With no visible shop front or advertising spend, Fred and Hugo successfully hand build motorbikes out of the back of a city centre carpark, their bikes are renowned the world over and you now have to join a waiting list if you’d like to order one.
For someone who didn’t pass their motorcycle test until they were 30, Fred Jourden, one half of of Blitz motorcycles is certainly making a name for himself in the custom built motorcycle market.
We went to see him one drizzly day in Paris. The dullness of the day couldn’t dampen our excitement of meeting the people behind the brilliant Blitz motorcycles. Fred met us outside a Paris dealership. There was no ‘Blitz’ sign in sight. He took us through a noisy garage. Somewhere hidden in the back was the Blitz workshop. We entered through a waiting area full of bike paraphernalia, tanks hanging from the ceiling, engines parts strewn around, vintage posters on the walls and a couple of Barcelona chairs to sit on. Next to this waiting area was the workshop, the room were the Blitz energy and creativity lived. It had everything you would expect and more, a series of bikes all at different stages of assembly, masses of tools, bike parts, shelves stacked high and grease everywhere. You got the feeling that this space had evolved around Fred and Hugo over the years, a space that worked with them and allowed their creativity to flow.
“For me, the idea was to gain new skills but as soon as I brought my first machine to life, a 40 year old Royal Enfield I experienced a thrill from the top of my spine to the bottom of my feet. That moment I felt like God, I have given life to something. My life changed right there and then.”
Fred Jourden bought his first bike, a vintage BMW, at 28. His friends told him it would break down, so he decided to enrol on a mechanics course, so that he could fix things himself should anything ever happen. However, the BMW has never broken down! “I still have it and I still ride it,” he said, with a smile on his face. The course itself was a degree course. It took place after work. As soon as the clock tuned 5:45 he would jump on the BMW and head over to school to sit down and get working with his hands. He said “For me, the idea was to gain new skills but as soon as I brought my first machine to life, a 40 year old Royal Enfield I experienced a thrill from the top of my spine to the bottom of my feet. That moment I felt like God, I have given life to something. My life changed right there and then.”
Although Fred was a late starter to the motorcycle world, Hugo Jezegabel, the other half of Blitz, worked on bikes from childhood. They met by chance, started to share a workshop and custom built bikes for friends, learning from each other one bike at a time. It wasn’t long before they were spending more and more time at the workshop and eventually they decided to leave their current jobs and concentrate on forming a business together. They started Blitz in the spring of 2010. Incidentally the name ‘Blitz’ comes from a US Football strategy called ‘the blitz’ (no surprises there), which is when additional players are sent to “rush the quarterback”, a concentration of force at high speed to tackle or disrupt.
They currently have 15 customers a year. They can work on up to 5 machines at any one time, making sure they spend quality time with each customer to fully understand their requirements. It can be a long process, but it definitely works. “To begin with, the customer comes to us with a machine, or we find one for them” Fred says. They then strip it apart, completely dismantle the bike, leaving no screw or bolt left holding anything together. Then they start on the creation, changing the frame, adapting the tank and creating another Blitz bespoke motorcycle. “We design by eye, no sketches, no computer. If a part doesn’t look right we take it off. We keep doing that until we are happy. If we think a Kawasaki tank looks good on a Yamaha bike then we go for it.”
The bikes they produce are stripped back. There is nothing on them that doesn’t need to be there. Fred said, “we take out all the fat and just leave the muscle. For us, a motorcycle is just an engine with two wheels, a tank for gasoline and a seat for your arse. That’s it.” The combination of an original tank sat upon the framework of matte black paint, the exposed engine and the raw nature of each machine gives Blitz their unique look. This keeps the steady flow of interested customers knocking at their door and increases interest in their brand. “We do what we do for us and for the customer who trusts us”. So far over 50 people have trusted Hugo and Fred to create a bespoke motorcycle just for them and all of them are happy with the results. It is easy to see why. The time, the creativity, the skills and the focus involved in each project means that each bike is as unique as the customer they are producing for.
Fred said to me when I first arrived, “I freeze my ass off in winter, I roast in summer, I cut my hands to shreds, wreck my clothes, but I love what I do, passion is the only reason I am here. Hugo is exactly the same.”
It is this passion that drives them to do what they do, creating beautiful unique bikes again and again. Fifty satisfied customers would certainly agree.