When playing with Legos as a kid, Max Hazan would microwave the plastic pieces in order to reshape them into whatever form needed to complete the design his young mind conjured up. Three decades later, now a custom bike builder, Hazan is still turning his mental concepts into tangible creations, only this time using metal and building custom motorcycles.
In fact, aside from things like the engine, suspension parts and wheels, you’ll seldom find a part on one of Hazan’s (pronounced like "brazen" with an "H") bikes that wasn’t designed and created in-house by Hazan. That level of uniqueness has allowed him to sell his creations for six-figure prices, despite only having been in the customs scene for a handful of years.
"He’s a sculptor, and his medium is motorcycles," said Cycle World contributor and human encyclopedia of moto-history Paul D’Orleans. "He has a keenly developed aesthetic sense, and it’s all his own. It’s remarkable how far he’s gone and how fast."
Hazan’s machines are routinely featured on custom motorcycle web sites such as TheBikeShed, Jalopnik, BikeExif, and Pipeburn, which has recognized Hazan’s work with a trio of its prestigious “Bike of the Year” awards. His builds have also been featured at elite bike shows such as the Michael Lichter-curated “Motorcycles as Art" exhibition at the Sturgis Rally, and several examples are in renowned collections such as the Haas Moto Museum & Sculpture Gallery opening next month in Dallas. His work has also garnered ample attention from outside the moto world too, having been the focus of stories in publications such as the Los Angeles Times, Money Inc.com, Robb Report, and The Gentlemen’s Journal. Last year, Hazan was also featured in an episode of Anthony Bourdain’s “The Balvenie Raw Craft” series.
"When I first saw his bikes, I thought, 'This is art.' As a designer, he's unlike anyone else,” remarked 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."
The route to becoming a custom builder
After graduating from Tulane University, Hazan was working as a contractor before a dirt riding injury in 2011 at age 29 left him couch-ridden for several months. During that time, he got the ball rolling on building his first custom motorized bicycle. For his second build, he made his own frame — a bicycle with a handful of motorcycle parts that was capable of exceeding freeway speeds. It dawned on Hazan that his next project should be a full-on motorcycle.
“My father said ‘I think you really have something here. Give it one year and I’ll help support you if it doesn’t pan out’,” explained Hazan. In 2012, he founded Hazan Motorworks and rented a small studio in Brooklyn. His first year as a full-time builder came and went and despite having produced several bikes, Hazan had yet to make a sale. His then-girlfriend — now wife — was moving to the West Coast and invited Hazan to tag along.
As time went on and he still hadn’t sold a bike, Hazan began seriously considering hanging it up as a custom builder. Then one of his builds wound up in the display window of an upscale Malibu clothing boutique after a friend of Hazan’s uncle showed the boutique’s owner a photo. That bike sold and more orders started flooding in. Hazan’s work began virally circulating online, and the rest is history.
Hand-built parts in a parts catalog age
Hazan aims to do something truly unique every time he builds a bike. This requires crafting dozens of one-off parts that that come together to make up each bespoke motorcycle.
"I want each piece to be exactly how I want it," he explains. "One out of a thousand times I'll find something that fits perfectly as is and I love not having to make something every now and then... but it rarely happens."
Though it is incredibly time-consuming, this style of building enables Hazan to experiment with unique components that beautifully blend form and function. On his latest build, Hazan crafted an upswept foot-peg that can pivot 180 degrees to become the bike’s kick-stand. He also opted to have the build’s brakes controlled via side-by-side foot pedals on the right side of the bike, with the inner pedal operating the front brake and the outer engaging the rear. These pieces minimize clutter, and when combined with elements such as dummy tanks (used to hide unsightly ancillaries), the results are incredibly clean.
While he has only completed around 14 bikes, Hazan's work already shows a lot of variety, with examples ranging in style from cruisers to cafe racers to bobbers and neo-retro streamliners. One of Hazan’s current projects is a 310-pound, 110-horsepower, KTM LC8-powered supermoto complete with custom aluminum bodywork, FCR carbs, and a suite of other top-of-the-line components.
Hazan’s process is surprisingly organic, considering the precision required when building a motorcycle. Starting with a set of wheels placed on either side of an engine placed on a cinder block, Hazan draws (or paints rather) around the aforementioned parts at a 1:1 scale. Though he develops a general idea for each project, he also leaves room for improvisation.
"If you have a plan set in stone, you can miss out on some really interesting opportunities along the way," explains Hazan.
Smooth jazz plays in Hazan's small, second-story studio as he points to various metal rods and cylinders, such as the 0.125-inch chromoly steel he uses to create one-off chassis. "That’s what my bikes start out as,” he says. "The cost of raw materials isn’t very much. The real expense is all the time each project takes."
Despite being extremely skilled in a myriad of areas (welding, machining, sheet-metal fab, tuning, etc) Hazan is 100 percent self-taught, having inherited what he calls “the handy gene” from his father. The Hazan Motorworks studio is equipped with everything building custom bikes typically necessitates, including a trick Bridgeport mill. Hazan routinely spends more than 12 hours machining a single part in order to bring the concept in his mind to fruition. Hazan’s choice to make everything by hand is far from a gimmick. It’s simply the only way to bring his visions to life.
"I’m not a big fan of the hip 'doing things the old-fashioned way' as a fashion statement, like growing a mustache just to wax it or any of that other apron-wearing hipster bullshit. I only do it this way because it's the only way to make what I need in a way that I can afford... It just happens to be by hand," says Hazan.
Given the hours of machining that goes into making one part, plus Hazan’s acute attention to detail and his expert execution — which can be seen in the uniformity of his welds and the precision of his parts — it’s no surprise that HMW only churns out an average of two bikes per year. Many of his builds have forced-induction powerplants that are tirelessly installed and tuned by Hazan himself. On his blown 1978 Ducati 860GT — a project from 2017 — Max went through a trio of engine rebuilds and two seized turbos, tried over two dozen jetting combinations, and dedicated a ridiculous amount of time experimenting with a variety of ignition systems and oil system setups to get everything dialed in just right.
Hazan’s anti-parts-bin approach often involves the use of unusual materials, such as wood for a number of his bikes’ seats and Pyrex for a couple of oil tanks. Hazan’s supercharged 1981 Ironhead features a headlamp salvaged from an antique tractor. The use of pre-Depression-era tires is another distinctive feature Hazan regularly utilizes on his bikes.
“You have to take risks and do something different," Hazan says. "You might make something hideous and fail, but you learn so much along the way." His tattoo reads, "Always Forward In Creation."
In a world oversaturated with customs shops, Hazan has managed to set himself apart via the hand-built components omnipresent on his bikes. Whenever I interview an established name in the customs scene, regardless of where in the world they’re based, the name Max Hazan almost always comes up, and not by me.
Put simply, Max Hazan is your favorite builder’s favorite builder.