You may not be familiar with the company Ghost Works, but chances are good you’ve seen the company’s work. An industrial-design consultancy based in Portland, Oregon, Ghost Works specializes in athletic footwear design. Everything from running shoes to cycling shoes, Ghost Works has designed them. The company also has a long-standing relationship with Fox boots, having designed several products within several categories for the popular motocross brand. The company is no stranger to the moto world, but beyond simply designing boots, the Ghost Works team are enthusiasts of the sport.
“Our team at Ghost Works is passion driven,” says Eirik Lund Nielsen, Founder and Creative Director of the Portland design firm. “Not only do we design the products, but we use them too. It’s not enough for our products just to function, they have to function well.”
To reignite and refresh the team’s passion for design, the Ghost Works team, led by Nielsen, decided to build and race a motorcycle to compete in the Phillip Island Classic, the second-largest vintage motorcycle race in the world behind only the Isle of Man Classic TT. In 2016, more than 340 riders and 520 bikes (split into different classes, of course) converged on the iconic Phillip Island circuit, representing teams from the United States, New Zealand, Australia, Ireland, and the United Kingdom, the defending champions of the event. The bikes range in age, dating back to the turn of the century through the 1990s.
As one of the teams representing the USA, Ghost Works decided to build a Suzuki XR69 replica, with a bit of a twist. Instead of an air-cooled Suzuki GS1000 engine, power would come from a worked-over Yamaha FJ1200 donor engine. It would then get stuffed into a frame from CMR, a company well-known in the vintage racing world as it specializes in the manufacture of reproduction motorcycle frames of all types.
Though it wasn’t boot or shoe design, the creative process of analysis and refinement needed to build the XR69 replica was very similar, and in this video from Ghost Works we get a glimpse of how boot design and vintage motorcycle race bike design overlap.
After a full year, the XR69 replica was completed and sent off to Australia, where Nielsen himself raced the bike, finishing 18th overall out of the 40 who qualified. He was also the second-place finisher for Team USA. And while 18th may not sound extraordinary, it’s worth keeping in mind the other countries had teams with professional riders like Jed Metcher, John McGuinness, and Jeremy McWilliams. The Americans, meanwhile, were all guys with day jobs. Fast guys, no doubt, but not professional racers.
Nonetheless, that a team of enthusiasts can build a competitive motorcycle in their spare time and compete against some notable names in racing is an impressive feat in itself. That enthusiasm and passion for the sport is evident in the video.