Bike as art…
We’ve featured Karl Webster’s bikes before – this Aussie creates two-wheeled art, thanks to his own talents and those of his friends and colleagues. Check out this Suzuki stroker…
You know what I think? Specials builders and bike restorers are akin to artists: it’s often not far off fine art!
And where better than to display such art, but in your homes. Yes, specials builders and restorers can also be interior designers!
You may think I’m a bit touched, but think about it: every home should have an old motorcycle in its living area. Personally, I can sit and look at an older bike for hours, whether it’s to provoke old memories or just to drink in the plain beauty of the two-wheeled art piece. OK, so your partner may not approve – but I have to question the mental state of some poncey people who pay hundreds, thousands or millions of pounds for some pretentious canvas with some streaks of oil paint on it. Oil, yes, oil paint – no. Oil paintings may look like art to some people – but it looks like Pelican crap to me!
So, the only oil I wanted in my living room was that was contained (or drained from) an engine. I considered standard, then thought about something modified. Once more, like the Barry Sheene bike featured before, I would use the services of one of the best spanner men and restorers in this neck of the woods – John Wilkinson of JW Classic Superbikes.
Strangely, it all started with the humble number-plate. This is what inspired the build. The reg-plate was NUDY-1, so I then started looking at images on the internet of nude bikes. I was often challenged on what I wanted by John: remember, he’s an old fart compared to 50-something me, but he was riding these things the first time around, unlike my good self. It was a great process as together we modified things, changed each other’s minds about other things and generally built the thing together, while challenging each other at every turn.
After seeing a few examples, I realised I wanted a two-stroke custom, more specifically a GT500 Suzuki as I loved that wide motor. The Ram Air top-end is a signature look and the frame is old school too… My feeling was that it needed to look radical but recognisable, so I would keep the original frame but remove any needless tabs and brackets. Also staying was the motor (clearly), the tank and swinging arm, because when you lose that you lose the original look.
So what did we get rid of? Front and rear wheels, oil reservoirs, original electronics and most of the wiring loom. Let’s get rid of those forks and rear shocks, original clocks: the list goes on. Before taking what was left to master builder John, I designed a new oil reservoir tank from sheet alloy and TIG welded it with the centre set aside so that John could work his magic and fit the battery and electronics in there, well out of sight.
My friend Todd Pickering from Gel-Tek Quality Composites made some serious cut-n-shut mods to a Ducati 900SS ducktail, including splitting it down the middle and adding width to it. A ridge over the top was made to match the tank and he added two scalloped-shaped inserts to each side, he was also able to mould in a rear tail-light set up stolen from an aftermarket trail bike that we had lying around.
The engine came out and was stripped completely from top to bottom and totally rebuilt including making repairs to the gearbox and rebuilding the clutch from multiple bits I had on hand. This important work was completed by Martin Norman an ex-pat Englishman and two-stroke expert. I also got him to locate the headset bearings cups and caps to fit the GT frame to take a set of current GSX-R1000 gold upside-down forks and disc brakes. I ordered a set of Ohlins rear shocks in yellow and gold to match the forks. I got the seat back from Todd and took it along with pics of bikes I liked to Dantrim Upholstery to see my mate Keeny, who reproduced the seat for my Hailwood Replica (more on this one soon). He is brilliant and has a passion for doing these things well, so a good result was never in question.
From there it was the little things that top-off a special build, like LED blinkers and a twin-headlight set-up (from a Buell Lightning I think…) which John approved of. I even found a quality GPS speedo and tacho to top it all off. With these, I drew up a CAD design and cut out a dash that John would later ditch in favour of his own design! Fair play to him, his was much better…
As we neared the end of the build I found that keeping with the original swinger meant I couldn’t quite fit a GSX-R 1000 rear wheel, so instead I went one size smaller and used a Suzuki SV650 rear wheel which was smaller, but still way bigger than the original! The rear brake set-up and sprocket carrier were the same as on my 1985 GSX-R750F, while I stuck with the original foot-pegs, gear and brake levers: it’s retro cool, after all. A big thanks to Mick Hone Suzuki in Melbourne for still stocking parts for the old dinosaur!
With the pile of parts pretty much 95% there I needed to get an exhaust and plumped for a Jemco 3-into-1 from the USA: yes, OK, it’s a triple but when I picked up the ‘yellow peril’ as the original bike was, it had a 3-into-1 on it and these were pretty common and worked well. It’s aesthetics to me. When work fully began the problems began to pop up: like how to fit a wheel twice the width of the original into the standard swinger? Hours of machining went into making things fit and then line up. The Sprocket carrier needed 10mm machining off where the sprocket bolts on, the axle was shortened and re-threaded with spacers for the back caliper to fit and the list goes on. That’s where JW shines: he can’t let anything beat him and he’ll do it in a way that’s safe, practical and aesthetically pleasing.
Slowly but surely the bike came together and each time I arrived at his place the bike looked better and better. With the wiring loom, John basically started again from scratch. He also relocated the solenoid blinker flasher and all the fuses (including the battery) to a place under the seat. Being a two-stroke there’s a three-into-one choke cable but the lever on the handle bars looked like it was off an old lawnmower. So a quick visit to Bendigo Yamaha and I killed two birds with one stone and got a lever-mount with a decompression lever which – when connected to the choke cables – this was a nice touch as it now looked factory.
With the bike all dry fitted and with the headlight mounted dash also in position, John came up with the idea of giving me the task of getting a template made from cardboard to mould over the lights to meet the top of the instrument panel. With the template done, I got the thing drawn on the computer and metal was cut and rolled by Peter Buckell of Golden City Sheet Metal. He did the oil tank too and it was a great job.
With the main bike and chassis done, we fired it up and…oh the smell. It was so sweet. But it was time to give the Emperor some new clothes. John had grafted on a 2009 filler cap from one of his son, Mark’s old race machines. The colours we wanted were muted and classic. So the main bodywork would be gloss black to compare and contrast with the gold suspenders. It would be finished with a matt front fender (mud guard to you Poms…)
When we finally finished I was tired ready to go home but then John walked over and grabbed an oval race number decal off the wall that had been peeled off a Ducati from a classic race-day and stuck it on the alloy oil tank and it gave it just that perfect finishing. So of course, you guessed it: ex-signwriter Webby here was sent home at 11pm and instructed to return with new decals to the same size to fit to the bike in the early hours! When we finally lowered her down off the ramp it was amazing how small the GT seems without the bulk of the original bike there. This wasn’t a quick build, but was instead the result of many hours and hard work from – not just John – but a list of good people.
The end result is a machine that rewards you like you’re a kid on Christmas Day, getting a new train-set to play with, or a radio-controlled car with all the batteries… I think it looks fantastic and it even ended up on the front cover of a Brit classic bike mag – now that’s the mark of true art!