Individuality is in fashion nowadays, and the demand for it is great. We want to have, not only thoughts that are distinct from others’ (independence of thinking is, theoretically, the most available way to show own individuality), but also with unique items. If, in addition to this desire to be distinct from others, you also like speed and beauty, you should visit Yuri Shif’s workshop, which is located near Minsk.
When I mention this name around, the majority of men roll their eyes at first, and then offer me a lift, clinging onto any opportunity to go to the workshop and, with half an eye to look at the place where the Master works.
Women, however, do not roll their eyes. Most don’t know who I am talking about, and ask me ‘And who is it?’ It seems to me that motorcycles are not for women, except for when they sit behind the driver, snuggled close to him. But after I saw the greenish-golden beauty, topped with a crown and aptly named, ‘Little Queenie’, I understood that motorcycles are beautiful, individual and unique — they seem beyond sex, time and space. However, it is possible to argue about time and space. For example, Yuri Shif has a motorcycle called ‘Time Machine’, in dedication to the well-known rock group whose songs were listened by his generation. Here is both time, and space and an ultramarine bird of happiness. Apparently, it was difficult to find the necessary shade of colour, even with the help of well-known Belarusian artist and designer, Vladimir Tsesler. And what views and vast distances this ‘Time Machine’ can achieve! As the song says, ‘it’s not so easy to get there by foot, but quite possible to drive up.’
The first question I have is a natural one. Is it true that women also order motorcycles? He smiles in reply, either it is ironic, or mysterious, it is difficult to know at first. “Everyone orders, women included. But more often, men order for the women.” Last year ‘Little Queenie’ took third place the Russian Championship of Custom Bike Building against representatives of all post-Soviet countries. Readers of this article should learn these words — custom building; it means the personalisation of an object, making it totally unique. The absolute winner of that championship was another child from Yuri Shif’s workshop, a motorcycle called ‘Shifter’ based on an Italian ‘Ducati GT’. In 2012, in Germany he won two regional championships, and in the World Championship 2013 (winners of the regional championships receive entrance to the World Championships) in Germany’s Essen, ‘Shifter’ took second place in the ‘street motorcycles’ category.
Championship wins are quite habitual for the master from Belarus. If his vehicles do not win, they easily receive nominations in practically all the competitions in which they participate. In 2010, his either futuristic, or retro vehicle (it is difficult for me to call it a ‘motorcycle’). ‘The Machine’ became the world champion in the category of motorcycles with non-American engines, and collected two German championship titles along the way to South Dakota. In 2010, Yuri Shif also won in the Championship of Italy, with another motorcycle. So, maybe, you know nothing about bike customising, but the world of bike customising has heard much about Belarus.
And have you ever been asked what country Belarus is?
In America, I’m asked very often. In Germany and Italy people do not ask. Europeans, as a rule, know. While Americans, do not know. Here, for example, South Dakota, do you know, where South Dakota is? I try to imagine the map of the USA, and have to admit that I do not know where South Dakota is situated. It is the ‘Wild West’. 800 thousand motorcyclists went there. Can you imagine 800 thousand people in one place? Unlike South Dakota on a map, I can easily imagine it, because I saw Tiananmen Square in Beijing where there is room for one million people. And among these 800 thousand motorcyclists there are many different creations. Here they ask: ‘Where are you from? Belarus? Where is that?’ I say: ‘In Eastern Europe.’ They ask me: ‘And where is Europe?’ I answer: ‘In Australia’. They answer: ‘Ah, in Australia!’ Everyone knows where Australia is. Believe me; I did not make this up. It is not a joke, it has really happened.
I willingly believe this, at least because I have had to answer similar questions about the location of Belarus more than once. At the same time, I am happy that motorcyclists of South Dakota already know where it is.
Yuri Shif asserts that when he was going to that championship, he was confident of his Viktory. Vladimir Tsesler (he and Yuri are old friends) confirms it, “Shif asked me to make a T-shirt that he would wear on stage to receive the prize.” And Shif, wearing this T-shirt, did win, (or more accurately, two prizes, one champion prize in the ‘non-American engines’ category, and the bronze in the overall standings). It was black T-shirt with a rose and a three letter word. Try to guess which letters. Here’s a clue: it is not his name. Provocative? Certainly! But in America, among the coarse motorcyclists who cannot read in Russian, it was almost safe.
Did you really know that you would win? I cannot believe this.
Certainly. (Shif in general, likes to speak in short phrases, making an interview a bit of a problem).
Do you always know that you are the best?
I am not the best, I simply know that I need it.
But others don’t need it?
I need it more.
Simply because someone always needs something more than others.
Does it mean that you are a maximalist?
I address myself to his wife, Nastya, who sits beside him.
Nastya is it difficult being with him?
No, not really. [Judging by the brevity of the answer, Nastya has already mastered and learnt a similar manner of talking].
But here Yuri interrupts our conversation.
“It is not just difficult with me, it is very difficult. Certainly, I torture people. However, is it easy for you now to speak with me?”
No, not easy, even though I was prepared for something like that. Very often when people create such beautiful things, they do not like to speak much about these things, nor about themselves. It means something like ‘I speak with my work’. Yuri Shif speaks with audible irony, and you do not always understand when he is serious and when he is joking. I try a more offensive approach.
But sometimes you must have customers with difficult characters, like yours. How do you communicate with them?
I tell them that I am a star, while I ask who they are.
Now I cannot understand whether he jokes or is serious.
Do you really say this to them?
No, not really. After all, I have a commercial enterprise, and I need to pay people’s salaries. Therefore I usually say, ‘I am so happy that you have come to us, and we, of course, will make everything for you’. It is true, I sincerely believe it.
