THE FRANKEN’BLAST LAB­O­RA­TORY

Bring­ing a Buell Blast Back to Life in the Most Un­likely Place: a Kitchen

Hot Bike - - Contents - WORDS AND PHO­TOS: MIKE CALABRO

ave you ever seen Dr. Franken­stein’s lab­o­ra­tory? It had the mys­te­ri­ous sci­en­tific junk that any mad sci­en­tist needs to cre­ate a mon­ster, but his place was lit­tered with cob­webs and grime. Doc was a creative ge­nius in the most po­etic way—mak­ing his dream come true, but also drown­ing in other ideas while sur­round­ing him­self with chaos. Most bike builders can iden­tify with this feel­ing of ob­tain­ing var­i­ous body parts from grave­yards and plug­ging in ma­chines with a de­ranged look in their eye un­til it springs to life. But not all of them.

Alex Maslin is a ge­nius of a dif­fer­ent va­ri­ety. He doesn’t have a cas­tle, and he’s not a so­cial out­cast. He’s a nor­mal dude who lives in a small apart­ment in Chicago. It is your typ­i­cal small ur­ban domi­cile that has the quin­tes­sen­tial items you’d ex­pect in a shared one-bed­room apart­ment—a stove, couch, tele­vi­sion, and so on. And there’s some stuff you’re not ex­pect­ing, like the weld­ing ta­ble. Wait, in the apart­ment? Well, yeah, of course.

Un­like Franken­stein’s catas­tro­phe, Alex’s not-so-evil work­shop is im­mac­u­late. It’s one of the clean­est shops we’ve ever seen. In­stead of liv­ing with a hunch­backed as­sis­tant, he co­hab­its with his gor­geous girlfriend, Andrea, and she won’t put up with a dirty cas­tle. She doesn’t have to deal with a mess, and thinks it’s cool to have a cus­tom bike shop next to the re­frig­er­a­tor. She tells me it’s “bet­ter than hav­ing a drunk boyfriend on the couch.” All of us idiots on the couch, take note.

Alex’s de­sire for a ster­ile workspace comes from the fam­ily lin­eage from his home coun­try of Ro­ma­nia. His dad and un­cle are den­tists, and his sis­ter is a dental tech. Don’t show up at the Maslin house­hold with­out floss­ing first. His dad

wanted him to be­come a den­tist, but Alex wasn’t stoked on all of the “blood and stuff.” Dur­ing dental school, he en­joyed the artis­tic side, carving sets of per­fect teeth out of blocks of plas­ter. Alex puts it this way: “I was do­ing cus­tom stuff with­out han­dle­bars, wheels, and en­gines. I’ve put a smile on peo­ple’s faces one way or an­other.” In the real world, no one cared about the crafts­man­ship. It was all about the money. So he bailed on that ca­reer and moved to greener pastures two years ago.

Alex didn’t come to the States to fol­low the typ­i­cal Amer­i­can dream. He came here to fol­low his pas­sion for cus­tom mo­tor­cy­cles. He wanted to ex­pe­ri­ence the cus­tom bike scene that he pre­vi­ously only saw on TV and on­line. “I think that if I did not spend so much time watch­ing Or­ange County Chop­pers and biker build-off shows, I would have be­come a den­tist,” he says. No of­fense to East­ern-euro­pean teeth, but one look at his Franken’blast makes us happy he’s here with a welder in his hand.

Alex’s pas­sion for cus­tomiz­ing started with paint­ing match­box cars. Ro­ma­nia is a poor coun­try, so his mom had to take out a loan so she could af­ford to buy Alex a bi­cy­cle. He gave his shiny new bike a “cus­tom” paint job with a can of old house paint. The itch to cus­tom­ize never went away, and Alex started work­ing on mo­tor­cy­cles in 2007.

