Saturday 31 December 2011

Dave's Ryca

I first saw the Ryca bike kits on ads in other bike blogs and custom sites, and wondered how easy they were to build yourself, and how good they'd look in the flesh. I wasn't expecting to find out so soon though, when a couple of days after Xmas one rode into the garage where I was picking up my car, so I stopped to say hello, and found yet another like-minded biker-soul living a stone's throw from me in North London...

Dave was happy to share his experiences and back story, so here it all is, in his own words:

I have always been a petrol head. In fact I would go so far to say that the smell of a piping hot two stroke is way more erotic than the smell of a statuesque bottle blonde who’s been chasing me round the house for 40 minutes.

Back in the 80’s I used to ride motocross and trials bikes, I then got obsessed by building interesting bicycles, even building metal robots for my kids,

...and last year once I had hit my midlife crisis, came full circle again and decided to get an interesting motorcycle.
I had seen a really nice Enfield riding round Tokyo in 2002 and had the look burned into my retina for later. (It was just like this)

Anyway, as it rattled around in the back of my mind I began to add to it and pervert the look, adding a little bit more wallop and filth re: Steve McQueen in the Great Escape (still one of my favourite films)

In 2009 I began doing some serious research into creating my perfect bike. It had to be a single. It had to be reliable-ish, and it had to be unique-ish.

I found some great looking bikes on the Deus Ex Machina site, but they all looked very expensive, and a little bit too polished and clean. Besides that, buying and shipping the thing over would be astronomical.

Over several months I screen grabbed literally hundreds of café racers, rat bikes, bobbers and flat trackers and stumbled upon RYCA motors totally by mistake.
The CS1 was perfect, it was a single, it was Japanese, I had never seen anything like it, and I would get to build it myself.

I got myself on the list, and began a three-month wait. I then started looking around for a decent donor bike, and eventually found a crappy ’89 Suzuki Savage on Ebay that cost me £1200. I stripped the bike down with the help of the short movies on the RYCA Youtube page.

I wanted to avoid buying heavies, like new rear suspension, new rear rim, tyres and all that sort of shit, because I could source it this side of the water much cheaper, and avoid postage costs.

I then began emailing Ryan, (the RY in RYCA) and he helpfully gave me all the parts details I needed and I got new rear suspension and shorter front springs from Alchemy bikes, I got some nice classic Firestones from Northhants tyres and the rear hub chucked onto a larger rim by Hagon.

I ordered everything else I needed from Ryan, removed the tank, stripped it and send it over to California for cutting, and did as much as I could to the donor bike while I waited for my name to get to the front of the kit queue, and then the long wait for the box of goodies to arrive.

One fine day, a large 42lb box arrived, with my freshly cut tank, all the fibreglass bits and a whole heap of bits and pieces, and I stayed up pottering in my shed until 3am for three days on the trot.

Casey, the CA in RYCA is an ex-Nasa engineer and the thing that is totally fascinating about building the CS1 is the ingenious cannibalisation and clever re-use of different parts, the gear lever is re-used as a pedal to activate the decompression, the side stand spring now holds it all in place.

The other thing that was brilliant was the simplicity of strip down and build. I don’t know shit about mechanics and engines, but the films on the Youtube channel are really easy to follow, and pretty soon you get that warm feeling when the bike actually begins to look like it does on the website, like the first time you cook a recipe from a Jamie Oliver book and it looks just like it does in the picture. Once built, I got Keith at Psycho bikes in Kings Cross to sort the electrics and give it the all clear.

I got a couple of different parts to the stock Savage stuff, I went for a larger headlamp, with cowling and a small pop up rear light, (both from Dime City Cycles) and a totally mental through pipe that I had to change after about a week of setting off alarms and a bit too much attention from Mr Plod.

The bike handles like shit. It’s very uncomfortable. It’s unbelievably antisocial. It does 50 miles to the tankful, I conks out in the rain, and it’s not at all fast. However, it’s fucking awesome.

I think the bike looks superb, and it's nice to see how "faults" become "character" when you combine them with a bit of laid-back wisdom...

Nuff said.


Thursday 22 December 2011

Skid Lid Nirvana

Things are pretty quiet in the world of custom bike building and blogging, so I reckon it's time for a Christmas post on the subject of gifts... And this year my lovely missus the Dutchess, has decided I need a better quality (safer) open face lid than the el-cheapo Bandit Jet I got from Germany for about 60 Euros.

