South Jakarta. The unassuming garage in Pondok Pinang reveals little of the surprises behind its walls. All too often overlooked by motorists on the Jakarta Outer Ring Road or the city roads running parallel to it, the place looks like one of the countless workshops in the capital where one can patch up a motorcycle or car tire and change a vehicle’s oil.
Suddenly, the stillness of the enervating, hot afternoon air was shattered, as dozens of Harley-Davidson motorcycles revved up their engines. The sounds of the 100-horsepower engines grumbling, then roaring to life initially startled passersby whose curiosities were piqued by the source of the commotion. They soon found themselves drawn to the appeal of the motorbikes’ sheer power and vintage, timeless aesthetics.
The making of a veritable chop shop
The cruisers are among the hundreds of motorcycles modified by Mudinnest, a chop shop specializing in modifying or chopping the Harley-Davidsons that make up most of its clientele, as well as other motorbikes, since 2003.
“The focus on Harley-Davidsons comes naturally for me. As far as I’m concerned, chopping Harleys is not a job, it’s a way to keep a legend alive,” said Mudin, who geared the workshop toward its work on Harleys. “The workshop is also a culmination of three generations of work. My grandfather and father started the garage to work on cars after one of our neighbors decided to transfer his knowledge of cars to them, since his own children didn’t have quite the same penchant for engines.”
Growing up in a world of spare car parts, engine oil and the constant din of machinery carrying out repairs, Mudin was geared to continue the family business, as reflected through his education in vocational schools. However, his deft touch with motorcycles proved to be a turning point in his life.
“A family friend noticed that I had a knack for working with motorbikes in 1999, so he and the then Indonesian ambassador to Washington, D.C, Dorodjatun Kuntjoro Jakti, arranged for me to further my studies in this field in the United States. I did so by taking courses in wiring, machines and electricity in California, as well as training in a Harley-Davidson dealership in Colorado.
“I spent about four years learning all I could and gaining as much experience as possible before coming back to Jakarta.
“Once I came back, I acquired an old Harley which I managed to restore, frame, engine and all. Apparently word got around to Harley-Davidson buffs as they came to me to repair or modify their motorcycles, until I gained a following of more than 500 clients today.”
Mudin noted that his customers are as aware of the Harley-Davidson motorcycles as he is.
“Many of my clients start off by acquiring old Harleys, which they would give to me to overhaul and give the spare parts at my discretion. Most of them [motorcycles] were geared toward joining one of the many Harley-Davidson communities in Jakarta, as their owners knew that a more vintage, distinctive look would make their rides stand out.”
His approach was as methodical as their needs were imaginative.
“I started off by acquiring the spare parts on eBay, or finding them in salvage yards or the wrecks of old Harleys. The cost of each piece varies according to their source, shipping and handling, as well as the fluctuating rate of the rupiah against the dollar,” Mudin says. “Over the years, however, I managed to build up dependable sources. I would e-mail my needs to them each month and they would provide the parts in bulk, so as to save costs in shipping and handling for me and the clients alike.”
Knowing the ins and outs of Harley-Davidsons
Mudin’s extensive experience with Harley-Davidsons enabled him to understand the motorcycles inside and out.
“The oldest Harley motorcycle I’ve ever worked on was a WL motorcycle that dates back to 1945. I had to buy most of its parts on eBay, as they were very hard to find in Jakarta and the rest of Indonesia,” he said. “But the motorcycle, as well as the second oldest model [I’ve worked on] that was made in 1994, wasn’t strikingly different because Harley-Davidson motorcycles, from their inception to 1996, have used a carburetor system for their fuel. From 1996 onward, especially those made between 2001 and 2013 that make up the bulk of the motorbikes I work on, work on a fuel injection system that represented a major leap for the brand.”
He added that Mudinnest also services motorbikes at rates of Rp 700,000 to Rp 1 million ($62 to $88), to be done every three months, much like a car.
Mudin explains that the fuel injection made significant changes for many Harleys, a fact covered by their facade of tradition.
“As with many vehicles today, the engines of fuel-injected Harleys, as well as some late-model carburetor fuel systems, like the EVO or Evolution systems, can be checked with a digital technique method. The diagnostics of the later models can even be checked with smartphones, which is very useful when on tour to places like Sumatra or Bali,” said Mudin, who also pointed out that the former was a sought-after destination due to good-quality roads with a myriad number of curves.
Mudin says he hopes the latest advances will draw the Harleys and their riders closer together.
“One reason for the larger number of Harley-Davidson authorized dealers than service centers is that the motorcycles are designed to be repaired by the riders themselves. The ultimate Harley rider is one who has the self-sufficiency to fix his bike himself while going on a solo tour,” he says. “The bikes can also tackle any conditions thrown at them, including the large number of bad roads in Jakarta.
“The bikes are also powerful enough to get themselves out of holes, an ability not shared by Japanese bikes, if the drivers are skilled enough to do so.”
Adding a personalized touch
Mudin is quick to point out that Harley-Davidson motorcycles are made distinctive by their accessories.
“Harley-Davidson owners often spend more on the bike’s accessories than they do on spare parts. It is not uncommon to see the riders spend over Rp 100 million on them,” he says. “The accessories also give the motors their distinctive character, as no two motorbikes are similar, even if they are the same model. It’s not too much to say that the ego or personality of the rider is reflected by the accessories on their bikes.”
It didn’t take long to see what he was getting at. On one bike, a chrome skull on its engine asserted the owner’s presence. On another bike, a pair of exceptionally large saddlebags indicated its rider’s anxiety to hit the road.
The riders’ personalities seem to be mirrored in their Harleys, and vice versa. Brought together by a wish to flaunt their bikes and go on yet another touring adventure, the motorcyclists’ attachment to their vehicles reminds one of reality programs like “Born to Ride” and “American Chopper.”
However, their lighthearted banter was a far cry from the angst and father-son tensions between Paul Teutul Senior and Junior that marks the latter show. They also readily acknowledged Mudin’s ability and how it brought them together.
“Mudin heeds to our wishes as owners of the motorcycles, as he is aware of how the bikes reflect our personalities. In comparison, other shops treat us like customers and don’t allow us our say on the assumption that they know best,” said Donny, who runs an air freight company. “The other workshops misuse their prerogative to carry out unnecessary repairs and overcharge us. Mudin, on the other hand, has a balanced approach that does wonders for the machine and rider alike.”
One of Mudin’s first clients, entrepreneur Aji Effendy agreed.
“Mudin sells a wide range of spare parts and accessories at reasonable prices. He’s also very efficient because of his understanding of touring needs, particularly with pre-tour and post-tour inspections,” said Aji, owner of a modified 2007 Harley-Davidson Softail, who’s been touring with Mudin since 1996.
Mudin hopes that he can move to a bigger workshop in the South Jakarta district of Rempoa to accommodate more Harley-Davidsons and their unique owners. He hasn’t finalized the plans to move shop yet, but wherever he goes, Harley-Davidson buffs won’t be far behind.
Originally published in The Jakarta Globe on April 3, 2014