Manic mechanic

Juha ‘Raiza’ Raitio from Turku, Finland, works at a friend’s custom bike shop, but often goes there in the middle of the night to work on his personal projects undisturbed. No wonder he usually creates half a dozen new bikes every year!

Words: Charley Charles

Pictures: Siwer Ohlsson

Some people ask how we find all these amazing Finnish bikes. Not all of them are Norrtälje Custom Bike Show winners – one secret is reading Kopteri, Finland’s custom bike publication… although maybe reading isn’t the right word as we hardly even know how to order a beer in Finnish. We check out the pictures and, when we see something we like, we pick up the phone and give the magazine’s editor, Mala Malk, a call. That was what happened in this case, and Mala’s reaction told us this guy’s very well known in the Finnish bike scene: “Why, that’s Raiza! He works at a custom shop called Bike Fellows in Turku and keeps starting new projects all the time,” Mala told us.

We got the phone number, and Raiza turned out to be another friendly Finn who spoke good English. There was just one problem – the ferry to Turku arrives so ungodly early in the morning, would the guy be willing to get out of bed to meet us at maybe 6.30am?

“No problem! I’m usually here super early because it often happens that I wake up at two o’clock in the night because I get some new bike building idea. Then I just have to try it right away and go down to the shop in the middle of the night!”

As you have already seen, Raiza’s bikes really don’t look like anything you’ve seen before. It’s a very deliberate intention on his part to try to come up with stuff that no one else has, and the unusual style is created in accordance with his philosophy – “Can’t be done” means it works for me!

“When it comes to bikes, people’ve already tried every trick in the book, but I still like to try to come up with new ways of bolting the parts together. Not everyone likes my style, but I don’t give a f**k.”

To make things even weirder, Raiza always gives his bikes names containing the word “evil” – the green bike in the pictures is called Evillicit, and the copper bike’s name is Evillusive. “But that Evil stuff is purely ironic – personally I’m anything but ‘evil’.”

Raiza grew up in a little seaside village where he started customising his first mopeds at nine years of age. His parents must’ve been a little weird too because they constantly listened to jazz music. “That gave me two choices – either go crazy or learn to like jazz, so I chose the second alternative.”

Bikes and music’ve always been Raiza’s two great passions in life. He became a singer in a hard rock band at an early age, and spent his workdays as a salesman in his father’s electronics store. Finland suffered a serious financial slump in 1995 though and the store went out of business. That gave him the logical choice of becoming a full-time professional musician. “I was the lead singer in the heavy metal band Monkeyhouse. We released a few CDs, and toured all over Finland and on the ferries. The best year was 1996 when we played 225 gigs in one year! Back then I didn’t have any motorcycles or even a car; me and the guys pretty much lived in the tour bus.”

The music career lasted for 10 years, until Raiza felt it’d become just another dull routine job and decided it was time to quit. Now he had time for bikes again, and met a certain Mr Mike Nieminen who owns the custom shop Bike Fellows outside Turku where we shot these pictures. Raiza got a job there, but not as a mechanic – just as a seller (even though we’ve borrowed our feature title from that old ZZ Top tune). “Of course, when the shop is really busy, I have to help out with whatever’s needed.”

The job at Bike Fellows has turned Raiza into a well-known character among bikers in the south of Finland which has led to an unexpected positive effect, he tells us: “People often give me leftover bike parts that they don’t need themselves as everyone knows I love building bikes, but don’t have tonnes of cash, so friends and customers often give me a part or two now and then. It happens at least once a week. Otherwise I’d never’ve been able to afford five or six new bikes every year. The tight budget also means I do all the work myself, including paint, pin-striping and engraving.”
Raiza mostly just creates bikes for himself the way he likes them, but says of course everything has a price, and he will part with them if he gets a good enough offer. At the moment he owns three personal bikes, and the rest’ve been sold.

Slightly overwhelmed, we leave Turku to head for the next bike shoot. Six months later it’s time to write this text, so I call Raiza’s number to find out what he has been up to lately, and he immediately proves that he really is the manic mechanic I’ve made him out to be: “I’m building three new bikes simultaneously! Two Harleys, named Evillogic and Evillusion, and also an old (1927) British Raleigh 250 that I’ll call Evileigh. I’m bringing two of them to Norrtälje – see ya next summer!”

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