California’s Kott Motorcycles mostly do one thing – build exceptional cafe racers based around late 1970’s Hondas. They’ve wrenched on a few side projects, a few Triumph’s and BMW’s, but the best work Dustin and his team produce is a steady flow of wonderfully perfect Hondas. So, sit down kids and oogle at the Kott ‘18, a 1975 Honda CB550 that’s a masterclass of proportion, colour and stance.
Green or blue? You be the judge
So how did it al start? The customer for the build initially approached Kott Motorcycles with a picture of an old BMW custom, painted in a striking green. ‘That photo was used as the cornerstone of the bike,’ Dustin says. ‘We wanted to create a simple, understated build with a timeless colour scheme including brown leather upholstery and restrained chrome plating’.
On first glance the most striking element of the ‘18 is the fuel tank taken from a CB750. It is, in Dustin’s opinion, one of the most important parts of a build. ‘Every chance I get I snatch up old 750 Super Sport tanks,’ he says, ‘They are arguably one of the best looking tanks that Honda designed’.
Aside from the tank there’s a host of great little features about the bike. The frame has been shortened and had all the tabs shaved off, the suspension and stance are just right but the best part of this cafe build is the proportions. It’s the 36-24-36 of the motorcycle world. It’s a signature of Kott’s builds and something the team pride themselves on.
Ah, the classics!
‘The front-heaviness of the bike allows the rear to remain clear and free of weight while highlighting its own features,’ Dustin says. The pursuit of those clean, clean lines also run to the front of the bike, starting with the 7” Lucas sealed beam lamp. ‘We buried the headlight as close to triple clamp as possible,’ he adds, ‘and we ended the seat just above the rear axle line’. Take note, cafe builders.
That clean look is also helped along by some friendly local laws. See any turn signals on the bike? ‘I rarely run indicators,’ Dustin says, ‘We have some fairly motorcycle friendly exemptions in the States that allows for their absence’. Land of the free and home of brave, right? ‘Anyway, they don’t make riding in Southern California any safer,’ he adds.
“I rarely run indicators. We have some fairly motorcycle friendly exemptions in the States that allows for their absence.”
Despite a near-encyclopedic knowledge of Honda’s road going lineup in the late 70’s there was one thing about ‘18 that the team a little stumped. ‘The donor bike was given to me,’ Dustin explains, ‘and the rear brake assembly consisted of some hand crafted pieces. I’ve never seen these components before and they didn’t have any branding on them.’ The guys had to pull everything apart, clean the components up and try to figure out what the original builder had intended when reassembling them.
But with all that in place, a new set of rubber, a set of Kott’s proprietary rearsets and a beautiful new exhaust system the bike looks a million dollars. And it rides as well as it looks. ‘The quality of the ride is just simply fun,’ Dustin says. ‘It has all the power you’d expect from a freshly build 550cc motorcycle with the advantage of a considerable reduction in weight’.
I don’t have the figures exactly how many pounds the HondaCB550 has shed, but it looks like a damn lot. The ‘18 is a textbook example of an exceptional cafe racer, thoughtfully designed and beautifully executed. Trends in the custom scene may come and go, but I promise you in twenty years time when you come across a picture of this bike it’ll look every bit as good as it does now.
Chances are if you’re into custom motorcycles and have a deep love for bikes, then you spend more money on them than most people consider reasonable. Call it crazy, but this is our culture and once the need for speed is in your veins, digs its hooks in deep, you’re addicted. But one thing I’ll never understand are the folks who spend a fortune on their machines and next to nothing on safety gear. So to spread the word about how important it is to protect your brain and your body, Italian helmet company Nolan and Germany’s custom king Marcus Walz joined forces. The result is a smooth as silk 2006 Ducati SportClassic Cafe Racer that’s head and shoulders above the rest.
