Rider Highlight: Nick Bondarev

“How you actually use the bike is what makes it yours.”

From traversing through the Himalayas to sailing across the Arctic, our friend, photographer and director Nick Bondarev, lives his life with a sense of curiosity and adventure. He has carved his own unique path traveling the world to document various anthropological and biological missions he’s interested in, daring to go to lesser traveled places and learn about worlds not commonly seen.

Nick Bondarev PortraitNick bondarev in Mongolia

We really wanted to talk with Nick about how his passion for adventure has guided his approach to riding and customization in general. The way that his experiences have shaped his journey with customization and vice versa is interesting and inspiring, but also incredibly practical in how his choices have always been rooted in enabling his life experiences.

“I grew up in Siberia and there’s really nothing out there. I would see pictures of cars and motorcycles online that I had never seen in real life and I dreamed about them. I wanted to get out and experience these things I didn’t see around me - that’s where it all began.”

Nick Bondarev on CBR400

The initial interest was in American muscle cars at the time, but it was difficult and expensive to get one where he was. So motorcycles came into the picture as a way for him to get the thrill of a beautiful, fast car at a fraction of the cost, and it was also much easier to customize a motorcycle than it was to customize a car.

Nick Bondarev in BMWNick Bondarev Land Cruiser

Cars continued to keep a space in his heart but as Nick kept riding more, especially as he traveled around the world for work, his feelings toward bikes shifted. 

“After I got my first bike, my old Honda CBR 400, it made me realize that motorcycles are not really that comparable to cars at all. After dirt biking on a KTM through Indonesia, or riding a Royal Enfield through the Himalayan Steppe, motorcycles turned into a way to interact with nature and the environment…feeling the flow of air, smiles, weather changes, rain on your hands and face…makes you feel alive.”

Nick Bondarev on KTMNick Bondarev KTM in Bali

Motorcycles are a practical choice too, as one of the only modes of transportation in the more rural areas he visited.

“In some places, like in Asia on Himalayan roads,  the only real way to get around is on bikes. They’re often all that is available, and in the Himalayas, the roads are made for motorcycles basically. If you have a car it’s tough with uneven terrain and the risk of landslides, but motorcycles can go around all of that. So that’s how we got around, all along the borders of China, Tibet and Pakistan.”

Nick Bondarev in Himalaya on Royal Enfield

Nick applied the same kind of thinking to his time sailing in the Fjords near the Arctic, learning and absorbing about how to travel by sea in his work, stripping himself of his land possessions as he embarked for a long time at sea. 

Nick Bondarev Sailing ArcticNick Bondarev Sailing ArcticNick Bondarev Sailing Arctic, inside shipNick-Bondarev-Sailing-BW

As he worked all over the world on commercial projects, he found himself working in some of the most beautiful locations in the world. And each time, he felt compelled to bring a bike and experience these places while riding. 

Nick Bondarev Land Cruiser with Dirt Bike

Fast forwarding to today when Nick now lives in California, his choice to buy a Triumph Scrambler to ride here was an easy one. 

“When I think of motorcycles, I always think of Triumph. Living in California and surrounded by desert, choosing the Scrambler was sort of a way to try combining riding for transportation with dirt biking.”

Nick Bondarev's Scrambler 900

“But…looking at it every day, it was so ugly looking to me, with a tank that looked like a Pokemon ball, and there were things about its performance I didn’t like either. I started to wonder what to do to make it a little more satisfying, and that’s when I found out a bit more about British Customs.”

Nick Bondarev in LA on Triumph Scrambler

“I scratched all the paint off the tank and clear coated it in the backyard, immortalizing some flies into the tank in the process (they ride with the tank forever now). I began to make changes to my intake too, and changed my set up into a full exhaust system for more power. One by one, I added more and more mods, until I felt satisfied.”

Nick Bondarev's Scrambler 900

A lot of people tend to focus on the end product when customizing their bikes - wanting their mods to result in a concrete and final build, often resembling some image they may have seen before. But the focus for Nick has more to do with the process - being able to personalize aspects of your life by investing your time and thought into it. 

“The process of modifying and personalizing the bike, solving issues one by one, making the bike work for me - that is such a grounding feeling. Building, making decisions, choosing stuff, parts, making mistakes, learning. That is the best part of customization, like meditation while arranging. Some people look at the end product as most important, but there’s actually no end to it. As long as you’re a growing and evolving person, you’ll still want to change things and learn more in the process of customizing constantly. It’s part of life.”

While building the bike and investing individual time into has its rewards, Nick was quick to remind us of another part that he believes is integral to what personalization means.

“How you actually use the bike and the people you make memories with is what makes it yours. Whatever you build, you have to remember that you can have as many motorcycles as you want in your lifetime. But what you’ll remember the most are the moments you had while riding, especially with the people you ride with.”

True to his own words and philosophy, by the time we checked in again with Nick he had already sold his scrambler to free up his life for new adventures on other bikes in new places.

“All these moments on all these bikes kind of combine in your mind, as if all of them were just one motorcycle. So then the act of riding a motorcycle is what ends up defining some moments that happen, and they become truly memorable.”

“And that is good for your soul.” 

View more of Nick's work here

View Nick's Triumph Scrambler 900 build list here