Our craftspeople: unseen Savoir Faire! By Patrice Niset.23/12/2016

For some years now, I have been infatuated with beautiful and rare creations. That's because our regions are overflowing with unseen talent, which often has a worldwide reputation. They are there, discreetly set up in their workshops: our craftspeople creating artistic wonders which will dazzle connoisseurs. My aim is to document them all. This fundamentally photographic work gave rise to a website entirely devoted to exceptional handcrafted work.

My latest article presents Fred Krugger, an Ardennes native who is known and respected around the world within the world of exceptional motorbikes. His most recent creation, the Ladd, is a veritable work of art. As an ambassador who is new to Wallonia.be, I am delighted to share my discoveries with you, and there are plenty of them. Fred is an excellent ambassador for Wallonia, here is his picture.

Patrice Niset - December 2016.
 

If you mention Fred Krugger, you are talking about a genuine global superstar in his discipline. Entering Fred Krugger's workshop is a privilege, like that of reaching a summit, with time for an interview and a few photos.

Fred excels in the hermetic world of motorbike designers. He is one of a handful of artists in the world who are capable of creating a unique machine, entirely crafted by hand, and to the customer's specifications. The limits of what is possible only extends to the imagination of the designer and the depth of the customer's pockets.

I started this reportage one year ago. The motorbike in development was shrouded in mystery, it was what would become the Ladd! Commissioned by the famous Liege-based jewellers Sansen & Gangi, it is a motorbike which evokes all the superlatives, where a machine is raised to the level of Art. No less than one year is the time required before a few abstract pipes are sticking out of this mechanical jewel. It was difficult to imagine at the time: there were no plans, no sketches. A craftsman, an artist, a genius busy bending pipes, assembling them in his head before going to work with his welding tool on the marble of the workshop.

That's because since the age of five, Fred Krugger has walked a tight-rope through every kind of machine with two wheels. At the age of seven, he took part in his first competitive events with the encouragement of a mother and father who had passed on the mechanics genes to their son. At 18, with two Belgian championship titles to his name, the young Frédéric Bertrand, which is his real name, made his debut in the world of professional mechanics having gained various qualifications. Over the course of a dozen or so years, the young mechanic perfected his knowledge of motorsport. Anything was fair game, from engine preparation to the most delicate finetuning, but metalworking was Fred's preference: modifying the aesthetic aspect of any vehicles he got his hands on.

Along the way, the idea of becoming self-employed manifested itself in 2002. Having remained a biker at heart, the mechanic from the Ardennes dreamt of riding a Harley but the price was just too high. He didn't let that put him off, so he bought one in kit form, assembling it himself and adding a personal touch to make a difference. The Waterloo dealer who sold him the kit was so impressed that he asked him to assemble a bike kit from Zodiac. With each assembly, the mechanic added his own personal touch by modifying the bodywork or certain aspects of the machines entrusted to him. In 2005, having made up his mind, his professional activity now revolved around transforming and designing extraordinary motorbikes.

The Racer was the first creation 100% made by Fred Krugger. It came out in 2002. Its rapid sale enabled the young Spa-native to build his second machine, which also had immediate success. The third machine to come out of his workshop was bought by a certain Brad Pitt, no less! One thing led to another, and the activity switched entirely to 100% creative concepts for which customers gave carte blanche to the mastermind mechanic. Today, the order book is full for the next 4 years!

LMdO: What is the formula for creating an exclusive model?
Fred Krugger: A motorbike should be easy to understand, to interpret: the lines need to be fluid. I get a lot of inspiration from what has already been done, from legendary models. The finish needs to be superior to what you get in a factory. A huge amount of subtle details makes all the difference. The general lines of the machine take shape fairly quickly. Within a few weeks, the allure which the bike will have becomes apparent. What takes time, a lot of time, is the finish. That takes me between six and eight months, depending on the level of complexity.