WalzWerk Motorcycles and Nolan have a long association, with the helmet maker supporting Marcus throughout his racing career. It should come as no surprise that its been such a successful partnership with both firms believing heavily in innovation and absolute quality. Nolan the brainchild of Italian Lander Nocchi who wanted to bring astronaut levels of personal protection to the automotive industry in the ’70s. While WalzWerk’s main man Marcus has been taking stock machines and transforming them into wicked works of rolling thunder for decades.
Stance for days
The Sport 1000 from the Classic line is a rare bike to go cutting into as they still command a hefty price but when Walz discovered this one he knew it was the perfect base and had to rescue it from its current location. “This one I found by accident at an Audi dealership, where someone traded it in for an Audi Convertible. Unbelievable…,” the custom king says with disgust. But from rotting on a car lot to being placed on a work lift at the Mannheim shop, the rags to riches story had already begun for this Ducati the second it was destined for a WalzWerk overhaul.
“The most charismatic part on a stock Ducati Sport 1000 is the big gas tank. So this one was the first I want to change, to make the bike not immediately visible as a Ducati Sport Classic and to make the bike look more lightweight.” explains Walz. But before he could begin to transform the tins the wide frame of the big Duc had to be drastically altered. From just underneath the gas tank the trellis frame has been slimmed down 15cm from stock and an all new subframe fabricated with stunning sweeping lines moving rearward.
Then all the Ducati’s metal work was hand shaped from 2mm aluminium, done the old fashion way until every line was flawless. The result is simply brilliant with the eyes immediately drawn to the classic British styled gas tank, complete with sculpted knee dents and a Monza filler. Not to be out done the tail section is a work of art, the gap perfectly parallel to the new subframe running all the way around. Even the understand is hand shaped to an incredible level of detail, with a tyre recess and a small nook that allows the tail light to be flush mounted.
“Then all the metal work was hand shaped from 2mm aluminium, done the old fashion way until every line was flawless.”
Wanting to continue the British theme on the Italian Stallion Walz knew a direction change from his usual path was required. “I didn’t want to build another Red DucatiCafe Racer as I’ve done so many times before. I wanted to mix this build a bit with the culture of the British Cafe Racer scene. So the first thing that came in my mind was the colour, which in this case is British Racing Green Metallic from Aston Martin.” To give it the right touch for the folks paying the bills a mix of Nolan graphics and WalzWerk’s classic hot rod logo were hand painted on.
V for victory
Keeping the rider comfortable and doing nothing to take away from the flowing lines the seat has been tailored to perfection and wrapped in soft black leather. But while every Walz machine is amazing to look at the experienced racer never builds a bike that isn’t rapid to ride. With the weight heavily reduced the suspension is built to match with new Ohlins front forks clamped by some serious triple trees. The single side mounted rear shock is a custom piece from the good Swedes at Ohlins too but for the brakes its back to Italy. A monstrous set of Brembo mono-block calipers bring the latest superbike technology to the Nolan build.
Powering the show is the factory fitted DS9 Desmo engine with 992cc and twin spark it spits out 91bhp from the factory. But Walz was never going to leave it totally stock with the first change a modified airbox. Next his old friends at SC-Project built a beautiful one-off full titanium exhaust system that gives a GP growl to the road racer. The belt covers are carbon, so too the partial clutch cover that shields a super light dry clutch unit from the WSBK Bologna machines from the ’90s. The finishing touch to the power unit was to pull the stock map, give it a tweak before reflashing the ECU.
The rest of the electronics package is neatly hidden away with a Motogadget m-Unit controlling the show and their Motoscope Pro digital speedos drastically cleaning up the front end. The new headlight gives the Ducati a more modern look, mounted back against the forks. While the clear lenses of the tiny taillight and four indicators allow them to disappear out of view. The factory switchgear remains but the bars and fluid reservoirs come from a Walz favourite in LSL, while his own turned bar weights plug the ends.
