Custom Motorcycles Thread

DaveM

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Finally: The definitive movie about the custom moto scene


We’re surprised it’s taken so long. The ‘alt moto’ movement has been on fire for at least a decade, but it’s never made the jump onto the big screen.

Oil In The Blood is the first film to catalog the builders, riders and artists who are driving the scene forward. It’s directed by Gareth Maxwell Roberts, a founding member of the Bike Shed club in London and the possessor of an unfeasibly large Rolodex.


Gareth knows everybody in the business—and the cast list feels like a Who’s Who of the 21st century custom world.

The film includes many of the world’s top builders, such as Ian Barry of Falcon, Max Hazan, Craig Rodsmith, Walt Siegl, Shinya Kimura, and Winston Yeh of Rough Crafts. Plus designers like Ola Stenegärd of Indian and Kurt Walter of Icon Motosports, and commentators like Paul ‘The Vintagent’ d’Orléans and yours truly.

On a personal note: I’ve been following the progress of Oil In The Blood for three years now. While I was on a trip to England for the Triumph Bonneville launch, Gareth coerced me into an interview lasting several hours.

It was in the cozy, atmospheric Super Brick workshop, in a courtyard just off Brick Lane in East London. And last year, during yet another trip to the mother country, we covered even more ground in a second interview.


So now it’s time to flip the tables and fire some questions back at Gareth Roberts himself (above). We grabbed him few hours after the film premiered at The One Moto Show in Portland.

Bike EXIF How did you get the idea for Oil In The Blood?

Gareth Roberts I started planning in late 2014. I was involved in the early years when the new wave custom scene was small and niche, and I witnessed it grow into a global phenomenon.

I saw it expand and gestate, fuelled by a strange and intoxicating mixture—nostalgic analog values, and contemporary digital communications. I felt we were living through a seismic shift in motorcycle culture, and that it needed to be documented.

I wanted it to be an all-encompassing examination and a celebration; a story told by the very people at the heart of it.


How many interviews did you conduct, in how many countries? Nearly three hundred interviews, in fourteen countries.

Aside from you, who were the people who made this film happen? Producer Lucy Selwood, production manager Sophie Haines, cinematographers Josh Allen, Matt Broad and Andrew David Watson, and sound recordist Nick Walker.


Who was your favorite interviewee? Hugh Mackie of Sixth Street Specials. He’s been building bikes since the early eighties and racing flat track since the early nineties. Indian Larry, Paul Cox, Keino Sasaki have all worked for him. He’s seen it all, and speaks with a beguiling mix of humorous cynicism and eternal optimism. He epitomizes the soul of building motorcycles.

What were the high points during the filming? Being in the Sahara with El Solitario. On a frozen Wisconsin river filming Ryan Stephen of Freestyle Supermoto and his crew ice racing. Filming at Mama Tried, riding bikes with Gerald Harrison, and generally just hanging out with ‘Majik Mike’ Rabidau.


And the low points? Running out of finance, and having to accept the fact that filming certain builders and events were beyond of our resources.

Which builders do you admire the most? David Borras of El Solitario, Max Hazan, Ian Barry of Falcon, Cristian Sosa of Sosa Metalworks. Kenny Cummings of NYC Norton, and Calum Pryce-Tidd of deBolex Engineering.


What’s your view on the future of custom bike building? The culture has matured. It’s no longer a ’new genre.’ The mainstream motorcycle industry staked a claim, and there’s been a split between those who embrace it and those who reject it.

There’s certainly been a bedding-in process; most of those who have a stake in it have really burrowed into their own niches, both in work practice and style. With new technologies—electric and hydrogen fuel cells—there are new stimuli and challenges for those who embrace it.

Those who don’t will delve deeper into vintage.


What is your personal motorcycling background? I’ve been fascinated by bikes for as long as I can remember. The first bike I can recall was a Norton Commando from when I was around six or seven years old.

I started riding bikes when I was 14, on bikes borrowed from older friends and older brothers. When I was 16, having saved up from part time jobs, I bought a 1972 Vespa 50 Special. I was a Mod and loved old scooters.

I subsequently had a string of pretty and very unreliable vintage scoots, culminating in the earliest bike I’ve ever owned, a 1957 Lambretta LD150. I then switched to two-stroke hooligan machines: a Yamaha RD250LC and a Suzuki PE250.


The nineties saw me on superbikes, the climax being a Ducati 916SP. I became something of a track day warrior, and in 1999 I took the plunge and started racing two-stroke 125 GPs, which are single purpose race bikes, on a Honda RS125 at club and national level.

After couple of seasons on the most fun bike I’ve ridden, I went up a class to a RS250, the most frightening bike I’ve ridden. After a thoroughly unremarkable and hugely enjoyable three seasons of going very fast but not fast enough, and crashing more times than my bank balance allowed, I hung up my leathers.


The transition from sports/race bikes, to custom bikes, was really a desire to slow down a bit: I felt I had ridden my luck on very fast bikes, and got away with it.

After I finished racing, I didn’t have a bike for eighteen months, realized that wasn’t going to work, so I got a Husqvarna SM610 to ride about on. Not exactly a sedate commuter bike, it was certainly slower top end!


I became interested in custom bikes when I saw a vintage Honda race bike on a trailer in a service station, and started looking online for one to convert to a road legal bike. Then I came across the very early Spirit of The Seventies website, and it took hold from there.

What bikes are in your garage at the moment? A 1973 Norton Commando 850 Special, a 1979 Triumph T140 chop, a 2015 Yamaha XJR1300 custom by deBolex, the 2010 Ducati MH900 Superlite (above), a 1976 Bultaco Astro and a 1980 Moto Morini 500 Sport.

Where can people see Oil In The Blood once it’s finished the rounds of the shows? We will have a commercial release later this year, on streaming and download-to-keep platforms, and possibly a limited theatrical release.


The response to Oil In The Blood after the showing at The One Moto Show has been phenomenal. If you’re in the US, catch it next at Mama Tried, then at Chicago’s Logan Theatre on February 21.

On April 5 it’ll be shown at the Petersen Museum in LA (in conjunction with The Vintagent), with more dates to be announced soon. If you’re heading to a moto show or festival in spring or summer, keep your eyes peeled for a showing.

We think you’ll like it.





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DaveM

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DeBolex gives the Energica Eva a classic spin


A week ago, Ducati’s lead designer told Digital Trends that “Electrification will change bike design more than it will change car design.”

We’re not so sure of that. Motorcyclists are an inherently conservative bunch—especially older folks with the cash to splash on a new toy. We’d be happy if future electric motorcycles followed the lead of this amazing Energica, remodeled by England’s deBolex Engineering.


The project was kickstarted by Gareth Maxwell Roberts, the director of the documentary film Oil in the Blood. The film champions analog values and traditional skills, but also has an eye on the future.

So when Gareth commissioned a build to celebrate the film’s release, he decided to merge these two ideals.


Choosing Calum Pryce-Tidd and Des Francis of deBolex was a no-brainer: they’re traditional craftsmen, among the best in Europe, and have built bikes for Gareth in the past.

Gareth needed a partner on the build, so he reached out to TW Steel. The Dutch watchmaker has already commissioned customs for its Sons of Time program, and loved the idea of an electric special.


After extensive research, Gareth and Calum found their base bike: the Eva, from the Energica Motor Company of Modena, Italy. Energica are deeply rooted in racing, and will be supplying the machines for the upcoming MotoE class in MotoGP this season.

The Eva is a full-bore streetfighter with the equivalent of 145 hp and 200 Nm, and a decent range of 125 miles. It’s insanely fast and handles well, making it the sort of bike deBolex could restyle without having to worry about improving the basics first.


Paul d’Orléans of The Vintagent introduced the team to Energica’s CEO Stefano Benatti, who immediately saw potential. So Calum and Gareth visited the factory for a briefing by Energica’s chief technology officer Giampiero Testoni.

The factory sent a bike to England a week later—leaving just over two months before it had to be revealed. “I figured I’d be working 24/7 to finish the film,” Gareth says wryly, “so why couldn’t they share the pain to finish the bike?”


“The deadline was tight” says Calum. “And we didn’t know what we were up against—until the Energica was on the ramp and the panels were stripped off to leave a bare rolling chassis.”

The Eva turned out to be a pleasant surprise. deBolex just needed to relocate the ABS module and water pump, and adjust the rear subframe. With that out the way, they had a clean rolling chassis ready to accept bodywork.


Calum and Des spent the next few days sketching out their ideas, before settling on a final design. They started hand shaping up the new bodywork from aluminum, using traditional coach-building techniques.

