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.

Monday 14 November 2011

Christian's 78 LeMans

What makes all of this bike building stuff work for me, are the guys who have a passion and an attention to detail that means what they put together for themselves ends up being a real reflection of who they are as well as what they like to ride...

Nothing you can buy from a shop floor can provide the pure pleasure that no-compromise home-builds and pro-builds can.

Christian is another home-builder from the forums with an attention to detail and clear ideas about what he likes (and what he doesn't). Like many of us who were teenagers in the 70s, motorcycles of that era still have a hold on him, especially Italian machines.

He's been putting this stunning Guzzi together over several years and as a product designer who doesn't like compromise, there's very little left of the the original bike, and what is original has been rebuilt.

The 78 LeMans started it's rebuild in 1994, and now six years, and three incarnations later he's got the bike where he wants it to be, and I think it's a real stunner. In fact I'd love a bike like this in my garage.

It's been 10 solid months of work with help from an old specialist, Sigi, who has been building race bikes since the late 60s, and MG workshops.

The finished bike has a 950cc engine with tuned heads, super light race clutch, electronic ignition and modern and minimal electrics are surrounded by a customized frame, Marzocchi forks and triples, FAC shocks and spoked wheels.

The seat was laminated by a brazilian surf guru and upholstered with finest italian calfskin... the front fender is also pure custom work. Numerous parts from classic italian + swiss suppliers were added... Lafranconi, Stucchi, Agostini, Verlicchi, Paioli, G+G, Armec just to name a few.

Frame and swingarm are zinc plated, powder coated and cavity sealed... tank seat and fender are painted in 70s Ferrari silver, and naturally it's all held together by stainless steel and titanium screws...