I first found out about Spirit Lake Cycles a few months ago during The One Motorcycle Show. One of their bikes in the show, a BMW R90/6, started showing up all over my social media feeds. I’ve seen a lot of custom BMW motorcycles, but the clean lines and attention to detail of this one really caught my eye. I wouldn’t even call it a cafe racer – in fact, I’m not sure exactly what to classify it as – which is why I was so intrigued.
I’m currently on my way to the Overland Expo in Flagstaff, AZ from San Francisco, CA. I wanted to ride through Los Angeles to visit my old neighborhood and say hello to friends. While there, I had the pleasure of stopping by Spirit Lake Cycles to meet Brian and Ken and see what they’ve been up to. Their R90/6 has been getting lots of attention (rightfully so) but as I walked in their shop, the one that really caught my eye was a beast of an 1150GS.
This 1150 reminded me of something from the movie Waterworld, a vehicle that the Smokers would have used if they had been on land. The fuel tank is raw metal with the iconic BMW stripes, but it is weathered and worn with what looks to be oil and fuel dried on the tank. They removed the front beak and added a classic and clean round headlight. Fork tubes are wrapped in what I assume is exhaust wrap, and has a small front fender beneath the lower triple clamp. The exhaust is custom and sounds mean. I thought my HP2 Enduro sounded good with the full Remus system, but this growled with every blip of the throttle. Custom luggage racks wrap the back of the bike and a tucked away taillight and license plate holder keep it simple and clean.
Brian told me he once had a GS. He knows it’s a great bike, but he wanted to make a really unique and different one. I threw my leg over it and it felt much lighter than my GS. We cruised around downtown Los Angeles for a while visiting my old favorite spots to take photos. This GS fits in perfectly on the gritty streets of downtown LA. It’s an urban GS, a bike for the apocalypse.
Brian and Ken’s shop isn’t all BMWs. There were two Ducatis and a vintage Indian. I asked why they seem to have a thing for BMW. Brian said that for awhile, BMWs were cheap. They’ve become much more popular recently, so the prices have gone up. He said that he likes vintage BMWs because they’re reliable and robust. They’re kind of an ugly duckling. For example, if you’ve never seen a boxer before, you might wonder why the engine sticks out both sides. I could see how it might look strange to someone.
I’m a huge fan of the GS. It does cater to an older crowd, but I think that Brian and Ken have done a great job showing that a GS can become a custom bike with a lot of personality. I think it’s important to feel like your bike has soul and character; the modern GS can feel a bit too refined, which is why I enjoy my HP2 Enduro so much.
Brian and Ken let me drool over the R90/6 that first caught my attention. It’s a sight to see in person – there is so much detail. The rear fender tucks up close to the Firestone tires and it has the perfect balance of polished metal and black parts. I’m really excited about what these guys are doing and I look forward to seeing what they come up with next.
Word and Photos by Nick Johnson