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Motorcycle Shop Turns Rundown Vintage Rides Into 'Rolling Works Of Art'

 Brothers Michael and Peter Müller have opened Federal Moto, a custom vintage motorcycle shop on the Near West Side.
Brothers Michael and Peter Müller have opened Federal Moto, a custom vintage motorcycle shop on the Near West Side.
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David Carlo Photography

CHICAGO — After years of working out of random garages, two brothers have opened a custom motorcycle shop on Chicago's Near West Side — and are gaining international attention for their one-of-a-kind rides.

Michael and Peter Müller have moved Federal Moto, a custom motorcycle shop where they revamp vintage rides, into the Industrial Council of Near-west Chicago's small business incubator west of Fulton Market. The shop is the first of it's kind in the city, Peter Müller said, and the brothers hope it will give them room to grow the hobby into a full-time business. 

Their journey to launch a custom motorcycle shop began out of necessity, Peter said, when the brothers bought vintage motorcycles off of Craigslist about five years ago. 

"Because they were vintage bikes, they had constant problems," said Peter, who lives in Ukrainian Village. "We're slowly fixing them, fixing them and the deeper we got into fixing them, the more we learned." 

Peter's first bike was a "rundown" 1974 Honda CB750K. Working out of their parents' garage, the brothers customized the bike with handmade parts Peter designed along with salvaged functional parts from other models. Today, the bike has a 1971 engine, a 1976 front end and 1969 brakes, Peter said. 

Federal Moto's "Dark Passenger," built from a 1974 Honda CV750K, is now for sale. [Daniel Peter]

At the same time, a mainstream market for customized vintage motorcycles was beginning to emerge, Peter said, and custom shops were gaining attention. 

'We thought, 'We could probably do what these people are doing,'" Peter said of the custom shops. And so the brothers bought a third motorcycle and rebuilt it end-to-end. 

"We kind of accidentally made the right-looking bike at the right time, and it struck a chord with people," Michael said. 

"Suddenly, we were getting a lot of attention, and people would ask, 'What shop are you guys with?'" Peter said. So they developed a brand for their shop overnight under a different name. 

While the brothers were perfecting their craft in Chicago, Canadian Shaun Brandt launched a custom motorcycle shop 1,600 miles away in Edmonton called Federal Moto. 

The two shops began to gain notoriety and eventually decided to collaborate on a motorcycle in 2015: a custom beach cruiser built from a 1978 Yamaha SR500. 

Federal Moto's "Sunshine State of Mind" was built from a 1978 Yamaha SR500. [Daniel Peter]

That motorcycle was picked up by BikeExif.com, the "No. 1 motorcycle blog in the world," Michael said, and was featured in other industry publications and websites. 

"People just lost their minds," Peter remembered. "It blew up like crazy." 

"We really just started to say, 'There's something to be had at this,'" Michael said. 

The collaboration was so successful the two shops decided to merge as one under the name Federal Moto in 2016. 

To date, the brothers have worked on dozens of custom jobs for clients and have built nine flagship custom motorcycles — one-of-a-kind motorcycles that they buy and then customized entirely according to their own vision. The flagship Federal Moto bikes have been bought by customers in Denmark, Canada, Georgia, Denver, San Diego and San Francisco, among other cities, Peter said. 

Federal Moto's custom motorcycles can cost $5,000-$35,000, depending on the motorcycle's original model and the extent of custom work done to alter the bike. 

"They are a rolling work of art," Peter said. 

Custom motorcycles in the works at Federal Moto on the Near West Side. [DNAinfo/Stephanie Lulay]

Passion project 

Despite such a positive response from vintage motorcycle fans, Federal Moto has been a passion project to date for the brothers, a part-time business where they would "burn the midnight oil," after work, said Peter, 32, an Army veteran who now works as industrial designer during the day. Michael, 29, works in insurance. 

But with the support of the Industrial Council of Near-west Chicago, and a subsidized shop in the group's small business incubator, the brothers hope to grow their passion into a full-fledged business that allows them to hire employees, expand services to offer repairs and increase revenue. 

Located in four buildings on the Near West Side, ICNC's 416,000-square-foot incubator houses more than 110 new and growing companies across a diverse range of industries. The incubator aims to help businesses grow to longterm success to spur economic development in the Kinzie Industrial Corridor and beyond. 

The 1,300-square-foot space Federal Moto rents is offered at a fraction of what it would normally rent for close to the bustling West Loop. 

"We never would be able to reach this without them," Peter said. "Having a space like this is completely unrealistic for the level that we are at as a business." 

But the incubator's bet in Federal Moto will allow the shop to reinvest in its business instead of paying pricey rent, grow an apparel line and retain the control of the business instead of relying on outside investors. 

In three years or less, the brothers plan to grow out of the current location to open their own standalone shop, Peter said, developing their vision side-by-side. The brothers "come from two different worlds," Michael said, but their custom builds are better for it. 

"What makes us work so well together is we're so different from one another," Michael said. "Peter's got a design background, and I really enjoy getting my hands dirty." 

Despite the short riding season, Chicago has a "ton of riders," and with help from their friends at Motoworks, a motorcycle dealership in Pilsen, Moto Guild, a Near West Side motorcycle workshop, and MotoBlot, an annual motorcycle rally held each year on the Near West Side, the Müllers want to grow the motorcycle culture in Chicago. 

"We want to put everybody on a motorcycle because it is so much fun," Peter said. 

The Müllers talk about their business in 2016 prior to moving into their shop in the Industrial Council of Near-west Chicago. [YouTube]

Grand opening party 

To celebrate Federal Moto's grand opening, the shop will host a party on June 10 at the shop, 2031 W. Fulton St. The party was originally scheduled for Saturday, but was rescheduled due to weather. 

Hearth & Market will be firing up wood-fired pizza on site from its mobile pizza oven, the Near West Side's Great Central Brewing Company will provide beer, neighboring coffee roaster Metric Coffee will feature its brews on site and distillery Rhine Hall's tasting room will be open for business. 

Other businesses in the incubator will also be exhibiting on site, Peter said. 

The party will be held in collaboration with a coed motorcycle scavenger hunt across the city in celebration of International Female Ride Day, an event hosted by The Bleeders and Tarnish, a Ukrainian Village motorcycle gear shop.  

Federal Moto's grand opening party will be open to the public.