We've done the rounds, looking at Ruby, Bell (including the nice the Junior range just being imported - with a slimmer shell) and of course Brit lid-makers, Davida.

I'm usually not that excited about buying British, but these lids are rather lovely, and although the trim looks a bit like gaffer tape on some models (it probably is) they are made of quality materials, and the new Nintey-Two range has a very small shell size - the same as the non road legal Classic Jet & Speedster - but with British Safety Standard approval.

For reference, Davida make a few lids:

The Jet - UK Road legal (and massive)

Classic Jet - Legal in the US only

Speedster - not legal anywhere

Ninety-Two - Road legal, using the smaller Speedster/Classc Jet shell - but with Kevlar and hard-ass padding.

The Classic & Classic Race - an old school pisspot lid - not legal anywhere.

This is the Ninety Two. As the Shell looks pure Speedster, the main visual difference is the lining, which is breathable fabric instead of leather, but the fibreglass composite shell is reinforced by Kevlar (sounds tough to me), whereas the other two smaller lids are without the Kevlar.

Useful green sticker, below...

For shape comparison, here is Davida's original road legal lid on the left, beside the new ninety-two... The Ninety-Two makes the standard Jet look the size and shape of a large pumpkin. Not ideal for looks, but they are a lot more comfortable.

Bowling ball to the left...          ...custom cool on the right.

In typical British style the model options on the Ninety-Two are limited by bureaucratic red-tape as Davida were apparently only able to get Small & Medium sized models passed through UK safety tests... I'm told that there are melon headed people out there squeezing their heads into lids made for less cranially-challenged wearers..., to get the helmets through the BSS they fitted hardest cheek pads imaginable - however, thanks to a tip off from Anita at Victory Motorcycles in Camden (home to Untitled Motorcycles)

I discovered that Davida are cleverly making a batch of soft cheek pads that you can pop-in instead.

This padding swap probably makes them non BSS compliant, but the stickers are still on the lid, so hopefully there wouldn't be any issues with the long arm of the law should you be stopped by a well-informed and extremely pedantic traffic cop.

My nine year old went to town with her Xmas colouring pens...

The 92s are made in the full range of Davida paint options, (above) and I've gone for the classic silver with black racing stripe (see below, shown on a road-legal Jet).

...Hopefully that stripe will make me go faster.

Thanks to Colin at Gorgeous Bikes in Chelsea for supplying the lid, and sourcing those secret cheek pads - and thanks to the lovely Dutchess for the perfect Xmas gift..

Monday 12 December 2011

Danger - High Voltage

It’s still bloody freezing outside, but while I had a day off it was time for me to get back down to Victory MC and try to install the new Lithium Ion Battery I got from Racing Batteries last week. Some of you might remember I had a few dramas trying to wire three smaller Li Ion batteries together into a pack, and completely failed to get the setup to start my Ducati, so without any fuss at all, Calum at RB sent me a high powered single-unit replacement… and the good news? It bloody works a treat. Plug’n'play, twist and go. Grin a mile wide.

Bish, bash, bodge…

…Snug as a bug

The new RB unit saves at least 2 kilos over the OEM unit, and with the Reg/Recifier relocated under the seat pan (to avoid overheating) there was more than enough room to fit the RB unit in, and the bike looks so much better without all the battery box gubbins wedged under the subframe. If I’d gone this route in the first place it would have been one of the easiest mods ever, and the improvement in looks and the weight-saving are well worth the modest cost of the posh Li Ion unit.

Obligatory roughed-up urban wall behind a blinged-up street bike

Rex was there as usual, patiently fixing customer bikes while helping me find tools, grommets, tape and bits of cable, and I also met a cool guy called Mike (I hope I remembered that right) who was there fixing up a really nice SR500 which had inspired his mate Damian to build a similar machine.

Love the StarWars inspired tank logo.

Check the UMC grafitti in the background

I hope to get Mike and Damian to send me some decent pics of both bikes together, once they’re done, and post up some of the before/during/after pics he showed me while I was there.

Monday 28 November 2011

Customising bikes is Rubbish

I really enjoy tinkering with my bike, but if I'm honest, at least half my efforts involve way too much cursing, swearing, wishing I'd never started, and sometimes wasting lots of money.