It is necessary to appreciate a client; any owner of a commercial enterprise will tell you this. It is an axiom. It goes without saying that it is necessary to fulfil the whims of a client if he pays for them. But in the case of Shif, it doesn’t always work. Sometimes, instead of the ordered black motorcycle he gives a client a white motorcycle, sometimes instead of a car with two thousand skulls, he gives his customer a pirate kitsch (as he calls it himself) ‘Abordage’. The most paradoxical thing in these two scandalous (from a marketing point of view) stories is that clients are grateful and happy.
Shif explains to me about the black motorcycle story.
“I sincerely tried to make it as he asked. But it was impossible. At that time in 2008, there was a crisis. It was difficult to find a job at that time. I’ll try to explain — it is like with an artist, when he goes, for example, to the sea to paint. He knows that today he will sit near the sea but what will it be like; quiet or rough? He has no way of knowing. It is the same here. I understand that in the end there will be a motorcycle but what motorcycle? I do not know at the beginning.”
But why are the owners happy? Because, in their own way, their motorcycles are the best. In 2011, ‘Abordage’ won the championship in Lithuania, while the white motorcycle ‘DUster’ won the championship in Italy one year earlier.
Nastya, his wife and muse, says that, when Yuri starts to make a motorcycle, he tries to imagine ‘if this person was a motorcycle, what would he look like?’ That’s why there is a guitar instead of a seat in the ‘Time Machine’, and the beautiful ‘Gustav Skippone’ for the soloist of the group UmaTurman, Vladimir Krestovsky (he thought up the name himself, and only he himself knows what it means). Moreover, he always wants to create something really new, as was the case with ‘Abordage’.
“I had to think up something. The customer came and said, ‘I want a motorcycle and there should be one thousand, two thousand, three thousand skulls on it’. It is all that he managed to think up. But there are already so many motorcycles with skulls. We will not do the same. Let us think up something new.”
And do they trust you?
Yes. Each customer gives us their total trust.
According to Yuri Shif, ‘from 10 to 15 people’ work at the workshop, with some elements made on the side (Yuri uses the fashionable word ‘outsourcing’); these include leather articles and artistic details.
Is it true that all people stand the exactingness of your character?
“No, of course not,” he replies, sounding quite self-critical. “But there are people who have been working with me for 20 years, and together, we make all these bikes. Simply put, they trust me. It is not about money, it is about trust, which cannot be bought. What weighs with me the most are the people who surround me, my relatives and friends. Some people call it a family. But I would say, it is not only family, it concerns other people because I am responsible for them.”
However he was unable to tell how many vehicles a year they make in the workshop: ‘It is difficult to name an exact number’. Manufacturing of each motorcycle is a long process, usually 6-9 months, but sometimes as much as a year, so the customer should trust the master, and also be patient. There have been cases when a customer’s circumstances changed. Times when they have refused to accept their motorcycles. Not because people did not like the end result, but because their situation had changed,
“Sometimes it has happened that a person has said yes, everything is good, but I do not need it now. Not that the motorcycle was needless, but driving and everything connected to it. Maybe their residence or philosophy of life had changed and had become ‘I do not want, and I will not ride a motorcycle’.”
You must admit that it would be strange, if the Motovelo Plant did not utilise his unique talent. He created for them an exhibition model ‘The Fastest M1nsk’, winning the ‘Born in the USSR’ category of the 2012 Russian Championship, and second place in the ‘Metric Motorcycle’ group in the same competition. However, another model went into production.
So you established co-operation?
“Certainly, we established co-operation, because there are children,” says Yuri Shif in usual manner — half in joke and half-seriously. “If there are children, it means, there was love. We do something and at the same time we think what we will do further. For example, we made a motorcycle for the Minsk Plant which is produced in lots. We not only developed it, but also were engaged in launching it into manufacture. One model is being produced.”
The following question, about Belarusian brands, arises quite naturally. What is necessary to be done so that we can be proud of them and the country which produces them? Yuri Shif is justifiably proud of Belarusian motorcycles that bear his name. It is necessary, even for the master who, during our conversation, more than once dwelled on what he called ‘a patriotic component’, and he has a real recipe how to make our life and the country better, based on personal experience.
“I lived abroad. I did not like it, but I have a clear-eyed understanding that America, Germany, and all European countries became such because their residents made them such as they are today. They did not become as they are without effort. So, if we want to live in a good country, it means, we should make it good. I do this every day. If I do my work well, and if I can, even slightly, change the space around myself, or I make at least one person better, it is already quite good. In fact this is what I do. The motorcycle is just a tool. I did the same when I was engaged in carting; taught people to be winners. I will do the same tomorrow, if for example, I decide to make films. What difference does it make what you do? It is necessary just to do it well, because if we want to make the country better, we should all do it, at our own work. A cleaner should be the best at mopping floors, a journalist should be the best journalist, a minister should be a good minister, and so on, at each level. It is very simple. Sometimes I gather my guys and I say ‘Just imagine, what would happen if everyone in the country did their own work with the results we achieve?’ Can you imagine what country we would live in? It’s simple, it would be the best country in the world!”
By Inessa Pleskachevskaya
‘Outsourcing’ for Yuri Shif
<img class="imgr" alt="Yuri Shif admits that one of the most difficult tasks during creation of ‘Time Machine’ was to put a guitar into the motorcycle. But he managed to do it!" src="http://www.belarus-magazine.by/belen/data/upimages/2009/0001-009-473.jpg">[b]Individuality is in fashion nowadays, and the demand for it is great. We want to have, not only thoughts that are distinct from others’ (independence of thinking is, theoretically, the most available way to show own individuality), but also with unique items. If, in addition to this desire to be distinct from others, you also like speed and beauty, you should visit Yuri Shif’s workshop, which is located near Minsk. [/b]