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Bobby Haas is a bike collector, author, Nat Geo photographer and ex-financier who is currently working hard on his latest endeavour, the Haas Moto Museum in Dallas. He owns five Hazan bikes amongst 160 others and when he’s not bidding at moto auctions, he likes to write. As a guy who knows more than most on the joyous cultural phenomenon that is motorcycling, we asked him if he would write for us; this is the result.

As I stare, white-knuckled and barely breathing, at the trucker unloading the famous three-cylinder 492cc Seeley-Tait customized racer that I managed to capture at Bonhams Spring Stafford Sale, the thoughts that ricochet through my mind, strangely enough, are thoughts of love … how love is a long and winding road with potholes and loose gravel that add intrigue to an otherwise pedestrian journey.

I am reminded of the time I was knocking down a brew at the local saloon and overheard two fellows within easy earshot discussing the tumultuous love affair that one was in the midst of.  With elbows perched on the bar and hands pressed against his forehead, the one who did most of the talking lamented, “You know, I am deeply in love with her, but it’s been such a rough road at times. I’m just not sure I can handle it anymore … maybe I should just back away for a while.”  After ordering another round of lager, his confidante turned to him and said, in a very measured tone, “Love is not a game you play from the sidelines … it’s not safe and it’s not without risk, it’s messy and it’s risky. No, you don’t play from the sidelines, you either get on the field or you leave the stadium.”

Bob Tait, the British designer and builder of this magnificent Seeley-Tait racing machine that was about to put down roots in its permanent home at the Haas Moto Museum, understood that bit of advice about as well as any custom builder who ever donned a welding helmet.  The 5100-mile trek that his one-of-a-kind racer had just taken “across The Pond” from England to the States was a casual stroll compared to the 40-year odyssey that his creation had taken from the moment when its engine was first unveiled at the Earls Court Motorcycle Show in 1967 to the day, 40 years later, when Tait attached a Colin Seeley frame to his home-built triple.

True to the admonition of the fellow in the saloon, Tait gave up at one point in his love affair with this racer—frustrated at his inability to perfect its steering, Tait “left the stadium” for no less than 30 years with the engine stashed away in boxes.

Before leaving the stadium, however, Tait went so far as to carve his original frame into pieces, an act of mutilation that brings to mind the slicing off of an ear lobe by the legendary, but tormented, painter Vincent van Gogh.  It is sobering to reflect upon the fact that all the magnificence of van Gogh’s timeless work was fashioned within a life that spanned only 37 years … three less than the elapsed timeclock on the 40-year Seeley-Tait project.

In the course of my comparatively fleeting journey from acquiring my first motorcycle in late 2014 to the opening of The Haas Museum in April 2018, it has been my privilege to work with a handful of the finest custom builders alive today—Max Hazan, Craig Rodsmith, Walt Siegl, Bryan Fuller, to name just a few.

“Even the great ones know full well that the passion that infuses every morsel of their creations … is an incurable addiction to the chaotic, meandering process of producing bespoke motorcycles.”

And it has been my experience that even the great ones know full well that the passion that infuses every morsel of their creations (and countless other attempts that never escape the scrap heap of abandoned projects) is an incurable addiction to the chaotic, meandering process of producing bespoke motorcycles.   It is an affair that is messy and risky and pockmarked with frustration, grime, and self-doubt. It is indeed a love affair you cannot pursue from the sidelines—you either get on the field or you leave the stadium.

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Written by Martin Hodgson

It’s been a Long Way Round, a Long Way Down and won the gruelling Paris-Dakar Rally; the BMW GS just might be the world’s most versatile go-anywhere moto machine. So it makes perfect sense that if you’re an Enduro riding instructor it’s the sort of machine that’s right up your alley, but wanting a custom classic example where do you turn? That question was answered with a simple call to David Widmann at Austria’s NCT Motorcycles. Tasked with taking a BMW R80GS and turning it into such a ride, the team pulled out all the stops, collaborated with the best in the business and have produced the ultimate weekend warrior for a man who likes to travel any road and off them too.

Regular readers of Pipeburn will be more than familiar with the litany of brilliant bikes coming out of NCT in just about every style you can imagine. But being tasked with coming up with a custom classic enduro machine that functions as well as its form was a new challenge they were all too willing to take on. Talking things over with the client, an experienced ride instructor, they agreed an ’80s GS was the perfect base and with his list of must haves written down, David and the team were ready to roll up their sleeves.

“We’ve started like with every other project by stripping the donor bike down. After that we’ve shorted the rare frame and powder coated it in black,” explains David. NCT believe in the full nut and bolt approach to a build and with a bike that’s going to be ridden in anger in all sorts of conditions that’s an extremely good idea. Instead of the big plastics from the original bike the subframe now sports a beautifully integrated Acerbis fender, complete with plate holder. While up front the Rizoma parts catalogue was raided with the right fender chosen and then shortened to match the rear.

“Even the bark busters and fork covers were expertly colour matched to ensure they sported the particular Bavarian hue.”

