Mr Martini bikes have become established as one of the world’s premier customizers of classic motorcycles. The café racer style it champions has won legions of fans worldwide, but their beautiful designs are as rare as they are sought after. Daniel Giacometti sits down with Nicola Martini and learns about how personal inspiration has created a one-of-a-kind business.
Petrol heads are a strange and fascinating breed. The kind of people for whom the smell of motor oil is as evocative as the finest cologne and the sound of a finely tuned engine makes the hair on their arms stand straight. In the petrol head pantheon, many regard motorcycle enthusiasts as some of the most fanatical. This is certainly the case when it comes to Nicola Martini, an Italian motorcycle customizer, whose personal take on bikes modifies and reinvigorates the retro bike styles of yesteryear, fit for the 21st century enthusiast.
Growing up, Martini’s father owned a petrol station in Verona and the smell of oil and passion for motors was engrained at a very early age, but of all the forms that petrol heads can take, it would be motorbikes that would spark his passion. “I was attracted to motorcycles from the beginning, and my dad gave me a little space inside of his gas station where I started to customise and sell motorbikes. In that store, I became one of the first retailers of a British brand called Enfield in Italy”.
Enfield bikes have a distinctive retro styling and it was the brand’s more classic look that instantly appealed to Nicola. From then on, Martini almost exclusively worked with these more traditional styles of bike. By 1994, his offering increased to include Triumph – another tremendously well respected British brand and in 2001, he opened his unique and beautiful premises in Verona, from which he still operates.
His customised pieces became exceptionally popular and well respected, and with that recognition came a call from Triumph who asked him if he would be interested in working with them on a few collaborative projects. It was through this collaboration that the Mr Martini brand was born. “It was the name they used to call me in Triumph factory, and that became my brand identity” he explains.
Since then, Mr Martini’s customised bikes have become the absolute epitome in café racing style – sought after and coveted by a specific and unique clientele who not only have a respect for bikes but also the understanding that to get the best out of the machine, the rider must possess a passion unlike any other.
“Sometimes I think that my bespoke bikes are more difficult to produce than paintings or sculptures, because they aren’t just designed to be looked at”
Nicola Martini[bg_gallery images=”1457,1456,1455,1454,1453″ thumb_image_size=”thumbnail” columns=”5″][/bg_gallery]
Approximately ninety per cent of the bikes sold are based on Triumph models, however that isn’t to say that Mr Martini will not take into serious consideration other brands, as they have also retrofitted models from the oh-so modern looking Ducati range. But it is British bikes, with their flair and subtle elegance that are more often on the receiving end of Mr Martini and his six artisanal bike builders’ extravagant attentions. The aim is not to mask what is already there, rather Nicola and his team is attempting to enhance the bikes in beautiful ways.
While Mr Martini retails custom bikes with minor stylist and tuning alterations, it is however his all-in, top-to-bottom, made-to-measure bike offering that has become the garage’s signature.
These one-of-a-kind, completely bespoke and custom models are a rare breed indeed, with a maximum of eight bikes produced each year. More two wheeled working sculptures than merely motorbikes, these are not the type of product which can be rushed or mass produced. Coming to grips with a new idea and realising it is a labour intensive and time consuming process and one that the company is loathed to rush. “Sometimes I think that my bespoke bikes are more difficult to produce than paintings or sculptures, because they aren’t just designed to be looked at — they need to be used, and have to pass muster as working, functional and safe machines in order that they are able to be driven on the road. They go beyond simple visuals. The technical aspect is fundamental and also the most challenging part of the build process.”
When it comes to the design process for his custom two-wheelers, Nicola gets his inspiration from many sources. “The ideas pop out of my head quite organically. Sometimes it comes from visiting a new place, meeting people or even seeing colours. There is no hard and fast rule for what inspires me. Like traditional art, it can sometimes take years before inspiration becomes an idea, and for that idea to be transformed into a bike. But what I am certainly not trying to do is recreate styles and bikes that already exist.”
What is absolutely clear is that Mr Martini bikes are meant to be quintessentially beautiful – today, tomorrow and forever. Trends and fads are rarely if ever seen in their works and there is a quirky inventiveness and an obvious passion which shines through.
And yet there is a deep respect for the medium. The engineers and designers constantly strive to make their bikes individual masterpieces like no other.
While the quality in the design speaks for itself and speaks volumes, there are also unique elements of a Mr Martini bike that you will rarely see elsewhere. “I sometimes use recycled materials to add some additional flair. I occasionally use old leather jackets by cutting them up and using the leather to cover the seat. Well-worn leather has a patina that is impossible to recreate and when its quality is good, it can easily be reused and reimagined. This affect gives a really unique vintage look to what is essentially a new bike”. Mr Martini also goes to scrap yards to try and sniff out old tanks and parts that can be restored and given a new lease on life.
In terms of favouritism, Nicola finds it hard to pick one bike above the others. “I cannot choose one particular bike because each one has something special and unique about it and also because I refuse to take on a project if I don’t personally like what the outcome will be – after all it is my name on the door! The bikes that come out of the workshop are created to be an expression of myself and of the brand and are completely free of any monetary or business pressures. It is the only way that the bikes will really speak to the Mr Martini style.”
What is also unique about Mr Martini experience is the showroom. A strange cross between a sumptuous living room and garage, it is a place unlike any other motorcycle showroom you will ever come across. “Five years ago, I thought my bikes needed to have their own house. That’s when I decided to create this very unique showroom, so that my bikes would be seen in a more fitting context. It, like the bikes, has a retro style and is a warm and inviting place. It has carpets and beautiful walls with soft lighting, but it has no other decoration. The bikes are the centrepiece.”
The idea that a motorbike can sit inside a residential space with such ease is a bit of a novelty, but it is an ethos which Mr Martini is expanding on. The BugSuite collection is Mr Martini’s way of bringing bike culture indoors by creating a trunk that is stylish enough to fit inside the home where bike aficionados can store their various accoutrements – helmets, jackets and boots. “I wanted to have something so good looking that my wife would have no problem having it in the house,” he explains. Each piece is related to a specific bike which means that the colours and style neatly match and are made from wood trimmed with luxurious fabrics like velvet. They may not have an engine, but the concept directly speaks to the Mr Martini way of thinking.
Creating bikes for people that love them to the very core is Nicola’s passion and Mr Martini’s mission. Each piece gives a little peek into a world steeped in cultural iconography and stories of biking legend and offering an emotional connection with the brand and with bike culture which is practically unmatched. “The client that buys Mr Martini understands the real values of things. It goes beyond the object – the bike. It is a way of thinking, behaving, and an intimate sharing of a singular passion.”