The Spanish owner of Foundry MC discusses his departure from Nikon, which lead to the beginning of his second, and much more enjoyable, career as a custom bike builder.
It All Begins In The Foundry
Tucked away within a terracotta colored residential neighborhood on the north side of Parla (30 km south of Madrid), Carlos Ormazabal is hard at work crafting his next couple of masterpieces. In Foundry MC, his 900 square feet studio, Ormazabal – whose foggy beard gives him the look of a medieval blacksmith – currently has three bikes on the go.
In Foundry’s main area, in various stages of completion, there’s a replica Street Tracker being put together for a customer in Paris, a small Kymco Zing gradually transforming into an Old Style Bobber, and the bare bones of a custom BMW K100.
As he looks at his shop, and those projects slowly reaching his desired and final designs, the 55-year-old is easily reminded that all this began after two little words, spoken to his former employer of 19 years. “No thanks.”
From Digital Photography To Analog Iron
For his life’s first act Ormazabal, while sporting a much shorter and peppery beard, worked as a telecommunications engineer for Nikon out of their Spanish headquarters in Barcelona. He was a big wheel at the company, responsible for integrating digital photography products across the country and abroad.
Though, despite being successful, well-paid, and highly important to the corporation, Ormazabal was unfulfilled. Towards the latter end of his Nikon tenure, hoping to reinvigorate himself with a change of scene, he moved to a small branch office in Madrid. He’d also met a woman from that city.
In Madrid Ormazabal found his 9-5 more bearable and his blossoming relationship certainly helped this. However, his life was still missing something.
Inspired By Hollywood
Then, in 2011, the near-life long motorcycle rider happened to catch a glimpse of a Hollywood megastar in a moment that would strike him with inspiration (and obsession) and bring into focus what he needed in his life to become truly happy.
“There was a TV show about Spanish people living in other countries,” explained Ormazabal to Motorcycle Fanboy. “And they were in Los Angeles. Suddenly [on the show] Brad Pitt stopped at a red light on a bike. The reporters were paying attention to him, but I was on his bike.”
The bike was a Cafe Sportster by Shinya Kimura of Zero Engineering. One of two the actor has purchased from the award-winning Japanese builder. “That was my first contact with custom bikes in my life,” said Ormazabal. The engineer was immediately hooked on the idea of customs, but he couldn’t afford one – so he decided to make one himself.
Ormazabal bought a brand new donor bike, a Regal Raptor, and, while juggling his day job, set about converting it into his own unique ride. “I spent every free hour thinking and trying to build things in the bike.” Often Ormzabal would work past midnight, out in the open (he would work on the bike behind his car in a community parking lot).
He was in love with the process of bike building from the get-go, even if he was lacking some of the core skills needed for such a venture. “Mechanics are not a problem for me. I’m an engineer,” he said. “But to build something you have to have the skills to ‘cut and paste.’ Welding is that skill.”
Unable to weld, Ormazabal took on the laborious, and expensive, task of taking his project to, and from, a professional welder in order to maintain the crawling progress that his day job commitments would allow.
Eventually it all came together. And as it did another video made a lasting effect on the budding building.
A God From The Machine
Deus Ex Machina – Story of a Lifestyle is a short documentary by Seth C. Brown that focuses on custom bike builder Jack Churchill. The 14-minute film, shot in Camden, Maine, is an ode to design, following one’s passion, and what it means to create functional art.
“That video changed everything,” said Ormazabal, who added that every word uttered in the documentary resonated with him (and continues to do so today). The video, on first viewing, also pushed him further towards a realization that this is what he wanted to do with his life.
“The fact was; I realized I was feeling the same way he’s explaining in the video when working on bikes. Bikes are the way to be creative, to be on the flow, to feel alive.”
Then, while he was already contemplating a ‘deep turn’ his life, his boss asked him to do something that forced him to lean into that turn perhaps earlier than he expected. The boss, who had grown tired of one of his top engineers being so far away from HQ, ordered his employee back to Barcelona. That’s when Ormazabal said, “No thanks.”
Now unemployed, Ormazabal bet on himself and opened his custom bike studio – after immediately enrolling in a TIG welding course. In 2015 Foundry MC pushed out its first creation, a Suzuki GSXR 750 Street Fighter. A few more bikes followed over the next two years and Ormazabal’s warm, uncomplicated, and authentic style started to get noticed.
Pipeburn To The Rescue
In 2017 two of his customs were featured on Pipeburn. Ormazabal cites that attention for his ‘breakout’ in the industry. After those glowing profiles, orders started to come in and his pipe-dream from five years ago became a viable and sustainable reality.
“I’m grateful and amazed,” he said. “Surprised is not the word, I was not looking for [such positive] feedback. I was looking for a significant life with my loved ones. Looking for a life where I was waking up eager to do something I love. Bikes were the natural choice.”
Ormazabal said that through his designs he is trying to create, “the most visual danger with minimal action.” For him, this feeds into what he calls a ‘simple philosophy’ that was borne mostly out of necessity.
“Why did I start to build bikes?” he asked. “Because I didn’t have enough money to buy them.”
“There are lots of guys that want to have a personal bike, but don’t have a bunch of money to spend,” he continued. “So I build bikes for around $6,000 to $8,000 including the donor bike or $4,000 to $6,000 if the client has a bike. So with such a small budget you have to minimize the cost.”
“So if you want to earn money you have to be simple, yet original. Keep the bike as original as possible, but give it an original look. That’s the challenge.”
Not Interested In Show Bikes
Another challenge for Ormazabal is what he calls the ‘strict rules’ in Spain which need following in order to keep his customs street legal. “We can’t run lateral license plates here like in the US or Japan. License plates are a pain in the ass here,” he said.
Despite the annoyance of these rules, Ormazabal will follow them to the letter. He’s not interested in making display bikes. “This is what I call being pro. Not making an astonishing show bike that is not rideable,” he said. “[Instead making] a custom that is street legal and beautiful, while keeping a tight budget and trying to earn money. That’s my ethos… and to have fun of course.”
Ormazabal is having plenty of fun in his second career and his growing reputation – along with his budgetary discipline – looks set to allow him to continue doing so for some time. And He’s earned it. The first step towards doing that was being brave enough to say, “no thanks” to comfort and to take a chance on something he knew, deep down, he loved.