For an aggressive riding position the clip-ons are accentuated with custom rearsets for a tucked in feel and carbon heel guards finish them out. The final addition was an all new set of black rims with stainless spokes holding it all together and sticky Pirelli tyres for the rubber. “The most I like is the combination of classic Cafe Racer lines with modern high-end components like the suspension and the brakes. I really believe that this fact, which you can find on many bikes I’ve built, is a huge part of the bikes success,” believes Walz. We aren’t about to disagree.
Ever noticed how the impossible seems simple once you’ve already done it? BMW’s creation of their very first branded bike, the R32, seems like a ludicrous feat even 100-odd years later. Hell, they are still using the same basic layout today. But for designer Max Friz and the rest of the company’s engineers, their next job was to go one better. For as great as they were, the R32 and its R37 racing cousin were complex and expensive old beasts. Their brief for the R42 and R47 was nigh-on impossible – do more with less. They had to be faster, lighter and cheaper. But hey, they’d done it once before, right?
With no major wars to fight, the main task for Germany’s BMW in the 1920s was that of creating a successful motorcycle for mass production. After a thoroughly German analysis of the R37 model, which was a fiddly and costly bike to make, the German engineers arrived at a great solution. The key to success of the newly named ‘R47’ motorcycle was the reduction of manufacturing costs while also improving the new bike’s performance. You can almost see them now, all standing around and sternly nodding to each other while secretly scheißen in their hosen.
Luckily, they weren’t throwing out any babies with any bathwaters. There were some decent engine improvements flagged for the R47, but the rest of the classic bike wasn’t going to be changed all that much. So having procured a spare 500cc engine from an R37 as a starting point, the BMW engineers got to work by deleting pretty much anything that wasn’t bolted down – and some things that were, too. Along with a simplified frame and suspension, hindsight allowed them to remove large chunks of the R37s electricals that were not needed. As a result, they were able to lower the bike’s cost by 36% while keeping all of its racing ambitions alive, mostly thanks to that beautiful motor.
Disposing of the side-valves found in the R42, the horizontally opposed OHV engine of the R47 was otherwise fairly similar, except that its power was increased to 18hp and therefore its maximum speed to around 110 km/h. Clearly it appealed to their customer base; BMW sold around 1720 R47s which was a full ten times more than the R37, with many of these going to German racing clubs.
“Clearly it appealed to their customer base; BMW sold around 1720 R47s which was a full ten times more than the R37.”
Another reason for the runaway success of the R47 was that BMW did not present it as a track-only bike. Instead, it was offered in a ‘basic’ configuration that the customer could add to from a list of many optional extras, including a generator, horn and headlight. A larger capacity fuel tank was also offered, something clearly designed to appeal to those planning on travelling faster of further than Joe (or Johannes) Average.
Anti-clockwise speedo. Those crazy Germans
Other firsts for the bike included a rudimentary silencer and a Cardan (or shaft) drive brake. Look closely and you’ll see the brake pedal near where the shaft exits the rear of the engine. And then there’s the fact that roller bearings were used in it for the first time ever as part of the OHV design, and that it was also one of the first bikes to use replaceable bushings. What a classic tour de force.
If only we knew when it was made…
Along with those breakthroughs, you’ve also got a 6 volt Bosch magneto, 14 litre tank, 3 speed ‘box and a single plate dry clutch, all wrapped up in a 130 kg package, stamped ‘special delivery’ from sunny Bavaria.
The model R47 occupies the toppest of top shelves among BMW’s classic motorcycles because it was a truly amazing bike for its time. And as you’d expect, this is reflected in its current market value, which is amongst the highest of all the old Beemers. Motorworld’s experts also note that some scammers will try to pass off reworked R42s as R47s. Many of these fakes are virtually indistinguishable from the real thing, so if you are ready to drop a cool $70,000 on a pristine model like this, be good and sure you’re getting your money’s worth.
