You use a glass mirror to see your face; you use works of art to see your soul.
Initially, glass may not seem like a material that would lend itself to motorcycle modification.
Yes, you’ll see it used for practical applications -- the peek through windows to check your oil and brake fluid levels, speedo and tach faces, old-school lights. And on custom bikes there are glass fuel filters and even transparent clutch covers, revealing the inner workings of an engine in motion.
Brooklyn-based artist and motorcycle enthusiast Robert Burch decided to take the medium one step beyond, choosing to create a functional art piece which showcased both the transparent and reflective qualities of glass. Fuel in motion, so to speak.
“I bought a CB750 from a huckster in Far Rockaway that stopped working the moment I got it back to Crown Heights,” says Burch, 31, whose life initially was consumed by rock climbing, skateboard, surf and snowboard culture.
Robert Burch working on the glass tank; and a brake light setup using an antique lantern — submitted
There’s still not an overwhelming overlap between motorcycle culture and the types of fine art galleries I deal with. I do wish I knew more people who rode that line between the two.
“I was in design school and wanted to (do a) full refab (of) that whole bike, including making a glass gas tank for my thesis. What really happened was I spent so much time chasing down charging problems in the bike that some of the art projects fell by the wayside. I did pull off the tank and some stylish modifications (though).”
The process from initial design to creation and the eventual installation of the glass tank within an ornate metal enclosure was full of challenges, Burch says, adding the piece has yet to be displayed in a show.
“I’ve always loved the coffin gas tank look, and glass is my wheelhouse. When I had access to a CNC (machine), I made a mold for the glass to inflate into, and then made several more to cut designs from to keep the gas tank safe on the road. There’s foam holding the gas tank from bouncing against the metal.
“I suppose (the tank) could fit on (any) style of bike, but scale is a challenge in the hot shop. They’re all like an inch thick and for a 14” tank it’s a lot more glass than people think … it’s heavy to sling around.”
Robert Burch working on the glass tank — submitted
I’ve always loved the coffin gas tank look, and glass is my wheelhouse. When I had access to a CNC (machine), I made a mold for the glass to inflate into, and then made several more to cut designs from to keep the gas tank safe on the road.
Burch’s final step will be to fabricate mounts to hold the tank onto the bike it eventually finds a permanent home on.
“That’s basically where they are at this point. My friend has a 350cc Rat bike which I plan to mock it up on. I really ought to push it more, but I can just hear the forum bros talking about how bad of an idea it is to have a glass gas tank and I lose steam thinking of having to explain that it’s a lot less sketchy than people would initially suspect. I think it would look really nice, with LEDs below the glass as well.”
Burch has himself described the tank as “not for the faint of heart,” adding his major concern is the danger of fuel igniting if a rider lays the bike down and shatters the piece.
“I get concerned since we live in such a litigious society and this project, if sold repeatedly, seems like a bug light for trouble. If the destination was a more ornate machine, I think everything would be fine.”
Fittings for the tank, to connect the fuel line and incorporate a metal fuel cap, were also well thought out.
“It’s just a welded petcock valve with a cutoff switch to a standard gas hose into the bike. I drilled a hole in the tank and epoxied the metal and fitting into the glass.”
Born in Chicago, IL, Burch spent much of his childhood in Tokyo, Japan before returning to the States with stints in Carbondale, CO, Seattle, WA and Asheville, NC.
His journey as an artist is equally diverse, encompassing glass, metalwork, photography, graphic design and filmmaking.
Skateboard sissy bars, motorcycles and photography — submitted
My style is rooted in analog practices which speak to a more selective, critical audience. I am an ambassador from gritty niches to a broader population through genuine video and graphic design.
"It probably all started with photography. I did a little glassblowing in high school, and I wasn’t sure it was for me. But once I started Photoshopping for a commercial photographer the excitement of a glass shop pulled me back in … and that’s where I’ve spent the last 15 years or so. Even when I’m mostly working in hot shops, I’ve never stopped shooting photos, making little films or photo books. I went to school at 28 for design to fill that digital gap I had in my brain.”
Burch’s experience with motorcycles started in 2011.
“When I was 20 in Seattle, I got a bike I’ve never seen since called a Baja. It was like a GZ 250 but from a brand I’d never heard of and was totally sketch. I had a (Yamaha) 650 V Star I rode from Seattle to Mexico and back. Then a (Honda) CB750 from the ‘80s for a while. Now I have a 950 (Yamaha) Bolt in Brooklyn and a BMW K75 that I chopped into a cafe that stays in Colorado. As soon as I learned how to weld, I started making unique parts for bikes and that’s still going.”
Motorcycles and art collided in those early Pacific Northwest days.
“I had a group of skateboard homies I would ride with in Seattle, and I started making sissy bars for them that would hold their skateboards. I made glass bird skulls for people to put on their handlebars and other little accent pieces. At one point I programmed an Arduino (circuit board) to react to a tilt sensor in the bike and had LEDs under the bike change accordingly, but that was probably the pinnacle of my knowledge on that front.
“There’s still not an overwhelming overlap between motorcycle culture and the types of fine art galleries I deal with. I do wish I knew more people who rode that line between the two. I generally get a blank look and a toothy smile when I start riffing about motorbikes to a gallerist. I do like to ratchet strap sculptures to my sissy bar when I deliver in the city though.”
Looking to the future, Burch has been planning more of a conceptual art project where he will bury glass bottles that he makes when he’s on a cross country ride.
“That will be a short film one day, or an idea I talk about for an extended period of time. I (also) put a brake light in a lantern which was cool. I think I’m just content when the machines are running. Without a garage, having a 40-year-old bike was a bummer since I was always taking it up and down the passenger elevator to work on it in my living room.”
These days Burch is definitely open to accepting commissions and welcomes the idea of tackling new ways to accent bikes with glass and metal mods.
“Just slide into those DMs or hit me with an email (RobertBurchLLC@gmail.com). I’m super into hearing people’s ideas and seeing if we can make something creative work. If I do have a specialty, it probably is combining glass with metal and stone. I would love to push the boundaries more with motorcycles.”