It all went wrong when I saw the sub-frame. “So, Dutch, what do you think of this sub frame?” was Shaun’s innocent question. …The guys from Down & Out Cafe Racers had already made a great impression on all of us at the BSMC when they came and exhibited their bikes at The Bike Shed event last October. They bought with them a pair of mid-sized stunners; a Gold CB450 Brat/Scrambler, dripping with beautiful details, and a Suzuki 400 Tempter, which had been turned into Cafe Racer in metallic sunburst colours. That bike caught the eye of Bike Shed regular photographer Merry Michau and now belongs to her.
It was clear that Shaun, Carl, Simon & Co weren’t into compromises or short-cuts when it comes to bike building, and not only that, they were really nice guys. Northern charm & talent won us all over, and Shaun & I started to chat – a lot. …So – back to that subframe…
…Shaun is pretty flexible when it comes to bike builds, happy to work on any base model that comes his way, so eventually a BMW had to appear in the D&O workshop and when it did he decided to look at building a bolt-on replacement subframe which he might sell-on to a few Shed Builders. He wanted my opinion on the height, length and kicked-up rear – but I wasn’t just looking at the frame, I was looking at the whole bike. Having written-off my R100 Cafe Racer I was in need of a new daily ride and had settled on another ‘reliable workhorse’ BMW. “The subframe looks spot-on, Shaun… But, er, …what’s happening to the bike?”.
Now Shaun is a bit of a charmer, so after a lot of banter he suggested that I help guide the build as it went, and if I liked the end result than I’d get first dibs on buying the bike. …So what would you do? …Exactly. …You get totally excited about the whole thing and end-up completely immersed in a fantasy-bike build. I wasn’t really committed just yet, was I?, but I was certainly enjoying the whole process. …The Dutchess used to work in Sales. She just laughed at me. She could see what was coming: A slam-dunk for silver-tongued Shaun and a pretty much guaranteed sale. Maybe she was right, but this was just too much fun.
See if you can spot the starter button… no? Look again.
Over the following weeks I watched the bike come together, while Shaun & I planned out the look and the spec, item by item. Having seen a zillion Beemer customs I knew what I wanted, but Shaun also had a clear idea of what he wanted to present to the cafe/custom community. Fortunately we agreed on pretty much everything.
Most of the time I was having to hold him back from doing too much. “This might be my daily ride Shaun… Keep it simple” but Shaun is a detail man, so we needed micro-switches on the braced Renthal dirtbike bars, and the wiring had to be hidden in the bars and frame. It wasn’t good enough just to have a small battery, it had to be in a custom built aluminium box with a leather strap and buckle. The bike had to have old-style rocker covers and curvy silver airbox, plus we needed a whole new loom to accommodate the Bates style headlight, because BMW hide half their wiring in that OEM bucket. This build was to be a labour of love and a showcase for Shaun’s talents.
One of Shaun’s touches I loved most was the replacement bear-trap footrests, welded seamlessly onto the original footrest mounts. Part of my brief was to keep the upright riding position and I also wanted to be able to accommodate a pillion for when the Dutchess couldn’t be arsed to ride one of her own bikes into town.
The bike already came with twin front discs on my favourite BMW “snowflake’ wheels, but brand new levers & MC insured improved stopping power. Twin stainless steel pipes lead to simple megaphone exhausts but we kept the standard Bing carbs and retained the use of the airbox instead of fitting cone style filters. Without the link-pipe the carbs tend to blow-off all too easily – and most Beemers really do run better with the airbox on.
As a daily ride the bike needed fenders, front and back, but we wanted to keep them short and sharp. Shaun made up a pair of aluminium items that covered as little as possible while still making sure I could ride in the rain. We debated for a long while on whether to powdercoat them black to blend in to the wheels and frame or leave them in raw metal, but the shiny-side won-out in the end, and it’s nice to see the quality of the raw materials sometimes.
The seat was something we mulled over for a long time too. How deep should it be, and do we follow the kick-up or tuck into it? I was keen on a diamond stitch in chocolate brown to match the brown gummy-bear grips, but after some messing around we agreed on a simple tuck’n’roll pattern with enough padding for proper all-day riding. The leather came out matching the battery strap rather than the grips, and my jury is still out on that, but there’s always brown leather dye if I don’t learn to love it.
The low mileage engine had already been rebuilt and given new rings, and ran like a peach, so the bike was stripped down again to be sent off for cleaning and polishing or powdercoating. We decided to keep the engine mostly raw metal, but finished the cylinder fins in black as they get pretty grotty on London’s roads anyway. I also wanted chunky dirt-stye tyres, but grippy enough for normal roads and with enough of a rounded profile to pitch in to turns nicely. Heidenau K60s provided the answer.
The tank colour was also a subject of great debate. Having always been into Black, Black and maybe Black, I have been converted into a colour-aficionado by becoming the owner of a Ducati Paul Smart replica, which had a metallic turquois frame. Suddenly, colour didn’t seem so naff, so I decided to paint the tank in stand-out YeYe Green, the same as Richard’s CX500 we featured earlier in the year. But on reflection I realised that the paint scheme really is the finishing touch on a bike, and we wanted something uber-cool. Sean asked what I thought of the old Honda livery he’d re-created on the CB450 – which everyone loved – and that settled it. Plus of course a matching white & gold BMW roundel which Shaun had made up specially.
After the full strip’n’finish the bike was put back together, checked-out and had the carbs balanced, and then it was time for a photoshoot. Talented bike snapper Simon took the bike out for a spin, and despite being a bit of an MX racer, and way too young for a BMW-fueled midlife crisis, he had to admit that the bike was “really torquey and easy to fly in and out of traffic on, really comfy too” – before making me promise never to tell anyone he’d said it. …Oops. Sorry Simon.
By now you may all be getting bored with seeing so many BMW R-Series customs, but I’m really enjoying the fact that they are providing a staple, quality custom donor, that is allowing so many people to join the custom scene at an affordable (ish) level, and can be a scrambler, brat, cafe racer or whatever. Whether it’s a posh pro-build; completely remade, and as-new, (like this one), or a Shed-built Rat/Brat, they manage to balance being a proper rider’s bike with being something to be immensely proud of being seen on. They shift too. If you’ve never ridden one, prepare yourself for a big surprise – they’re not even heavy.
So. Did I buy the bike? You’ll have to wait and see. I just need to have a little chat with the bank manager and see if I can get a little extra help… If not, maybe she’ll be yours. Either way, she carries a little bit of the BSMC in her mechanical soul… Meanwhile, can someone stop Simon thrashing around on MY bike?