‘I was a bit of a punk, and used to dress up like Johnny Rotten’
hirty years after starting BKS, Managing director Sansom talks bikes, bands, and kitting out royalty...
What was the first motorcycle you ever rode?
I bought a Gilera Tiger Cross from a breaker’s yard in Exeter when I was about 16. I had to bring it home on the train because it wouldn’t start. I remember endlessly pushing that bike down hills to try and bump-start it. I had always enjoyed doing a lot of scrambling on my BMX bike as a kid so motorbikes were just a natural progression for me.
What other bikes have you owned?
My first big bike was a Kawasaki ZZ-R600 that I bought in 1990, then I moved up to a Honda FireBlade when it first came out in 1992. I ended up grafting the back end of an RC30 onto it after a crash at a trackday at Oulton Park in 1996. I had a bit of time off bikes when the kids came along and didn’t want to jump straight back on a sportsbike so I bought a Harley-Davidson Nightster in 2008. But I soon swapped that for a Harley Sportster 48, which I think was everything the Nightster should have been. But eventually I wanted to get back into sportsbikes so I bought a Ducati 848 Evo, which is my current bike. It’s had a bit of dressing up with lots of anodised gold bits and carbon bits and Termignoni pipes – all the stuff you’d expect. I’ve still got the Sportster, too, for when I just feel like bimbling along and not leaving my brain in the toolbox!
In your face
1992 Honda FireBlade
Brian’s Blade had an RC30 rear end
How did you get into the leathers business?
Not because of riding bikes, funnily enough. I was a bit of a punk in my day and used to like dressing up like Johnny Rotten and Sid Vicious from the Sex Pistols. But then I discovered Adam and the Ants and started making exact replicas of Adam’s stage gear and would dress exactly like him – I even dyed my hair black. I used to get mobbed at gigs by fans thinking I was actually him! So yes, it’s probably fair to say that BKS grew out of my love of Adam and the Ants!
So when did you start up BKS?
By 1986 I was making leather fashion clothes – lots of trousers and waistcoats – and was asked by Devon and Cornwall Police if I could repair their bike leathers. I got so much business from them, and later Dorset Police, that I decided to start making leathers from scratch for the police. That’s how BKS started. The name is just my initials – Brian Keith Sansom.
How many suits do you make each year?
Currently about 400. And I’m still constantly tinkering with the designs to improve our suits. Our new 30th anniversary suits pull out all the stops with lots of laser-etched tattoos and metallic colours, and we’re using materials like stingray skin and kangaroo hide.
What’s the hardest part of making leather suits?
I would say perfecting the fit, over and over again, for all the different sizes of customers we get. If you go to a top class tailor for a business suit, you’d probably go back two or three times for adjustments to get the fit just right but we have to get it right first time because you can’t keep re-stitching leather or it would be full of holes.
What was the best biking moment you ever had?
Probably riding the Isle of Man TT course for the first time in 1996. I did it on my Blade but actually had more fun taking my then-wife’s CBR400RR around because I could really thrash it.
By Royal appointment
Prince William’s leathers
Brian measured him up personally
And what about your most satisfying moment with BKS?
I would say being invited to Highgrove to measure Prince William for his 21st birthday present leather suit. Receiving an order for 2500 pairs of trousers from the Met Police was pretty satisfying, too – more than a year’s work secured in one phone call.