James Crowe didn’t start out a motorcycle guy. After a childhood filled with romping around the British Columbia backcountry on skis and mountain bikes, he became fascinated with combustion-powered vehicles and landed an apprenticeship at Steve’s Auto Restorations, a legendary shop in Portland, Oregon, in 2006. “They taught me everything I know,” he says.
Crowe eventually grew frustrated with the high expense and glacial pace of fixing up classic cars that got only eight or nine miles per gallon. He set his eyes on vintage motorcycles, choosing a chopper for his first project.
It was a beautiful bike but entirely incapable on the remote dirt roads he longed to explore. He launched Crowe Metal Co., focusing on seventies and eighties BMW R-series touring bikes.
“They’re like the diesels of motorcycles,” says Crowe, who eventually moved back to his hometown of Whistler. “They’re heavier, but you can load ’em up the way you want. And the engines are smooth and reliable.”
His custom Camper Special has greater ground clearance for off-road exploration, a modified rear frame that carries as much gear as you can strap to it, and a beefier front fork and suspension. He has since broadened his line to feature even burlier bikes, like a modified Honda XR600r with an engine snorkel for stream crossings.
“Camping by motorcycle, you can go anywhere you want,” says Crowe, who has ridden from Whistler to southern Argentina.
Of course, you’re limited in what you can bring, but Crowe considers that another advantage. “It adds an interesting element,” he says.