A print on the wall of one of the world’s most cutting-edge custom paintshops proclaiming ‘You think it, we’ll ink it!’ isn’t strictly true.
But when you’ve watched your business grow from a tiny farm shed to a world-renowned set-up, you are perhaps entitled to sing your own praises just a little.
Not that Joe Black is the kind of guy who would, after all, he only mentions that he’s transformed bikes for Hollywood legend Tom Cruise, rock idol Rod Stewart and comedian Rufus Hound late in the conversation. And when customers ask for a picture of him with their ‘new’ bike, he confesses he’ll blush and pose with an embarrassed look on his face.
Affable and down to earth, Joe, owner of 8 Ball Custom Paintworks, admits he has refused to do some custom jobs if they don’t feel right, making that wall art slightly inaccurate.
Sometimes people come to us with ideas that aren’t suitable or are distasteful and we won’t touch themJoe Black
But that’s about the only thing in Joe’s paintshop – a quick ride from Nottingham in the heart of England – that isn’t 100% spot on. His daughter Lucy whispered: “He’s pretty laid back, but if something isn’t done right, he’ll blow like a volcano. He’s very fussy and pernickety. Attention to detail is everything.”
Joe, who lists the Thruxton and Scrambler as the best canvases to work on, conceded: “A bit of your soul goes into each one, so it’s crucial they are right. You also have to consider that every bike that leaves the paintshop advertises what we do, so it has to be perfect,” he said.
“If someone comes to me with an idea, I will talk it through with them, but it has to have broader appeal than just one person’s whim. If not and the idea doesn’t work, our reputation is at risk.”
Not that the law graduate turned panel beater has any concerns in that area right now. Little more than a decade after starting the business aged 38, it is going from strength to strength with orders flying in from dealers, individuals and Triumph, who has him hard at work on hand-painting a Limited Edition of the new Rocket X.
Not bad for a chap who left school with few qualifications, did a law degree in his 30s because he ‘admired educated people’ and then became a lorry driver while he considered his future.
“I’d been a panel beater and had done repairs for bike garages and one day got a call from a dealer who asked if I’d do some custom work. I thought ‘why not, I’ll give it a go’. I did Spiderman in a web and Evel Knievel, and word spread.
“The repairs were about how cheap you could do it, whereas full-on custom work allowed people to have the only bike of its type in the world, so financially it commanded more.”
But 8 Ball is built on integrity and Joe – who learned the trade from scratch – has no qualms about turning down work that would reflect badly on the business.
“I know what looks good and what will work on a tank or mudguard,” he said. “Sometimes people come to us with ideas that aren’t suitable or are distasteful and we won’t touch them, but we will always advise on what would work.
“I took two bikes back to one bloke who had one for him and one for his wife. He came out, looked at them and disappeared back into the house. He came back with a camera and started taking pictures. He started crying and I really thought he hated them, but he had been preparing himself for days not to like them and when he saw them, he was overcome by how beautiful they were. That was a good moment.”
Joe, who has owned a string of Triumphs himself, believes the Rocket X is the perfect combination of power and panache, and he wanted a look that celebrated the 10th anniversary of the flagship bike in subtle style.
Bonneville, Scrambler and Thruxtons, are a really good template to work onJoe Black
A top secret ‘grinding’ technique lies at the heart of each of the 500 Rocket X bikes that his 18-strong team handle, but no amount of cajoling will encourage him to reveal how that distinctive polished metal stripe is created.
He said: “I’ve gathered techniques and treatments down the years, but you never stop learning. If you drop some paint on the floor and it splatters a certain way, you think ‘hmm that might work’. The beauty of what we do is that every bike that leaves us is unique, maybe not to the layman’s eye, but we can see the tiniest of details.
“The classic Triumphs, such as the Bonneville, Scrambler and Thruxtons, are a really good template to work on and we’re starting to see a lot more of them coming through. Tastes change though, which is why we’re always striving to be right at the cutting edge of the industry and never complacent.”
Stunningly eye-catching yet subtle, sophisticated but not too elaborate, different but not too far removed from everything the iconic Rocket stands for.
They were the key parts of the brief handed to Joe Black when Triumph chose his 8 Ball Paintwork team to help celebrate a decade of the ultimate bike.
He said: “Triumph had some ideas and I had some ideas, and after some were left on the drawing board, we came up with a new technique of grinding as the main focal point.”
The secret of precisely how the swirled effect is worked into the Rocket X logo-bearing metal stripe will remain with Joe, but he revealed: “It’s a new technique and one we’re really pleased with, but I can’t say how we do it. Suffice to say, we manipulate the bare metal as a starting point. It means that every bike that leaves here is truly unique.”
“The design is quite understated in some ways, but then the Rocket is such a powerhouse of a bike that we applied a philosophy of less is more. The black throughout the bike contrasts well with the chrome and just adds to the effect. I’m really pleased with it.
“It’s quite fitting that each bike will take about 10 hours in total to complete, with every aspect of it being done by hand. It’s very specialised work, but for a bike like this, which packs such a punch, it was important we didn’t go overboard.”
The foundation for the whole process lies in the testing, with Triumph rigorously checking that their combined ideas can exude quality in reality.
“All the work we do is underpinned by salt baths, humidity, adhesion and temperature tests. Believe me, I’ve had my head in my hands before, but when it works, it’s worth all the pain,” said Joe.
I’m confident that the Rocket X works.Joe Black