Kott Motorcycles is based out of a blue tin shack next to the railroad tracks on the outskirts of the tiny town of Newhall, California, just north of Los Angeles. I walk under the shop’s half-open garage door, wondering how beautiful custom bikes come out of such a shithole. But there they are, backed up against a wall—a half dozen, pristine café racers, each unique, handsome, and obviously cared for.
I wander around the small, grimy, but organized shop. Half-shaped sheets of metal are lined up on workbenches, wiring harnesses are strewn across the floor, and a small stool sits next to shop owner Dustin Kott’s lone motorcycle lift with a stripped-down HondaCB750 resting on top. Thirty-seven-year-old Kott hands me a Perrier L’Orange, and I ask him how this all came to be. “This started as something I would find solace in, something I would do at the end of an 8-hour workday to unwind” he says. “Then it turned into a business. It was never intended to be one. This shop has been here for six years. There were a slew of two-car garages we got kicked out of, because before I knew it, there were a dozen motorcycles in the driveway and the cops were like, ‘So, what are you doing?’”
I ask why he picked the popular Honda CB series to be his bread-and-butter bike. “It’s the only thing I’ve ever owned,” says Kott. “I’ve never had another motorcycle other than a CB750. The CB750 lends itself well to what we’re doing, and Honda made millions of them in the ‘70s. They’re reliable, there are a lot of parts available, and there are still a lot of donor bikes available. Familiarization with the platform—that’s how this whole thing started to take off.”
Kott now has a well-known name on the custom bike circuit—his ability to lace wheels, shape metal, and rewire half-century-old bikes put him on the radar of actor Ryan Reynolds, who commissioned a custom build. Ewan McGregor stopped by the shop awhile back, too, and Katy Perry sat on one of his builds not too long ago. “Like, why do these people know what’s happening in a tin shed in Newhall?” jokes Kott. “Oh, hang on, here comes the train,” he says. “It’s so loud, bro.” The walls of the shack rattle as we wait for the freighter to pass.
We walk along the wall of café racers and stop in front of 1974 Honda CB750 painted matte black with yellow and Wimbledon white accents. Kott bored out the newly finished build’s 750-cc inline-four engine out to 850 cc, fit it with a mild racing camshaft, and bumped up the jets in the carburetors. He slapped disc brakes on both sides of the aluminum-anodized, wire-spoke front wheel, added modern, high-performance Racetech suspension dampers up front, and made a custom, nickel-plated exhaust out of scrap pieces.
He asks if I want to ride it, and I throw my leg over the CB750’s ribbed black-leather seat and plop down behind its flat-sided fuel tank. I reach down, turn the key in the ignition, and bring the bike’s bored-out engine to life. It wails and the exhaust bangs as hot fumes squeeze through its tight pipes, and then all the sound settles into a tough, thumping idle. I lean forward to push the CB750 off its center stand, then reach my left foot back to the rearset and kick the transmission down into first gear.
Riding around Newhall, I fall in love with the CB750’s throttle, which takes a lot of effort to twist but is extremely precise in turn. Though, frankly, precision doesn’t matter much when I’m pinned and all four throttle bodies on the 850-cc inline-four are wide open. I’m flying along lonely streets and through sleepy subdivisions, leaning hard on the CB750’s low, café-style handlebars when I yank on the brake lever and the doubled-up front discs and calipers bite down. The performance suspension perfectly splits the difference between supple and sporty, and the motorcycle leans through turns like a sport bike from today, not the ‘70s. It’s sewn together tightly, and any wrinkles from the original have been ironed out. This CB750 doesn’t feel customized but instead retooled, reimagined, and completely redone from the frame out.
“You do something with your hands then stand back and say, ‘I’m not one to boast, but that’s good,’” says Kott after I get back from my ride. “It’s not a self-congratulatory thing, but you know you’ve expanded and exceeded your own expectations, and there’s an obvious refinement that not only you notice but others notice as well. Even though there were a million of these things made, this, truly and genuinely, is a unique, one-of-a-kind motorcycle. There’s none other like it. There’s no stone left unturned on this build.”
I ask Kott how long he thinks he’ll keep at this. “I was watching a documentary on The Rolling Stones—Shine a Light, that Scorsese one—and they have this interview with Mick Jagger. I swear he’s 20 years old, and they’re asking him, ‘So how many years of The Rolling Stones do you have left?’ And Mick goes, ‘Oh, we’ve been at it for two years.’ And they go, ‘Well how many years do you think you’ve got left?’ Mick’s like, ‘I think if we play our cards right, we’ve got another good year in us.’ And that band’s been around for a hundred years, dude. I sort of chuckled when I saw that because I’ve had that conversation with myself every single year. And there are times when I think that there’s no way I’m ever going to get another custom build. The phone gets quiet, the emails slow down, and I’m convinced the last bike I build is the last bike, even though I’ve been doing this for ten years and it’s self-sustaining and keeps growing.”
I can’t help but laugh; I thank Kott, and we hug it out before I crouch back under the half-open garage door. As I leave, I look back at the shop once more and still can’t believe those beautiful bikes come out of this blue, tin shithole next to the railroad tracks.