In our latest PIONEERS article, we caught up with Benny, founder of Mutt Motorcycles.
We’ve got to know the guys at Mutt over the years and we’ve always been huge fans of their work. We’ve followed one another’s journeys and teamed up whenever we could. We’ve recently commissioned our first &SONS build with Mutt and, as part of this, we wanted to document the project which gave us a chance to talk shop with the man behind it all.
We headed up to spend the day talking bikes, clothing, Tupperware and Bugatti. We got to hear Benny’s story of how he ended up founding the Pioneering, small engine bike brand.
1) You’ve been selected as a Pioneer for &SONS - What’s your definition of the word Pioneer?
I guess the answer would be someone coming up with a new idea, new process or new way of thinking... I’m not actually sure if I fall into any of those categories. People have been doing what I do since the first engine was invented. Although, I suppose there is a certain element of pioneering in the way we work in the motorcycle industry, we do things our own way.
2) Tell us your story. How did you begin your career and what led you here?
My background was actually in fine art, that was my chosen subject, I had a few exhibitions of my own work and had a short lived art teaching career but the love of two wheels was always there.
I built my first chopper aged 15 and the chopper bug bit me hard and ran through the rest of my life. I started doing odds and some of custom work for people, when I was still working on narrowboats in my late teens, and, through my art training, the bike side of things eventually turned in a business that became Boneshaker Choppers. We did lots of custom work and turned out some 180 complete custom builds over a 15 year period, mainly 60’s and 70’s styled stuff – pans, knucks, lots of sportsters, that sort of thing. Then around 7 years ago we put the first Mutt 125 together, at the old mill Boneshakers was based in, and it kinda spiralled from there. The orders for Mutts quickly took over from the old chopper stuff and I got together with a friend of mine, Will, who took Mutt to where it is now.
3) In your work, what values do you cherish the most?
Customer satisfaction – that sounds cheesy but it’s true. There was no bigger buzz than seeing a customer happy blasting around on a chopper I’d built and Mutt is the same. I really like hearing about guys and girls enjoying their bikes, I like to look after our customers and customer care is a big thing for me.
4) What 3 words best describe you?
Confused, Haphazard and frustrating (frustrating to other people).
5) Tell us a bit more about your creative process.
I’m terrible for not writing anything down, much to the frustration of others, I can’t work with computers and drawings when it comes to styling a bike. Of course there is a point in motorcycle design where the stuff has to be drawn and planned correctly, but for the initial styling of a bike I just have to go for it.
I have to be able to physically make something and look at it from all angles, if it don’t look right it goes in the bin and I make another. I’ll start cutting and welding before anything else, get the lines right and then follow up with the rest – good aesthetic vehicular design is all in the lines. If it don’t look good standing still, it ain’t gonna look good going down the road.
I’m lucky I have a great team of people here at Mutt, who do all the clever stuff when it comes to working out finer details of developing a new production bike.
6) How does it begin?
I think in 3-D – I can imagine a bike and how it’s going to look down to the smallest details, then it’s a matter of taking one of our rolling chassis or a set of wheels and starting to cut and grind stuff till it looks like like the motorcycle in my head.
It’s not really that clever, like when the young boy asked the sculptor how he carves horses, "it’s easy" the sculptor replied "you just take a block of stone and chisel off all the bits that don’t look like a horse”.
7) What do you do for inspiration?
I read a lot. I like reading about pioneering engineering ideas, mostly vehicle related, of course, but I like to understand how people did stuff when it was all new. I should really take more interest in what’s happening now in technological developments but it doesn’t interest me greatly and I think that's part of the charm of our bikes. They are not modern, plastic covered, computer controlled things that look like a piece of Tupperware, they are proper motorcycles with classic styling – that look and feel, in my humble opinion, like a motorcycle should and that comes from my love of all things older than me.
8) Who inspires you?
Pioneers of the custom bike world – Arlen Ness, Jeff McCan, Billy Budde and many more – those were the guys doing really radical stuff with bikes and really made the custom bike culture what it is today.
Also Ettore Bugatti... In fact, the whole Bugatti family. Art, engineering and design all in one family.
9) What brands inspire you?
Is it wrong to say our own? That's definitely not because of my involvement... I’m constantly amazed at what the people I work with have created with the little bikes I thought up. They’ve taken it from a simple idea for a cool bike and made it into something really special. In particular my partner Will, he’s the clever guy behind Mutt, I’m just a welder that rarely knows what day of the week it is!
10) What is your wardrobe essential? The piece you couldn’t live without.
My N1 Deck Jacket – a pretty cliché answer, but it’s a bloody good jacket.
11) What is your favourite piece from the &SONS Collection?
My Blue Bolt Chore jacket. I’ve got a lot of Chore jackets and French workwear stuff, but my Blue Bolt is my best one. That one I wear for best… No oil stains on it whatsoever.
12) What is your favourite album, artist or Spotify playlist?
I’m not a huge music fan, but when I do listen to it I’ve got pretty bad taste… I like a lot of outlaw country, David Allen Coe, Waylon Jennings and that sort of thing.
13) Any recommendation on the best podcast to listen to?