A Visit with British Motorcycle Specialists Atelier Chatokhine
Photography by David Marvier for Petrolicious
Frank Chatokhine is a mechanic who has been running the classic British bike workshop, Atelier Chatokhine, in France for the past ten years. Our photographer David Marvier documented Frank’s shop and we caught up with him to learn a little bit more about his background, inspiration, and business. Click here to visit the website, and you can follow them on Instagram @atelierchatokhine.
Q: What can you tell us about you and your shop?
A: I learned some mechanics in school when I was younger, but most of what I know I learned from my father who was already working on British bikes in a family business we started in 1972 before I was born! I started to work with him when I was 14 years old. He was quite a tough teacher, but I learned everything he knew from his very long experience. He started working for the French Norton importer in the early sixties.
Q: How did your love for motorcycles begin?
A: This love comes from my mother and father who are incredible motorcycle enthusiasts. I grow up in the family sidecar with my sister. When we were kids we didn’t go on holidays on the seaside or in the mountains. My parents were so committed to motorcycles that we spent almost all our spare time on motorcycle rallies, racetracks or races.
My father is still deeply passionate by MotoGP and Superbike world championship races. Besides this he continues to work with me every morning but enjoy riding almost 200/300 kilometers a day in the countryside with his trail bike … and as soon as he can he loves to ride his Velocette racer on the racetrack !
Q: What aspect of your job do you love the most?
A: I love finding solutions to mechanical issues whatever the work is. You always have to be a bit creative when it comes to fix, repair, restore or build a bike. Then my biggest satisfaction is to see the smile of my customer when he’s coming back after a ride.
Q: You work on many different types of bikes, from trial and custom, to preparing and fixing classic English motorbikes. What do you enjoy doing the most?
A: I enjoy all kind of classic British bikes from trial, flat track to road race… I love to ride on all of these different types of bikes. I really believe this is crucial to build them properly because you have to understand the specific use to get the right features and the good overall balance. Otherwise it can just look maybe good but it won’t work as it should.
Q: What is the biggest challenge in fixing a classic English motorbike?
A: Using the right parts. They are no real issue to get parts for almost all british classics but sometimes they’re not working properly. That’s why I use the workshop to test everything before I offer them through my web shop.
Q: Do you work on any other classic motorcycles beside the English ones?
A: Regarding classic motorcycles I’m working only on british bikes. They are so many brands and so many models that it’s difficult to get bored !
Only exception is when I’m working on my personnal Ducati but it’s a modern racer!
Q: Who are your costumers?
A: My customers are coming from all over Europe even if the main stream is French. We are quite well known in France as we’re established for a while now but also because we are participating to many motorcycle events every year. We are there to support and help our customers to use their bike but also to have fun on track. Besides this my customers are both 30 years newcomers and 50/60 years old enthusiasts.
Newcomers are discovering the british classic bikes mainly through the associated lifestyle. Older guys are now more and more asking for electric starter conversion on their Velocette for instance so they can easily continue to enjoy the ride without the fear of being injured by the kick starter …
The demand for our workshop is quite high and that’s why we can focus on interesting works on interesting bikes or engine rebuilts for Matchless G50, Norton Manx or Velocette Thruxton and Vincent.
Q: Of all the bikes you’ve worked on, which are you most proud of?
A: I’m proud of all the bikes which came out my workshop : from the normal street legal and original model to the craziest racer!
Q: What is the motorcycle cultures scene in France like?
A: The motorcycle culture scene is quite heterogeneous and my perspectives are really limited to what I dig: classics and race bikes.
The good thing is that I can clearly see a deep trend of interest towards the classic bikes through the lifestyle aspects. These new customers have maybe less motorcycling background and came for other reasons. Whatever they were brave enough to pass their riding license to discover the world of motorcycling maybe first with a modern retro bike. Then they want to test and live the true thing: the british classic bike !
Q: Are you a motorcycle racer yourself?
A: Yes. I started with trial and I’m still riding with a Velocette from the thirties in classic competition. I was also riding vintage motocross with my Triumph Rickman but now my back hurts and I will modify it to enter the DTRA (Dirt Track Racing Association) championship in UK next year.
I enjoy as well riding my 1938 Triumph Speed Twin on a racetrack than my Ducati 748R racer.
Q: Do you have a favorite motorcycle?
A: Not really, but I love the special race bikes built by crazy tuners from the thirties to the fifties. In that period creativity was huge because there were no “rules” and they had to achieve their ideas with limited technical means. These racing pionneers managed to create fast bikes with far less tools than we have today. But they have invented plenty of technical solutions we are still using. That’s for instance following this spirit that I built my own ’38 Speed Twin.
Q: What project are you working on at the moment?
A: I’m working on a replica of the ultimate café racer ever built for a customer: the Seeley Condor. It was created by Colin Seeley in the seventies and only seven pieces were built. It is the ultimate café racer because it’s almost a true race engine with a race proven frame equipped with a lighting system and a registration plate.
I met Colin Seeley in Paris some weeks ago to know more about some details of the construction. The challenge from now is to make it evaluated and approved by the creator himself when it will be finished.