It sits silent on its tires, but with character and attitude — lean and mean, all business. A fighter. This ‘California Bruiser’ was created by customizer Michael McDonald, who had virtually a free hand to cook up a masterpiece for an appreciative celebrity-chef owner, Tyler Florence.
Michael McDonald, the builder -“51 going on 15,” as he puts it, originally from San Diego; learned to love motorcycles at his father’s knee, starting at age five. He has created seven ground-up custom bikes since 2008. McDonald is the Service Manager and Special Projects Coordinator at Hattar Motorsports (soon to become Marin Speedshop) where they “cater to individuals who want a unique, personalized bike.” McDonald’s earlier motorcycle art includes his $140,000 NCR Ducati and a gorgeous Triumph Scrambler-based street-tracker, its power raised from 39.4 horsepower on the dyno to 100-plus.
Tyler Florence, the customer/celebrity chef – 41, got hooked on cooking as a boy in South Carolina, and eventually opened restaurants in San Francisco, Napa and Marin. He also hosts a show on the Food Network. Both Tyler and Michael now call Marin County home. Each worked for years, each establishing his reputation, each without knowing the other, until they came together a year ago to create a unique and beautiful motorcycle based around a modern Hinckley Triumph Bonneville T100.
According to McDonald, “Tyler gave me essentially free rein to pursue my concept, based on our meeting of the minds.”
Tyler Florence: passion, intensity
He seems affable and easygoing but this passionate, intense man wants to live fully, as exemplified by a voracious appetite for inventing signature food. “I was captivated by motorcycles going back to my boyhood. They looked to me like birds in flight. The freedom, the control, the connection between machine and body, reached out to me.”
On creating his Triumph: “This [project] haunted me for a decade, based on my idea of one of one. When I get a vision I have to get it out there. I met Michael McDonald in Napa and I started from minute one to think about having him do something special for me, based on the ’50s and ’60s café racers. We took my T100, whose stance and attitude I liked, and kept taking off pieces until we had captured its essence, then built it back up as the one-off hybrid you see here — the tank, the bars, the tail, a machine that wouldn’t be instantly recognizable, a bike that provoked questions, a unique road spirit, unlike chromed-out American bikes. I like to work with teams of bright people. Michael McDonald and [tank-builder] Evan Wilcox were the right team.”
So, here are the ingredients that make up this customized T100 . . . a bike baked to perfection:
- Take one new Bonneville T100, keep the frame and stock engine, remove everything else.
- Ceramic-tape wrap the pipes for scale, and fit Norton Commando ‘peashooter’ tail pipes.
- Re-valve the forks and use Öhlins’ few-off ATV race shocks at the back.
- Install a 17” front wheel (vs. the stock 19”).
- Design and install ‘button’ switches within the bars.
- Find a 1970s-style tank, based on the legendary Slippery Sam Trident (a consecutive ’72-’75 TT title winner), reshaped by Ukiah’s brilliant Evan Wilcox.
- Dig up original Triumph (logo) tank nameplates.
- Have Wilcox hammer out a steel tail based on Ducati’s 750 Supersport bevel-head.
- Find the perfect tail light (clue: See that boat trailer, in traffic, with clever little rear lights? Now scour boat shops until you find one).
- Marinate the freshly sanded steel tank and tail section in a 15-gallon tub of balsamic vinegar—five hours, 150F.
- Remove, wash and dry the tank and tail to ‘cure’ for two hours.
- Dunk for another two hours to ‘fix’ the correct patina of an old chef’s knife blade.
- Clear-coat and install tank and tail (with appropriate leather seat).
- Under the headlight, fit a quickly detachable leather pouch.
- Fit side number plates — ‘8’ — celebrating Tyler’s daughter Dorothy, born 8-8-08 at 8:00 a.m.