Escape Artist: Interview with Hill Hudson of the Escape Collective

British Customs interviews Hill Hudson, an old-school builder that pulls from his family heritage for inspiration

Hill Hudson of the Escape Collective
Hill Hudson of the Escape Collective working on his CB350 buildBritish Customs

Hill Hudson is a herald of the New Heritage lifestyle. Hudson is a custom vintage motorcycle builder based out of Portland, OR, who works with the same tools his Brooklynite grandfather used in his machine shop established in 1886. Hudson is also a co-founder of the Escape Collective, an innovative group of builders and artists devoted to the adventure lifestyle by promoting motorcycle camping. He was invited by Thor Drake of See See Motorcycles to put his latest custom motorcycle on display at the 2016 One Moto Show in Portland, OR. - See more at: http://www.british-customs.com/triumph-motorcycle-blog/the-escape-artist-an-interview-with-hill-hudson-of-the-escape-collective/#sthash.w9kVZpo6.dpuf

British Customs: When did you first start riding?

Hill Hudson: I first started riding when I was 19 (I’m 26 now). My older brother was going to college in Rhode Island, and he came back one break on a 1965 CB160, which was entirely unexpected, and I just went, “Oh shit, that’s cool,” when I saw him pull up on it. I started looking around and I found out that the CB160 had a big brother called the CB77, nicknamed the Toaster Tank, and I picked one up. At the time I was interning for a woodworker who had bikes, and when he found out that I had just bought my first motorcycle and that it was a vintage fixer-upper, my woodworking internship immediately turned into a bike restoration internship. I spent the whole summer with that old craftsman learning how to rebuild engines, paint, and wrench. I think I became the son he never had.

Hill Hudson of the Escape Collective
Hill Hudson mocking up the hand machined headlight for this CB350 buildBritish Customs

BC: You make a number of things with your hands — it seems like building custom motorcycles is just one part of your creative outlet, and doesn’t wholly encompass what you do. What prompted you to get into design and fabrication?

HH: It was weird. My grandfather owned and operated a factory in Brooklyn that was established in 1886 where he made paper doilies for his company, Brooklace Paper Co. In the factory itself, he had a machine shop where he built all the tools needed to stamp the doilies. After he passed away, my brother brought all his old machinery back home. I was attending art school and getting my BA in Fine Art, and while I was working on my thesis I realized I was over illustration and wanted to get into making things by hand. I wanted to create things instead of just draw them. I moved in with my brother, and befriended James Crowe of We are West America, who taught me how to weld and machine. As I was learning these skills, I felt like I was doing what I needed to be doing: I wanted to carry on my grandfather's legacy. My grandfather is my inspiration for building things by hand because he had this "you can build anything if you have the will to" mentality, which I began to understand once I was able to machine the parts I wanted to install on my bike. For my thesis, I decided I wanted to build a motorcycle because it encapsulated everything I learned in art school: sculpture, graphic design, illustration, and so on. My mentors pushed me hard to dive into the question of why I wanted to build a motorcycle though, and I realized it was for more reasons than they look nice: it was a way for me to escape into my work. By building a motorcycle, I was able to escape my thoughts and anxiety, work through my issues, and physically and emotionally channel myself into what I was doing. So I named the motorcycle the Escape Machine.

Escape Machine by Hill Hudson
The Escape Machine by Hill HudsonBritish Customs

“It’s so interesting that motorcycles bleed into every little thing in your life.”

BC: What is the Escape Collective?

HH: The Escape Collective was named after the Escape Machine. I had a group of friends that formed during and after college, and one year we decided that we all wanted to go to Sasquatch Music Festival. We were all engineers, art students, and builders of different kinds, and we decided to build a geodesic dome to camp in for the trip. The domes got noticed online, and started gaining traction. Afterwards, we were hired by a company to build 14 domes, and that got us started as a company. Now, we build whatever people want us to: we do experiential buildouts for events and festivals, domes for Dream Roll, a whole range of things. The Escape Collective is taking over my shop, and our goal is to advance and release a solid product line that unites motorcycles and camping.

Geodesic dome from the Escape Collective
One of the Escape Collective's geodesic domesBritish Customs

BC: What about vintage things draws you to them?

HH: Nostalgia, mostly. And the simplicity in design. I’m personally addicted to salvage and vintage because there’s a beautiful power in vintage things; they’ve been in the hands of so many people. The first motorcycle I owned was the same model that my dad owned. All my tools were my grandfather’s, and I feel connected to him by using the same tools he held.

Hudson's Grandfather
Hudson's GrandfatherBritish Customs

“There’s a beautiful power in vintage things; they’ve been in the hands of so many people.”

BC: Tell us about the build you’re preparing for The One Moto Show.

HH: The build is a bike I’m making for a client. It’s a fully custom ’73 CB350. I wanted to make a custom motorcycle that could actually be ridden, even though it was heavily modified, so I had to learn a whole new set of skills for this bike. I completely nerded out over it: I machined the headlights from scratch on the lathe, made the whole subframe, made fork tubes from stainless steel, refabbed the tank, extended the swingarm, and mirrored the angle of the forks and the angle of the shocks so that they would make a perfect triangle. I challenged myself with this build, and am pretty happy with how it turned out. It inspired me to do something even better for the next one though because it completely changed the way I think about approaching builds: it’s so easy to limit yourself when you try to model parts off of things you like instead of just making it for yourself the way you want it.

'73 CB350 built by Hill Hudson
Hudson's 1973 Honda CB350 built for the One Moto Show left front viewBritish Customs
1973 cb350 custom
Hudson's 1973 Honda CB350 built for the One Moto Show right side rearBritish Customs
'73 cb350 custom
Hudson's 1973 Honda CB350 built for the One Moto Show left side profileBritish Customs
'73 Honda cb350 custom
Hudson's 1973 Honda CB350 built for the One Moto Show rear subframe detailBritish Customs
73 Honda cb350 custom
Hudson's 1973 Honda CB350 built for the One Moto Show exhaust and rear detailBritish Customs

For more interviews with builders from the One Moto Show, stay tuned to Moto Cruiser or visit British-Customs.com