Putting its classic race face on the BMW has been given an Acerbis Elba front headlight mask that definitely ticks that Dakar box. While it was decided that the stock tank would remain, the team set about ensuring it was arrow straight before the paint was laid down. After a lot of thought, they agreed the BMW racing colours from the period would be the ideal choice and the white with blue accents have been perfectly laid down. Even the bark busters and fork covers were expertly colour matched to ensure they sported the particular Bavarian hue.

While the paint dried all the old wiring was stripped from the frame and a new loom created to make for a lightweight and minimalist combination. The heart of the system is an m-Unit from Motogadget with control handed over to a set of modern switch blocks. These are mounted on the new bars along with an improved master cylinder and quick action throttle. While tiny LED indicators keep things legal and a single Acewell speedo provides all the vitals needed for a hard day in the saddle.

The suspension package on a true enduro machine is the most important area to get right and David wasn’t going to be cutting corners. The decades-old front forks have been tossed aside and in their place are new WP USD items; the sort of thing you’d find on a factory fresh KTM. To hold them in place a pair of billet triple clamps have been machined, lightweight and capable of taking plenty of abuse. At the rear the mono-shock is also replaced by a WP item, a fully adjustable unit that can be fine tuned for the weight and style of the rider.

Going the extra mile the remote reservoir is rubber mounted to the frame ensuring it won’t be damaged in even the harshest of conditions. With the suspension now up to scratch, the front wheel has come in for a change too, up two inches to 21, it’s better suited to handling off-road duties. The stock rear rim remains but both ends get new stainless spokes before being wrapped in Heidenau K60 dual sport tyres. While bringing the braking into the 21st century is a KTM wave pattern rotor clamped by a four piston caliper that feeds from braided lines.

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Written by Martin Hodgson

To meet the needs of a diverse customer base most craftsmen from Jewellers to Whiskey makers produce a range of products to meet demand. But whisper in their ear that you’re after that special something and you may just be ushered into a small room to lay eyes on their most prized product. For Australia’s Purpose Built Moto they’ve created a Signature Series to delineate their uncompromising world-class builds from their other services often built to suit a budget or a client’s specific needs. Enter Signature Series build No. 1, head honcho Tom Gilroy’s vision of the ultimate Honda CX500 cafe and its nothing short of a masterpiece.

“This marks a motorcycle that speaks to my ideas and skill set being pushed to the extent of my ability at the time,” explains Tom. Beginning in late 2016, the 1981 CX500 has only recently been finished and is a testament to his creativity and skill. With no time to waste Tom wanted to set the stance of the bike from the beginning and that meant a change of wheels. The Honda ‘love ’em or hate ’em’ Comstars are gone with the stock hubs fitted with rings. These allow for a set of Excel Alloy rims to be laced with stainless steel spokes for reduced unsprung weight. While the overall diameter comes down an inch at each end, with the rear a 17’ x 4.5 and the front 18 x 2.25 wrapped in Pirelli Angel GT tyres.

The front forks were then rebuilt to suit the total suspension package with the fitment of preload adjuster caps. A stunning custom upper triple clamp has been machined that even sports a subtle company logo. While down the fork legs is a stabiliser that also acts as the mounting point for the handmade carbon fibre guard. “However due to the drastically different riding position and the tucked clip-on bars a steering damper was added to reduce the chances of head shake when pointing this thing around a less than perfect mountain corner,” explains Tom.

Allowing the damper to fit are a pair of stainless mounts that blend in with the overall aesthetic of the Honda while remaining purposeful in design. Just as clever are the brilliant rearsets mounted further back than stock and utilising a cleverly engineered linkage to deal with the CX’s strange gear shift. While back up on the forks the new clamp does away with upright bars and a set of clip-ons are mounted on the stanchions giving the CX that racer like position. A set of Brembo radial levers installed and Tom had the bare bones of one hell of a rolling chassis.

Speedo is a Motogadget Mini

“With the racer’s wheels and tyres on and the front suspension level set I cut the rear subframe from the backbone and behind the footpegs. Removing it to make way for the monoshock conversion. The CX500 doesn’t speak to me for a classically styled bike, I wanted to re-think the way the tail was made so I set out to specifically not hoop the rear,” says Tom, careful not to follow convention. What he came up with is a set of upswept aluminum tubes that at first look could be mistaken for an under seat exhaust. With the open ends fitted with tail lights looking like they spit flames and creating the perfect structure with which to support the rear cowl.

“Second time round I had a little psychedelic help and it took shape in one session with an almost superbike inspired set of lines”

Made from hand laid carbon fibre and wanting to create smooth lines to offset some of the sharp edges Tom had set himself no easy task. “Mounting a block of foam on the freshly bent and welded tubes I set out cutting and sanding the cowl into shape. Then I fucked it up, threw it out, and started again. Second time round I had a little psychedelic help and it took shape in one session with an almost superbike inspired set of lines.” Its all very Jimi Hendrix meets Pierre Terblanche but boy does it work and it sounds to us like Tom threw himself headfirst into the artistic process.