It's my own fault. I'm a perfectionist and I want my bike to be original, but I lack most of the tools (and all of the skill) to get it right first time. My recent efforts to "simply" replace and relocate my OEM battery with three svelte Lithium units from Racing Batteries wasted several days and cost me a couple of hundred quid, and I still haven't got it done. Arse. I may as well start burning money for a laugh.

I had a chat with Tim from Spirit of the Seventies about the batteries and he just laughed, cos even when pro's build customs they encounter exactly the same kind of problems, especially when you meddle with modern fuel injected bikes that use ECUs and immobilisers.

However, on my disastrous electrics journey, I did manage to get the rear lights working (well, almost) and looking rather good. Or at least I think they do. ... Unusually, not everyone agrees, which surprised me, cos normally my tastes seem to be fairly uncontroversial... But that's just another little poke in the eye to add to my wallet woes. Anyway, you can judge for yourself.

I wanted a timeless look to the bike, and bullet-shaped lights always make me think of the 1950s idea of the future; American cruiser cars and the Jetsons showing us that the future would be shaped in a wind tunnel, and probably pointy at one end or the other.

These lights are integrated rear lights, brake lights, and indicators, all in one - with three layers of LEDs, red on the outside and a flashing amber centre. I found them on the Shin-Yo website. They're bright and clear, but I'll probably fall foul of strict MOT testers for having them too close together. We'll see.

The numberplate presented the simple problem of needing a t-shaped bracket. I say 'simple' cos when I did metalwork at school at the age of 15, I'd have found making one of these a doddle, but sadly at 45 it was more of a challenge, and I had to get Rex at Untitled to weld it for me. 

It's prettier now it's painted black

It's not quite finished, as for some reason my right hand indie flashes much faster than the left, so I clearly need to add an LED flasher to each side, but I guess that goes with the territory in the world of customisation. Note to self: Test before you solder.

For now I haven't added a numberplate light either. I can do, and probably will, as it'll sit easily on the main central bracket above the plate - which I'll also get in trouble for, as it should be yellow, not black. Maybe I'm turning back into an anarchist in my old age.

While I was fiddling I added my small tribute to Simmoncelli which will stay at least until I get the bike painted.

Saturday 26 November 2011

Gilson's Triumph

If you haven't come across the Gilson's take on how Triumph should have been building their bikes from day one, then you're in for a treat.

Jules & Mark Gilson and Mark Robbins make up this British trio who have decided to take on the task of stripping down a Triumph Thruxton and turning it into a proper Cafe Racer. Donor bikes come from 2007/8 as these bikes had carbs - which thanks to ever stricter emissions rules are fast becoming a rarity, although they deliver lovely smooth fuelling and keep to a traditional fuelling setup.

Everything ugly, uselss and heavy is thrown in the bin - although Mark tells me he's yet to actually weigh one of their bikes to see what they've shed in ugly fat (...the bikes, not the Gilson's).

Shocks are revalved, carbs are rejetted with K&N filters with a custom-built, reverse-cone exhaust, an ally tank and new seat are fitted, and the whole frame and chassis are treated to new bearings, seals and bushes, while the hubs are re-laced to wider rims for better tyre choice, with 6-pot brake calipers up front to ensure she stops as well as she goes.

At the moment Mark tells me that donor bikes are plentiful and you can get a bike built and ready to roll in less that eight weeks (or less) and you'll have a stunning custom bike that can be serviced at your local Triumph dealer. "It's all about the test ride" says Mark, as these bikes handle beautifully with smooth surging power from their uprated twin, and they also look twice as good in the flesh as they do in photos.

I asked Mark whether they'd be up for changing the bike according to customer's wishes and he said that they'd be more than happy to accomodate anyone's wishes. I think I'd fancy a slimmer seat, exhaust wrap and possibly twin discs up front. The rest looks spot-on.

At the NEC they also had thier new Triumph Bobber on display, although built from the same donor, but with a custom frame (so a little more £££). This bike has the same attention to detail - if not more, and even parts like the oil cooler were handmade, aluminium items. It's certainly no parts-bin special.

From talking to Mark, hearing his attention to detail and seeing the bikes in the flesh I think they strike the perfect balance in being a modern-retro custom that's based on Thruxton's already upgraded version of a reliable factory bike with improved charisma and genuine Truimph heritage, but with nobs on.

All they need now is a perfume commercial or two, and perhaps Tom Cruise could ride one in the next MI movie?

