There are few cities in the United States that are as perfectly suited for motorcycle riding as Miami. Riding season lasts all year in South Florida; when most bikes up north go into the garage as their owners mournfully accept the onset of another bitter winter, the Magic City is at its most glorious on a motorcycle. There's nothing quite like tearing hell across the western arch of the Julia Tuttle at 2 a.m. and seeing Downtown sleeping over the waters of Biscayne Bay, or cruising down Old Cutler, ambling for miles and miles through a surreal tunnel of trees.
And yet, there is a conspicuous lack of motorcycle culture in Miami. Sure, we have our fair share of bikers, but the iron horse has never been a part of our city's image the way it has in other metropolitan areas like New York or Oakland. But that's beginning to change.
If you walk the streets of Wynwood on the right night, you may find yourself entranced by an array of vintage bikes -- some days, only a couple, other days, parked by the dozen. You might be inclined to ask yourself, "Where the hell did these come from?" The answer can be found at the south end of Wynwood, in a shop where four friends are building bikes under the moniker of 76hundred Custom Vintage Motorcycles.
It's hard to miss the 76hundred space on 21st and Northwest 2nd Ave., where the sidewalk becomes adorned with a score of cafe racers and bobbers and trackers from decades past, all bookended by a pea green '73 ford F-150. Inside, the crew -- Rodrigo, Mateo, Danny, and Guillermo -- work on reviving the machines they love: vintage motorcycles.
"There's a huge Harley culture here and in Fort Lauderdale," noted Mateo Chirino, one of the builders and core members of the 76hundred team, "but it's just now that a vintage bike culture is starting to come up. I think people are starting to connect to the James Dean character, especially with the sort of hipster, artsy movement that we have here in Miami."
"You get a Harley," Chirino continued, "and you know what you're going to get. You say, 'I want to get an 883' and you get to change the tank color and that's pretty much it. And when you park it next to another 883, it's going to be the same exact bike. You put one of these BMWs next to one another, and no two bikes are the same, especially when they're custom. You could park 'La Curiosa' next to 'Sophia Loren' and they're totally different. That's kind of the beauty of it all."
La Curiosa and Sophia Loren are the names of a pair of vintage Beemers that have been restored and stand as gorgeous examples of what these guys do in this resurrection of rusted metal. The reality that sets in after you spend some time strolling around the shop and talking to the men who put together the machines is simple and beautiful: this is what happens when bikers build bikes for bikers.
"It started as a hobby," began Rodrigo Rey del Castillo, the founder of 76hundred Vintage Custom Motorcycles. "I built my first bike for myself when I was renting an apartment and as soon as I finished building it, it sold. Then somebody else saw it, they contacted me, and said 'I want you to build a bike,' and I sold that, then another and another and another, and it became a business."
"I started in a hole within a hole within a hole on 25th," del Castillo went on, "I was there for about six months and then I moved to North Miami Ave. and 14th, and that's where we all got together and started expanding. We just moved to Wynwood about three weeks ago."
And according to del Castillo, he and the whole team put a lot of themselves into the genesis of this venture, and not without a good deal of sacrifice.
"I'm from Mar de Plata, [Argentina]" del Castillo explained, "and 7600 is the only zip code in the whole city, and that's how we named the company. When it started growing and we started talking about making this a business, we'd all been friends for a long time. A couple of us quit jobs with good money to do this -- it was a leap of faith. Go big or go home. And we just dove into it and since then it's tripled -- the business, the clientele, the space. Everybody's happy."
One of the most remarkable things about this company, and probably the most satisfying aspect of their success, is the perspective that they have on the cost of their bikes. Walking into their space and seeing motorcycles that are lean, mean, and pristine, gleaming after 30, 40, 50 years rambling between the road and the scrap heap, you'd think that the prices of these vintage wünderbikes would be beyond the reach of the average rider. But you'd be wrong.
"The reason this all started was so that we could build motorcycles for people that want to ride on a daily basis," Chirino said, "and your average young guy who just wants to ride can't afford to drop 25 grand on a motorcycle. So our bikes range between $6 to $12,000, for the most part, and we have a two-month turn around.
"Plus," he continues, "our labor is cheaper. The average labor cost is $95 an hour; we charge $75. The reason we build bikes is for people who want to ride and who can afford them. We could build bikes for $20,000, but the average person can't afford that."
In discussing the appeal of their vintage bikes, del Castillo managed to distill the matter into a clear and succinct point.
"It's cool," he said. "And everybody wants to be cool. Anybody can sell a bike. We sell a lifestyle -- and we live it. We ride what we build and we live the lifestyle everyday."
It's a walk of life that this group is wholeheartedly about - they ride together, they eat dinner together, they drink and bullshit together, and they make motorcycles together. And they won't simply put together anything just because it's got a little bit of wear and tear and a thick yellow layer cake of registration stickers on the tag. These cats don't throw the word "vintage" around lightly.
"We're really strict with the age of the bikes we build," Chirino stated. "Technically, a 1983 is an antique, but we won't do work on a bike that's newer than 1980 and we do that for a reason. We want to be considered true, true vintage. It's just what we enjoy doing."
And while they've been open for business since they moved to Wynwood three weeks ago, they plan on having a grand opening on Saturday, June 1st, complete with booze, bikes, music, and hopefully even tattoos being done on the cheap right there in the shop. The whole idea is to spread the word about their work and show Miamians the kinds of motorcycles they're giving birth to in the 305.
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"We want people to know that we're here," Chirino explained. "There are a lot of people that love the cafe racer style and they feel like they have to get a Harley if they want something that looks like a cafe racer or a tracker cause what else are they going to get? So they spend 11 grand on a new Harley -- it's fuel injected, it's going to cost them triple the money when they need to get it fixed cause they can't fix it themselves, it's never going to be a 1974 bike, and it's going to be the same bike Billy has, Joe has, and 10 million other people have in Miami. So we want people to know that you don't have to spend 11 grand to get a cool motorcycle. We want people to come here and put a little bit of themselves into the motorcycles we have. We want people to know that there's another viable alternative, another option for something that is yours, that is unique, that represents you and represents us and is something that you can love."
76hundred Vintage Custom Motorcycles (2121 NW Second Ave, Miami) is open Monday through Friday, from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., and Saturdays by appointment only.
Visit 76hundred.com or call (786) 271-6976