“Often overlooked on a Honda CX mod is the tilted back tank. Taking time to make sure the stance of the bike was right from front to back, the tank was dropped 18mm on the front and mounted slightly raised at the rear on the new subframe.” The single colour with just the most minimalist of pinstriping and graphics work shows off the level of craftsmanship in the entire build, not needing an insane paint job to steal the show. While the beautifully stitched seat fills the same brief, exquisite in execution and the perfect perch for a hell raising ride. Lighting the way the headlight up front is a 5.75” Flashpoint LED providing the perfect balance to the custom lights at the rear.

“Once the major fabrication was finished the Honda twin motor was removed, stripped and vapour blasted before being rebuilt by my mate Jamie Webster,” says Tom. The piece de resistance is undoubtedly the CAD designed and hand fabricated 2-1-2 exhaust system that emits the most incredible sound! To match it on the intake side a new set of carbs are matched up to modified intakes to clear the new subframe. And proving perfection means scouring the globe Tom had DNA performance filters in Greece make a set of pods with customised form and function just for this particular CX.

Honda CX500 Cafe Racer Build Video - In the Dr's Office - YouTube

The lithium battery is stored under the rear cowl with PBM Hollow-tip indicators keeping things legal. Purpose Built Moto switches are a piece of art joining hand wrapped black Nubuck leather grips on the bars. “Hearing the freshly rebuilt motor breathe for the first time through the 2-1-2 exhaust set up was phenomenal, even on idle the bike snarls at you like a caged animal. Getting it on the road seemed surreal, never had I gone in so deep on a custom motorcycle so the first ride was somewhat of a graduation,” relives Tom. And with this incredible CX500 cafe, he’s placed Purpose Built Moto on the world map and we can only wait with baited breath for No. 2 to be revealed.

[ Purpose Built MotoFacebookInstagram – Store | Photos by Made.Social ]

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Written by Andrew Jones

From the get go, it was clear to us that Johan Balsvik wasn’t your average custom bike builder. From his ‘Here’s my Ducati Pantah thing’ introductory email to describing his job as ‘Swedish railway development,’ we kind of suspected that the guy was a little out there. But little did we know… Here’s his latest custom bike – one that he describes as being inspired by “Troy Bayliss, Paul Smart, 70s coffin choppers and Picasso.” Meet the wild ‘Imola Homage’ Ducati Pantah 500.

Johan Balsvik is a private builder, 56-year-old father of four, railway engineer and crayfish fan who has made and renovated pretty much everything he possibly could over the years: hot-rods, choppers, race bikes, wooden boats, street motorcycles and much, much more. However, he readily admits that he’s always relied on a kind of conservative thinking that ‘determines’ what things should look like before they are even built – but not any more.

The bike’s foundation stones consist of an ‘81 Ducati Pantah 500 frame, an ‘02 Ducati Monster 750 engine and electronics, and an ‘06 Honda CBR1000RR FireBlade front and rear end. The end result of this wild mash-up would be a design that intentionally kept the Honda’s geometry in order for the chassis to move and behave properly. While Johan had clearly set out to do a little shock and awe-ing visually, he was determined that the bike’s handling shouldn’t do the same.

The modifications began with what Johan calls an inverted ‘Denver bend’, referring to a Swedish motorcycle club that built choppers in the 70’s. Put simply, it’s when a builder cuts the lower frame tubes and bends the uppers to change the rake without having to modify the steering head. In this case it was to make the angle steeper, trying to get as close to the FireBlade’s 25 degrees as possible. Then the lower frame tubes had to be straightened to reconnect the steering head, while the front cross struts were moved backwards to make room for the Monster engine’s fuel injection.

After much internal dialogue about what to do with the rear frame, finally he decided to leave it straight and placed the minimal rear lights inside the tube ends. Then he de-tabbed the frame and smoothed out the welds. Everything up front – including the wheels, brakes, forks and triple clamps – come from the Honda. The triple clamps are quite heavily modified, partly to look a little older and also to get rid of some of the protruding brackets. The remaining brackets and holes are now used as mounting points for things that they definitely weren’t originally intended for.

He found nothing he thought suitable for a front fender, so he decided to make his own instead. The material is polished aluminum and the shape is a reflection of both the tank and the seat cowl, rounded at the front and pointed in the back.

And since the Honda swing arm is made to be mounted on the frame, there was no possibility to make it fit with the original Ducati engine mount. A Pantah has a fairly short swing arm, so a new mounting point behind the engine would have made the wheelbase almost 100mm too long. Johan eventually found an aluminum swing arm from a unnamed junker. He cut off the front end and joined it with the rear end of the Honda swing arm. A new 5mm steel bracket was constructed under the lower engine mount to handle the forces from the suspension linkage.

But the elephant in the room is the bodywork. Make of it what you will, but clearly no one will be left unaffected by the shapes of the tank, tail and seat. What initially looks very square has far more advanced geometry than you may first think; you have to have several views around the motorcycle before you even begin to perceive the complexity. Johan says, “If you make something too straight, it will be boring. It might be perceived as straight, but it can’t actually be straight.” Both the tank and the rear cowling are a couple of centimetres wider at the top than at the bottom, giving the whole machine a distinct hourglass shape when viewed from behind.

“But it’s the straight cutout for the seat that alarms most viewers. Tetris, anyone?”

