Video by Outsider Media | Words by Andrew Campo
Upon first sight, I stopped and stood back a few feet. I was nervous to get too close, and admittedly was overwhelmed in its presence. It was an instinctive reaction that could be compared to an encounter with something rare and exquisite in stature. As if I were in a museum eyeing down an eminent piece of art. I needed the space in an effort to begin taking it in; there was a lot to pore over. As my eyes wandered, and I soaked in the color system, the chassis and the bodywork, I hastily fell in love.
Standing before me was a Walt Siegl Motorcycles Leggero that belongs to a close friend of mine. After spending a few minutes in a trancelike state, I began to ponder putting together this story. I wanted to learn more about this enigma of a man and the intellect behind the remarkable design and execution unique to his brand. I wanted to share my findings with our readers and dress our pages with images of machines worthy of revisiting time and time again. Walt is a craftsman and an engineer, and his bikes are a tangible expression of both passion and artistry.
At age 19, Walt left art school in his native Austria to join a road racing team. He later worked in France as a shunter in a train yard and as a toolmaker and welder throughout Germany, Austria and Italy. A job with an Austrian steel company took him to Moscow, where he eventually joined the Austrian Foreign Service.
In 1985 he transferred to New York City for a position promoting contemporary Austrian art and culture for the Austrian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Walt spent his free time building motorcycles for himself and friends out of a basement across the river in Long Island City.
In 2007 he moved his workshop and his family to an old mill town in southern New Hampshire to build motorcycles full time—and the rest is history in the making.
Success can often be attributed to the people with whom you choose to surround yourself. We turned to one of Walt’s close friends, Paulo Rosas, to help pull together insight from Walt’s cadre, peers, family and esteemed clients, all in an effort to take an outside look into the life of one of the most respected and intriguing people in motorcycling.
Laura Carden - Walt’s Wife
My husband, Walt, is a true artist and craftsman of motorcycles. His vision, and then the precision of his implementation of that vision, knocks me out every time.
I love the sketching phase of a new model design. To see what has arrived in his brain, like magic, fully formed. I like it also because he’s home for that part. He’s at the kitchen table, with our son’s colored pencils spread around him.
If I could use only one word to describe Walt’s work, I think it would be “pure.”
Walt takes profile pictures of projects at every stage and then pores over the images at home. He says looking in two dimensions is the only way for him to get the lines right.
Typical conversation over morning coffee:
Me: “What are you thinking about?”
Walt: “Boxed swingarms.”
At the workshop, Walt will call me from my bookkeeping desk to stand with him at a certain spot, to look at a motorcycle, to get my opinion on the line made by an exhaust pipe held a half inch up or down, for example, or for my opinion of an overall profile. Or at completion, he will ask if there is absolutely anything at all that my eye is tripping on. I love that he really wants to know. These days it’s rare I find anything. Final completion is always breathtaking.
I love working with Walt and Aran and Brian at the shop—being around these guys who love what they are doing, who have lived and breathed motorcycles their entire lives. I think it’s a dream for all of us!
Chris Hunter - Founder, Bike EXIF
If there’s a phrase that springs to my mind whenever I think of Walt, it’s “class act.” He’s a gentleman with an unerring sense of taste and style: an elegant Paul Newman, rather than a loutish Steve McQueen.
It shows in his work. There are maybe five builders in the world who consistently hit the mark with every new creation, and Walt is one of them. Generally, when a builder gets in touch with us to say, “I’ve finished a new bike,” we’ll say, “Send us the details and we’ll take a look.” But when Walt drops us a line, we say “Yes” automatically. You just know it’s going to be well designed, beautifully finished, and carefully photographed.
I suspect Walt’s success comes from the rich experiences he’s had in life. He’s lived in France, Italy and the Soviet Union. His family has a history of artistry. He’s raced bikes. He’s what you might call a well-rounded man.
Last year, I judged the best custom show in Australia: the Machine Show in Braidwood. There were some stunning bikes on display, from vintage British cafe racers to old-school choppers. I noticed a group of people milling around a bike parked just outside the showgrounds, away from the official show area. After squeezing my way through, I realized that it was a WSM Leggero. It was exquisite—as good as any of the machines in the official display.
I’ve seen a lot of custom builds in my time, but since that moment, I’ve wanted a Leggero in my garage more than any other machine.
Nicholas Harrison - Customer and friend
In 2012 I realized that I wanted a more personalized motorcycle experience. I started researching builders and saving images of builds that appealed to me. After two years, I noticed a common recurrence. Many of my saves were Walt Siegl-built bikes.
Walt and I connected in 2014, and our first conversation lasted more than half an hour. We had actually briefly met at a track day in Canada two years earlier and had more in common than I expected. We agreed to move forward with a Leggero build, and my wife and I flew to NH to discuss the details.
Walt met us at The General Store before taking us on a tour of the shop. We immediately felt comfortable and were happy with our choice of builder. What we didn’t know then was how special our friendship with Walt and Laura would become.
Our Leggero build took a detour as we met the first WSM MV Agusta Bol d’Or at the inaugural dinner hosted at the shop in 2015. I agreed to buy one. This made it the first WSM bike I would take delivery of. Simplicity, form and balance at its best. This truly was a work of art.