LMdO: And that's all without a plan or a sketch? How is that possible?
FK: The birth of a motorbike starts with the contact I have with the customer, who gives me a broad outline to use. We decide on a bike with either a track, racing or chopper style, for example, or sometimes I mix it up. I work out the choice of wheels and the mechanics. Everything is made true to scale on my marble. When I start the process, I have a mental image of the machine and how it will look. 90% will be kept like that. The remaining 10% will be watered down due to technical or ergonomic constraints. I never take a step backwards. If I commit to a complicated procedure, it does happen that I regret a specific choice, but I always take the responsibility. I have never had to throw out a part, I always keep going until the end. The end result is obviously the day when the bike is started up and the wheels tackle the tarmac for the first time: then the work makes sense.

LMdO: What's striking about the workshop, if one is familiar with your motorbikes, is the simplicity of the equipment and tooling.
FK: That's only because of the financial aspect. I didn't have the resources to invest in high-tech equipment. That's what forced me to reflect and find innovative technical solutions which were easy to implement. I transformed this weakness into a strength and I'm proud of that. I'm not really into high-powered digital machines. The pipe bending is done by hand, as are the cut-outs. We polish a lot using traditional methods. The metal of choice is still steel. I don't really use carbon or composite materials.

LMdO: Who are your customers?
FK : Wealthy individuals with a passion for mechanics. But that is changing. My most recent orders have come from people with a passion for art. They consider my machines to be works of art. For me they're still motorbikes. But contact still needs to be the most important motivation for anyone. If there is no chemistry, even if there is an unlimited budget, I won't build a bike which is just the whim of a potential customer. I am lucky in that respect, I can choose my customers.

LMdO: Customers who can be very prestigious brands? Can you tell us about your partnership with BMW?
FK: BMW wanted to enhance their new six cylinder engine. They sent me a complete motorbike, and I kept the engine and the electronics. After several months of work, the Nurbs left my workshop. 3000 working hours were necessary to re-examine all this leading-edge technology. The electronics on this motorbike are so complex that I had to integrate 7 connector boxes into the chassis to control all the elements which are linked to it. I wanted to turn this bike into a fluid machine, reminiscent of the early days of industrial aerodynamics, despite the size of its engine.

LMdO: And what about the future? What are your projects?
FK: I will finally set up in premises which are suitable for my activities and my projects. No more small barn in Basse-Bodeux, I'm going to acquire brand new ultra-modern and ergonomic workshops so I can build cars. They will need to be on the same aesthetic and technical level as my motorbikes. I should be able to deliver the first one in 2019. It's already in my head, I just need to build it.

 Read this article again at: www.lesmiroirsdelombre.com to discover Fred's workshop.

Patrice Niset 2016.

The Ladd? Kesako? 

Fred Krugger  may be known all over the world, but being anchored locally is important for him. A few kilometres from Francorchamps, 2016 was the year of a crazy project. In collaboration with the famous Liege-based jewellers Sansen & Gangi, Fred crafted the "Ladd", which was named after a former dragster circuit in Alaska.

The Ladd is an unbelievable object, THE motorbike which evokes all the superlatives. A kind of cross between a dragster and a "Gasser" (the racing cars of the 1960s whose back ends shoot down towards floor), this motorbike owes its originality to a crazy idea: cutting the machine in two along its length.

The Liege-based jewellers, incidentally the commissioners of the motorbike, incorporated all of their savoir faire to enhance Fred Krugger's design: significant use of pure silver to highlight the machine's lines, inserts in pink gold, ignition key worked as a piece of jewellery, and the emblems of the brand. 
 

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Technical data:
Engine: S&S 103CI
Transmission: 6-speed gearbox
Carburettor S&S
Ignition: Superstock
Brakes: Beringer "Inboard" front and rear
Clutch: Hydraulic with Beringer master cylinder
Saddle: Wildhog (Italy)
Three fuel tanks (front left, rear right and left - capacity 11 litres)
Oil tank: Front right (3 litres)
Lithium Battery

Vignette: 
Fred Krugger : Thierry Dricot Photography