The tank is then conically rounded in the front while the rear cowling has inherited its shape from the tail of cars like the Bugatti Type 35B. But it’s the straight cutout for the seat that alarms most viewers. Tetris, anyone? Moving on, almost everything shiny is made of polished aluminum and the paint scheme is an homage to the Troy Bayliss Imola Special, which in turn was an homage to Paul Smart’s classic Ducati racers.

“The do or die moment for this built was to get the Honda swingarm to fit the Monster engine and the frame,” says Johan. “That was really tricky to solve. If I didn’t get that sorted somehow it would all have to go into the trash. The other hard part was to get the design of the body right and to find a design that worked with the inspirational pictures I had from 50cc racing and ’70s choppers. To get the flow of all the shapes to come together – the wide and narrow at the same time – that was hard.”

See what happens when you leave five men alone in a garage?

“For me it’s a happy bike, when you see it you smile and wonder, ‘what the fuck is that! What has he done?’ And then you smile again and realise that somehow, it works. And the mixture of different inspirations have all joined forces in this bike and it’s a happy, crazy design that works – for me anyway.” Well not just for Johan, actually. The Pantah won third prize in the ”Best Street Bike” category when it was first presented at the Elmia Custom Motor Show, and then took second prize in the ”Race Class” at the subsequent Norrtälje Show. Who would have thought that Picasso, ’70s choppers and the Swedish railway could make such a winning team?

[ Swedish story by Peter Dahlbom | Photos by Ola Östling ]

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Written by Andrew Jones

“We started off just doing general welding repairs and custom fabrication jobs,” says Jim from the UK’s Alonze Custom. “There is only me and my Dad here so we’re not a big company or anything.” And as if to prove the point, this beautiful custom ‘67 Ducati’s photos were snapped by his Dad, too. But the photos, like the bike itself, jar against the father and son’s humbleness. I mean, just look at the results. “I built my first bike – a 1954 Triumph – in 2013. Then there was a Honda CB500T in 2015. This Ducati is my third bike, which was finished late in 2017.”

Jim says he doesn’t really like calling the bike a cafe racer, but he admits it most readily falls into that category with its single seat and clip on bars. “The motor is a Ducati 350 single. It’s the earlier, ‘narrow case’ motor and I believe it’s from 1967.” The rest of the bike is pretty much all new, as it’s mostly custom fabrication from Jim’s own hands. “I call the bike the ‘Alonze 350 Special,’ he says, smiling broadly.

Jim bought the bike in his home town of Scarborough and it was in a pretty bad way. “It had a Triumph 350 motor fitted; something known as a Tricati. At the time of buying it, I had no idea how hard the 350 single motors were to find. After a year of looking, one popped up on eBay in a town called Saltburn (Sounds strangely familiar – Andrew) just up the road from me. It wasn’t cheap and it needed rebuilding. Another year passed before I built the bike and that’s when I decided I wasn’t going to use any of the standard chassis; instead I would make my own bike completely from scratch.”

“The Ducati motors are such a nice shape. So I guess the design of the motor inspired me to make the bike like it is.”

Jim didn’t really have any initial inspiration for the build; instead he says he just wanted to make a bike that looked beautiful and that matched the classic Italian design of that 350 engine. “The Ducati motors are such a nice shape. So I guess the design of the motor inspired me to make the bike like it is.”

Original twin rear shocks now replaced by a mono

“I started off with a very simple sketch; pretty much just an outline of a cafe bike. I wanted to make as many parts as I could myself. So the first job was to make a set of yokes. I cast them from aluminium – they took some doing tho! I’ll buy a set next time. I then started making the frame and swing arm parts. I made the head tube and steering damper setup, the eccentric adjusters for the rear wheel and chain adjustment and then all the bosses that hold the motor, foot pegs and swing arm.” After that, Jim measured the geometry from the standard 350 frame and cracked on with cutting and bending the tubes. With his build time limited to evenings and weekends, it was fairly slow going but quite clearly he got there in the end.

“I started on New Year’s Day 2017, so I aimed to get a rolling chassis by the end of January, then I started on all the body work. I made the tank cover, seat unit, under tray and front and rear fenders; they are all hand beaten from aluminium. I aimed to get these made by the end of February. I then got all the controls made, foot pegs, rear brake pedal and gear lever. I pretty much had it dry built by about June, then I stripped it to polish and paint it all and rebuilt the motor. The engine is what really slowed me down as the crank was knackered! The bearings were shot and there was a crack in the conrod – it took about three months to get that sorted.” As soon as it arrived back, Jim cracked on and finished the build with everything being completed in December 2017.

Pretty much everything but the engine is custom

As to the cafe’s main challenges, Jim says that the whole build went pretty smoothly. “To be honest, the thing I’ve done the least of and think I could have got better was the metal shaping.” Which is all good and well, but maybe Jim’s eyes are a little tired from looking at the bike to often. Just look at that front Fender and think how anyone could do that better. The mind boggles.