The Eva’s new body panels are designed to flow from front to back, visually slimming down the bike and giving it a more classic race vibe. The biggest design challenge with electric bikes is usually their bulky, square batteries—so Calum and Des worked to cover up the power cells, and expose more of the interesting motor instead.


“Energica have done a really nice job of encasing the motor and battery in cast aluminum,” says Calum. “We feel it helps the bike look closer to a more traditional combustion engine.”

DeBolex did a stellar job of incorporating the Energica’s cooling system into the design, with lines that lead away from the water cooler, and follow through to the knee indents on the tank. And they made sure that there were enough vents to channel air where it needs to go.


The power controller sits behind the new ‘tank’ cover, and the onboard charging unit under the tail. That part was a challenge, as it meant building a larger rear hump than the lads usually like to do. Still, they knocked it out the park.

Des covered the new seat in Alcantara; as with all deBolex builds, it pops off easily to make maintenance a breeze.


DeBolex aren’t known for half-assing a project—so this racer’s packing a healthy upgrade list too. There’s a Maxton RT10 shock out back, and a set of forged aluminum Dymag UP7X wheels, wrapped in Pirelli Diablo Supercorsa road-and-track tires.

The brakes have been upgraded too, with Brembo calipers and discs, plus a Magura master cylinder. The rear sets, brake reservoir and bar ends are from Rizoma, and the grips are from Renthal. DeBolex also used Pro-Bolt fasteners throughout the build.


With a week to deadline, Calum and Des wrapped up fabrication and started prepping for paint. After a few hours of discussion, they settled on this supremely classy mix of greys, silver and white. (The final paint was done in-house, as is the norm for deBolex.)

The Energica Eva was finally buttoned up at 6 am, on the morning of the Oil in the Blood premiere in London, and revealed in the evening alongside a limited edition TW Steel timepiece.


“The entire process knitted together perfectly,” says Gareth. “All our interests were aligned, which gave Calum the resources to create a great custom bike for the future.”

“It captures the spirit of Oil In The Blood too,” he adds. “With the possibilities of an electric powertrain, the potential of an Energica motorcycle, and the ethos of TW Steel.”


Sounds like a match made in heaven. We’ll let Calum and Des get some sleep while we spend the next few days fawning over their incredible work.

deBolex Engineering | Facebook | Instagram | Photography by Tom Horna of Autohouse London


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DaveM

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Old Gold: A classic Triumph Trident T150V restomod


The torque of a twin, the top end power of an inline four, and the sound of angry bees. What’s not to like?

Rob Glenton of Fremantle, Western Australia has a penchant for old British bikes. So when a solid condition 1973 T150V Trident presented itself, he jumped at the chance to relive his younger years on a classic Triumph triple restomod.


“I’ve always liked the triple: they are so different to the twins, and custom examples are very rare. The sound of a bike is as important to me as the looks, and the triple has a fantastic sound, especially with a 3-into-1 pipe. The sound is often likened to that of a classic race car.”

Taking inspiration from the world of flat track racing and Evel Knievel’s steeds, Rob tore into the Trident, starting with the basic lines.


“I wanted the bike to have presence,” says Rob. “A stance. Like a speedway bike with the rider hunched over the bars waiting for the tape to lift. Or Kneivel showboating on his Sportster jump bike.”

The tank is standard but Rob had local fabrication wizard Tom Sharman of Sideshow Cycles chop 40mm from the middle, for a lower profile and a racier silhouette. Tom also built the flat track tail unit to Rob’s specifications and modified the rear loop to suit. The tail lifts off using repurposed Norton Commando fasteners, giving access to the Trident’s oil tank and electrics.


With the lines of the bike done, Rob focused his efforts on minimizing front end clutter. A Motogadget Tiny speedometer was bolted between the handlebar clamps, the cable operated remote master cylinder was hidden under the tank and a single CRG mirror was fitted along with a pair of Biltwell grips.

Rob also removed a few features he deemed unnecessary. “I don’t need a high beam switch for the headlight, as would be required in kangaroo country [aka Western Australian country roads].”


“I have no intention of riding at night beyond the city limits. It’s already fully road registered and I’ll only fit a headlight dip switch and horn if I have to put it through licensing again.”

The result is a gloriously simple set of handlebars, but the simplicity didn’t end there.


The shiny new wheels are a mix of alloy rims and stainless spokes. The front brakes have been overhauled using a Lockheed stainless steel disc and caliper setup. There are also stainless fasteners all around.

The wiring loom has had a serious haircut, there’s a simplified chain guard, the front guard got a subtle chop and the old rubber foot pegs were replaced with a set of knurled units.


Ben at British Imports in Malaga, Perth, gave the Trident a fresh top end and rebuild, plus a new Tri-Spark Ignition, a brace of Premier Amal carbs, and a set of 3-into-1 pipes. This old triple really howls now.

“The bike goes well, and so it should,” says Rob. “The ‘Slippery Sam’ Trident won many TT races back in the day and was good for around 125mph in stock form. But I’ll eventually fit a smaller oil cooler in front of the tank, which will improve the view of the engine and header pipes.”


The only thing about the bike that really isn’t simple is the outlandish paint scheme: a dark forest green, with a hint of flake when it catches the right light.

The gold leaf graphics were designed by Rob and are set off with a striking red pinstripe, all laid by hand.


Believe it or not, the entire build was completed in a mere six months: Rob put himself under the pump so he could reveal the Trident at Western Australia’s premier old school custom bike show, Ride On.

Creating something spectacular in such a short amount of time is no easy feat: Triumph themselves took over four years to develop the first Trident prototype and bring it to market. We can only imagine what Rob could achieve in that same time frame.

Images by Jeremy Hammer of Ride Journal.



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DaveM

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Huge Moto x Zero: An electrifying new design language?


The One Moto Show is a cornucopia of analog delights, gleaming with metalflake and raw, hand-beaten bodywork. But there was an interloper lurking amongst the chrome and carburetors: this futuristic Zero from Huge Moto of San Francisco.

As soon as the Zero was revealed, it starting popping up everywhere on social media. So we dropped a line to Huge Moto’s boss, Bill Webb, to get the story on this surprise hit—and the very 21st century design process.


“Zero reached out to us a couple years ago, after you featured our ‘MONO RACR’ Honda CBR,” Bill told us. “We ended up working on some projects together, and hopefully some of our design influence will be seen on the next generation bikes.”

Then Bill asked Zero if Huge could build a custom bike as a side project. A 2018 FXS soon arrived, along with its CAD files.


The FXS is Zero’s entry-level model: a commuter bike with supermoto styling that costs just $10,495—a little less than a Sportster 1200 Custom. Range in the city is somewhere up to 100 miles (you can get models with a much larger range) and weight is a commendable 293 lb (133 kg).

Bill and his team slowly began to work on concepts for the custom. As the bike began to take shape in CAD, there was growing interest from Zero HQ in helping to finish the FXS and get a public reaction.


Brian Wiseman, Zero’s VP of product development, heard that the tire company Shinko was looking for a bike to display at The One Moto Show. So the famous Portland show became the target, and Huge fired up their computers.

“It’s far from the sexiness of welding and hammering away in a fabrication shop,” Bill says. “The Zero was mostly conceived sitting at a CAD workstation, after hours, and switching between hardcore 3D design and loose napkin-grade sketches.”


The design goal was to create a flow across the top of the bike, drawing eyes away from the electric components and frame, and focusing more attention and ‘visual weight’ on the front end.

“A design that feels futuristic, seamless and lightweight,” Bill adds. “Bruce Lee was our philosophical inspiration: Lean muscularity with agility and speed!”


The first basic design was fully detailed in CAD, machined out of ABS thermoplastic polymer, and then mocked up on the bike (above).

“Once we got the parts back, it was clear which aspects were working and which were not,” says Bill. The design was tweaked until every millimeter and every angle felt ‘right.’


It certainly looks good to us—and we see hints of the Husqvarna ‘Pilens around the ‘tank’ area too. (Maybe these ‘shoulders’ on tank covers will become the defining design aesthetic of the 2010s?)

Attention then switched to the lower frame section, below the bodywork. “The biggest challenge with electric drivetrains is the lack of visual interest,” says Bill.


“You’ve got big rectangular shapes and flat, unbroken surfaces don’t evoke the same feeling of an air-cooled cylinder head or clutch cover.”

New, dark-colored panels now flow with the upper body, and there’s a belly pan lower down—not only to protect the underside, but also to add more visual weight to the front of the bike.


The styling isn’t the only change to this FXS, though. You obviously can’t upgrade the carbs or fit a free-flowing exhaust system, and the brief forbade cutting into the frame.

