Five years ago, Shaun Brandt bought an old Norton motorcycle. The machine was nothing special. It was old, rusted and run down but, to Brandt, co-owner and creative director of Versett, a branding and design company in Edmonton, the bike’s classic design spoke to an idea he’d been fantasizing about for years – his own cafe and motorcycle shop in homage to the 1960s cafe-racer culture.
Today, he and three other motorcycle and design enthusiasts are bringing that dream to fruition with Federal Moto, a local bike-building upstart that has garnered some international attention and high-profile clients.
Federal Moto’s cruise to notoriety began in the summer of 2013, when Brandt and some friends took to the Alberta highways on a camping trip. On the road, bike enthusiast Randy Venhuis motored up beside them on a classic cafe racer. He gave an acknowledging wave to Brandt and cruised on, but when Brandt and his buds stopped at the next gas station, Venhuis was there.
“He turned out to be this 18-year-old kid who built his bike himself,” says Brandt. “And I was like, ‘Man, that’s cool. I have an idea for his company, and I kind of want to try my hand at designing a bike. Would you build it?'”
The two exchanged information and, a week later, began planning what would become Federal Moto’s first bike – the chopped and redesigned version of Brandt’s old Norton.
“We didn’t think the launch would be that big. It was more so that we were really just willing to put in six months of time and, if it didn’t work, we would go back to our jobs,” says Brandt.
By the time the launch party hit, they’d created a brand, a company, a website, a partnership and merchandise to accompany their new venture. That very morning, the build-up revved to fever pitch when their newly remade Norton, now coined The Ace, was featured on Bike EXIF, a world-renowned motorcycle blog out of New Zealand.
With the launch a success, the quartet set to work on Federal’s second bike – one that, when completed in May 2014, was also featured on Bike EXIF. “To get our first bike on there was a huge deal in the motorcycle scene,” says Brandt. “They’re very picky. And we’re the only team to have our first two bikes on the site.”
Federal Moto now fields two requests a day from all over the world to build custom motorcycles, and they have to be selective with their projects – bikes can take nearly six months to complete. “We’re booked up all the way until 2016,” says Brandt. “And we only have this one guy building the bikes.” With nine bikes on the way, and the first recently sold to Hollywood producer Wicks Walker of Spring Breakers fame, the momentum is building. And with the bike soon to be featured in a photo shoot with Kick-Ass star Chlo Grace Moretz, Federal’s profile will only increase.
The plans for Federal Moto, however, are staying close to Brandt’s original vision. Strategies for expansion are based solely around the original dream of the cafe-racer coffee house – one that will be opening in central downtown sometime this year.
“It’s the mentality of Edmonton. Edmontonians just want to get shit done. And we want to create a culture of like-minded motorcycle enthusiasts. There isn’t a place like that in the city where you can go, buy parts, have a coffee, watch a guy build a bike and feel comfortable doing that. And that’s what we are passionate about.”