I’m not sure what I was expecting when I headed to the second floor of the old post office on Cumberland Street looking for the Interstellar Motors shop. But I was definitely not expecting to pass ballet studios and a dozen moms shepherding pint-sized dancers in pink and black down the poorly lit hallways. An interesting juxtaposition of tutus and the subtle hint of 4-stroke.
“We moved into this space in October 2015,” says Rich Odlum, one-third of Interstellar’s fire power. “We spent a year and a half in a two-car garage. No heat. Single light bulbs. Then into a 450-square-foot space in a warehouse with no heat and no windows. It was up four stairs and had a man door, so we had to build a 20-foot-long ramp to ride the bikes up to get in.” He smiles. “This is a tremendous upgrade.”
The next step, adds partner Jody Wegman, is a building of their own.
“This was something we started on the side and it just keeps on growing,” Wegman says. “We had pretty much finished all of our personal bikes and decided to go in on a couple other bikes, build them together as a group and see if we could create a business out of this—or how we could at least keep building bikes and not have to pay for them ourselves, essentially,” he says, laughing.
At that point, Odlum adds, “a friend of a buddy of ours got in touch with us, bought one of my personal bikes, and basically had us do a whole top-to-bottom on it. That was our first commissioned build. And ever since then, every six months or so, someone comes in and asks for something.”
Odlum, an RIT grad originally from Westchester, works in industrial design. “Honestly, I’m more into the look and the feel of the old bikes. I enjoy the aesthetics, I like the feel. I like the fact that it captures a moment in time. I mean, each era is a little bit different. Like, my ’90 bikes are a little different than my ’70s or my ’60s bikes. They all have their own feel to them.”
A University of Rochester grad, Wegman is a research engineer who likes the creative aspect of bike work that he doesn’t get in his day job. “I’m on the side of history with the old bikes,” he says. “I like to see what performance I can grab out of them and still have them look real minimal and different and clean.”
With two very different sensibilities, I ask where they find their inspiration.
“I draw a lot from the lines of the original bike,” Wegman says, “seeing what can be improved by tying in with the soul of the bike and then giving it an update. You know, like if the designers had this technology and wanted it to be more performance-oriented, or if they had different materials and this technology, what would they be able to do and draw up today?”
To start their projects, the team asks clients to gather images that inspire them. “That could be bikes, but it could be whatever else,” Odlum says. “One we’re working on now, the guy sent me a bunch of old pictures of rally Porsches and stuff. So it wasn’t necessarily bikes that we were taking inspiration from.
“That little green bike” (he motions to a partial build behind me) “is kinda cool because the inspiration for that is—you know the old Paris subway stations? They’re done in a style called Art Nouveau by an architect and designer named Hector Guimard. That was kind of my thought process. There are a lot of organic shapes in the frame itself, and it kind of reminded me of that and I wanted to accentuate that—cutting off all the flanges and panels and stuff that were hiding those lines and exposing some of the asymmetry of the frame. I take it more to the aesthetic side, and he’s” (gesturing to Wegman) “more of the problem-solving, engineering side.”
Andy Wegman, Jody’s brother and the third partner in the business, is the paint guru. “We’ve all kind of specialized in part of the whole,” Odlum says.
And like the meat of the bikes themselves, the paint is a consultative process as well, whether the client is looking for a new twist on the original look or wants something custom and unique. Jody points to a pearl silver-blue bike behind him. “The paint on this bike, the color was chosen because the owner found a headlight for it and he liked the color in the headlight so much he decided to match it.”
The three manage to find a balance among the engineering, aesthetic, and history on each project. “Sometimes we clash,” Wegman says. “But in the end we bounce ideas off each other and make compromises, and things wind up coming out pretty neat and better than any one of us could do solo.”
Now, I’m not a motorcycle guy. As a matter of fact, they scare the hell out of me. But I’m not going to lie: I’ve long held this romantic—and completely irrational—notion of owning a 1970s Indian like the one parked in my aunt and uncle’s backyard when I was 8 or 9. I can totally see the draw.
“My favorite bikes are early ’80s four-cylinder GS Suzukis,” Wegman says. Odlum is into the early ’70s Hondas, “the little guys from like the 350s to the 750s.
“We have a bunch of Hondas come through. But we’ve also got a 1978 BMW r100-7 that we’re working on, which is cool, and an old Harley. We focus primarily on café racers, but we don’t stick to just one brand. Hondas are just what I started with,” he says.
Wegman shakes his head. “I don’t like working on Hondas.” They both laugh. “The way they do things is a little bit different. Like the way things go together is just ... all the four-cylinder engines from the ’70s and ’80s all look generally the same from the outside, but when you get into them the engineering is different.”
Surely their taste in motorcycle films is more similar? Odlum’s vote for the best bike film of all time: “On Any Sunday” (1972 Academy Award winner) or “The Greasy Hand Preachers” (2015). And Wegman?
The original “Tron.”
For all their differences in style or sensibility, one thing is for sure: Together they build some damn fine motorcycles.