Meet The Rider

Robbie Palmer

We’ve lost count of how many people we’ve shot over the years, but we do remember that every single one of them has a unique and interesting passion project - a creative outlet that we love hearing and learning about. You’ll know that means of escapism - whether that be through hiking, painting, or music - are something we really encourage amongst our team and the wider community; so when we met Robbie, the rider and face of our latest Wayfare campaign, and heard about his latest bike build, we wanted to know more.

Robbie Palmer co-runs a film production company, Black Revolver Films, making adverts and promotional films for brands. The film industry is both exciting and creative, but it’s hand-building custom motorcycles, usually using old Triumph motors from the ‘50s, that he does for fun. Our in-house photographer, Joe, first met Robbie over 20 years ago while riding BMX bikes, and since they have worked on a range of BMX & motorcycle photoshoots together. Therefore, we sent Joe to Leicestershire, where Rob is based, for a good old catch-up, to learn about his craft and check how he was doing following a certain incident that occurred on the Wayfare shoot…

We arrived at Robbie’s workshop on a surprisingly sunny morning as he was working on a heat guard for his most recent build - a 1954 desert sled-style Triumph. The workshop had a real nostalgic raw feel - with exposed brick walls, hand-labelled storage, and the smell of molten aluminium and dust - the signs of a real hands-on passion project. He began building bikes about 8 years ago after he stopped riding BMX due to numerous injuries: “I was at a bit of a loose end hobby-wise. I had tried a few things, but it was when one day I saw a custom Honda built by Holiday Customs and I couldn’t believe how cool it was. Then, after the first Google search, I was blown away by this entire world of custom bikes”.

All these years later, he is still in awe of the cool things people are making and the endless possibilities; an interesting mix of sculpture, functionality, and engineering.

“I love sculpture and studied it for a while at university but I always found it tricky to keep consistently making individual art pieces, as you need an outlet for them. When making sculptural pieces for a bike, they already have a home and a vessel to contain them. Then to be able to ride that piece at the end of the process is such a great way to finish a project.”

But what studying fine art & sculpture did teach Rob is a unique and experimental approach to bike building. Having found steel fabrication and welding quite restricting when it comes to finishings, he told us that working with clay, and shaping it with his own hands creates a whole new freedom. “It opens up so many options. Clay is flexible and you can imprint it with different textures to create brand new patterns”.

Finding beauty in the mundane:

Each new project starts with a rough theme or a purpose: “I don’t really have a strict design process for the entire build; just a rough idea or a feeling for where I want to go.” Once the painstaking task of trying to find a suitable donor engine is out of the way, it is this feeling and an explorative DIY attitude that makes Rob’s process truly unique.

Rob showed us the oil tank of his current build: “This was originally an old piece of plastic Tupperware”. Comparing the process to photography, Rob believes in finding beauty in the mundane - collecting everyday ‘found objects’ and turning them into a piece of art - whether functional or decorative. He describes his latest build as a ‘chopper-inspired piece’ made up of lots of hand-made parts and sand-cast pieces that he made in his garden workshop.

“Most pieces I make are made from clay or found objects - which I then sand-cast in recycled aluminium. I find a lot of the items in the scrapyard, and they go on to become potential bases or motorcycle parts. There are so many cool shapes and materials to be found. I find myself looking at plastic bottles and wondering where I could use them.”

With each build, Rob tries to learn a new skill, and it’s no different with his latest 1954 Triumph: “I’ve been practising my brazing and pushing some ideas around the different finishes you can achieve on metal using etching acids and forcing different patinas.”

But it’s easier said than done when time is short! As well as holding a full-time job as a film-maker, Rob is also in the process of renovating his home and admits that finding the time to focus on the bikes can be tricky. “It can be hard to drag yourself into the workshop after a long day at work. I have to be quite strict about not just sinking into the sofa when I get in! I have to carve out little windows around work, family, friends, the gym & keeping the house clean”.

The Campaign

The last time we caught up with Rob was in Cheddar Gorge, a natural limestone gorge carved into the Mendip Hills, near Somerset, England; where we shot our Wayfare watch campaign. You may have seen the lookbook, or the incredible drone footage cascading over the landscape, but what you won’t have seen was Rob skidding around a wet corner and coming straight off the bike. “I can confirm they [the P&Co leather gloves] hold up well to a little road rash”.

Luckily, no one was hurt and we came away with some unreal content. Anything for the shot. To be a wayfarer is to complete an act or course of journeying, something we wanted to highlight through the campaign content. Before we left we asked Rob how important his own journey is to him: “The journey of building and riding bikes is very important to me and has taught me it’s definitely about the quest, not the grail. I’m lucky to be on the Leicestershire/Northamptonshire border and there are a lot of nice riding routes around here. If the sun’s out any ride is a pleasure.”

Having built 3 Triumph customs now, the next project on the cards for Rob is a 1954 Harley Panhead chopper: “I’m very interested to work with such a large and powerful engine. The 50’s Triumph engines are so pretty and delicate looking, that the brutalist-looking panhead will be a fun one to build”. You can follow the progress of Rob’s builds via his Instagram page @robbie_palms.