Carving Out His Own Path: An Interview with Colin Cornberg of No. 8 Wire Motorcycles

British Customs interviews Colin Cornberg about Missoula, teaching yourself off the internet, and building motorcycles by hand

Colin Cornberg of No.8 Wire Motorcycles
Colin Cornberg of No.8 Wire MotorcyclesBritish Customs

Colin Cornberg runs No. 8 Wire Motorcycles in Missoula, MT. 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.

British Customs: How did No. 8 Wire Motorcycles get started?

Colin Cornberg: I was a bicycle mechanic for a number of years and raced bicycles, and it wasn’t until college that I actually got into motorcycles. I was getting burnt out on school and started doing some builds when I discovered See See Motorcycles and BikeEXIF. What these custom builders were doing deeply inspired me, and I wondered if it would be feasible to open a garage in Missoula, Montana. So I took some business classes, attended a few business workshops, created a business plan, and got some good feedback about its viability. When I first opened the shop, it was a part-time deal, but eventually I got busy enough to do it full-time.

BC: How did you go about growing the shop into what it is today?

CC: Believe it or not, 100% of my business is local right now. Everything is word-of-mouth; I don’t do any advertising or marketing. In the summer, 90% of what I do is repairs, and the winter is almost all engine rebuilds and custom fab work. One of the things that makes this business work actually is Missoula itself: people here are passionate about what they’re into, more so than most other places; especially the adventure and outdoor lifestyle. This breeds tighter communities, and thus a passionate environment where shops like mine can thrive.

Colin Cornberg of No.8 Wire Motorcycles
Colin Cornberg laying down some weldsBritish Customs

BC: What does it feel like to create something by hand?

CC: When it turns out right, there’s a huge sense of instant gratification. When you have to do something three times before it finally turns out right, there’s still a huge sense of satisfaction. When people look at a bike I made and stop and say that it almost looks handbuilt, I feel a deep sense of pride because I taught myself how to do all of this.

BC: How did you go about teaching yourself everything?

CC: I bought a welder and just started figuring out how to use it. Then I bought an English wheel and a planishing hammer and learned how to use those. I would just buy cheap tools that worked and would practice and look up videos and play around with them until I understood them. The process is a lot of trial and error. Everything is so accessible now with the internet; if you have the will to learn something new, there’s a way to figure out how to do it.

Colin Cornberg of No.8 Wire Motorcycles
Colin Cornberg of No.8 Wire MotorcyclesBritish Customs

BC: What is No. 8 Wire Motorcycle’s design philosophy when it comes to making a custom build?

CC: My builds are designed with practicality in mind. They’ve been cleaned out and gutted of everything they don’t need, but not to the point of being unusable. The bikes I build are meant to be ridden; that’s the point.

BC: Why do you choose to work on vintage bikes specifically?

CC: Their simplicity, first and foremost. They’re easy to comprehend and therefore modify. They’re also cheap: you can pick up a basket case for $100 and make something pretty cool out of it if you’re willing to devote some time and a little money. I am very interested in branching out into new bikes, though.

Honda CL350 from No.8 Wire Motorcycles
Custom Honda CL350 from Colin Cornberg of No.8 Wire MotorcyclesBritish Customs

BC: Do you have any preferences about what kind of bike you like working on, then?

CC: I like bikes that are simple and stripped down, making me a fan of air-cooled carbureted bikes. The ideal bike has only five wires on it.

BC: Where do you think the custom motorcycle scene is going?

CC: It’s getting interesting because manufacturers are starting to influence the scene. Major manufacturers that hadn’t really ever done anything like this before are jumping on the bandwagon and releasing models with “customization” options. And that’s inspiring people to create new things, and also to modify their bikes in a more production-friendly manner. The chopper scene is as strong as ever though, and they’re marching on like they always have. But I think by definition it’s important that not every custom bike has to conform to some specific genre; there are a lot of genreless bikes.

Colin Cornberg of No.8 Wire Motorcycles
Colin Cornberg of No.8 Wire MotorcyclesBritish Customs

BC: You’ve talked about motorcycle camping and how you want to help people get into that.

CC: That’s the most fun part of motorcycling. I’ve always been very outdoor-oriented and passionate about camping, and I find that motorcycle camping is much more ideal because you can cover so much more ground than when you’re on foot. It’s also a great way to meet people who share the same passions as you. One of the other great things about motorcycle camping is that almost any bike can be used for it. I actually use a cafe racer when I go on my trips. It doesn’t sound practical, but it works great.

BC: What are you putting on display for The One Show?

CC: I'm bringing two bikes, actually. One is an '81 KZ550, and the other is a Virago 750. I bored the engine out to 615, and made it a monoshock by modifying the existing swingarm. It's a genre-bending bike with a weird street tracker look crossed with a cafe racer, and it has a brat seat. The Virago is in the same boat: it's like a ratty cafe tracker. It features a 2-into-1 exhaust system I made, drag bars and gaiters. The bike's lines were the thing I focused on the most though: I created a new subframe for it, raised the tank, and made sure everything lined up. I wanted it to be as clean as possible.

For more interviews from builders at The One Moto Show, visit British-Customs.com