Cafe Racer world through Mr. Martini's lens

Read time: 7 min
Published: 10 March 2019

Interview with Nicola Martini, the Italian King of Customized Motorcycles

We enter "Special Mr. Martini", the HQ of Mr. Martini aka Nicola Martini, the Italian king of customized motorbikes. It's in fair Verona, the Italian city of Romeo & Juliet. You might see it as a microcosm apart, a temple of Cafe Racer bikes and bike customization, where you can actually enjoy a meal while observing a stunning Triumph cafe racer signed by Mr. Martini. The place mixes the fascinating vibes of the typical American Gas Station with the Italian style in food and design. Mr. Martini created a relaxed place for bikers, experts and wannabe alike, in an inclusive environment. It is a place of creativity, energy, good taste and.. a little bit of crazy. Nicola Martini's nom de plum is Mr. Martini. He knows the fine art of making a bike stand out for its eccentricity and beauty starting from the production bike. But as he explains motorcycles were not his first love. When he was young he dreamt to open a restaurant one day. He studied at school for that while he helped his father in the petrol station. This activity got him closer to his other great passion: that for mechanics.

He discovered his talent for mechanics by chance together with his love for Harley Davidson and café racer bikes. When he grew up in 1989 he became a Royal Enfield dealer, a brand which was pretty unknown in Italy at the time. The road to success was long but he managed to make his signature recognizable developing customization kits for official brands like Triumph, Kawasaki and Ducati. Currently the whole Martini Family is engaged in the "Special" business. The father Mario helps in the workshop, while the son Matteo deals with the restaurant and the capsule collection of branded clothing. Three generations of people which seem to speak a common language. It is what Mr. Martini calls the "street language" from which he takes to get the latest trends. Today, Special Mr. Martini is a gathering space where Nicola is the true catalyst for riders, but also for companies and people sharing the same attitude to life, like Pakelo, just to name one. 

When you see all these beautiful Cafe Racers you just want to take a ride and leave, even if you don't have the license. What's the most beautiful customized motorcycle that you created?

It's tough to choose one. Many of them were never sold. I'm keeping them for myself because I'm jealous and it's hard to part from them. For sure the most beautiful is always the one that I'm doing at the moment because it reflects my current feelings.. that's a sort of common rule.

In bike customization you have to balance creativity and functionality. How do you combine these colliding aspects?

I think we all have a rational and an irrational part. Like legs you need both of them to keep going. If functionality overcomes creativity the outcome would be boring, if creativity overcomes.. well, you'll probably get seriously hurt. You start from consistency, then you evolve in style, elegance, beauty. Beauty.. indeed never lacks.

How can you be a creative person and a good artisan at the same time?

With stubborness.. and the willingness to go further. On the road you may find many obstacles and if you don't believe in yourself you are meant to fail. You need time and patience to start. Never backing down. Finding your own style is not so straightforward, because the market may not be ready for what you have in mind.

Have you ever defied market trends?

Since economical crisis of 2008 a lot has changed in the motorcycle market. Brands used to ignore the customization needs of their clients. But now they know better. Since I consider myself a "street man" I could translate for them the aesthetic needs of the final customers. On the street you get the true feeling of what is trending at the moment. I was lucky to be considered good enough by a few brands that believed in me and in my capability to create something glamourous.

You are a trend setter but turned out to be a perfect catalyst for companies sharing your same values. What can you tell us about your "Special Mr. Martini" activity?

Creating a place of gathering where food was involved was one of my hidden dreams. This is the most important step of my entrepreneurial career since I consider myself more an artisan than an entrepreneur. Thanks to "Special" I managed to create a good synergy with companies sharing my same values. We created a network around it, connecting with people which were on the same vibes.

As Pakelo we produce engine oils and other fluids that are very close to your kind of business. We consider you a sort of PakeloHero. Why do you think we clicked from the beginning?

We clicked because we share the same values of determination and innovation spirit and we share the same background, Verona. You really got me since you managed to believe in my project from scratch when it was just a piece of paper. With that little bit of craziness that helped you seeing beyond.

A proposito di valori, quali sono i tuoi valori più grandi?

I valori di base della persona…sono l’onestà, il fare sacrifici, la capacità di rischiare, la perseveranza. Altri sono valori di stile: mi ritengo una persona di buongusto… Ho una mia visione dell’oggetto, della moto, trasformare fa parte della mia indole. Se una cosa non mi piace, cerco di cambiarla. Se so che potrebbe diventare più bella di quella che è…Lo voglio fare. Sono un grande sognatore, ma anche un lavoratore concreto, anche questo è un valore importante.

Buongusto fa rima con bellezza…qual è la tua idea di bellezza nelle cafe racer?

La bellezza è sempre molto soggettiva. La vera bellezza la vedi nel tempo. Se tu dopo vent’anni guardi una moto che hai realizzato, e non cambieresti ancora nulla, vuol dire che hai centrato l’obiettivo. Lavorare sul dettaglio rischia di non farti essere coerente nello stile, invece è importante concepire l’oggetto in una visione di insieme. Cerco di esprimere forme nuove, con stili non dico azzardati, perchè è importante che le mie moto funzionino, ma sicuramente che portino in quel mondo del “mai visto”.

Talking about values. Tell us yours.

Ethical values are honesty, the capacity of taking risks, the endurance. Then there are other kind of values to me, aesthetic ones. I have my own vision of objects, motorcycles and transforming is an inborn activity in me. If I don't like something, I have to change it. If I perceive a potential hidden beauty I have to bring it out. I'm tore in two: I'm a dreamer and I'm a stakhanovite, a consistent handworker. I think this is an additional value.

What's you idea of beauty in Cafe Racers?

Beauty is very subjective, but true beauty survives time. If you look back to something you created 20 years ago and you still like it, and you don't have the urgency to change anything, then you nailed it. When you work on a Cafe Racer the focus on the detail might let you loose the whole vision. I express myself conveying new forms, new styles (which are by the way functional and safe). I want to bring people in the dominion of the unexpected, of the "never to be seen". 

Your workshop seems a surgeon clinic. The concentration you and Claudio, your mythical assistant, put on assembling a thermic group, or in oling the distribution chain has something special in it. Which are the parts you change more frequently?

It depends on the project, we never replicate ourselves when we do special motorcycles. Many inspirations could rise from a white paper, but we have thresholds. Homologation rules must be respected. The hard thing is to change something's body without changing the soul. Everybody could potentially cut, enlarge or make extreme makeovers but doing everything within the legal range is the real point here. We like our motorcycles riding on the street, not exposed in a garage like museum pieces. Take the example of a Kawasaki. It was difficult to change something within the homologation limits. Kawasaki has a strong color identity. I decided to work on the bodywork and on the painting respecting basic homologation limits with the suspensions and wheels. This is the key of customization for me. Rocking something without altering functionality. 

Mr. Martini, what's a lesson you wish to leave to the reader?

Think with your own head. Don't be afraid of doing it. And keep on playing, like when you were a child. Manual competence is a game for adults. We're on earth to never stop playing.

Subscribe to our Pakelo Magazine newsletter

Stay up to date with the latest trends and news from the Pakelo world
Sector *

Log in to your profile

Log in to your profile to access your reserved area