“When I make it big, I’m going to build the coolest custom bike.’ Don’t deny it; we’ve all thought about it. Imagine not having to cut any corners or settle for second best. It’d be like rocking up to a top restaurant and ordering everything. And for Miami restauranter and businessman John Kunkel, that’s pretty much exactly what happened. His company owns and operates some of the world’s most popular restaurants, and what better way to reward yourself than with an Öhlins-equipped XR1200X Harleyscrambler that you’ve always wanted? Now, thanks to local shop Cohn Racers, he’s got it.
Side-mounted rad was the best part of the factory bike
Currently a two-man shop, JP and his father John often get help from a few good friends in the local bike trade. As bike lovers pretty much since birth, their age gap gives them a handy combination of old school and new school styles to draw upon. After working behind closed doors for over a year on the designs of their first bikes, they finally had them at a point where they were confident they could make a bit of a splash. And splash they did.
Starting life as a Harley XR1200X, which in the grand scheme of things is a pretty cool Harley to begin with, JP had bigger plans for the donor. “This will be a limited run of 10 bikes which we are calling the Muscle Rs.” This one, in case you were wondering, is number two. “These are not easy bikes to find,” laments John. “Especially the later models with the black engines. We searched nationally for several weeks with very little luck but we ended up finding a really clean one that had been traded in at a Suzuki dealership in Melbourne, a few hours north of Miami. So we drove up there and luckily it was just as advertised.”
Starting out, they knew they wanted a meaty American V-twin scrambler with dual-purpose tires. So they looked at the Dyna and then the Sportster; but they soon realised that the XR Harley was clearly the way to go. “It had that flat tracker vibe. One ride of the bike and it was clear that this was the Muscle R.” Working closely with the customer to come up with the leather theme on the tank, they were channeling the designs of 50s race cars with their leather hood straps. “We find that vintage race cars are always a good source of inspiration for our builds; their wire wheels, loud exhausts and headlight grills are timeless.”
“We find that vintage race cars are always a good source of inspiration for our builds.”
Not too little, not too much
Stripping the bike and cutting the frame were the first steps in the build, followed soon after by the two welding on their own subframe and mounting twin Öhlins bouncers out back. Spinning the bike around, a full front-end conversion was carried out with custom-machined triple trees to enable the Öhlins forks to be fitted. And don’t forget their partners in crime, the chunky Brembo brakes with their dual 320mm rotors and stainless lines. Talk about no nonsense. “Next we designed a new seat pan and upholstered it with the best leather we could find.” Of course, the rather average stock XR wheels were binned in favour of new custom wire wheels and Shinko Adventure Trail booties.
“To keep it reliable, we left the engine mostly stock but we did tweak the engine management system for better engine response and added smoothness. We also customized the exhaust and gave it a splash of our top secret coating.” We’re guessing it’s alien tech. On the electrical front, they managed to use most of the stock harness but did add their custom-faced speedo, LED indicators and brake lights. And any of the other parts of the bike that are prone to wear and tear were serviced or replaced, too.
“As a fairly young shop, getting the money together to buy the expensive parts is probably the hardest thing we’ve encountered,” says JP. We’re pretty sure that all that Swedish gold didn’t come cheap. “Getting the designs right to the point we were happy with them was also a long and complicated process, and we are still trying out different painters but it’s really hard to find decent shops in Miami.”
With 20/20 hindsight, the two tell us that it’s the scrambler’s looks are what they are really happy with. “It looks like something Harley CVO could have built,” smiles John. “The bike stands like a bull; mean and lean. We really like the leather accents on the tank; they blend perfectly with the seat and the black paint. Even people who are not into bikes mention how special it looks. We guess that the attention to detail is pretty obvious,” says JP. We’d agreed wholeheartedly.
