By Sean Mooney: Custom motorcycle megastar Maxwell Hazan appears to be living the dream, receiving worldwide acclaim for handcrafting beautiful machines in his Californian workshop.
But as any true artist will tell you, the pursuit of perfection often comes with a steep personal cost. Something that Long Island-born Hazan knows only too well.
“I work for long periods of time alone, and failure is a common thing,” the 37-year-old explains. “I went through a long rough period back in New York City, struggling mentally and with substances.”
It was only when Hazan sought professional care for a friend who had tried to take her own life that he realised he also needed help. “I ended up speaking with someone and getting it myself,” Hazan says. “I would not be where I am now if that hadn’t happened and had I stayed in the mindset that getting help was a weakness.”
A recent experience has crystallised this understanding for Hazan. He featured in an episode of Anthony Bourdain’s Raw Craft series shortly before the celebrity chef took his own life. This confirmed to Hazan that no one is exempt from depression. “The guy had the world by the tail, was in the most successful part of his life, and everyone loved him,” he says. “It is something that can affect anyone.”
While some people believe that artists often produce their best work under the influence of drugs or depression, Hazan disagrees. Strongly. “Bullshit! My work is way better now that I am happy and healthy,” he says.
Taking care of his physical health is “essential to being able to maintain a clear head”, Hazan insists. “I’m not into fitness for the sake of being fit,” he adds. “I just find that exercise is the easiest way to maintain peace of mind.”
Riding for peace
And then there is the therapeutic power of motorcycles. Hazan currently owns 10 machines, a collection he goes to when he needs to clear his head.
“The appeal of riding for me is it shuts off all of the other brain noises when you’re going fast,” he says. “I like to surf, but you have time for your mind to race and think about whatever is going on in your life. Going fast on a bike gives me mental peace from all the other BS. You literally forget to think about the other stuff.”
Hazan, whose favourite all-time bikes are the 1973 Ducati Darmah 900SD and Honda RC51 SP2, first rode a motorcycle in his backyard at the age of four. Incredibly, his motorcycling memories stretch back even further than that. “I remember at two or three years of age seeing my babysitter’s brother race around on a motocross bike,” he says. “I can’t remember anything else from that age, but I remember that like it was yesterday.”
Building bikes, cars, boats and planes was what a young Hazan did for kicks. “Challenging myself to make things I have never seen has been my favourite thing to do since I can remember,” he says. “I would daydream in school and work all night on whatever I was working on at the time, usually figuring it out on the way.”
As Hazan explains it, motorcycles “just happened to be my favourite end result of anything I have built”, and it’s the process rather than the product that really excites him. “The challenge is what is rewarding,” he says. “The end result of a bike is a bonus.”
Building custom motorcycles for paying customers started as a hobby, with Hazan working out of his father’s suburban wood shop while holding down a full-time job at an interior design and contracting company in downtown Manhattan. In time, he rented a small shop space in Brooklyn and, with the support of his family, started Hazan Motorworks. In 2012, he moved to Los Angeles where he now lives and works.
His creative output over these years has been incredible, and might appear to the casual observer as an effortless flow of brilliant ideas. However, Hazan says it is far from easy to force creativity. “But I have to,” he says. “I have deadlines and have to earn a living, but I still approach the process the same as the first time: Put the engine on a bench, let it tell you what kind of bike to build around it and let your imagination go as far as it can… then figure out how to make that.”
His fame has spread around the globe via the power of social media, but Hazan is a self-confessed “old school face to face person”. “I love to weird people out these days and actually voice call them,” he laughs. “The digital age of no interaction really rubs me the wrong way, but I have met and connected with so many people around the world through social media that it has become a part of my life and job. I think it is great but I hope that human interaction, handshakes and even the occasional brawl aren’t completely phased out.”
The same applies to helping one’s fellow humans when the opportunity arises, through initiatives such as Full Tank Moto. “If there is one trend that people should follow is giving back,” he says. “Motorcyclists have always been good at that.”
Photo courtesy of Shaik Ridzwan