You may not know the name Cam Elkins, but there’s a good chance you’re familiar with his work. He’s the man behind the brilliant short films called Stories of Bike, which explore the relationships between custom motorcycles and their owners.
After several years filming other people’s bikes, Cam decided it was time to get a custom of his own. He selected a 1986 BMW R65.
“I’ve always loved boxer engines,” he tells us. “I think they’re reminiscent of old WW2 airplanes, which had such a sleek but utilitarian look to them.”
“And when I first got into the cafe racer scene, it was the custom R80s and R65s that tended to catch my eye. So in short, it’s been a dream for a long time.”
The R65 is a wise choice for a custom from the R series. It’s light, the handling is quick, and steering stability is good—thanks to a beefy upper triple clamp. So it’s the perfect airhead for twisty roads, especially if it’s a post-‘85 model with the monoshock configuration.
Cam got to know Jason Leppa and technician Sean Taylor at Gasoline while filming a promo video for their custom Harley Sportster, the A-15. So when he’d saved up enough to buy the R65 and put some money toward customizing, he knew whom to call.
“I knew Gasoline would do a great job, having seen their custom work up close.” So Cam delivered the BMW to Gasoline’s workshop in south Sydney, Australia. And as a style guide, he pointed them towards a super-clean R80 from the Spanish shop ROA.
“The brief was to build a forever bike,” says Gasoline’s Jason Leppa. “One with timeless style and clean lines, with modern controls and handling.”
Gasoline have absolutely nailed that brief, and delivered one of the cleanest looking R-series BMWs we’ve seen. There’s not a line out of place, or a sliver of pipewrap—and even the 18-inch cast alloy wheels look good.
To counter the age of the R65, Gasoline started by dismantling the original engine and gearbox. They vapor blasted and rebuilt the drivetrain with all new bearings, seals and gaskets, and then restored and powder coated the final drive unit.
The carbs were overhauled too, and new jets installed to match the improved breathing: there’s a DNA filter upstream, and a custom-made 2-into-2 stainless exhaust system, with a balance pipe between the cylinders.
The get the stance right, the front suspension has been lowered 40mm and the rear raised 50mm, with the help of a new shock.
There’s a new top clamp from Retrofit Collective, which fits neatly with a headlight bowl mount and fork brace from TinWorks.
Purpose Built Moto supplied the small profile headlight (and control unit) to complete the modern retro aesthetic.
Gasoline added clip-on bars, with Beringer hand controls and switch blocks (and brake calipers). Motogadget supplied the speedometer, grips and m.view mirrors—which have a polished aluminum rather than glass surface.
And there’s more German engineering in the shape of discreet Kellermann brake and signal lights.
It’s all hooked up to a new wiring loom and, at Cam’s request, an electromagnetic cruise control device connected to a custom throttle tube.
It’s one of those almost impossibly clean builds, with paint to match—a deep royal blue and a subtle matte grey, colors with a clear link to BMW’s history.
But as we all know, simplicity can be deceptive. “The style looks easy to achieve, but the build process wasn’t!” Jason admits. “Nearly all the modern components had to be modified to fit, and took longer than expected to source.”
The effort was worth it, and reflected in the name of the bike: The Keeper. “It preserves its 1980s history, but will be ridden well into the future,” says Jason.
Cam Elkins now has a bike that can hold its own against all the beautiful machines that pass in front of his camera. And if you’re lucky enough to be going to the fabulous Machine Show in Braidwood, Australia this weekend, you can see it in the metal.
The rest of us will have to drool over this (very fine) photoset instead.
Every time I consider getting myself a super-sensible daily runner, the Kawasaki ER-6n pops up on my radar. It’s cheap, makes decent power and handles well. Smiles for dollars, it’s hard to beat…if you don’t mind the looks.
Given the limited pool of ‘acceptable’ custom donors these days, the ER-6n is not a bike you often see. But Lionel at Duke Motorcycles in Nice, France, is a believer. Until recently, his commuter bike was a white 2011-model ER-6n. Then he bought a Ducati Monster 600—and wondered what to do with his middleweight naked Ninja.
Lionel dragged the ER-6n onto the bench to service it, clean it up, and figure out his next move. Then, while waiting for the oil to drain out, he started tidying up his workshop. In no time he’d dug out a set of handlebars, some tires and a speedo—enough to make a good start on a custom.
An hour later, all that was left on the worktable was the frame and motor. And Lionel started transforming his commuter bike into the aggressive street fighter you’re looking at now.
The first changes were all hidden tweaks. He removed the airbox, then fitted a set of pod filters. He also installed a Lithium-ion battery, and relocated a bunch of electrical components.
The ER-6n’s radical bodywork is a mix of custom and OEM bits. Lionel liked the tank, side panels and belly pan—so he kept those. But he ditched the bulky seat unit, fabricating a sharper aluminum piece to fit in its place.
