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Yak Throwback: The Day Deus Ex Machina Bali Was Born

Once upon a time Deus Ex Machina was but a couple of bikes in a Berawa shed. We head back to Yak 25 2010 and the day our editor stumbled upon two blokes with oily hands and a dream. Photos: Yaeko Masuda. 

Motorcycles. Some people just have trouble leaving them the hell alone. Take Deus Ex Machina, for example. “The whole gig started in Japan,” says Dustin Humphrey, local force behind the Sydney-based custom motorcycle company that’s just opened in Bali. “There were these guys who got tired of fixing up their old bikes,” he says, “so basically they bought new model single-engined bikes and stripped them down to make them look like their old bikes.”

Deus in Bali incorporates much of that old-as-new philosophy into a culture that also includes surfing, art, photography and, of course, riding motorcycles. With a bike workshop in Canggu and a store in Jl. Laksmana that sells clothing and accessories, Deus Ex Machina (which translates as ‘God in the machine’) is fast establishing itself as a cultural force here.

“As a motorcycle company,” says Dustin, “Deus pays tribute to a culture that first appeared in Europe and America in the 1940s and which has recently been resurrected by motorcycle enthusiasts in Japan, Australia and America. Today’s motorcycle trends have been driving towards quicker and more powerful designs that are so fast that it is difficult and dangerous to get the bike out of second gear without being on a race track. On the other end of the spectrum lies the army of homogenous scooters that flood the streets, creating a monotonous sea of sameness. Deus is somewhere in-between these styles with simple, ridable, interesting motorcycles.”

In essence, Deus takes a new model motorcycle into its mechanical embrace, unbolts all the bits they don’t want, then straps on a whole new personality around its frame and engine (which is also fiddled with, as if you need to ask). Tanks are custom shaped. The suspension, wheels, swinging arm…etcetera…are replaced with high-performance parts. Fairings are lovingly created and styled and paint is applied in glorious texture. The end result is the sum total of either your – or their – imagination. But it’s not just about the bikes, they say…

Started in Australia five years ago by a handful of motorcycle enthusiasts, Deus has grown to be something greater than just a motorcycle company. “It’s applied art grounded in mechanical common sense,” says Deus originator Dare Jennings. “It’s a timeless style that will still look good in 20 years.”

With this cross-pollination of motor-cycles, surf and art, all barriers have been broken. “I guess you could say it’s a matter of bringing fine art and applied art together,” says Dustin. “The fine art being the photography, paintings and screen prints; the applied art being the pushbikes, motorcycles and surfboards. Sometimes we will find ourselves taking a ’70s model Honda CB and rebuilding it to its original condition. And sometimes we will take a brand new Honda Tiger and make it look like a ’70s CB. Other times we are taking bicycles from the early 1900s and making them into beach cruisers.

“But it’s not like you have to just be a motorcycle rider or a surfer,” adds Dustin. “It’s just what you are enthusiastic about. We like to surf, we like to build bikes, ride bikes, both motorcycles and push-bikes, we like to paint, we like to screen print, we like photography…and we like Bintangs. So that’s what we do.”