So this FXS gets a fillip from a high-end Fox Racing shock, and new wheels all round: 17-inch Sun rims custom laced onto off-road hubs from the Zero FX. “I’d guess they are significantly lighter than standard,” says Bill. “They are made for racing, and the wheel builder specializes in supermoto bikes.”


According to reviewers, the Zero FXS is a blast to ride. And although the bike looks perfectly acceptable in stock form, the new design work has lifted it to a whole other level.

“It’s a design that takes some of the ‘raw’ influences from gas bikes and mixes them with the seamlessness, solidity and cleanliness of electric,” says Bill. And we’d agree 100%.

Any chance of releasing this as a kit, chaps?

Huge Moto | Facebook | Instagram | Zero Motorcycles | Images by Aaron Brimhall



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DaveM

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It’s A Keeper: A K series built for a footballing legend


When one of Spain’s most legendary goalkeepers wanted a hot steed based on a BMW K series ‘brick,’ he knew just the team to call: Bolt Motor Co. of Valencia.

Andrés Palop, known for his penalty-stopping prowess at Sevilla FC, approached Bolt boss Adrián Campos with a simple brief for a custom build; clean lines, a bit of a dark feeling, and some red touches.


Adrián and his team are known for their ability to produce clinically clean customs from unlikely platforms. This time they chose a 1991 BMW K75S ‘flying brick’ for their starting point—the sporty one in the K range, with high compression pistons for the DOHC inline triple and 17-inch rear wheel.

“It looks like we’ve learned how to make bricks look great, so we decided to do it again”, says Adrián.


The donor arrived in top shape, needing only a dash of paint on the chassis, wheels and the unmistakably rectangular engine block.

Everything else was kicked into touch and replaced with new or fabricated components, including the electronics—which were swapped out for Motogadget components.


New Showa front suspension, sourced from a Ducati Monster, leads the way and carries the stock 18” wheel wrapped with Pirelli MT60 rubber.

The upgraded Brembo monobloc brakes provide the type of stopping power a legendary goalkeeper can appreciate. A petite fender, formed on an English wheel, caps the front tire.


Keeping things tidy atop the forks meant a full Motogadget treatment for the Renthal Ultra Low bars. “We used Motogadget grips, push-buttons, turn signals, and the classic speedo,” Adrián says. Clearly, a tasteful treatment for this clean custom.

To ensure pitch-perfect parity with Adrián’s vision for clean lines, the shop wrapped a classic 5¾-inch headlamp in a 3D-printed encasement.


Moving back from the cockpit reveals a modified K100 tank—with carbon fiber panels for aggressive, sporty lines—and a tailor-made seat.

Covered in waterproof suede, the seat continues the complementary lines, atop a modified subframe and without sacrificing rider comfort.


Below the seat are custom perforated metal side panels, dressed in black—a perfect canvas for the military-style stencil font announcing, in red, the model name of this semi-obscure Beemer.

Finishing out the tail is a Highsider taillight resting above the rear wheel, plus a rear suspension upgrade with a custom Hagon suspension setup.


And, what about that rear wheel?

“That carbon fiber wheel cover was the biggest challenge on this BMW.” Adrián explains. “The rear brake is very close to the rim, and we had to create a flat cover with no screws”.


As with everything Bolt puts their hand to, there’s no sign of a struggle.

Transforming the K series into a lean, clean streetfighting machine is no small task. With a series of smart choices, the team at Bolt have given Señor Palop’s K75 a dark and aggressive look that’ll stop anyone with a pulse.

Score, Bolt.

Bolt Motor Co. | Facebook | Instagram



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DaveM

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A Cautionary Tale: Inheriting a BMW R100GS project


Love ’em or hate ’em, BMW’s GS behemoths have dominated the ADV market for almost four decades now. Five years ago, the 500,000th GS rolled off the Berlin production line, and we’re betting it won’t be long before the go-anywhere boxer hits the million mark.

We don’t see many GS customs, though. These machines are a triumph of function over form, and most owners like it that way.


So this R100GS is something of a rarity—and its backstory is rather strange too.

It belongs to Hasselblad Master photographer and bike builder Gregor Halenda, who is best known for an amazing KTM 2-wheel-drive motorcycle he collaborated on for the apparel brand REV’IT!


It some respects this is a cautionary tale about buying a project bike started by someone else. When the R100 GS arrived in Gregor’s workshop in Portland, Oregon, it didn’t take long for problems to surface.

“While the fabrication was great on the tanks, the overall mechanical condition was horrible,” says Gregor.


“The bike burned a quart of oil every 100 miles. It was down on power, and it wouldn’t run in the mornings because the petcocks were plumbing parts that let water and debris into the carbs.”

“I don’t know why the engine was in such bad shape, and maybe the previous owner didn’t either.”


Gregor didn’t complain because he considered this bike to be a test bed for his next build. He’s replaced everything except the three custom tanks—the rear is in a monocoque subframe—the frame, and the exhaust.

When Gregor took the engine apart he realized that a full rebuild was in order. “The heads were shot, the cylinders were shot, the pistons were toast, the rods were fried, the crank was shot and the crank bearings and block were ruined!”


So Gregor dumped that engine and installed a solid motor from an early 80s BMW R100RS, complete with a big valve conversion and head work by the Portland, Oregon shop Baisley Hi-Performance.

It fits just nicely into the braced frame, raised up and tipped back a little for extra clearance. The GS now has some serious grunt.


The 304 stainless steel exhaust came with the GS, but Gregor had to modify it by changing brackets and the backpressure. “It’s actually the wrong diameter, so I’ll remake it in the correct diameter.”

The suspension is another big upgrade: Gregor’s installed beefy 48mm WP upside-down forks from a KTM 690R, using KTM 450 SX triples and a custom fabricated steering stem.


The single disc brakes are Brembo, with a twin-piston floating caliper at the front.

The swingarm is from an R1100 GS—but it’s been cut and sectioned, with the shock mount repositioned, to allow fitment of the biggest possible 18-inch tire.


The driveshaft is a hybrid of parts from the R1100GS and R100GS, with the final drive coming from an R850R. It’s got 37/11 gearing, the lowest possible.

New rims and billet hubs from Denver-based Woody’s Wheel Works have made a huge difference.


They are very narrow: 21×1.6 and 18×2.15. “These are true off-road rims,” says Gregor. “BMWs are made for 17-inch rims, and the rear wheel squeezes the huge 140/80-18 Goldentyre GT723R into a very tall, round shape.”

“It rolls over things much better, and the round profile makes it much quicker to turn now.”


An extreme enduro Goldentyre ‘Fatty’ front complements the giant Rally Raid-style rear. “The traction is mind-bending for a big bike,” says Gregor. “It also has over 11 inches of suspension travel; previously it was nine, so it sits much taller now but with greater stroke.”

Cutting 20 pounds off the rotating weight apparently feels like more than 100 pounds. “The original owner got the GS down from 500 to 428 pounds, and I’ve taken it down to 400—with all that being in the rotating and unsprung weight,” says Gregor.


Adding to the rider enjoyment are new ProTaper bars in a ‘CR High’ bend, Renthal half waffle grips, and modified Fastway pegs from Pro Moto Billet. Gregor also made up new shifter and brake assemblies using stainless steel and precision needle bearings

The wiring loom on the BMW was neatly done, but it’s now upgraded with a Euro MotoElectric (EME) charging system and ignition.


There’s also a Trail Tech Voyager Pro instrument—a cutting-edge off-road GPS system with built-in Bluetooth for phone connections, and a 4-inch color touchscreen.

“I feel like the bike is ‘mine’ now,” says Gregor. “I’ve spent more time sorting it than the original owner did building it! I consider it a mule—a test bed for my next bike.”


“To get the weight I really want to be at—350 pounds—will require a new frame and much lighter bodywork. But the bike works great now, and it’s a blast to ride.

Gregor’s now going to design a new frame from scratch and test out some more motor mods. “I’ve become friends with Walt Siegl and he’s convincing me to do composites for the body and tank.”


“My long-term goal is to build the next bike into the ultimate custom adventure bike. A couple of people have expressed interest in having me build a series of bikes, like Walt does, but on the BMW platform.”

“Custom adventure bikes are the next big thing. I’ve raced, rallied and adventured, and I know what works. My bikes are function and form together: never at the expense of one or the other.”

Amen to that. And we can’t wait to see what this formidable GS turns into next.

Gregor Halenda Instagram



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DaveM

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A Honda CB350 restomod built by a jet aircraft mechanic

1972 Honda CB350 restomod built by Merlin Cycleworks

It’s quite rare for a CB cafe racer to land in the Bike EXIF inbox these days. And we politely turn down most that do.