It sits on a custom-built subframe, and is capped off with an Alcantara saddle, upholstered by NMB Design. The stitching pattern is mimicked on the underside of the tailpiece, where Lionel also built in a red LED, with tiny holes for the light to poke through. It’s not the official tail light though—that’s further down, on the custom-made license plate bracket.
There’s more metalwork up front—notably a new headlight cowl with integrated fork guards. And an LED covered by a striking aluminum grill. Both the custom front and back ends were shaped to complement the stock bits, resulting in a fluid design throughout the bike.
That headlight grill is also a nod to the Bugatti Veyron. It’s a weird connection, but Lionel’s always liked the thousand-horsepower French supercar, and it spoke to the futuristic style that he was going for.
It’s also where he got the Kawasaki’s new livery from: the white and blue is a riff on Bugatti’s ‘white gold’ scheme. Lionel executed the paint himself, then redid the cylinder heads, crank cases and rear shock spring to match—and even the wheels.
The Kawasaki’s suspension and brakes perform well enough out the box, so Lionel left them alone. He did refresh the brakes though, and upgraded the system with new braided hoses. The tires are Continental TKC80s.
Up top are a set of CNC Racing handlebars, new grips, a Koso dial, and a single bar-end mirror from Highsider. Lionel shortened the OEM levers, then engraved his logo into them. The bike’s also sporting new rearsets from Valter Moto.
A new silencer from the Italian company Giannelli rounds out the package. It’s mounted on the stock headers, and yes—they’re wrapped in titanium pipe wrap. (But it’s such a neat job, we’re letting Lionel off the hook).
Street fighters aren’t usually our thing, but Lionel’s ER-6n hits all the right notes. And since even the most jaded of moto journalists tend to laud the naked Ninja as a rock-solid best buy, maybe it’s time we all started scanning the classifieds …
We love sidecars, but they’re usually sedate rather than sporty. And a classic café racer with a chair? That’s even more rare.
So we love the look of this most unusual combination from sunny Queensland in Australia. The ‘Cold Brew Cafe Racer’ comes from Tom Gilroy of Purpose Built Moto, and it’s built around a Triumph Scrambler.
The project started like many others: A couple of blokes meeting up for a beer at their local haunt. Tom’s favorite spot is the iconic Sandbar restaurant in Surfers Paradise, on the famed Gold Coast stretch of Queensland.
“I rolled up on my GS550 to see my mates Jake and Rich, who threw an idea my way,” Tom recalls. Jake’s family own the Sandbar, and the idea was to build a sidecar rig to deliver Vittoria Cold Brew Coffee to the coastal community.
A deal was done: Tom would build the rig as a creative collaboration with the coffee company and the restaurant. And all agreed that the bike had to perform with and without the sidecar.
“When it’s not delivering a morning boost to Gold Coast residents out walking their trophy dogs, it has to handle a fast-paced Sunday afternoon run over the mountains!” says Tom.
The donor was a 2009 Triumph Scrambler, with the air cooled 865cc parallel twin—and a 270-degree firing interval for that famous exhaust note. A Cozy sidecar would be attached, mimicking the style of the vintage Steib 350 and 500 series sidecars.
“I was glad to do something different with a Triumph,” says Tom. “They’re such a staple for custom builders—and with a sea of bolt-on parts available, it’s easy to blend into the crowd.”
Tom wanted a timeless look that never grows old: “A bit like a vintage Rolex.” While he set to work on the bike, he sent the sidecar body to a friend for a cleanup.
The brakes and suspension were top of the to-do list. Tom’s given the Scrambler hefty 54mm polished USD forks and twin disc brakes from a Triumph Tiger, and a custom triple clamp. He’s also lowered the forks 40mm and rebuilt them to suit the ride height with the sidecar attached.
The rear suspension was treated to a set of all new K-Tech Bullit shocks, a spring-less system that offers an incredible ride. (“I was a little apprehensive on this one but the product over-delivered and presents a really tidy finish.”)
New wheels were the next big ticket item: specially machined alloy soft lip rims, 17” x 3.5” at the front and 17” x 5.50” at the back, laced up to the existing hubs. The massive rear wheel was wrapped in Shinko Stealth 003 rubber and required sprocket offsets to fit.
Up top, Tom’s built a short, hooped tail with a flowing cowl and integrated lighting. And since the color scheme was to be white with metallic highlights, he decided to integrate a few touches of brass into the design. “But you have to be careful,” he acknowledges. “It’s easy to go overboard with such details.”
Look closely at the tank, and you’ll notice a subtle raised edge following the top line. “I’ve seen a lot of chopper builders using round or flat bar to add a 3D aspect to the tank design,” Tom explains. “I like the concept, so I’ve adapted it to this café racer design with 6mm solid brass rod, hand-shaped and welded to the tank and tail sections.”
