many fellow Singaporeans, it would be great for our authorities to have more knowledge on this culture.

Mervyn Goh

Q. Which are the most popular bikes to customise?

A. The Bonnie that featured on Bonnefication made many Triumph owners come down to the shop to get some stuff done. It’s nice to see there is a following on the stuff we do and we are greatly humbled by that. If we really have to pick, the most popular are the Triumph Bonneville and the Harley Sportster.

Q. Tell us about your team.

A. Matt and I are joined by Matt’s wife, who works at the shop to help out with daily admin stuff and runs a tattoo studio above the workshop. Matt takes care of the workshop matters, daily operations and the actual bike build, along with a senior mechanic and a workshop assistant. I’m more on the media, marketing and design side, but we get together to discuss the bike projects, timelines and will have our own inputs on various things.

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Q. How does the build process work?

A. We normally get our customers to come down to the shop to discuss the things they like, references, colour and feel they’re going for, and any special requests. From there we can get a good grasp of their personality and make suggestions on how we go about doing certain things. There are times we’d sketch things out, so it really depends on the requirements.

Q. What is it like to turn a passion into a career?

A. There are good and bad sides to it. You get to do something you really love, so you can really indulge yourself in your daily activities. The bad side is when you’re all stressed up and need an outlet, you have to find something else on top of what you already love doing. The irony of life.

Q. What’s next?

A. To make sure we have enough money to pay this month’s rent. We hope more people will get the culture and be less prejudiced against loud motorcycles (loud, not noisy). Custom bikes and the scene all over the world are being viewed as a form of art, so on behalf of many fellow Singaporeans, it would be great for our authorities to have more knowledge on this culture and design a system where people can be individual, though not to the point of 100% freedom. They should look at certain unreasonable restrictions so vehicle owners can still express themselves through their rides. Short-term goals are to prepare some bikes for the annual Kustom Kulture show, Art of Speed MY in Kuala Lumpur. Godspeed!