But this CB350 from New Jersey went straight to the top of the pile: it’s an absolutely state of the art restomod, and so beautifully finished we’d almost be scared to ride it.

1972 Honda CB350 restomod built by Merlin Cycleworks


It comes from Merlin Cycleworks, which is run by 56-year-old Mark Kouri. Mark’s been an aircraft mechanic for over 30 years—repairing jets for United Airlines—and you can see his attention to detail in this amazing build.

When he’s not repairing or replacing jet engines or fixing autopilots, he builds customs in his two-car garage at home. “I’m a one-man shop,” he tells us. “I started the business a few years ago, after finding a 1974 CB450 parked in my neighbor’s back yard.”

1972 Honda CB350 restomod built by Merlin Cycleworks

“He parked it in 1983, and it sat there until I purchased it for $100 and brought it back to life as a brat style/café-type bike. The bike took first place in five out of the six shows I entered it in.” Not surprisingly, word got around and business boomed.

Mark happened across this 1972 CB350 in a Texas barn last year, bought it for $600, and promptly broke it down to the frame. “I like to think of it as a more modern, upgraded version of a 1970s factory racing bike,” he says.

1972 Honda CB350 restomod built by Merlin Cycleworks

“The goal was increased power, better handling, and more reliability. I think we checked every box.”

There’s something reassuring about knowing an aircraft mechanic built a bike, and Mark has done an extremely thorough job. He’s detabbed the frame, heavily reinforced it, and even re-engineered the back half—eliminating the factory pressed steel frame.

1972 Honda CB350 restomod built by Merlin Cycleworks

Slotted into the upgraded frame is a comprehensively rebuilt engine—although it only had 7,000 miles on the clock. It’s now sporting Wiseco oversized 10.5:1 pistons, a custom-ground Megacycle race cam, and Kibblewhite ‘Black Diamond’ valves.

Helping to dial in the race cam was ex-factory racer Frank Giannini of Giannini Racing—a multiple USCRA class champion. Spark comes from a Charlie’s Place ignition, along with a Rick’s Hotshot high output rotor and stator. And there’s an Antigravity 8-cell battery hidden in the rear cowl.

1972 Honda CB350 restomod built by Merlin Cycleworks

Mark’s had the engine cases powdercoated, along with most of the other mechanical parts. The tank, forks and fairings are painted in high-end BASF Glasurit paint, with ceramic coatings and XPEL protective film applied on top.

Mark made the exhaust himself, using back-purged TIG welded steel, and 1.25″ diameter tubing to maintain torque. It’s .060 wall 304 stainless, with a Cone Engineering muffler, and Mark also fabricated the inlets at the head on his lathe.

1972 Honda CB350 restomod built by Merlin Cycleworks

The chunky front end is a rebuilt 2005-spec Suzuki GSX-R750 fitment, held in place by custom triple trees from Cognito Moto, with high performance Gazi shocks bringing up the rear. (The color-coding on the forks is a nod to the Honda practice of painting the fork uppers the same color as the tank.)

To reduce unsprung weight, Mark has installed Excel Takasago aluminum rims, powdercoated black. They’re laced with Buchanan’s stainless steel spokes to rebuilt hubs—a Cognito Moto at the front and a Honda OEM at the rear. The rubber is a mix of Continental’s Road Attack and Classic Attack.

1972 Honda CB350 restomod built by Merlin Cycleworks

The brakes have been rebuilt and powdered, and hooked up to Brembo masters via braided steel lines.

The clip-on bars are Vortex, the levers are from ASV, there’s a Domino quick-action race throttle, and the classy billet switchgear is from our friends at Renard Speed Shop in Estonia. The instrument is a combined GPS speedo/tach from Speedhut.

1972 Honda CB350 restomod built by Merlin Cycleworks

Everything’s hooked up via a new wiring loom, using aircraft-grade connectors—as you might expect, given Mark’s day job. It’s all routed into a Motogadget m.unit, which is hidden under the seat along with the starter solenoid and a central ground bus.

There’s a custom belly pan to shield the exhaust: Mark fabricated this in-house using .060 aluminum, teaching himself how to use an English wheel as he went along.

1972 Honda CB350 restomod built by Merlin Cycleworks

He also built and fabricated the seat unit, which is covered in Alcantara with stitching to match the blue in the gorgeous two-tone paint.

We’re spoilt for choice when it comes to custom Hondas, but this one goes straight into our all-time Top Ten CBs.

Love your work, Mark.

Merlin Cycleworks Instagram | Images by Charles Thorpe

1972 Honda CB350 restomod built by Merlin Cycleworks


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DaveM

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Building a Street Bob custom using Harley’s rulebook

Building a tracker-style Street Bob custom at the Harley-Davidson Brewtown Throwdown

More Harley-Davidsons go under the grinder than any other make of bike. But surprisingly, The Motor Co. seldom commissions customs from big-name builders.

Instead, it has developed the annual Battle of the Kings contest—where dealers customize a bike within a very strict rule set. To get a taste of how hard that is, we flew to Milwaukee for the second Harley-sponsored ‘Brewtown Throwdown’ event.

Building a tracker-style Street Bob custom at the Harley-Davidson Brewtown Throwdown

The Brewtown Throwdown is a build-off between teams, made up of people from different walks of life. Last year, our team was tasked with building a Sportster café racer. This time around, I was on a new team with a new donor: a fresh-out-the-crate Street Bob.

We had to operate within the BoTK rulebook—which means a set budget, and a specific quota of H-D aftermarket parts. But we only had a couple of weeks to prep, and a mere two and a half days for hands-on wrenching. So it didn’t take long to settle on a team name: Quick ‘n Easy.

Building a tracker-style Street Bob custom at the Harley-Davidson Brewtown Throwdown

My teammates included an X-Games gold medalist, a rock climber-slash-fitness model, a Harley-Davidson engineer, and a couple of guys from Vice. Our HQ was Milwaukee Harley-Davidson, with shop boss Goran Zadrima leading the team, techs John (below) and Carlton showing us the ropes, and Harley PR guy Joe Gustafson keeping a watchful eye over us.

The style brief was simply “dirt, chopper or track.” We picked track, and started refining our ideas via Skype calls, a Google Drive folder full of inspiration pics, a comprehensive parts list and rough Photoshop mockups.

Building a tracker-style Street Bob custom at the Harley-Davidson Brewtown Throwdown

The classic XR style is de rigueur for Harley flat trackers, but it’s a tall order for the Street Bob’s proportions, and building a new subframe would have been a push on our timeline. After healthy debate, we reached into Harley’s history for inspiration—all the way back to the 1946 Harley-Davidson WR racer.

Those racers were stripped down for going fast on sketchy dirt tracks. By taking advantage of the Street Bob’s pseudo-hardtail frame and minimal styling, we knew we could create a contemporary re-interpretation of the iconic WR.

Building a tracker-style Street Bob custom at the Harley-Davidson Brewtown Throwdown

The first step was to get as much prep work done as we were allowed. So Milwaukee Harley-Davidson quickly chopped the rear fender, then sent the bodywork off to Aces Auto Body for paint. They knocked it out the park in a deep vintage red with gold scallops.

By the time we’d all congregated in Milwaukee, Goran and his crew had installed a new rear shock from suspension experts RWD. It’s a custom-built unit; 1” longer than stock, with a remote reservoir and full adjustability. We started ripping everything else off the bike.

Building a tracker-style Street Bob custom at the Harley-Davidson Brewtown Throwdown

Our new rear wheel was a skinny 19” rim laced up to the stock hub. The guys spooned on Dunlop dirt track rubber, and hooked up the massive 60-tooth sprocket for our chain conversion kit. With the wheel on, our vintage tracker’s stance came together quickly.

The Street Bob’s engine is mostly black, and our style guide called for a little more variation. Most H-D customers would probably have picked an all-chrome setup, but we opted for the ‘Dominion’ collection instead; bronze parts with contrasting brushed aluminum bits. The rocker box covers, transmission side cover and derby cover were all swapped out.

Building a tracker-style Street Bob custom at the Harley-Davidson Brewtown Throwdown

Harley’s parts catalog also had just the seat kit we needed—a solo setup with a mount kit that can run either rigid, or with springs. Goran has great contacts, so we had Milsco custom-make the pan and upholstery for us, with a stunning triple-stitched diamond pattern using gold thread.

Clearly the seat’s meant to be installed by an expert, because we couldn’t make sense of the instructions. But we eventually figured it out, swapping the springs out for the rigid setup at the last minute, so that the bike wouldn’t feel spongy to ride.

Building a tracker-style Street Bob custom at the Harley-Davidson Brewtown Throwdown

The kit comes with a cover plate to hide the wiring—but it also hid away the beefy Eibach spring on our custom shock, so we left it off. (I’m not admitting we used a rattle can, but I will say that there was one non-black part under the seat that is now black.)

