Q&A: Anthony Bourdain and Max Hazan Talk About the Art of Motorcycle Artisanship

Max Hazan explains why the only bikes he builds already have owners.

What happens when you mix some of the world’s best Speyside whisky, an outspoken culinary master, and a bespoke motorcycle builder? You get raw. Raw Craft, that is. The online series, produced by the Balvenie Distillery, highlights rare artisans in the United States who have been sharing their craft to an audience of nearly 40 million viewers since 2015. Producer of some of the world’s best Scottish single malt whisky from Speyside, the esteemed spirits brand tapped Anthony Bourdain—the author, television personality, and celebrated chef—to host the series.

Now in its third season, the show has explored a variety of trades including cobblers, typographers, whisky distillers, and even a knife-maker who manipulates meteorites into cutlery. Debuting today is the latest episode—one that features motorcycle builder Maxwell Hazan of Hazan Motorworks.

Max Hazan and Anthony Bourdain hitting the road  Photo: Courtesy Balvenie

Hazan has produced 15 custom bikes over his career ranging in cost from $30,000 to more than $100,000, with bikes on the higher end taking over six months to build. His incomparably styled bikes feature vintage engines, hand-formed aluminum and, at least in one case, a blown-glass oil tank.

As filming began for the episode in downtown Los Angeles, RobbReport.com had the chance to sit down with Hazan and Bourdain in the Hazan Motorworks workshop. The 800-square-foot enclave, perched over the Fashion District and beyond the vibrant chaos of fruit vendors and assorted textiles, is a gearhead’s paradise—a studio where bikes of both function and form materialize into motorized sculptures unlike any other.

Anthony, why did you choose Max Hazan as a subject for this series?

Anthony Bourdain: He is a remarkable individual making extraordinary things by hand in direct contrast to conventional wisdom and the expectation of what one should do with their life —that’s a romantic notion that appeals to me.

What was it like to ride a Hazan Motorworks motorcycle?

AB: We were out in what’s called Pinto Valley, and it was great. I’m a novice and he showed me how it’s done given my limited skills—it was amazing.

Hazan Motorworks Supercharged Ironhead Ducati

Hazan Motorworks Supercharged Ironhead Ducati  Photo: Courtesy Shaik Ridzwan

How do Max’s motorcycles differ from others you’ve ridden throughout your life?

AB: Well, I think you only need to look at them to understand the work he puts into them, that every piece is made by hand—it’s apparent at first glance. They ride unlike any bike I’ve ever experienced.

Is it their aesthetics that you find so compelling?

AB: Yes, but they’re also entirely functional. There are no extraneous design features on his bikes. Everything works, everything has a purpose. They’re pretty minimal and beautiful.

I can appreciate minimalism and maximalism. I tend to aspire towards the austere. It’s sort of the Japanese minimalist approach, one flower in a vase rather than a whole bouquet—beauty stripped down to its absolute essentials. But I do love something really extravagant and baroque sometimes too, it depends on my mood.

Max Hazan and Anthony Bourdain in Max’s workshop sharing a glass of Balvenie whisky  Photo: Courtesy Balvenie

Max, what do you find to be so distinctinctive about your motorcycles?

Max Hazan: I was ready for that question, because I thought that Anthony would ask me that. On paper, there’s not a lot of difference. There are two wheels and an engine. But you don’t have to be a motorcycle enthusiast to like my bikes. Say someone walks by the parked motorcycle, they don’t have to know what kind of bike it is, but it affects them. I think that’s the difference. It’s something that appeals to everybody, whether or not they understand the mechanics.

Does every bike have an owner before it is completed?

MH: Now it does. And that’s the way I like to build bikes. It was kind of scary in the beginning when I would be pouring six months into building something, and didn’t know what was going to happen. So, when I have a commissioned project, it’s nice, because I have a timeframe of when I need to build it, and I always stick to the schedule. I treat it like I treat my old business [an interior design & contracting company in New York City]. I have to finish on time, I have to deliver—and it should be that way.

Is there anyone else involved in the building process?

MH: I have part-time help that comes in but it’s really hard when you’re building a one-off creation to delegate the processes. I’ve tried, and usually wind up with someone staring at me. It’s hard. If someone asked me to build an exact replica of an existing bike, I’d have a staff of three. We’d finish it in a month. But there wouldn’t be anything unique about the bike. That’s why it’s from scratch every single time.

That seems to be a part of your creative strength. You approach each bike with fresh eyes, challenging your own artistic self.

MH: I always think that, maybe, one day the well will run dry. What’s going to happen when I can’t think of anything? But usually, at some point in each project, I get an idea for another one. So far, I haven’t run out of them.

Does each bike begin on the drawing table?

MH: I usually start with an idea for an engine, a valuable engine that is a unique mechanical piece. Usually the engine will dictate what I want to build around it and then I begin to lay it out.

Hazan Motorworks motorcycle

Hazan Motorworks Supercharged KTM motorcycle featured in the Raw Craft episode  Photo: Courtesy Shaik Ridzwan

Where do you get your inspiration?

MH:  I find that if you take care of everything else in your life, your health, your personal relationships, and you think with a clear mind, then it’ll come. I was always obsessed with making things, it didn’t matter what, I just loved to build things from my imagination. I had no predetermined goal to become a motorcycle builder.  I built a couple of motorized creations out of bicycle parts in my dad’s garage while I was injured from an off-road riding accident and unable to work. I suddenly found myself making custom motorcycles.

How has your building process developed over the years?

MH: I am self-taught with all of this, I didn’t apprentice with anybody. Usually everything is in my head unless it’s a precision part for an engine, then I’ll write it all down because there’s an order and, with the engine, there is not much room for error—everything needs to be done perfectly.

When I first worked for myself it was hard, because you don’t know when you’ve done enough; there’s no reference for when the day begins or ends. So now, I work ten hours a day, and then I go home. I find that after ten hours, productivity—like brain efficiency—falls off. You start making mistakes, and you’re just going to go down a bad road.

 Do you have a favorite bike that has gone out into the world? Or is it yet to come?

MH: They’re all yet to come. I really enjoy the process of building the bikes. A lot of people ask me if I get sad when they go away. Not really. I’m usually ready for the next one. I mean, I have a little bit of an attachment to each one, but it all comes out during the creative process for me, and I can move on.

For further inquiries, or to place an order, contact Max Hazan at max@hazanmotorworks.com.

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