“The thing I like best about the finished Ducati is that there isn’t another one like it. It’s a complete one-off. I do have my favourite parts; for some reason I really love the number plate bracket. It’s not the most complicated part, it’s just simple and was so easy to make. It sits under the seat unit and you can hardly see it. Also the colours are pretty spectacular when you get them in the sun. The red is a three stage colour and really lights up outside.”

[ Alonze CustomInstagram | Photos by Jim’s Dad ]

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Written by Martin Hodgson

With the birth of the Cafe Racer revival he’s the man who put the unlikely Yamaha Virago on the map. With an endless run of craftsman like customs to his name, Greg Hageman has had an impact on the scene like few others. Now with his latest build he’s set to ensure another improbable Yamaha makes its mark, but you best get shopping as donor bikes are few and far between. A good friend had been urging Hageman to build a Yamaha XS400 Seca for years and with his girlfriend Sally needing a bike Greg finally agreed. Now bought and built by the best, all that’s left to do with this tracker is ride around Sally, ride, Sally, ride!

The suggestion to build a Yamaha XS400 came from a long time customer of Hageman’s and a man who is now a good friend, Mike Martens. “After finding pictures of the frame design, reading reviews of the bike, he convinced me this bike could be a great little machine. The specs were great, design very good, but very aesthetically challenged. It seems to be a running theme with most of my builds, take something mechanically attractive, then make it physically attractive,” explains Greg. But having conquered the XV range and done brilliant things with the Honda CX, machines from left field have never held him back.

Mike also had a very good reason for wanting an XS built, his girlfriend Sally hadn’t been riding for years and with her keen to get back on a bike they all decided it should be on the seat of something done just for her! “Mike went on the hunt for a clean low mileage XS400 Seca, they didn’t sell many here in the states, but he was able to find a super clean donor on the West Coast. Mike had the bike shipped to him in Kansas City and let it sit until I was ready for the build. As soon as it was time he hauled the bike down to Florida, we spent a few hours going over things, then it was game on!”

“Panel beaten to perfection with every line a winner, it more than pops in a new coat of Candy Tangerine paint.”

Setting the theme of the bike was the tank selection and the left field pick gave Greg plenty of inspiration. Taken from the tiny Yamaha JT1, it was the hot little bike to have back in the day. “After choosing the tank, it was easy to draw influence from late 60s early 70s models, especially the JT1, I wanted to build a grown up version.” enthuses Greg. Panel beaten to perfection with every line a winner, it more than pops in a new coat of Candy Tangerine paint. It’s the one truly extravagant part of the build with the classy black leather seat the perfect contrast.

The major modification to the XS comes with the total re-design of the tracker’s rear end with an all new subframe and swingarm combination. Expertly fabricated the round bar tail with its smooth lines are a long way from the original boxy rear. The mono-shock design suspension is controlled by a custom Hagon shock, rather than simply picking something from another model and hoping for the best. The well setup ride for Sally’s exact specs continues at the front with XJ600 forks fitted up to the XS frame. The high quality of Hageman’s builds is once again evident with a super neat rear hugger and chain guard, like factory, only better!

While plenty of development has been done on the XS’s cousins, the 392cc parallel twin remains a mystery to most. But that’s not a problem for master mechanic Hageman who can get his head around just about anything. “One of the toughest parts of the build, dealing with carburation, the original CVs were not good even back in the day. I chose to use a set of carbs I was very familiar with, some Mikuni VM34s. They are relatively easy to tune, and simple, once they are set, they run consistent. Getting the jetting set up wasn’t even that tough, but finding a starting point took a little experimentation.”

Those Mikuni’s sure help the aesthetics of the lump too and with a complete clean, repaint and polish it looks better than the day it left the factory. Sending the exhaust gases rearward are a set of ceramic coated headers that flow seamlessly into a pair of twin reverse cone mufflers in a matching finish. The 2 valve head means Sally has plenty of torque down low but the engine is also surprisingly smooth with the later model having been fitted with a gear driven counter-balancer. And Greg’s happy to report she’s got it up top too, “The bike screams at high rpms and just loves to rev. The bike is fast and happy, the 6 speed gearbox helps.”

The electronics package is as clever as the rest of the build and all is neatly hidden away, doing its job without causing a fuss. Although what you do see is a very clever addition, with old switch gear often damaged, NOS expensive and rarely the nicest thing to look at, Greg picked up a set of modern Yamaha FZ-07 switchblocks and adapted them to work with the old XS. The rest of the package is run by a Motogadget m-Unit, with a Bikemaster headlight, rear taillight and turn signals from Revival.

Matching the look of the bike to the period that gave the inspiration, spoked wheels are a combination of Excel rims laced up to an early XS rear hub and XV700 unit at the front that was modified to fit. While ensuring there is plenty of brake at the lever a big drilled single disc and twin pot caliper do the clamping. Finishing things out the tyres continue the right vintage look and a pair of side boards add a final race like feel. Now with a Hageman Yamaha build of her own, you can only imagine the look on Sally’s face when Mike handed her the keys and you wouldn’t blame her for having a little Mustang in her step! You been running all over the town now. Oh! I guess I’ll have to put your flat feet on the ground.

