Words: Dirk Mangartz / Pictures: Peter Heck / Translation: Amanda Merbis-Kirk
Jörg Solar runs the motorcycle workshop Single & Twin in the heart of Hamburg’s Portuguese Quarter. Go down the stairs to the basement and it’s like entering an alternate reality – the kind of place you rarely come across nowadays – a world of antique motorbike accessories and classic British motorbikes. But Jörg's basement is not a museum. Far from it. Here, in this little spot of paradise, bang in the middle of the city, vintage two-wheelers are restored in the traditional way, optimised and kept alive.
You are a tinkerer, a maker, a manufacturer in the creative sense. Would you agree?
I wouldn’t call myself a tireless maker, as quite often I do need peace and quiet for my work.
I'm a different kind of maker in that when I take on a task, I don’t spend much time on planning, don't produce drawings or calculations, but just get started. I also allow for twists throughout the subsequent creative process. I go with the flow.
And how do you know what to do in each particular situation?
I have my concept in mind and don’t need to write down much. That may sound simple, but it only works if you have a lot of experience. As I’ve been working on classic British motorbikes since 1978 and have been running a classic bike workshop since 1994 – first in Berlin and now in Hamburg – many of the problems have become very familiar to me.
Where do you most enjoy working? Do you have something like a favourite place?
My favourite spot is at the workbench and right by the lift. After having joined Single & Twin in 2008, later taking over the workshop on my own, Hamburg is the place for me. And now I’m still busy tinkering with Triumph, Norton, BSA and other British classics.
Classic British motorbikes are for connoisseurs, collectors, in short: something special. It seems you are mainly concerned with what you are working on?
Yes, absolutely. Those old British classics are really close to my heart. They were already legendary in their time – sporty, fast and unconventional. To me, they’re simply the most beautiful motorbikes of all. And damn cool too.
Do you bring any particular philosophy to your work?
Well, I make sure that old motorbikes still have a place in everyday life. Not only the original classics, but also individual custom conversions. After all, what use is a cool bike that you can’t use all the time? Functionality is also important.
How difficult is the old technology to master?
The original developers sometimes came up with some pretty far-out ideas. To me, the more complicated the problem, the more special the challenge. It's fun coming up with solutions to tasks that are not that straightforward. Sometimes I just have to take the road less travelled.
And how much imagination, how much creativity do you need for this work?
I’ve always had creativity bubbling away deep down inside me. I just needed to find the right outlet. But seriously, I’m particularly creative when it comes to designing and constructing unusual custom bikes. That’s when I can put my own ideas into practice and try out new ways of doing things. Sometimes customers come in with very concrete ideas, but often they give me a completely free hand. That's the icing on the cake. Take for instance the 1948 Triumph Chopper over there - lots of the parts I used were handcrafted - or that Off-Road BSA Gold Star. And whenever I have the time, I tinker around with my own bikes. At the moment, I’m converting a BSA A65 to a flat tracker, something that has been on my mind for the last 20 years.
Did you train to become a motorcycle mechanic or something similar?
In the 80s, I finally gave up my secure day job in order to pursue my real passion. So I studied mechanical engineering in Berlin, to give my ideas a stable grounding in theory. I also learned a great deal through motorsports. I’ve been active in Moto Cross, Pre65 Trial, road racing, and 1/8-mile races since 1982, and in Flat Track for several years now. The technology and style of racing bikes totally fascinated me and I wanted to do all I could to transfer that excitement to road bikes.
Has anything else influenced you besides racing?
Definitely my trips to the UK. Very early on, I dreamt of opening a motorcycle shop just like the ones in the UK.
Many of the traditional British motorcycle workshops closed down long ago, whereas Single & Twin is alive and kicking. How do you see the future for you and your shop?
We can’t let the old craft die out. There will always have to be someone who can fix mechanical problems and not just replace components. Repairing things instead of throwing them away is also much more sustainable, which is more important than ever nowadays. I would really like people to appreciate traditional craftsmanship more. A lot of people just don’t yet know how exciting a well-maintained old Triumph or BSA can still be.
Doherty Short Stroke Throttle
It may sound weird, but this throttle by British manufacturer Doherty changed the world of motorbikes. It’s the first throttle with an extremely short throw, so you can go full throttle right away. In the 1950s, it was sold as an accessory and installed on motocross bikes such as the BSA Gold Star Scrambler. What’s great too, is the upward throttle tube, which prevents you from getting entangled with a competitor. The advance of the short-stroke throttle started with the Doherty.
Magneto Ignition Housing Cover
I particularly like this accessory from US manufacturer ARD. It’s a kit from the 1970s, consisting of a housing cover, belt drive and a Morris magneto. You can use it to convert a BSA A 65 to magneto ignition. This magic bullet of technology makes it possible to build a flat track bike without battery or electrics. This saves weight and simplifies the construction of the racing bike.
It’s the cornerstone of my life-long passion for motorbikes. In 1977 I started my career in motorbikes on a Motobecane X1, “Mobix” for short. This tiny moped has 9” wheels and automatic transmission, but can reach a respectable 30 mph. Incidentally, it’s the regal “Deluxe” model, complete with indicators...
Remco Merbis, founder (1999) and creative director of visual storytelling agency Pixillion.