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Review: Oil in the Blood

A Documentary about people with passion

'Wayfarer' Ujjwal Dey

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This documentary is not for those seeking a narration of two-wheeled adventures the way Hollywood showcases it. There are no thrills or special effects. There is a lot of British content with the accent. I would rate it 4 out of 5 because it is mostly an informative series of interviews without the on-road ecstasy we seek in motorcycle movies.

A whole lot of diverse custom motorcycle builders talk about their passion for motorcycles. There are names you may recognize and others only core motorcycle enthusiasts would know. Quite a few motorcycle events and shows are covered with the perspective of organizer and participants.

The social media aspect of custom building is also covered. Builders can market their latest creation to the whole world within minutes of putting the finishing touch. In the past getting on a TV program or magazine cover was the only way to advertise yourself as an independent chopper builder. Now thousands of fans are reached / created within minutes and days. It is the biggest opportunity for small garages indulging in their hobby for the love of motorcycling. You may have spent a year or more building a bike and it gets judged in a matter of minutes - that can be a good thing or a bad thing.


The change in modern culture also gets mentioned. People don't know how to repair their bikes or any appliance in their home. We now replace the machine instead of fixing it. Hiring others to work on your bike may even be necessary as the technology has changed so much, an average motorcycle owner can't learn to fix various issues in his own garage. The complexity of modern motorcycles makes a significant impact on the desirable simplicity of custom bikes which feel more free and dependable. Freedom from computer chips to ride out with confidence on the motorcycle you just built.

This change in custom motorcycle culture also suggests that new builders prefer working on new bikes instead of customizing an old era motorcycle. Buyers want maintenance free bikes where they never have to get grease on their hands and the new technology promises them more efficiency and reliability.

Traditionalists would prefer the old simplicity but the market is shifting to include latest modern technology in new custom builds. Also the old models have lot more options for customization, whereas the new bikes have limited scope for customization.


The underground custom sub-culture is now mainstream and accessible. This point is also covered in this documentary. Getting more people and the youth involved is essential for survival of custom-building else it will simply get outlawed by legislation. Your new branded bike will refuse to do burnouts or wheelies for instance - technology to stop everything deemed dangerous.

We also see how racing is critical to custom culture. To race and test the performance of something you built showcases the beauty of your craftsmanship. It is the ultimate acknowledgment of your hard-work if it stands the trials of a race on dirt or salt or sand.

Another interesting aspect covered in this documentary is women in motorcycling. There are even female custom builders now and many women's riding groups / clubs. This network of ladies grows fast too, thanks to social media connecting the interested females.

This feature also covers the financial aspect for custom builders. Famous builders rake in big amounts while other builders struggle to even pay rent. For many small builders money may not be as important as the passionate desire to share their creativity with the audience. Learning is a crucial aspect too. You learn as you build and race and you learn there is always things you don't know - be it tech or marketing or balancing your finances. "Everyday you master a little bit more" as a Japanese builder says, "What you couldn't do yesterday, you can do today." Very Zen to build, learn, ride and make customers happy.

As you watch this feature you realize that passion for motorcycles is the key to everything. Whether you build or repair or visit biker events, it is the love for two-wheels which drives your heart and mind - the machine within you. Everything falls into place, every metal aligns itself, every builder finds his niche market. You build one bike and then go onto building another one from scratch. There is engineering and the art both blended into customization. It runs smooth but also looks cool. Style in steel with the personalized tech.

The competition provides the ideal environment for originality and invention. It is a competition of ideas as well as customers.

Customizing is not just for pretty looking motorcycles, as now builders will build a bike for a drag race at a popular event just as old timers used to build for Bonneville race.

Buyers want value for money, yet also they want a unique identity through their custom built motorcycle. There is a race for ideas and originality. Creative minds building one of a kind piece of art for sale. The only way to thrive as a custom builder is to completely fall in love with the concept called "motorcycles." To make what you believe is your exquisite vision for adventure. Endless hours of toiling everyday, day after day, while keeping sight of the finished product. You can't do it without a burning passion for motorcycling. The numbers, the business model, the economics of it all would discourage any level-headed person from starting a custom shop. Yet, we see new builders seduced by Instagram venturing into making a living from customization. You want to be a craftsman, an artist. But like all art, money and fame can be elusive or even just a mirage. You have to look ahead hoping for better climate while remembering the wrecks of others in your rear-view mirror.


In developed nations, no one needs a motorcycle and certainly not a custom motorcycle. These are deemed luxury products in developing nations where everyone commutes to work on a 100cc bike. Most buyers and commissions in America though are from blue collar workers or middleclass men. That's the core motorcycle owners since the 1950s. At events, even if you win there won't be a cash prize, certainly not enough to cover the expenses for building your prize winner. Very few builders get millionaires and Hollywood celebrities as regular customers. One builder says, "I don't have a minimum price." As you watch this documentary you understand why they marketed it as a feature on bike riders and not about bikes. It's the bikers that endure just as well as their endurance machines. Love of roaring down the highway believing in your own brand of beliefs.

This documentary also covers lot of popular bike events and shows. We understand why they are special and how they curate the various bikes on display. Events are an important part of custom culture. These are coming together of motorcycle enthusiasts where you can showcase your idea, your craft to a diverse demography. Some may be surprised to see that there are winter motorcycle events too.

Pleasing the customers is also not easy. Some customers want what they saw on Instagram or at a bike event. The builder of course, will refuse to copy someone else's design. There is a constant conflict when ego of the buyer rubs against the ego of the builder. Money therefore changes hands when there is a builder who can sell his idea, his concept to a customer who was influenced by something else. Form and function is also as important as aesthetics. They have to be rideable and also be an artistic expression. Custom builders decide on these aspects based on budget and demands of the customer. Besides, if a custom bike sits in a private collection, then no one sees the masterpiece on roads. The builder wants it seen and ridden.

All major motorcycle brands and especially Harley-Davidson offer many parts and accessories to customize your new purchase. But those are add-ons / accessories / swag - it's not customization the way a custom builder does it. It's a duel between custom community and the corporate as customers get duped into buying branded parts and accessories imagining their bike as a custom build when it isn't. It's not unique. There is no vision of it artistically. Triumph Bobber is an example of this absurdity.

Towards the end of this documentary there are some beautiful outdoors riding captured by the filmmakers. They also trail off with the dire trend of how internal combustion engines would be on extinction list as electric bikes get mainstream acceptance and popularity. I think then all major corporates would focus on electric bikes and maybe only the custom bike builder would have the tech for combustion engine petrol motorcycles. What is next? That's the question you are left with after watching Oil in the Blood.

All in all, this documentary delivers the complete snapshot of custom culture today with a wide range of views from those in the custom building industry. You get to see some fabulous bike builds while also getting the opinions of the builders who are making headlines at motorcycling events. The business is growing and may soon include electric custom builds because the push for modern technology is relentless. Old school survives besides the new young-guns. It would be interesting to see how markets evolve with corporates trying to cash in on the custom trend and custom craftsmen outdoing the imagination of the corporates.
Check out "Oil in the Blood" at 

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