It was decided early on to give our vintage tracker a few modern touches. So we ordered a set of mid-mount foot controls from Speed Merchant, Thrashin Supply Co. pegs and shifter nubs, and a set of chrome Thrashin mid bend bars.

Building a tracker-style Street Bob custom at the Harley-Davidson Brewtown Throwdown

Those bars aren’t as wide and high as traditional flat track bars, and when combined with the peg position, they create an aggressive riding stance. But getting the pegs to fit was our biggest snag.

All credit to Speed Merchant—they’re very well made controls—but they’re designed for the Fat Bob, and they’re designed to work with stock engine covers. And since the Street Bob’s stock shifter is mounted different to the Fat Bob’s, we had to mod the setup slightly.

Building a tracker-style Street Bob custom at the Harley-Davidson Brewtown Throwdown

Hiccups are all part of the game though. Ask me how I finished installing the new Screamin’ Eagle air filter, only to realize that we’d ordered the wrong backing plate. Or how Milwaukee H-D’s parts manager had to drive to Janesville in the snow to pick up last minute parts, like shorter brake hoses. And that moment we finished weaving the wires for the switches through the new bars, the wrong way round.

Still, John and Carlton had plenty of experience between them to make sure we didn’t screw anything up too badly. And everyone was stoked to be turning screws—not least of all American Ninja Warrior contestant, Ninja Natalie, who wielded a grinder for the first time to cut the rear struts down to size.

Building a tracker-style Street Bob custom at the Harley-Davidson Brewtown Throwdown

Bill Davidson (above left) even popped in during the build, and helped us figure out where to put the rear license plate. Both plates carry the same number X-Games medalist Lance has raced MX with since age six: 54.

The Street Bob will eventually go up for sale, and needs to be street legal. So even though we ditched the lights and turn signals, they all unplugged from the wiring loom without any cutting, and the speedo is still in play. We also left the front brake mounted and the ABS intact, and mounted the front board on quick-release H-D windshield mounts.

Building a tracker-style Street Bob custom at the Harley-Davidson Brewtown Throwdown

On went a Vance & Hines two-into-one race pipe—another modern touch that sounds as good as it looks. Carlton installed Vance & Hines’ Fuelpak fuel management system too, allowing him to fine-tune our bike from his smartphone.

We also swapped out the fork lowers for a pair of Low Rider items, to change the look up front from black to brushed aluminum. The tank got a bronze gas cap, and the radiator a color-matched surround. And we left the sides of the tank bare, relying on a super-minimal air filter cover plate to get the point across.

Building a tracker-style Street Bob custom at the Harley-Davidson Brewtown Throwdown

The tank does sport our team name on top of the tank though, thanks to artist Allen Beck. We asked him what style he was feeling, and he replied “70s shag-wagon,” so we left him to do his thing.

As we buttoned it all up, Natalie, Lance and I took turns trying out the riding position. Without fail, each one of us cracked massive, dorky smiles as we hopped on. Quick ‘n Easy’s set up for hooliganism for sure; it’s less of an all-day ride, and more of a mental taco chaser.

Building a tracker-style Street Bob custom at the Harley-Davidson Brewtown Throwdown

As day two wrapped (yes, we finished a half day early) we fired it up. We high-fived. We rolled it into the parking lot for burnouts in the snow. And we all wished we could take it home.

With thanks to Harley-Davidson | Facebook | Instagram | Images by Wes Reyneke

Building a tracker-style Street Bob custom at the Harley-Davidson Brewtown Throwdown

Team Quick ‘n Easy
Lance Coury (Thrashin Supply Co. owner)
Ninja Natalie‘ Duran (Pro rock climber and fitness model, American Ninja Warrior contestant)
Marko Lazarevic (Harley-Davidson engineer)
Dan Meyer and Billy Voermann (Vice)
Joe Gustafson (Harley-Davidson PR and team mom)

Milwaukee Harley-Davidson
Goran Zadrima (General Manager)
John Gaedke (Service Technician)
Carlton Harris (Service Technician)
Alex O’Malley (Parts Manager)

Building a tracker-style Street Bob custom at the Harley-Davidson Brewtown Throwdown


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DaveM

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A Ducati speedway motorcycle, imagined by Wreckless

Ducati speedway motorcycle concept by Wreckless Motorcycles

If race bikes are motorcycling in its purest form, speedway machines must be akin to holy water. They have no brakes, just one gear, and drink neat methanol.

They’re also rather squashed-looking machines, with stubby hardtails and forks raked steeper than the most extreme sportbike. But this creation from England’s Wreckless Motorcycles is a thing of strange beauty.

Ducati speedway motorcycle concept by Wreckless Motorcycles

The unusual story starts with Wreckless founder Rick Geall, who has a passion for oddball two-wheelers and is probably the only man to ever customize an Aprilia Moto 6.5.

In the 1970s, teenage Rick went to Denmark on holiday with his family. “I got hooked on speedway,” he reveals. “Riders like Ivan Mauger, Peter Collins and Denmark’s own Ole Olesen were dominating the sport, winning multiple world titles.”

Ducati speedway motorcycle concept by Wreckless Motorcycles

Fast forward forty years, and Rick finds himself in possession of a rather pretty 450cc Ducati single—the sought after Desmo version.

“It was in of a jumble of vintage Ducati parts from the early 1970s. I said to Iain, my collaborator in Wreckless: ‘I want to build a speedway bike’.”

Ducati speedway motorcycle concept by Wreckless Motorcycles

Iain, despite questioning Rick’s sanity and knowing little about speedway, tracked down a vintage race frame and swingarm from the same era as the Ducati engine.

“It’s a Jawa, we believe,” says Rick. “It competed at some point, but we don’t have the specific history of it.” Iain started altering the frame to accept the motor and create a rolling chassis.

Ducati speedway motorcycle concept by Wreckless Motorcycles

Things moved slowly as Wreckless focused on their core business. But when Ivan Mauger died last year, the build shifted up the priority list. “Ivan’s death was a kick up the backside to get the bike finished,” says Rick. “Some of his bikes came up for auction, and I was sorely tempted to go and buy one—but never did.”

“So this bike is a celebration of Ivan. But I also wanted to acknowledge a current hero of mine, F1 driver Lewis Hamilton.”

Ducati speedway motorcycle concept by Wreckless Motorcycles

Rick and Iain ploughed their energies back into the build. They found that the SOHC bevel engine had already been modified for classic road racing, with much bigger valves and some headwork done to it. They added a new Amal TT carb to give the motor an extra fillip, and installed new sprockets: 14T up front (“Kind of normal”) and 52T rear (“Ridiculous!”).

The header pipe is handmade, and mated to a tiny 900 gram Akrapovič slip-on muffler, originally designed for the Yamaha R3.

Ducati speedway motorcycle concept by Wreckless Motorcycles

Suspension comes from brand new Stuha adjustable race forks, made in the Czech Republic—another country with a long and illustrious speedway history.

“They’ve been cut and lengthened by about four inches, to give us the clearance we needed for the front wheel,” says Rick. “Mating the frame with an unusual motor can mean altering the frame orientation, which affects the headstock position and then the rake, and so on.” The forks are hooked up to Renthal bars lifted from a KTM SX85.

Ducati speedway motorcycle concept by Wreckless Motorcycles

Those bars are also home to a Daytona Velona tach, and a Beringer ‘thumb’ clutch master cylinder kit. The carb is controlled by a Venhill dual rate throttle, and the grips are from Renthal.

The wheels are the real deal: a custom set built by SM Pro, a British race specialist that can trace its history back 120 years. They’re a standard speedway setup, 23” x 1.60” at the front and 19” x 2.15” at the back, shod with Mitas race tires. (A carbon fiber speedway fender controls the spray of dirt.)

Ducati speedway motorcycle concept by Wreckless Motorcycles

In the interests of making their custom speedway machine a teeny bit more rideable, Wreckless have also sneaked a brake onto the back wheel. It’s a Beringer Aerotec caliper activated via a thumb lever cleverly integrated with the clutch setup. The disc is a custom engraved EBC Vee-Rotor.

Another departure from the speedway norm is a pair of rear shocks. These are Marzocchi MOTO C2R units, originally designed for mountain bikes. They’re adjustable for rebound, have separate low- and high-speed compression controls, and are now fitted with Cane Creek double barrel coil springs.

Ducati speedway motorcycle concept by Wreckless Motorcycles

The seat and bodywork are hand-made. “The tank is a mix of genuine speedway racing parts, and odd aluminum tanks for hiding the electrics, coil, and kill switch,” Rick reveals.

