You might instantly think of a man in a dress on various topical BBC quiz shows when you think of Essex-based artist, presenter and author Grayson Perry. But there’s more to the man than just some vicious blue eye shadow. Grayson Perry CBE and RA (Royal Academy of Arts) is a likeable chap with a talent for listening, as well as art.

It’s this talent for shutting up and listening, rather than mentally preparing his next question, that has given him a career in presenting and documentaries. His latest is Grayson Perry’s Big American Road Trip, which was filmed in 2019 before any of the current restrictions that we now take for granted. Of course, America is a big place, and no self respecting travelogue presenter with such a unique take on the art scene would be seen dead in a bog-standard rental car. Mr Perry had a motorcycle custom-built especially for the show: meet the Gobstopper.

Artist Grayson Perry’s Customised Harley Davidson

The Gobstopper is, underneath its rainbow hues, a wonderfully named Harley Davidson FXSTB Softail Night Train from 2007. And you probably really need to be told that – just as warships used the bizarre looking dazzle camouflage in World War 1 (credited to artist Norman Wilkinson) Grayson Perry’s Harley Davidson also confuses the eye with so many colours and patterns; subtle it isn’t.

The Harley Softail Night Train fits into the more eccentric easy rider Harley category, perhaps alongside the Street Bob, Bad Boy and Night Rod. It was a European only model retailing new for around £12,000, giving European Harley fans a chance to have a long ride cruiser of their own (despite the weather). The Night Train was surely the obvious choice for an artist to customise for such a high profile Channel 4 documentary series.

Artist Grayson Perry’s Customised Harley Davidson

The motorbike itself has been described equally as a throwback to the sixties and a showy cruiser; it also accidentally borrows the name ‘Night Train’ from the alcoholic cheap wine that American vagrants have been so partial to – possibly all descriptions the affable Perry might smile at. This laid-back relaxed cruising style motorcycle can normally be seen with a plethora of black and chrome, and it’s a beautiful looking bike for sure. Power comes from a 1687cc twin cam with 85lb ft torque at 3,000rpm, which allows the Softail to accelerate its bulky form with ease, and the low centre of gravity gives a manageable, stable ride.

Artist Grayson Perry’s Customised Harley Davidson

Camberley-based Image Design Custom painstakingly applied each colour individually to expertly complete the paint job. It took them 150 hours to paint the Harley Softail Night Train at a cost of £8,500. Compared to the original and more common paint job, it’s certainly a bit of a head turner and is probably the most outlandish request IDC has yet received. Grayson has also added a customised and hand built exhaust system (which manages to make the Harley look like it’s spilling its intestines) as well as his own matching set of custom leathers.

Artist Grayson Perry’s Customised Harley Davidson

More known for his Turner Prize winning than motorcycles, it isn’t the first blindingly coloured Harley that Grayson Perry has owned. In 2016 the artist toured Europe on a multi-coloured predominantly Barbie-pink Harley with his childhood teddy bear, Alan Measles, encased in glass as a rear passenger to keep him company. Asked why his teddy was given a glass case to travel in, Grayson said that he’s seen the Pope-Mobile and decided that if it was good enough for the Pope, it was good enough for his teddy bear…

Grayson Perry’s Big American Road Trip is currently being screened on Channel 4 and all episodes are available via Channel 4 On Demand.


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