Fran Manen has been considered one of the best motorcycle customizers worldwide. At Cafe Racer World we have had the pleasure of being able to interview him to discover the secrets that hides behind his brand Lord Drake Kustoms.
Have you always been in love with the world of motorcycles?
It is true that since I was a child I was attracted by an aesthetic related a long time to the world of motorcycle. At that time, in the city where I grew up in southern Spain, it was very difficult to access specialized magazines. It was on television, especially in music videos, that I was fascinated by those groups of Rock and Heavy Metal that appeared very often accompanied by their Harley-Davidsons and Choppers.
It wasn’t until I had 14 years old that I could get my first motorcycle, a Vespino. Already then, I dedicated myself to painting it with flames and covers of the discs of my favorite groups. So, I guess so, it is a hobby that comes from afar.
You are considered one of the best motorcycle customizers in the world. How do you get to that point?
One of my favorite slogans has always been “Great things have small beginnings”. I think that in life you can get what you propose with work, perseverance and humility.
I have not always worked for the motorcycle world. I have been through many jobs and companies to get here. There was a time when, because I am also a great lover of nature, I began to climb mountains professionally. That finally led me to make expeditions all over the world, visiting and climbing to the tops of the Himalayas, Nepal, Tibet, India, Pakistan, Bhutan, Morocco, Switzerland, France, Austria, etc.
This learning in the climbing opened the doors to me to found my first company, specialized in vertical and height works.
And how do you go from a company like that to the world of motorcycle customization?
Well, the vertical work company worked very well, but it also absorbed me completely from my fondness for mountaineering.
But in reality, the change came by several knocks that my life gave me by the year 2000. First a traffic accident that almost ended with me, next a fall in height that had me in bed more than a month.
From all of this I miraculously recovered, I even organized a last expedition to Nepal. But that year, bad luck played me a bad pass again. Returning from that trip, before boarding the plane that would take me from Pakistan to Paris, I was confused with an Albanian terrorist and imprisoned for 15 days in that country.
That terrible experience made me think a lot and I concluded that it was time to stop climbing and devote myself to my other great hobby: painting and modifying motorcycles.
But that decision involves a great learning from nothing…
Indeed. In Spain, at that time, documentaries on Discovery Channel like American Chopper or Overhaulin begin to be broadcast. Those TV shows opened my eyes. So I didn’t think about it and decided to travel frequently to the US to get to know all that culture firsthand.
I spent long seasons there, visiting all the motorcycle events I could and meeting great personalities from the custom world. But the most important thing is that I was able to establish professional relationships with manufacturers of the motorcycle industry as with the most famous builders.
And that was when you created Lord Drake Kustoms?
Well almost. I returned to Spain and acquired my first Harley, which I quickly got into my garage and began to modify in my spare time. I remember one of the first things I did was hang a banner outside with the name of Lord Drake Kustoms.
That motorcycle, which took me almost a year to customize, won prizes in all the national competitions where I presented it. The turning point was when it was runner-up in Europe in the Big Twin category at the Harley European Rally in 2017. At that moment it made me realize that this hobby could become a job.
What made you emigrate to the US?
I set up a workshop with a friend in Spain to which I spent my free time in the afternoon. But I soon realized that there was not in my country, at least at that time, an interest in the world of customization. Because, most of the jobs we received were repairs, but few transformations.
I kept traveling regularly to the United States and finally a business opportunity arose in Miami. I didn’t think twice and sold my vertical work company and almost everything I had to move.
After many bureaucratic problems I managed to create and be a co-owner of a motorcycle rental and moto tours organization company in Miami: American Rider.
At the same time I continued with my love for customization until I decided in 2012 that it was time to establish Lord Drake Kustoms in Miami.
And how it works?
Well, I think it has been a success since then. The workshop is located in the center of Miami (Coconut Groove) and many stars and artists from the world of film and television have passed through it. Little by little, the name of Lord Drake Kustoms became known in the high spheres of Miami and we had clients such as Tom Kaulitz (from Tokio Hotel), Alejandro Sanz or Maroon 5 among others.
But that is not important, the best thing was that we did not stop winning championships, including Daytona Bike Week, a benchmark in the world of customization. There we were champions in the Cafe Racer category. We also got two awards at the Rat’s Bike Show which helped us get to know each other worldwide.
Suddenly you decide to open another branch to Spain, what is the reason?
As I say, winning those events made us known also outside the US. Suddenly we begin to receive many orders from Europe. That is why at one point I decided to open a new branch in Spain to better meet the demand of the European continent.
It was a risky bet because I did not know for sure the acceptance that this type of product was going to have in the old continent, despite the increase in orders. But I soon realized that, as in the US, we began to win an escalation of awards.
In 2014 being runners-up in Europe and in 2015 first and second in Europe. In 2016 we were declared as one of the 10 best customizers in the world in Scrambler style by a Japanese specialized magazine. Also in 2016 we were the 5th in the world in the category of “Modified Harley” in the AMD World Championship, which in 2018 also obtained the 6th and 2nd position. In 2017 double European champion in the HOG Rally Bike Show, of which this 2019 we have again become champion and runners-up …
In this last show held in Portugal, I was lucky to meet Karen Davidson (daughter of the owner of Harley-Davidson) who was amazed at the bike I presented considering it as a work of art on wheels!
Definitely, Europe also has a great interest in the world of custom motorcycle.
Your awards showcase is enviable, but 2019 has also been a very special year for you and your company.
Yes, it really has been a year full of unforgettable moments and many surprises.
First, it was an honor when Discovery Channel invited me to the Charity Gala that Antonio Banderas organizes within the Miami Fashion Week. There we auctioned two of my motorcycles for two good causes, raising funds for the Foundation of the Nicklaus Children’s Hospital and the “Tears and Favors” foundation.
I also had the pleasure of meeting, in addition to Antonio Banderas, great personalities such as Emilio Estefan, Juanes, Nicole Kimpel or Ágatha Ruiz de la Prada.
With the latter I had the great luck of having a interesting conversation that led us to collaborate together on a project that I think has broken many schemes in the world of motorcycle customization.
This proyect was the Harley “Agathizada” a motorcycle that has given much to talk about, and it was presented in Marbella at another charity gala, this time against cancer.
Finally, what plans does Lord Drake Kustoms have for the future?
We have a TV project for a few years that we hope will come to light soon, but it is still too soon to give details.
But ultimately we will continue, as i said at the beginning, working with perseverance and humility.
Thank you very much Fran, from Cafe Racer World we wish you good luck in future projects.
Thanks to you, it has been a pleasure.