When it came to the paint Rick decided on a Mercedes F1 scheme, in tribute to LH44, and has nicknamed the bike ‘the H4MM4.’

Ducati speedway motorcycle concept by Wreckless Motorcycles

The silver on the frame, swingarm and seat loop is a Ducati ST2 color. There’s gloss black on the rims, a turquoise blue on the hubs and other scattered hard parts, and discreet touches of a carbon effect coating. Plus the odd plagiarized decal here and there.

The colors were shot by Jason Fowler of JLF Designs, who’s worked for not only Lewis Hamilton, but also the late Indianapolis 500 winner Dan Wheldon and IndyCar driver Max Chilton.

Ducati speedway motorcycle concept by Wreckless Motorcycles

“The bike isn’t meant to be a ‘serious’ machine,” says Rick. “It’s a caricature: a celebration of the heroes who have left an imprint on my life.”

“I’m lucky, because I could build it for the sheer hell of it. Ducati never made a speedway bike, but if they did, we hope it would look something like this.”

Wreckless Motorcycles | Facebook | Instagram | Images by Daniel Du Cros at Junction11 Studios

Ducati speedway motorcycle concept by Wreckless Motorcycles


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DaveM

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The Best of the 2019 Mama Tried Motorcycle Show

The best of the 2019 Mama Tried motorcycle show

There are only four or five months of good riding weather in the American Midwest. The rest of the time, motorcyclists keep sane by wrenching. And nothing offers more inspiration than the annual Mama Tried motorcycle show in Milwaukee.

The sixth edition of the show happened just last weekend, shortly after the polar vortex was done ravaging the region. Visitors huddled away from the snow inside the Eagles Club—a ballroom and live music venue with a pseudo-psychedelic interior.

The best of the 2019 Mama Tried motorcycle show

Inside, custom motorcycles of all shapes and sizes filled the upstairs ballroom, with various moto-centric vendors lining the many hallways. Mama Tried is an invitational, but there’s no set theme; we saw choppers, bobbers, flat trackers, land speeders, café racers and a number of undefinable oddities.

The best of the 2019 Mama Tried motorcycle show

The show might happen in the chilly Midwest, but builders and visitors come from all over. It’s an eclectic smorgasbord of awesome machinery and interesting folks. And while you can circumnavigate the show’s square footage in a matter of minutes, it takes time to take it all in properly.

Here’s a brief look at our favorites from the show.

Brad Richard's 1962 Harley-Davidson FL

Brad Richard’s 1962 Harley-Davidson FL What sort of bike does Harley-Davidson’s Vice President of Styling and Design build in his down time? A vintage panhead, obviously. This FL hardtail is flawless, front to back—from the deep green fuel tank right through to the quirky exhaust bends.

Gunn Designs' 2018 BMW R nineT

Gunn Designs’ 2018 BMW R nineT We featured Dan Riley’s R nineT flat tracker before, but now he’s reworked it to be even radder. The new version features a Hookie Co. R nineT body kit, matched up to a tailpiece of Dan’s own design, with a Saddlemen seat pad. Seeing this collaboration between two of the sharpest designers in the biz up close was a real treat.

Cabana Dan's 1928 Harley-Davidson Peashooter

Cabana Dan’s 1928 Harley-Davidson Peashooter Nicknamed ‘Social Climber,’ this vintage H-D hillclimber drew more than a few stares at the show. Many of its details are period correct, but look closer, and you’ll notice the tank has shrunk, the frame has stretched, and there’s a host of neat little details. Dan also gets 10/10 for the drilled headstock and stunning tank graphics.

Chi-Jer's Vintage Bike Works' 1974 ½ Penton 400

Chi-Jer’s Vintage Bike Works’ 1974 ½ Penton 400 Would you have the guts to mod a classic Penton scrambler, or would you simply restore it? PJ over at Chi-Jers wasn’t afraid to let loose, and knocked it out the park with this Penton flat-tracker. The tank swap and mono-shock conversion are on point, but the really nice bit is John Penton’s signature on the tank. “He dug it,” PJ tells us. “I was utterly humbled.”

40cal Custom's 1929 Harley-Davidson Model JD

40cal Custom’s 1929 Harley-Davidson Model JD This contraption has the distinction of not only being one of the rarest motors at the show, but also of showcasing some of the best fabrication work. There’s precious little info out there on this bike, but reports are that the entire frame is a one-off. Our favorite bit? Everything on the in-frame tank—from the leather straps right down to the plumbing.

Church of Choppers' 1991 ZX750R

Church of Choppers’ 1991 ZX750R This brutal Ninja from master builder, Jeff Wright, ticks all of our early-90s boxes. With most of the fairing gone, all of its naughty bits are on full display, giving you the sense that Jeff built this one just for the fun of it. Best of all, we hear it was a total barn find.

1975 Harley-Davidson Sportster by Gardar Eide Einarsson and Trevor Wade

1975 Harley-Davidson Sportster by Gardar Eide Einarsson and Trevor Wade This Sportster’s perfect stance and bare metalwork immediately grabbed our attention. But it’s the details that kept us circling back to it. Note the subtle artwork on the fuel tank, the super-sano cockpit, and the pass-through two-into-one exhaust.

Utopeia Moto Company's 1977 Honda Z50

Utopeia Moto Company’s 1977 Honda Z50 Chris Tope calls this the ‘Baby Black Bomber,’ and it’s cute as heck. This minibike’s sporting an 88 cc kit, clubman bars, a CZ100 tank and a classic cafe racer tail section. After all, who doesn’t love a cafe racer that they can carry off under their arm?

Federal Moto's 2005 Suzuki DR-Z400S

Federal Moto’s 2005 Suzuki DR-Z400S This custom enduro was the result of a client asking Federal Moto to build something similar to their ‘Sunshine State of Mind‘ Yamaha SR500. Federal obliged, but decided to retain all of its off-road functionality. It still has its 21F/18R wheels and long travel suspension, but it’s a whole lot prettier now.

Noise Cycles' 2017 S&S Cycle Knucklehead

Noise Cycles’ 2017 S&S Cycle Knucklehead Scott Jones brought one of the rowdiest Harley hooligan flat trackers to Mama Tried that we’ve ever seen. But he also snuck this into the show—a charming little chop packing an S&S powerplant. The proportions are perfect, there’s not a hair out of place, and the artwork on the tank is nothing short of exquisite.

The best of the 2019 Mama Tried motorcycle show

We also spotted a new Kawasaki from Kevin Dunworth, a drool worthy Yamaha RD400 (above), Analog Motorcycles’ Ducati 250, and the prototype Custom Works Zon BMW we first saw at Mooneyes last year. And we caught a screening of Oil in the Blood, too.

The best of the 2019 Mama Tried motorcycle show

But Mama Tried is bigger than just the bikes on hand. It’s a full Milwaukee takeover, filled with pre-parties, after-parties and endless hangs. We ran into friends we didn’t know would be there, and made a ton of new friends too.

Here’s looking forward to next year.

Mama Tried | Facebook | Instagram | Studio images by David Carlo, atmos images by Wes Reyneke | Wes visited Mama Tried as a guest of Harley-Davidson

The best of the 2019 Mama Tried motorcycle show


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DaveM

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RC Dept’s Honda Dominator: Big style from a tiny country

Custom Honda Dominator NX650 tracker by RC Dept

The modern custom scene has infiltrated the most distant corners of the world. This very slick custom Honda Dominator comes from the tiny European principality of Andorra—the 16th smallest country in the world. (At 181 square miles, it’s about an eighth of the size of Rhode Island.)

Despite its compact dimensions, Andorra is now home its first fully-equipped custom workshop: RC Dept, run by Roberto Conde. And he’s not alone in his passion for bikes.

Custom Honda Dominator NX650 tracker by RC Dept

“Andorra is full of motorcycle enthusiasts and collectors,” he reveals. “There are many big private collections—some exceeding 200 bikes. You can find amazing bikes from Vincent, Matchless and Norton. And Triumph prototypes, official MotoGP bikes from the 60s and 70s, vintage off-road racers and much more.”

Roberto’s Dominator could hold its own against many of those bikes. And as you’d expect from a former Dakar factory team mechanic, the build quality is tremendous.

Custom Honda Dominator NX650 tracker by RC Dept

Roberto says the budget was ‘comfortable but defined’ when this 1990-spec Dommie arrived in his workshop. He’s based in the mountain village of Santa Coloma, some 3,700 feet above sea level, and shares the space with second mechanic Pierre Carcouet and company manager Marc Casadevall.

Since the engine was almost thirty years old, RC Dept stripped it down and gave it a thorough overhaul, including a new camshaft. It’s also been treated to a coat of black paint on the cases, to balance the black bodywork.