Tuesday 22 November 2011

Build 43

Not a single bolt or component out of place – just pure, understated cool

Sometimes a bike comes along that really moves my soul, but it tends to be from the usual suspects at places like Wrench Monkees, Spirit of the Seventies or Deus, and has already done the rounds with EXIF, Pipeburn and elsewhere, however – this beautiful creation is the work of Geoff Rossi from the Ducati Sport Classic forum, and I’ve been following the build online for months waiting for Geoff to get the finishing touches done and stop test-riding the thing long enough to take some half decent pictures.

If this is “build 43" on Geoff’s notes, are there another 42?

To the a non-Ducatista it looks a lot like a Sport Classic 1000, with perhaps a few aftermarket parts, like the tank and seat, but although it has that spirit in its DNA it’s actually built from the ground up and is not something you can just bolt together from the Ducati parts bin.

Geoff’s not completely happy with the seat.

The design brief has been to create a light, minimal bike with classic lines and strong performance.

Geoff’s starting point was a Ducati Super Sports 1000 DS motor without ECU or any electronic goodies, as he wanted an old-school carbed setup with MSD ignition and FCR41 flatside carbs.

The swingarm and suspension also came from a SS1000DS, with a 70′s Imola style tank and tail, with GSXR fully adjustable front end with radial brakes and BST carbon wheels – all stitched together by a custom-built frame using the headstock from a 999, with a ride-height adjustor at the top of the shock and adjustable rearset mounts, making it a bike that can be quickly reconfigured for road or track use.

The frame design is a cross between a Pierobon frame and a 70′s 900ss frame – with parallel spars from the bottom of the headstock under the tank down to the rear motor mounts and a backbone from the top of the headstock to the shock mount above the vertical cylinder head.

The rear subframe is a bolt-on aluminum unit that can be modified to work with different seat/tail units, and the custom exhaust is a 2-1-2 with a baffled collector box under the seat.

I assume the plate is designed to be read by sleeping policemen?

As you can see from the pics of the finished bike above, the end result of Geoff’s labours is the kind of bike Ducati should be building in the first place – but then I guess it would be boring and we wouldn’t have this story to tell.

There is a very long thread on the Ducati Sport Classic forum which documents the whole build in some detail, with comments, hundreds more pics of every phase of the build, and plenty of video too.

Below I’ve posted a selection of pics taken from that thread, but they are just the tip of the iceberg. The original thread is very well illustrated plus there’s plenty of humour and personality to read through, so if you’re inspired by what you see here, do take the time to read more. Besides, I’m sure the story is not yet over.

The Journey began here…

Such modest beginnings...

What I love most about this bike is that it’s not just built to be pretty or to slavishly reflect a bygone era of biking. It’s in fact a very modern build using old school thinking and attitude, but plenty of modern components and engineering knwoledge, to create a bike that you could take to Brand Hatch on any trackday and show a few guys on R1s and CBR1000s the fastest way around Druids.

This writeup continues with loads more photos on The Bike Shed

...and if you have a few hours to kill, there’s even more on the Ducati Sport Classic (Cafe Racer) forum here

…Meanwhile Geoff has threatened me with the idea of building these stunning bikes to-order, or creating kits so that people can do it themselves. I for one would love a bike exactly like this in my garage. I think it’s about as perfect as a Duc-based cafe racer could possibly get and is worthy of sitting alongside any other custom build. If the price is right I may have to sell the wife and kids. Hmmm….

Anyway, I’m sure this bike isn’t finished just yet, and that we’ll see plenty more from Geoff, but meanwhile I’m very chuffed to have got this bike out there. Guys like Geoff are exactly what this site - and The Bike Shed - are all about.

Saturday 19 November 2011

Victorious Day

After a few quiet weeks, where most of my spare time has been spent setting up the Bike Shed, it was time to return my attention to the little Duc and her needs. The trouble with starting with a bike that's quite cool from stock, is that you do a ton of work on it, and to the untrained eye it still looks like a factory bike.

In fact, if this was someones else's bike, I'm not sure I'd be all that excited about it - not as long as it appears to be just another Sport Classic with a few tweaks and aftermarket bolt-ons - or at least that's how it looked to me until I started to get a little more serious.

Adding the Imola seat provided more of a proper structural change, and when you add that to the other multiple mods the bike is finally starting to look a little more bespoke, but the big stuff for me on a true cafe racer custom is what you take away... I love that cafe racer mantra - "adding lightness". It says it all: Take off what doesn't need to be there, ...and hide anything ugly.

