Michael “Woolie” Woolaway bends over the frame of a BMW R100S that he’s transforming into a custom-built bike, studying his next move. A designer and builder for Deus Ex Machina in Venice Beach, California, Woolaway has the precision of an engineer and the passion of an artist. His hand-drawn designs hang on the walls, and machining and welding equipment surround him.
“I’m all about bringing the old style to new functionality,” says Woolaway, a former motorcycle racer who has been rebuilding bike engines since third grade, as he tinkers with the motorcycle. “I love mixing the old and the new.”
From drawing the designs to machining the parts, Woolaway works carefully on each project to make it unique.
“We make all this stuff by hand,” he says. “Each one is completely different.”
Deus Ex Machina’s custom, vintage-inspired bikes start at $30,000 and sell to buyers that include such stars as Orlando Bloom and Josh Hutcherson.
“It’s an individual thing,” says Woolaway of his bike designs. “I’m building one-off motorcycles for individuals based on their usage. When someone says they want a motorcycle, we sit down and talk. I usually have them send me images of things they love—motorcycles, places, fashion—so I can get an idea of what they’re looking for.”
Deus Ex Machina was started in Australia in 2006 by Dare Jennings, Carby Tuckwell and Rod Hunwick, who had a vision of combining surf and motorcycle cultures. Jennings had had a prior company, called Mambo, devoted to surfboards and surf fashion, and he wanted to start something that combined his love of surfing with his love of motorcycling.
“[Jennings] saw this culture and that no one was taking advantage of in the western world,” says Stefan Wigand, Deus Ex Machina’s brand and special projects manager. “They started importing bikes and custom building them.”
Carby had an eye for detail and design and began turning out a clothing line to complement the motorcycle and café business. A few years later, they opened shops in Bali and Venice Beach. All of the company’s shops sell surfboards, motorcycles, clothing, gear, and coffee, and they seek to become a part of various local alternative cultures which might not seem immediately linked.
“In the 1960s in Australia, the motorcycle and surf culture weren’t that far off from each other,” says Wigand. “They were both alternative and adventurous cultures.”
Ultimately, it’s a brand that’s as much about lifestyles as it is about the actual motorcycles and surfboards.
“We are a brand of many different lifestyles,” says Wigand. “It’s the lifestyle that we live and we all personally pursue. We’re all extremely active in these elements. We all surf and ride as much as we can.”
In the spirit of creating a sense of community around its products, the Venice Beach shop sponsors regular events for locals, featuring vintage bike shows, surf and skate swap meets, denim festivals and many other gatherings.
“We wanted to become part of the Venice community,” says Wigand. “It’s turned out to be an amazing culture, from surf to skate to motorcycle.”