Hageman Motorcycles – Facebook – Instagram | Photos by Don Gawf ]

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Written by Martin Hodgson

There is something connecting certain builders and brands that we may never understand, but such is the affinity between the two that one becomes synonymous with the other. When it comes to Moto Guzzi that man is Filippo Barbacane of Officine Rossopuro from the beautiful Abruzo region of Italy. He’s taken just about every one of the marque’s models and turned them into a portfolio of some of the best customs on the market. Now he’s back with his favourite steed from the Moto Guzzi stable, a perfectly crafted, alloy bodied Bellagio that he calls Finisterrae.

To say Filippo is passionate about the Lake Como manufacturers machines would be an understatement. “The now consolidated Bellagio base for me is becoming a must. The quality of the engine and chassis is exceptional. Now many of my specials have this starting point. The perfect compromise between modernity and the past. The name Finisterrae represents the end of all lands, therefore an unexplored terrain, unknown, so the desire to explore and discover. I wanted to make a bike that tastes retro but without exaggerating, so I tried to have a modern and vintage design at the same time.”

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Whether it’s a new bike, car, house, watch or laptop – the temptation is always the same. You want the biggest and the best. You want all the options. You want the heated whatsits, the laser doo-dads and, yes please, I think I will take the carbon fibre weapons pack, thank you very much. For Brisbane’s Ellaspede and customer Kevin, the negotiations started in the time-honoured tradition. What could he get for his hard-earned bucks? But somewhere between ‘hello’ and the handshake, it was decided that this build would tick all the boxes. The result in this ‘78 Honda CB550 that we think is the complete package. Ellaspede’s Hughan Seary tells us more.

Is the 550 Four the best all round Honda of the 70’s? It just might be. Owner Kevin wanted a Honda CB cafe racer and after owning the smaller CB350 twin he knew something a little larger from the same family tree was going to be right in the sweet spot for this project. In the mid 70’s many manufacturers were still experimenting with their public offerings, including Honda who already had the smaller CB’s (350 and 400’s) and their big CB750. But it was the battle for the mid market that produced a number of new bikes including the Yamaha TX500 and Suzuki GT550.

Honda evolved the CB450 ‘black bomber’ twin into a CB500 twin to compete, but soon replaced it with a 4 cylinder 500 version. It wasn’t long before the 500cc mill was taken out to 544cc to create the CB550 Four, but it took until ’75 or ’76 for Honda to iron out most of the early issues with this model. This left only few years where the CB550 Four really was the ‘best of both worlds’ in terms of size, weight and performance before the model was finished in 1978.

As with any bike of this era, we discussed with Kevin the importance of doing the ‘whole job’ to ensure trouble-free riding once the build was complete. It can be daunting at the start, but Kevin agreed that going through every component on the bike was essential. In reality, it does save time and money ‘doing it once and doing it right’ so away we went. First port of call was the motor, which was pulled out for full inspection. The top end needed work and 1mm oversize pistons found their way into fresh bores. The head was completely torn down and leak tested before being completely rebuilt with all new Honda genuine parts.

Two custom seat pans were then made to suit the new frame shape and rear tank profile, one for a full two person seat and the other as a single-seater with a rear cafe-style cowl. The ‘cafe’ seat was an off the shelf unit that was modified to achieve a lower profile and to make it suit the shortened CB frame. It has a hinged seat pad (also a required modification) that reveals a storage unit in the rear cowl.

“Two custom seat pans were then made to suit the new frame shape and rear tank profile, one for a full two person seat and the other as a single-seater.”

A custom front guard was fabricated and mounted to the CBR upside-down front end. With the guard fitted, a custom bracket for the bottom mount headlight could be made to position it as low as possible. Continuing up the front end, Daytona speedo and tacho units were bolted to custom-made mounts. The mini warning light panel sits on a custom shroud bracket nestled above the headlight between the gauges. CBR clip on bars, switch gear and ignition switch were sourced and fitted with a few light mods.

Keeping it in the family, a Honda CBR front end was sourced and dummied up for testing before being disassembled for rebuild and anodising. Rear shocks were also spec’d at the same time to get the stance right from the get go. Old lower suspension bushes had to be cut out before new ones were pressed in at the bottom with new spacers at the top.

The stock rear hub was retained and both wheels were laced up to new ‘Sun Rim’ outers from the USA using fresh nipples and spokes. Avon Roadriders in 100/90-18 and 130/80-18 wrap the wheels front and rear, with a new chain and sprockets getting them turning. A custom made chain guard made to be as ‘stealth’ as possible keeps things legal.

Continuing up the front end, Daytona speedo and tacho units were bolted to custom-made mounts. The mini warning light panel sits on a custom shroud bracket nestled above the headlight between the gauges. CBR clip on bars, switch gear and ignition switch were sourced and fitted with a few light mods.

To minimise future electrical issues, all new electrical components were sourced and mounted. An Anti Gravity 8 cell battery now resides under the seat and all the components are mated via a custom aircraft-grade wiring loom. All wires were sheathed in braid and hidden where possible.