Bare behind - and battery box gone...

First on my new - and growing - list is to lose the ugly battery from between the rear subframe supports between the shocks. Ducati have done a pretty good job of tucking it away in a discrete black box, but all the cafe customs I lust after have clear space under the seat, and I wanted that lightweight look.

The guys at Spirit recommended Racing Batteries, so I called them up, and 24 hours later I had two tiny Lithium batteries that needed to be wired in parallel, to provide about 30% more cold cranking power than my OEM battery. Amp hours are less, but I'm not running an alarm or leaving the bike standing for weeks on end. The weight difference is also astounding. These two batteries combined weigh less than a third of my clunky huge OEM unit - and now that I've relocated my Reg/Rectifier under the undertray there is plenty of room for them to sit under the seat.

A bicycle made for two... Batteries, that is.

Also on my list was to sort out the rear light and plate assembly. It all looks "ok" but it's based on a stock aftermarket item from RG Racing, albeit it chopped and painted, but the clear LED oval rear light just looks too modern for my changing tastes. I'm not after rure retro but I am going for for a timeless look - so I'm really drawn to  more simple shapes, ovals, circles, smooth lines...

I'm also not a fan of indicators - although they are kinda useful for doing right turns on bust road on a dark night, - so I was really pleased to find a pair of round-lensed, bullet-shaped integrated tail/brake/indies from Shin-Yo in Germany.

I wanted to mount them up and under the rear of the subframe, with as little bracketry and fuss as possible, but they were going to occupy the space where the numberplate bracket would normally be, so I need something custom...

Bug-eyed monster, or retro-cool?

...cue a day with Rex and Victory Motorcycles in Camden - the home of Untitled Motorcycles. It's amazing what he has just lying around there. Not to mention the gear in the shop upstairs.

Yes, that IS a Mike Hailwood Rep. "The Tank is elsewhere being Caswelled"

An ancient MotoGuzzi. Just hanging out at Victory MC

Rex very kindly agreed to let me come over for the best part of a day, and do as much of the donkey work as possible myself, stripping off the old battery, tail unit, removing the alarm, and designing a template for the number plate bracket.

The icing on the cake was that Adam from UMC was also there building a new Untitled BMW for a customer and bike photographer Damian McFadden was  there, building his own bike from the ground up, having just got the frame back from the powerdercoaters.

Damian is clearly insane. He has only recently discovered his passion for bikes and the streetbike/cafe racer scene, so instead of just taking his test and buying a bike to get started, he bought an engine... ...and then started building a bike from the ground up. Brilliant. And bonkers.

The three of us shared bench-space with Rex and Anita, probably getting in the way and making a mess (sorry Rex) but it was good male-boding stuff as we helped each other out with positioning, cutting, bits of old metal, locating tools and generally being proper blokes, down in the Shed.

Velocette something or other... An old Police bike, apparently.

At the end of the day my donkey work was finished, so Rex welded the bracket's mounting points on for me so I could fix up as many parts as possible, leaving him to finish the wiring. The electrics are something I could have done myself, as wiring-in lights and indies is something I do at least three times a year on various bikes, but it's reassuring to have a Pro sort out your basic power/battery stuff, as I don't want to blow up my ECU or melt anything important.

Not the most complex design... but sturdy and minimal.

All in all it was a great day of proper man-work, getting immoveable dirt under my fingernails, hanging out with my mates, and doing something that pushes more satisfaction buttons than most other things I can think of.

I'll post up proper pics soon. Not everyone likes the way it's turning out at the rear, but I hope it'll have more admirers when the plate bracket is painted black and the bodywork is back together, then all can wonder at the simplicity of having lights, brakes and indies all in one.

Next up, I have to sort out those black triangles that hold the front and rear footrests, and the exhaust too. What were Ducati thinking when they drew that lot up?


Well, the bad news is that the new Racing Batteries won't start the bike, (we think the ECU needs ore amps) so my post title was just a wee bit optimistic.

Talking to Tim from Spirit at Rollerburn on Saturday made me realise that when it comes to proper custom work there is a lot of trial and error and you often need a few goes at getting a big fix to work...

Ah well, time for me to discover a virtue I've never really had... Patience.


The guys at racing batteries are sending me a third unit free of charge, which previous experience (forum knowledge) suggests will work fine. It'll arrive on Thursday so I'll post updates and completed pics asap.