Build­ing his first bike in Amer­ica hasn’t been an easy or fast process. Alex couldn’t af­ford to bring his stuff when he moved to the States and had to start from scratch. Ev­ery pay­check went to ba­sic tools be­fore be­ing able to buy a Buell Blast for $1,400. Alex chose a Buell

Blast to cus­tom­ize be­cause “it was one of the cheap­est bikes I could find.”

The Blast is one of the most bor­ing and hated bikes ever. Even Erik Buell was so em­bar­rassed by it that he an­nounced the end of the Blast in 2010 by crush­ing a few into cubes. Alex dif­fers from the masses. “The en­gine has a clean look, sim­ple de­sign, and is re­li­able,” he says. “Peo­ple ex­pected too much for an air-cooled sin­gle-cylin­der bike.”

Alex cre­ated his mon­ster just as Franken­stein did, out of var­i­ous parts gath­ered through dark and ne­far­i­ous means. OK, maybe not dark or ne­far­i­ous, but it was a bit un­ortho­dox. He lives on a tight bud­get so he can build bikes, hop­ing to prove that he has skills to find a job where he can “learn more, cre­ate, and be happy,” he says. He didn’t have the tools to fab­ri­cate ev­ery­thing. To save money, ev­ery bracket was drilled and tapped by hand, and some parts were cut with a hand­saw. Since he didn’t know any ma­chin­ists in the States, he had to get his bud­dies back home to turn his sketches into hard parts and then ship them from over­seas.

Mixed in with the cus­tom bits are sal­vaged or­gans and ap­pendages from other bikes. The stern is from a Buell XB, the shock is from a Buell 1125, the han­dle­bar is an in­verted 1-inch Throt­tle Ad­dic­tion Z bar, and the solid front wheel came from a first-gen­er­a­tion V-rod. The build took 11 months to com­plete. It took such a long time be­cause he had to keep it a se­cret from the land­lord. It takes a creative mind to keep a bike build un­der wraps. To pre­vent the land­lord from stop­ping by the apart­ment to col­lect the rent, Alex drives an hour away ev­ery month to de­liver the cash by hand. The land­lord came by one day unan­nounced while Alex was at work.

Luck­ily, the bike was hid­den, as best as a mo­tor­cy­cle in an apart­ment can be, be­hind the couch, with a cover on it. She asked what was be­hind the couch and Andrea said “bikes,” so it wasn’t a to­tal lie. As far as she knows, they are the per­fect ten­ants.

There is no such thing as weld­ing in se­crecy once the sun goes down. There are two prob­lems to get around: light and noise. A blind­ing light em­a­nat­ing through the drapes would likely end up with a visit from Johnny Law, there­fore Alex only welds on sunny days. TIG weld­ing steel makes min­i­mal noise. Alu­minum, on the other hand, is loud. Alex cov­ers up the noise by crank­ing AC/DC, say­ing, “I’d rather piss off the neigh­bors with mu­sic than have them com­plain­ing to the land­lord about some mys­te­ri­ous buzz.”

Blast­ing “Thun­der­struck” cranked up to 11 won’t cover up the sound of a thumper with a cus­tom stain­less-steel header and a shorty car­bon muf­fler. “If I started it here, the build­ing would col­lapse from all the vi­bra­tion.” When he needs to work on the en­gine, he pushes it to a self-stor­age unit. The owner of the stor­age fa­cil­ity is also Ro­ma­nian and puts up with the noise on oc­ca­sion.

The Franken’blast was re­cently sold to a for­tu­itous man in Texas. The apart­ment was empty for two weeks. He is cur­rently work­ing on a 2000 Buell Thun­der­bolt for his daily rider. Af­ter it’s done, the lab­o­ra­tory won’t be empty for long. A cus­tom Zero FXS is al­ready planned. Even with an elec­tric bike, know­ing Alex, he won’t need a light­ning strike to bring it to life. HB

THE BUILD TOOK 11 MONTHS TO COM­PLETE. IT TOOK SUCH A LONG TIME BE­CAUSE HE HAD TO KEEP IT A SE­CRET FROM THE LAND­LORD.

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