Leather

Motogadget indicators, Truflex LED tailight and a JW Speaker LED headlight all made their way on, accompanied by a trick little projector light which shines a Honda logo beneath the bike. A new custom clutch cable and braided brake lines fit to new brake and clutch levers up front. New grips and Motogadget mirrors slide on to bring the riders cockpit close to completion. All other components were either painted, polished or powder coated across the whole bike. Fresh bolts, bearings and seals also replace almost all standard items with genuine Honda replacements used where possible. All the boxes were ticked.

More leather

‘Mid tan’ leather wraps both seats in a horizontal stitch style. It also provides some detail and continues the theme across the custom wrapped fuel cap, grips, throttle pull elbow, kickstarter and passenger foot pegs. Always wanting to be part of the build process, Kevin was responsible for the patterned leather on the grips, kick starter and pillion foot pegs.

Even the hidey-hole has leather

With the ‘whole job’ now complete Kevin can enjoy some classic Honda cafe racer riding without the worry of leaving a stone left unturned. It’s a credit to him that he was willing to ‘do it once and do it right’ on this build and riding the bike certainly reflects that. As the original reviews suggest, the CB550 Four really does have the right mix of power and agility. 40 years later and now with some custom, aesthetic and mechanical improvements Kevin can continue to enjoy Honda’s middle market machine for years to come.

Ellaspede – Facebook– Instagram | Photos by AJ Moller ]

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Written by Andrew Jones

‘Maximum retro’. That was Tomek’s brief to himself. And as the one and only member of Warsaw’s T.Jasin Motorcycles, he sure wasn’t about to be overruled. Having skirted around the style for many of his recent builds, he clearly decided to go all in to see what he could accomplish. Naming the bike after the old-school moto circus spectacle, his ‘Barrel of Death’ Honda CB400 has topped out on many more levels than just a retro one.

Without a skerrick of pretence to belie his impressive build catalogue, the builder introduces himself. “Hi, I’m Tomek from Warsaw, Poland, and I like to build custom vintage bikes. The bike which I have chosen this time is a classic Honda CB400 from 1978 with its very reliable twin engine.” This particular model was imported from the USA, maybe inspiring Tom somewhat in his retro aims. “This time I decided to build a bike in a ‘maximum retro’ style. Apart from this, the main inspiration for the project was classic simplicity and high quality.”

“I disassembled the bike right down to the last screw and thoroughly planned out the build. Secondly, I cleaned everything. Thirdly, I cleaned them again.” With the parts shinier than a hospital’s surgical equipment, Tom then reworked and cleaned up the frame before turning his attention to the bike’s beautiful spoked wheels and the matching front brake drum. “It’s the first time I’ve seen these wheels on a Honda CB with my own eyes; I matched them to a brand new set of classic Shinko tires.”

Next, Tom swapped the original tank with a smaller, vintage MX unit that was painted in muted grey and red colours and topped off with a shop logo. With a matching mineral grey chosen for the frame colour, a new seat with black leather was sourced with matching red stitching. “In some parts I mixed gold, black and silver colours for some visual interest. Then an aggressive set of handlebars and a svelte, plastic rear fender was bolted on.

“Every custom part of the motorcycle was handmade, right down to the aluminum side fairings, short exhausts, drilled aluminium plates and the paint. But in order to ride the bike on the street, I needed to put the legally required plates and lights somewhere. In the end, I mounted a new black headlight up front and positioned the plates and its associated electricals on the bike’s rear left side.”

Tom’s other cool smatterings include refreshed Honda brakes, modern (and much more simple) instruments and a seat made completely from scratch. “From the beginning to the end, I did it all except make the leather itself. I’m really happy with the results.” And he’s not the only one.

But the sailing wasn’t all so smooth; Tom’s story of sourcing the bike suggests that there was some excitement involved. “I’m checking most motorcycle websites in Poland very often, but this is the first time I’ve seen a Honda like this. My decision was simple – I had to have it!” And for an impulse purchase, it was in pretty decent condition, needing little more than a regular service to replace the consumables. “All the electrics ran OK. So I just gave it some new oil, NGK plugs, filters and a chain.”

“I’m checking most motorcycle websites in Poland very often, but this is the first time I’ve seen a Honda like this. I had to have it!”

Sensing Tom wasn’t being completely open with us, we quizzed him to see if there was anything he was holding back on. “When it comes to reworking the frames of my bikes, I consider it one of the most important parts of the entire build. If you want a perfectly shaped bike, you need a perfect frame. But don’t ask me how; the proportions are my little mystery.”

But how’s she go? While no earth-shattering modifications have been made to the engine, there’s enough spit and polish to see an estimated 40 rear wheel ponies. “The bike’s performance is on a similarly high level to the rest of the build,” notes Tom. “Nothing’s over the top, but everything has been done at 100%.”

Any parting thoughts, Mister Jasiński? “In the end, the bike looks exactly how I wanted it to. When I ride the Honda, people give me the ‘good thumb’. This is the best prize for me.” Good thumb, indeed. And while that’s Tom’s best prize, you’ll probably agree with us when we say that we’d take the bike itself any day of the week.