Custom Honda Dominator NX650 tracker by RC Dept

The frame was heavily reworked too, with a new rear section designed to take a waspish tail unit. Motocross pegs have been added on, and even the side-stand has been repositioned.

With the engine shoehorned back into the frame, it was time to craft an exhaust system. Roberto and his crew built a completely custom system from scratch using stainless steel, with multiple bends snaking around the cylinder head and the frame tubes. It’s terminated with a stubby SuperTrapp muffler.

Custom Honda Dominator NX650 tracker by RC Dept

The 41mm forks have been overhauled and lowered, and the rear monoshock has been upgraded to a YSS unit, adjustable for both length and rebound. The stance is now spot on.

As a true dual sport, the NX650 originally had a 21-inch front wheel and a 17-inch rear, hooked up to the famous Pro-Link suspension.

Custom Honda Dominator NX650 tracker by RC Dept

RC Dept have evened things out with new 19-inch rims front and rear for a hint of a tracker vibe, painted black, and added street legal Mitas H-18 flat track rubber. (There’s a new front sprocket to keep the gearing within range.)

Sharp eyes will recognize the Honda CG125 fuel tank, an inspired choice that’s matched to a flat track tail unit. Side plates and a curved front plate with a built-in LED light complete the look—all subtly shaped for maximum impact.

Custom Honda Dominator NX650 tracker by RC Dept

New bars are fitted with a Motogadget Motoscope Mini digital speedometer, 
and a fresh set of controls and push-button switches. They’re hooked up to a new, stripped-down wiring loom.

Like everything else on this Dominator, the effect is ultra-minimalist. That’s unusual for a tracker-style bike, but it works perfectly here—right down to the satin black paint with white and gold striping.

Custom Honda Dominator NX650 tracker by RC Dept

We rarely feature custom Dominators because most look slightly awkward after they’ve gone under the grinder—especially if they’ve been given the short-seat treatment.

But this one ticks all the boxes, and suggests that the tracker style is a great match for the Dommie frame. And despite Andorra’s tiny population, we don’t think RC Dept are going to be short of work.

RC Dept | Facebook | Instagram | Images by Sam Decout

Custom Honda Dominator NX650 tracker by RC Dept


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DaveM

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November Customs’ Ducati Scrambler 350 Restomod

1974 Ducati Scrambler 350 restomod by November Customs

Most custom shops have a bike or two quietly lurking in the corner. They’re usually personal projects that only get attention during gaps between ‘real’ jobs. And that’s the story of this charming 1974 Ducati Scrambler 350.

Paul and Linda—the husband and wife team at November Customs—first spotted the Ducati when a nearby shop imported it from Spain. They literally bought it as it was being off-loaded, with the intention of giving it a light sprucing. But once they had it road legal and registered in the UK, it got relegated to the corner.

1974 Ducati Scrambler 350 restomod by November Customs

“It sat in the back of the shed for a couple of years waiting to be worked on,” says Paul. “Well—when I say shed, I mean the either the living room or the dining room as well as the shed. We don’t have much space for our bikes, so we have to move them around depending on needs!”

Paul’s not exaggerating—November Customs is run out of a cramped wooden shed in their backyard, in a small town in the northeast of England. But that didn’t stop them from blowing us away with their Zephyr 750 a few weeks back.

1974 Ducati Scrambler 350 restomod by November Customs

When they finally found time to turn screws on the Ducati, it only took a few months to complete. It was supposed to be a simple resto, but it morphed into something more—and we’re glad it did.

To start, Paul and Linda altered the rear of the frame to straighten out the Scrambler’s kicked up tail. Then they modified the original rear mudguard to sit lower in the frame and fit the rear wheel better.

1974 Ducati Scrambler 350 restomod by November Customs

The stock seat pan was too rusted to be useful, so the duo made a new one, capping it off with black leather upholstery. Then they raised the fuel tank’s rear mounts a touch, so that everything would sit nice and level.

Off came the air box, along with any unneeded frame tabs. November then fabricated up an aluminum bell mouth for the carb to breathe through, covering it with mesh to keep debris out. The exhaust system consists of the original headers, cleaned up and wrapped, with an aftermarket muffler.

1974 Ducati Scrambler 350 restomod by November Customs

As you can tell, the motor was treated to a supreme cleanup too. Paul and Linda stripped it, aqua-blasted the cases, and then rebuilt it with a coat of satin black paint. (They originally tried polishing them, but the look wasn’t working.)

Knowing that they weren’t planning to use a rev counter, the couple realized they could mess with the bevel drive casing without any side effects. So they took it off, bored out the center on a lathe, and turned up an aluminum ring for it. With the addition of a Perspex insert, they now had a window for their bevel drive.

1974 Ducati Scrambler 350 restomod by November Customs

It’s not just the motor that looks brand new—November also went to the trouble of updating the suspension. The rear shocks are from Tec, and were originally intended for another project. And the front forks are a set of WPs from either a KTM 125 or 390 Duke (Paul’s not sure which).

Fitting the forks was a serendipitous process. First, the Ducati steering stem could be fitted to the KTM yokes with just a few mods. Then, it turned out that the steering stops on the frame still worked perfectly with the new front end.

1974 Ducati Scrambler 350 restomod by November Customs

Things got even better when Paul was mocking up the front wheel, and discovered that the diameter of the Ducati’s front axle matched the KTM forks perfectly. So he simply trimmed its length to match.

That also meant running the Scrambler’s original drum brake up front, so November shaved off the radial brake mounts on the forks, then refurbished them with new fluids and seals. A brace was made to lock the drum brakes, and to hold a small, custom-made fender.

1974 Ducati Scrambler 350 restomod by November Customs

For the rest of the project, Paul and Linda mixed restored original parts, with carefully selected upgrades. Both the taillight and headlight are original, but they were refreshed with NOS lenses. The taillight also had its plate mount trimmed off before being powder coated, and the front light was repainted and mounted on new brackets.

The cockpit consists of Renthal bars, replica Triumph levers and new cables. The speedo’s a new old style unit from Smiths. To keep things tidy, the switches were relocated to just below the seat, on the right side.

1974 Ducati Scrambler 350 restomod by November Customs

November also sourced and installed new footrest rubbers with Ducati logos molded into them. The tires are Firestone copies: “I know this will get haters saying stuff about them,” admits Paul, “but we like them, and after all we build bikes for ourselves first. We do actually have some enduro tires we can put on though, should we feel that way.”

The frame, swing arm and wheels were all powder-coated gloss black. And the bodywork was painted in an old Jaguar burgundy, complemented by some off-white panels, and original Ducati badges.

1974 Ducati Scrambler 350 restomod by November Customs

November Customs have struck a balance between customizing the Ducati, and still staying in touch with its origins. And that makes this one of the neatest restomods we’ve seen.

November Customs | Instagram | Images by Tony Jacobs

1974 Ducati Scrambler 350 restomod by November Customs


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DaveM

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Soichiro’s finest: the Honda RC30

Soichiro’s finest: A Honda RC30 VFR750R owned by the Italian motorcycle photographer Alessio Barbanti

Motorcyclists are a well-read bunch. Despite the well-publicized travails of some mainstream magazine publishers, the niche market is booming. Every country with a reasonably large population seems to have an independent magazine devoted to custom or ‘alt.moto’ culture.

The latest entrant to this pleasingly busy market is Retro-RR from England. It’s a high-quality quarterly with 132 pages, celebrating bikes that were ridden or raced in the 80s and 90s.

We were so impressed with the launch edition, we asked if we could reproduce an abridged version of our favorite article—covering the mighty Honda RC30. Enjoy.

Soichiro’s finest: A Honda RC30 VFR750R owned by the Italian motorcycle photographer Alessio Barbanti

In an age of prosperity, huge tobacco sponsorship and an impending inaugural World Superbike championship, building a winner was the only thing that mattered to the mighty Honda Racing Corporation.

In the late eighties the VFR750R—better known as the RC30—was a dream for engineers and designers. With all emphasis on creating a race-winning production machine with very little regard for the budget, the bike that spawned the term ‘homologation special’ was generously bestowed with magnesium and titanium.

Soichiro’s finest: A Honda RC30 VFR750R owned by the Italian motorcycle photographer Alessio Barbanti

Honda’s engineers already knew how to make a reliable V4 motor and, externally at least, the RC30 motor closely resembled the unit used in the road-going VFR750F. But now they had the opportunity to refine it further, make it lighter and increase the power — to produce the ultimate four-stroke racing engine.

