We interview Michael Woolaway, Director of U.S. Motorcycle Design for Deus Ex Machina.
The Director of U.S. Motorcycle Design for Deus Ex Machina, Michael “Woolie” Woolaway builds bikes that he wants to ride. An amalgamation of old and new, function with art, Woolie's creations are derived from his lifelong love for internal combustion engines.
Woolie's creations are performance based machines, able to crush hydrocarbons while looking gorgeous. For one of our favorite builds, the Bully, we find it hard to sum it up in words, seemingly drawing inspiration from a '57 Chevy to a Transformer. Like so many of the mad scientist's creations, the Bully pulls duty cruising the sun-touched coast line or ripping the corners at Willow Springs.
The Bully’s chassis is built upon a tested and trued custom swing-arm and sub-frame hand built by Woolie. These custom pieces were mated to the mostly original frame and like every Deus motorcycle, the total package is worthy of a knee drag in the canyons.
Woolie took some time out from his laboratory to tell us how he creates his modern marvels.
What's your process for building a bike from the ground up?
“I meet the customer and firstly try to determine how they’re going to use the motorcycle. Is it a café to café, in-town little Venice Beach bike? Is he going to use it on the freeway? Is he going to use in the canyons or in the desert?
What was your vision behind building the Bully?
“The customer had a crashed Buell that had been sitting in his backyard for years that he wanted to use as the donor bike. Looking at the bike at first glance it was a very engineered bike. Everything was done atypically. The motor was mounted in an atypical manner. The swingarm was mounted in an atypical manner. It had a lot of edgy lines to it.
I wanted to change the look of it completely from what you would typically see in a Buell in an ergonomic way. I wanted to clean it up. We put the oil tank up in the gas tank to clean up all that space so I could do something unique with the exhaust system and the sub-frame.
Being primarily an American motorcycle centered around the Buell Lightning power plant, the Bully is something of a Deus first. Is there works for future bikes that center on Italian and British built motors?
“Absolutely, I love British and Italian bikes. We’re talking to a guy about building a bike using a vintage Norton dustbin fairing that we collected somewhere. We’ll probably use a big Norton motor on that one. I also have a T140 flat tracker that has a 270-degree offset, bob-weight balanced motor so it’s now more like a Ducati offset. I'll be working on a Ducati Monster in the near future as well.”
“I grew up enthralled with motorcycles ever since I was an infant. It really kicked in when we moved to Marin County. Mert Lawill lived just a few blocks away and he had a motocross track in the hills behind us. Really it was racing, though.
My dad took us to all the races. Sears Point was 25 minutes away. Laguna Seca wasn’t far. The San Jose mile, Calistoga dirt track, you know, everything. We grew up living and breathing motorcycles. All of it from motocross to road racing to dirt track I was interested in all those shapes and designs. It’s just in me.”
In terms of performance your creations are not just trailer queens, on the contrary they are very capable machines. What are your limits for building a customer based bike?
“There really is no limit other than liability. I have to make surreal protect the company liability wise. I’m never going to build anything that’s crazy and dangerous. All the bikes, geometry wise are correct. The frames are straightened at Dr. John’s they’re valved and springed for each rider. I fit these bikes for each customer. And then I test everything. Liability is the limit.”
Deus has taken off in the last year; for a custom shop you are now a benchmark in boutique motorcycles. What does the future hold for Deus Ex Machina?
“Each build I try to one up the last one. Luckily so far I’ve been able to do that based on the clients that have come through the next few bikes coming out of here are really going to be spectacular. I’m building a super single right now with old school styling but completely capable. You could go out and race this thing.”
“My background in the business is riding and racing motorcycles. I never had a career building motorcycles. I always just built motorcycles to race and grew up building motorcycles to race. When this opportunity with Deus came along I applied my technique of building race bikes to street bikes.”
“I think it’s gone back to the '60s and '70s when people were interested in having something unique that they either created themselves or were part of the process of creating it. We’re seeing that in some manufacturers that are building bikes that are designed to be modified.”
Photos courtesy of Deus Ex Machina