T. Jasin Motorcycles – Instagram | Photos by Filip Okopny ]

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Written by Martin Hodgson

The idea of a European/American hybrid is not a new one in the automotive world, with vehicles like the Shelby Cobra using parts from each side of the Atlantic. A lightweight, well-balanced chassis with some Yank V-Power muscle to get things moving always seemed like the perfect combination. Inspired by the concept the French boutique manufacturer Avinton launched their Collector GT, a tribute to the Cobra in motorcycle form. Despite the quality of the product and the high-profile endorsement of NBA Superstar Tony Parker, things never really took off. So one lucky owner parked his 2014 model up until he could find a builder to truly complete the dream. Enter French motorcycle maestro Olivier Ortolani who took delivery of the big-ticket bike and sent home the perfect Ortolani Customs Avinton Cafe Racer.

Olivier is no stranger to working on exotic machines or the Pipeburn faithful; having previously finished fourth in the 2017 Bike of the Year Awards with his incredible all alloy Ducati 1199 S Panigale. So being asked to completely modify a motorcycle worth more than $65,000 was not something he loses sleep over like most mere mortals. The client had purchased one of the very first Avintons off the production line, but wanting a few changes to be made had left the bike sitting for nearly five years before finally, in Olivier, finding someone he could trust with his prized possession.

“The brief for this project was to lighten the rear of the motorcycle, which has a petrol tank, so a heavy part, visually. So I put myself in the visuals to reposition a tank of fuel on the front while keeping the particularity of the Avinton, namely the position of the air filter,” explains Olivier. That air filter is a bug catcher style scoop that fills the engine via the airbox but taking up so much room means in stock trim the Avinton carries its fuel below the seat. To fix the first of these problems a new tank was fabricated by hand from large sheets of hand-rolled aluminium. Maintaining much of the aesthetic of the original and yet removing the bulk from the rear.

Now holding fuel, the tank sports a more sculpted look than the original with broader shoulders giving this Frenchman a muscular stance. The entire factory tail-piece has also been replaced with more brilliant aluminium sheet metal, each line meticulously laid down and hand formed until Olivier had the exact shape he was looking for. The dramatic scallops in the fuel tank have been mirrored on a smaller scale at the rear, a time-consuming process. Wanting to create contrast even on the seat, it has been stitched from two distinct pieces of material, Alcantara and gloss leather by NMB Design for a supercar style appearance.

“There is even the brilliant touch of mounting a push button starter in the bug catcher for that full on Hot Rod experience.”

But having removed so much of the bodywork from the factory machine it only made sense that something would be left exposed. Hanging out in the breeze was the wiring loom and lithium battery. But already having considered this possibility Olivier extended the lower half of the tail section, some of which neatly wraps around the frame and shock mount. Every last bit of this spare space is now used to hide all that wiring as well as a Motogadget m-Unit and LED taillight assembly. There is even the brilliant touch of mounting a push button starter in the bug catcher for that full on Hot Rod experience.

All of this new work is mounted to the factory tubular frame that suspends the engine from the backbone and utilises the hollow tube in a sealed off section to act as the oil tank. Slung beneath it all is the thumping S&S V-Twin engine that at 1647cc sure means business. The quad cam motor and a lightweight bottom end with 10.3:1 compression will give a rev friendly 120hp and a tractor like 168nm of torque at just 3000rpm. But at Ortolani Customs that still not considered quite enough despite a weight of just 175kg.

Bonjour les papillons

To extract some extra cafe racer ponies Olivier had a perfect idea, “For the exhaust I wanted to make a system that doesn’t hide the architecture of the engine with a touch of MotoGP.” So he bent, cut and TIG welded a lightweight stainless system and finished it off with two race like end cans. In stock trim, big dollar Beringer brakes get the job done, but having chosen a more race inspired look and feel there was only one brand to turn to, Brembo! It’s all the latest technology gear with mono-block calipers clamping massive dinner plate sized floating and drilled discs.

For most people a bike that comes standard with Ohlins suspension would be more than enough to keep them happy. But not Olivier and his client, the front forks have full kit internals from Italian suspension house Mupo, who also supplied a new mono-shock for the rear to better suit the new weight characteristics of the customised Avinton. Having removed so much mass from an already light and powerful motorcycle, further gains in performance can be had by reducing unsprung weight and no expense was spared when sourcing a set of Marchesini wheels all wrapped up in the stickiest liquorice strips, Diablo SuperCorsa slicks.

Dressing the cafe racer up, Olivier selected a predominately black colour scheme with highlights in the factory red from Avinton. But always one for neat touches he hand fabricated both fluid reservoirs, adjourned the bike with just the right number of workshop logos and even painted a French flag on the chain. A Motogadget dash adds a little bit of glitz to the cockpit and to bring things into 2018 the stock headlight has been replaced for a brand new item from a Ducati Scrambler. It’s remarkable to think that the basis for this project was already an incredible machine, but the motorcycle that leaves the Ortolani Customs workshop was more than worth the wait for the patient owner. There is simply nothing else on the road like it; ferocious American horsepower, the finest of French engineering and a host of Italian parts from the MotoGP paddock. It has no name, but quite simply, it’s perfect and priceless!

Oli on the Avinton

Ortolani Customs – Instagram | Photos by Julius Designs ]

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