Based on the RVF endurance racer (not to be confused with the later RVF750 RC45) the RC30 used titanium con rods and forged two-ring pistons with skirts so short they weren’t allowed to leave the house.

Soichiro’s finest: A Honda RC30 VFR750R owned by the Italian motorcycle photographer Alessio Barbanti

The firing order was changed to a big-bang configuration with a totally new crank; new, hardened valves were used; the lubrication system was uprated and the gear-drive for the camshafts was revised.

Casings were machined differently for the new oil galleries and the rev ceiling was raised from 11,000 to 12,500rpm. It even had a slipper clutch, long before they became the norm. Only the V4 architecture truly remained.

Soichiro’s finest: A Honda RC30 VFR750R owned by the Italian motorcycle photographer Alessio Barbanti

Each of the 3,000 RC30s produced were hand-built in the racing division of the Hamamatsu plant alongside the factory racers. The geometry was sharp and short and the twin-spar aluminum frame was pared down to save weight but was still stiff where it mattered.

Fully adjustable Showa suspension graced both ends with the front forks designed for speedy front wheel changes. The single-sided swinging arm made for similarly rapid rear wheel swaps; this was a bike that had all the ingredients, both mechanically and aesthetically.

Soichiro’s finest: A Honda RC30 VFR750R owned by the Italian motorcycle photographer Alessio Barbanti

While super-exotic, on paper the numbers didn’t really stack up. In unrestricted form, the bike was claimed to produce 118bhp and 51ft-lb of torque. Hardly staggering performance figures, even with a best-in-class dry weight of 180kg.

But on the racetrack that sublime chassis and motor with its flat, almost totally linear, torque curve added up to a fast lap time. It was easy on the tyres and more importantly, easy on the rider. Never before had the term ‘racer on the road’ been more apt.

Soichiro’s finest: A Honda RC30 VFR750R owned by the Italian motorcycle photographer Alessio Barbanti

The RC30 soon proved to be the bike to be on. The insanely talented Fred Merkel took the inaugural World Superbike title in 1988 and the American confirmed it was no fluke by repeating the feat the following year.

It won domestic championships the world over and tamed the toughest racetrack of them all, the Mountain Course on the Isle of Man. Legendary riders such as Steve Hislop, Joey Dunlop, Phillip McCallen and Nick Jefferies all took TT victories aboard the RC30. It wasn’t long before pretty much every privateer racer wanted one.

Soichiro’s finest: A Honda RC30 VFR750R owned by the Italian motorcycle photographer Alessio Barbanti

More than 30 years on, finding a mint example of one of Soichiro Honda’s most memorable motorcycles before his passing in 1991 isn’t easy. Most have been either raced or crashed. Or both.

But every once in a while, an opportunity presents itself. This is exactly what happened to our friend, Alessio Barbanti [below]. He’s one of the most respected photographers in motorcycling and a thoroughly Italian man who knows style when he sees it.

Soichiro’s finest: A Honda RC30 VFR750R owned by the Italian motorcycle photographer Alessio Barbanti

“I wanted an RC30 for a very long time,” says Alessio. “It was always the dream bike, the one on top of my list. To find one in good condition is very hard.”

“About two years ago a friend called me and said to come over for coffee. Nothing unusual about that, so I strolled over to his workshop and there it was, my dream machine.”

Soichiro’s finest: A Honda RC30 VFR750R owned by the Italian motorcycle photographer Alessio Barbanti

“It belonged to an old Italian guy who’d been living in the USA for about 30 years and had retired to his homeland. The bike was an American-spec bike but not restricted — I spent so much time researching to make sure it was full power and that it wasn’t going to give me problems.”

“I was very lucky. You might say ‘in the right place at the right time’. The bike is in almost perfect condition, everything is genuine Honda and I have the original exhaust too.”

Soichiro’s finest: A Honda RC30 VFR750R owned by the Italian motorcycle photographer Alessio Barbanti

“The one is fitted with the HRC race kit exhaust, which I’ve since found out is incredibly rare. It runs perfectly too. I think the former owner really loved this bike which explains why he was so emotional when he sold it.”

We’re still waiting for an invite to the Italian Alps to find out for ourselves just how good Alessio’s bike is. Though I have a feeling we might be waiting some time.

Retro-RR | Facebook | Instagram | Original words: Rob Hoyles | Images: Matteo Cavadini, Alessio Barbanti

Soichiro’s finest: A Honda RC30 VFR750R owned by the Italian motorcycle photographer Alessio Barbanti


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DaveM

Rock & Roll
Riding for 45 Years
Administrator
Local time
Today, 08:58
Joined
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Dave
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Channeling Top Gun: A GPZ900R hot rod from Italy

Channeling Top Gun: A Kawasaki GPZ900R hot rod from Italy

It’s been over thirty years since Tom Cruise blasted across the screen in an F14 Tomcat, in the cult classic Top Gun. But who remembers the motorcycle he rode in the film? We do: it was a red and black Kawasaki GPZ900R.

Photographer Paolo Sandolfini wasn’t even born when Top Gun came out, but he’s a nut for everything 80s. So when he got his hands on a GPZ900R, the pop culture reference was too hard to resist.

Channeling Top Gun: A Kawasaki GPZ900R hot rod from Italy

Paolo bought the GPZ900R four years ago, after owning a GPZ750. Even though he had hated the 750, he somehow still wanted a GPZ. “I really wanted the Top Gun bike,” he explains, “because it looked really weird to me.”

Top Gun isn’t the GPZ900R’s only claim to fame. It was the first model in Kawasaki’s long-standing Ninja line, and was considered cutting edge when it hit showrooms. And with 115 hp from its liquid-cooled inline-four, it was good for a gnarly top speed of 154 mph.

Channeling Top Gun: A Kawasaki GPZ900R hot rod from Italy

Paolo’s based in Parma, near Milan in Italy, and managed to source a 1984-model GPZ900R. But it was in dire need of attention. It was filthy, and the fairings were littered with dents and scratches. But he has an ex-race mechanic on speed dial and between the two of them, they brought the old GPZ900 up to spec.

Anyone who’s stripped a faired motorcycle can attest to how much real estate there really is to work through. But the guys soldiered on, painstakingly repairing every last ding. They didn’t quite restore it to spec though—Paolo’s mixed in a few subtle tweaks.

Channeling Top Gun: A Kawasaki GPZ900R hot rod from Italy

You’ll notice that the integrated mirrors and turn signals are gone, and the screen’s been switched out for a smoked one from MRA. And the seat’s different too. Paolo sourced a solo NOS VTR saddle from Germany, had the upholstery redone in leather, and fitted it to the GPZ900R’s tail unit.

The bodywork was then sent off to an old-timer who specializes in painting race bikes. He shot it with the unmistakable Top Gun red and black, separated by hand-painted white striping. (Thankfully, Paolo opted not to paste the bike with decals, like the movie’s version.)

Channeling Top Gun: A Kawasaki GPZ900R hot rod from Italy

This GPZ900R is more than just a retro-fabulous re-skin though. Paolo’s also added a few choice performance upgrades, to make sure it goes as good as it looks.

He’s upgraded the cams, switched all the cooling hoses to silicone ones, and installed a set of Keihin FCR carbs with velocity stacks. The exhaust is a brawny four-into-one system from Devil. And even though part of the motor’s tucked away behind that chunky fairing, it’s been treated to a supreme clean-up job.

Channeling Top Gun: A Kawasaki GPZ900R hot rod from Italy

As for the running gear, Paolo left the front suspension alone—but upgraded the rear with a new Bitubo shock. The brakes are NOS Brembo units, and the tires are an Avon Roadrider out front, and a 150-wide Bridgestone Battlax out back (a bump up from the original 130).

Channeling Top Gun: A Kawasaki GPZ900R hot rod from Italy

There’s also just the right amount of originality on Paolo’s GPZ900R to keep the nostalgia levels high. The instruments and switches are stock, but he’s installed a Domino throttle and fresh Renthal grips.

We applaud his restraint. This GPZ is a great nod to the source material, with enough variation to keep it exciting.

Channeling Top Gun: A Kawasaki GPZ900R hot rod from Italy

It’s also clean enough to eat off, which had us convinced it never gets ridden. But it turns out we were wrong.

“I don’t ride it like a historic bike,” Paolo assures us. “I treat it as a modern bike, revving and braking hard.”

Channeling Top Gun: A Kawasaki GPZ900R hot rod from Italy

“That’s why I love this bike, because it’s really fast and everyone turns around to watch you!”

Let’s be honest: who else feels like cranking Kenny Loggins all the way up, and punching the sky while riding off into the sunset?

Paolo Sandolfini | Instagram

Channeling Top Gun: A Kawasaki GPZ900R hot rod from Italy


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