The experience of the build was flawless. Having the opportunity to design the livery with Walt that paid homage to Agostini was a dream come true. What I didn’t anticipate was the riding experience being as visceral as it was. This bike made every other motorcycle in my garage expendable.
My donor bike for the Leggero build had already been delivered to the shop the same weekend as the inaugural dinner. On one of my visits to finalize details for the Bol d’Or, Walt mentioned that he was developing an idea for a new build that would be different from his Leggero builds. I decided to wait, and the Superbike that was just unveiled at the Classic Car Club in Manhattan turned out to be breathtakingly beautiful.
The way Walt sees shapes and is able to put them together, keeping them simple yet beautiful and functional, is magical. There are too many special features on this build to list. I am very excited to ride this bike in anger at the track.
Just recently, I was lucky enough to also add a Leggero to my collection. This bike is truly a combination of all of the best bikes I own and then some. The weight and handling are incredible. The sound, the clutch, the transmission—all perfection. Wow, just wow!!! I cherish every moment I have riding these incredible, functional pieces of art.
Walt’s desire to always stay true to the process and still please his clients adds tremendously to the overall experience. His patience and gentle demeanor bring added class, and these experiences are indelibly etched into my memory.
Paulo Rosas - Pagnol
I met Walt and his right-hand man Aran Johnson at the Austin GP in 2015; they were both super easygoing, and we just hit it off. It was such a pleasure to meet one of my design-inspired heroes, but it was also great to see that Walt was equally nice to fans throughout the weekend. He proved to be a genuine and very approachable person who carried a sense of mystic unique to his character.
At the end of the weekend, I asked him if he would like to be a part of the Pagnol creative riders features, and he said that it would be his honor. A friendship was built, and in time Walt introduced me to one of his best friends and customer Nicholas Harrison, and a circle of friends had come to life.
I was always eager to do livery design work in “the new customs scene,” and better yet, with a WSM bike! The opportunity finally came when Walt asked me to do this for one of his MV Agusta Bol d’Or series bikes built for competition at the Barber Vintage festival.
His persona is that of an elegant and tasteful guy, but this might come across as somewhat “serious”—but he has a great sense of humor and often is very funny.
WSM’s latest series is the stunning SBK bike, for which Nicholas ordered the very first one, and my pleasure of working a livery for a WSM bike was repeated when collaborating with Nicholas—with Walt’s eye alongside on the process for his blessing.
Bruce Meyers - Meyers Perfomance
Part of why I do this is to keep my mind focused on continued learning and to keep exploring new things. I feel very lucky in having worked with some very talented people and advanced companies over the years. Walt is right up there with the best of them!
Back in the ’90s, Walt became a customer of my shop. The good old Ducati 916 brought us together. We became close friends over the years. When he set up shop here in New Hampshire, Susie and I got involved with his new venture. We really want Laura and Walt to be successful.
WSM engines have evolved quite a bit over the years. He has a good eye for colors. The new coatings are very nice, but until a few heat cycles, they are easy to damage, so the process is a delicate one.
I don’t think the guys who bought the early bikes likely understand what a great buy they got.
The new Superbike has made the specs higher again. Now there are some advanced, very high-end builds going on. Especially with the first air-cooled bike.
It’s going to get fun!
Aran Johnson - WSM Lead Technician
When I first started working with Walt in the spring of 2014, he almost seemed nervous and cautious of my ability to produce the final product he was looking for. He had a way he had done things for a long time that had worked to that point. It was an interesting beginning, but it didn’t take long for us to get into a groove and work seamlessly with each other.
Over the last four years, our relationship has become very symbiotic; on a daily basis we will bounce ideas off each other, and try to always innovate and improve the bikes with things other builders aren’t doing. Walt has a great imagination when it comes to designing bikes, and I try to always take his ideas and make them a reality, or at least come to some kind of compromise. My background is much more technical when it comes to motorcycles; I love advanced mechanical and electronic features and have been able to incorporate a lot of these types of things into our bikes.
I consider Walt a friend first and a boss second; we have a relationship that allows us to speak freely about design and functionality, sometimes disagreeing, but always respecting each other. We are not a reality show; we actually like one another and are both focused on the same goals. Anytime I find a new way to improve performance or the process, Walt is on board. He is very enthusiastic about trying something different; even if it doesn’t work out, we’ll give it a try.
One of the things that sets us apart from some other builders is the fact that Walt genuinely cares about the clients and their input. We always strive to go above and beyond with the vibe they are looking for. That being said, we don’t build things just for a “theme”; it has to function. We talk a lot about how things function at the highest level and inherently look good. Sometimes simpler is better. Clean-looking bikes with the highest level of detail are our priority.
Jamie Waters - REV‘IT!
Walt’s Leggero series bikes are modern-day Fabergé eggs: Each one shares major common design elements, but the results are still somehow wholly unique and special.
It was obvious from the first few I laid eyes on that he’d essentially perfected the frame/tank/seat/fairing aesthetic, while also allowing enough personalization potential to still achieve machines of differing character. Walt’s experience as a fabricator and racer, in combination with his sculptor’s hand, yields bike of incomparable overall capability and beauty.
Working with Walt on my bikes was an absolute pleasure. The final product distilled my core wants into a cohesive package, while keeping me from pushing for design elements that would have ultimately hurt the overall design.
Every time I look at one of Walt’s bikes, I am reminded of the old adage “price is what you pay, value is what you get” ... and then I smile.