In many ways, Italy’s OMT Garage is the perfect nuclear racing family. Father Gaetano Troiano started the shop in 1978. Mother Silvana handles the media. And sons Marco and Mario are now pushing things into the 21st century and beyond with their love of racing and customisation. That makes 2018 the shop’s 40th anniversary. And what better way to celebrate that than with a star-studded line-up. Here’s their SnowQuake-winning ‘Stardust’ Yamaha XSR900 scrambler.
Since their last Pipeburn feature bike, the Troiano family have both landed official seller status with Italian heroes Moto Guzzi and kicked of a Racing School. Essentially a public flat track class, they were lucky enough to land Moto3 racer Tony Arbolinio as one of their first students. He, along with his lucky (and now very self-conscious) classmates hit the dirt twice a week to practice, swap tips and improve their skills.
As the very first Japanese bike that the brothers had worked on, the XSR900 was more than a little privileged. Especially considering its previous life as a press and test riding bike for Yamaha Italy. Damn those irresponsible, ham-fisted moto journos. Yamaha’s only request was that they build a custom scrambler – but one that was pushing the boundaries and clearly different from all those that had come before. A fearful set of instructions for us mere mortals, but quite a fitting challenge for the House of Troiano.
And the bike’s rather flashy, Hollywood name? Originally it was a nickname given to the Yamaha after a long run of late summer nights spent transforming the thing from factory to fantastic. But as of a few week’s ago the name has taken on a new meaning after the bike, with the very talented racer Marco on board, took frosty gold at the Deus-organised 2018 SnowQuake event in Northern Italy. Stardust or stardom?
With 20/20 hindsight, the bike had been perfectly prepped to win in these treacherous conditions as Marco tells us with a little too much glee that he went to town and ripped out the entirety of the bike’s electronic governors, including the ABS, ATC and the ride-by-wire system. “Now, it’s only for hard riders,” he laughs. You can almost hear those Japanese engineers gasping from here.
“Marco tells us with a little too much glee that he went to town and ripped out the entirety of the bike’s electronic governors.”
As with most of the OMT builds, Marco has exercised his considerable fabrication skills by hand making all of the bike’s key custom components out of aluminium, including the gas tank, rear fender, seat, battery box, ‘bars and radiator. This very same radiator takes the somewhat ‘barndoor-ish’ size and placement of the original item and completely owns it. It’s amazing what in-your-face heavy metal can do to your perceptions.
Typical OMT. Metal, metal and more metal
Other drool-inducing componentry includes the Milano-made Borrani tubeless wheels, a bespoke stainless exhaust that apparently sounds like the starting grid at the MotoGP, a seat in Alcantara and leather and the top-shelf Continental TKC 80 tyres.
The build process started with the boys stripping the Yamaha back to its empty frame and wheels so that the rear fender and tail section combo could be sized and proportioned perfectly. Next an aluminium sheet was artfully smacked up to form the new gas tank; an achievement that is all-the-more impressive when you consider the relocation of the in-tank fuel pump and the space required for the bike’s air filters. Then the frame was cleaned up, sandblasted and polished with a final coating to prevent against rust.
With its life destined to be spent on surfaces where a twin front disc set-up would be about as useful as a white crayon, Marco and Mario lost one of the factory discs and added a handy Brembo caliper. Less is more, as they say. The rear sticks with the standard Nissin unit. The seat was designed to integrate into the rear’s new tail and with the new tank up front. Put simply, it’s the quintessential urban scrambler look; small and minimal.
Backwards-facing spikes. No wonder it won on-track
Mario’s face grimaces when he describes the inordinate amount of hard work involved to hide all of the bike’s electrics. And with the amount of redundancy in the loom after the Troiano’s went nuts on the bike’s electronics, Mario makes it sound like most of the ‘hiding’ was actually more like ‘starting the wiring again from scratch.’ Clearly, many hours were spent getting things as clean and tidy as possible.
“I very much like the new style of the bike,” says Marco in closing. “This is because I feel that it’s a perfect combination of the classic scrambler style mixed with some new ideas for the future of the genre.” We couldn’t agree more.