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In a former textile mill in New Hampshire, Walt Siegl cranks out custom motorcycles

Posted by Scott Kirsner  October 30, 2012 12:20 PM

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One of the things I enjoy most is discovering new businesses that are growing inside old New England mill buildings. So when I heard about a guy named Walt Siegl who was building custom motorcycles in Harrisville, New Hampshire, I made a point to stop by.

Siegl is a former Austrian cultural attache (and long-time motorcycle racer) who came to Harrisville from New York five years ago. "It's always a jump in the cold water when you start your own business, especially after my career in the foreign service, where there are safety nets built into the job," he says. He'd already been building bikes as a sideline, but when he came to New Hampshire, he committed to doing it full-time. "I felt confident that since I was doing something that I was good at and loved to do, everything would work out," he says.

He makes about four custom bikes a year, designing the bodies himself, and typically relying on upgraded Ducati and Harley engines. Prices are $50,000 and up, though Siegl tells me he is doing a limited-edition run of about eight bikes, "The Walt Siegl Superlight," that will be priced at $30,000. His workshop, in the ground level of an 1860s-era textile mill, used to be the mill's machine shop, and it's filled with welding gear, drill presses, milling machines, and work tables.

When I visited last month, Siegl was finishing up a bike that had been commissioned by Puma for display in its stores. He's also working on a line of shoes, out in 2013, for Puma, and a leather racing jacket in collaboration with Puma and Fall River-based Vanson Leathers.

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Here's a photo essay about Siegl's work; a feature on his business; and a really nice video of Siegl taking one of his bikes for a spin around Harrisville:

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Scott Kirsner was part of the team that launched Boston.com in 1995, and has been writing a column for the Globe since 2000. His work has also appeared in Wired, Fast Company, The New York Times, BusinessWeek, Newsweek, and Variety. Scott is also the author of the books "Fans, Friends & Followers" and "Inventing the Movies," was the editor of "The Convergence Guide: Life Sciences in New England," and was a contributor to "The Good City: Writers Explore 21st Century Boston." Scott also helps organize several local events on entrepreneurship, including the Nantucket Conference and Future Forward. Here's some background on how Scott decides what to cover, and how to pitch him a story idea.

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