TIG welding brass to mild steel wasn’t the easiest feat, but after a few runs and stuff-ups, Tom got the hang of it. And then he added other brass details like custom-turned EFI choke and idle controls, EFI caps and a billet brass fuel cap.
The final piece to finish off the silhouette was the front cowl, which is a 2017 Thruxton piece—modified to fit the front end, and housing custom PBM Speedhut gauges. Clip on bars are finished with new levers and PBM’s own minimalist button switches. The Tarrozzi rearsets are a very neat upgrade too, because Tom has repositioned the master directly above the right foot brake, eliminating the need for a clunky linkage.
Tom has been dabbling in building exhaust headers, so he was determined to craft one for the Triumph in-house. He’s used a single sided 2-1 design with the collector placed just before the muffler—so the headers could frame the triangular stator covers. “When you hear it fire up [in the video below] you’ll see why we all love it so much!” says Tom.
Marios at DNA Performance Filters made a one-off set of custom brass filters, laser etched with a PBM logo. “Paired with the color-matched EFI body, brass caps and polished bowl (albeit a fake one) they look incredible. Most importantly, when on the tuning bench at Dynomite Moto they opened this torquey Triumph motor nicely.”
Tom gave the Triumph to his friend Jake for a shakedown run, minus the chair, on the Distinguished Gentleman’s Ride. “While he was out testing the bike, I was in the shop tinkering away on the sidecar.”
Tom pushed the sidecar opening back 400mm to achieve a bullet shape, and braced and hinged the body. This allowed room for a custom-built cooler to serve the bottles of cold brew.
He also trimmed down the fender and installed new mounts, so the fender now moves with the wheel and hugs it tightly for a cleaner look. Extra lighting went in: a PBM 4.5“ LED headlight and a twin stack of prototype PBM Orbit Mini LED brake lights at the back.
New brass rods shaped onto the sidecar body match the highlights on the bike, and there’s new upholstery inside—coffee brown leather and stitching.
The final piece of the puzzle was the intricate sidecar alignment. “Having read through a few manuals on geometry and functionality, I figured I needed some advice from those who had done it before me,” Tom admits.
“The answer was to set up some straight edges and calculate three key running factors—the toe-in, lean-out and axle lead. It took me a few rounds of fine-tuning.”
Tom reckons that riding the Triumph without the sidecar is an equally pleasurable experience, thanks to the suspension mods, dyno tuning and bellowing 2-1 exhaust.
“Due to the quite weighty sidecar mounts, the bike alone isn’t the nimblest performer—but you can have the time of your life leaning into some nice mountain corners, with power on tap at a slight twist of the wrist.”
Sounds like the best of both worlds to us. We’ll drink to that.
This week’s all about Yamaha, with a veritable squadron of cool customs from every genre—including a new SR500 from Shinya Kimura. There’s also a very cool Guzzi Le Mans sneaking in from Italy. Let us know which one you’d ride home, because we can’t decide.
Moto Guzzi Le Mans III by Ruote Fiere Chris is far more of a Guzzista than I am, but even I can’t resist the charms of this peculiar—yet alluring—Le Mans. It’s the work of Davide Caforio over at Ruote Fiere in Italy, who’s masterfully blended a pseudo-endurance look with some sweet engineering.
This Le Mans is packing a 1,100 cc square barrel motor, Dell’Orto PHM 40 mm carbs and a beefy stainless steel exhaust system. Adding to the list are a Silent Hektik ignition system housed in a Mandello Racing timing case, a lighter flywheel, and a Ram Racing machined clutch. Oh, and a custom oil cooler too.
Davide’s fiddled with the geometry too, with a steeper head angle, and a pair of 45 mm Marzocchi forks in billet triples. The rear shocks are by off-road car gurus, Oram, and feature Öhlins bits inside. Three-spoke alloy wheels from Italian firm EPM are controlled by a custom braking system, pieced together from multiple sources.
The bodywork’s a masterclass in motorcycle Tetris too. A one-piece composite tank and tail unit covers a fuel cell and a whole bunch of working bits. And there’s a Leo Vince silencer hiding inside that splendid aluminum belly pan. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg—our friends over at The Bike Shed have the full skinny. [More]
Yamaha WR450F by Le Motographe Yamaha’s WR450F is an off-road weapon of note…but can it custom? French Workshop Le Motographe, says oui. When their American client asked for a street legal, off-road custom, the Le Motographe team of Jerome and Yvan went wild.
They redesigned the enduro with a hand-built exoskeleton, for a radically different aesthetic. There’s a hand-made tank sitting inside the frame, with a red leather seat and a custom rear fender. The airbox and exhaust are one-offs too, and the guys even shed a little extra weight, with a Lithium-ion battery.
The changes have resulted in 10 kg weight loss, and a 5 hp boost in power. And Le Motographe have tuned the suspension too, specific to their customer’s weight. So even though this WR450F looks hella quirky, it should be bananas to ride.
What’s more, Jerome and Yvan have a couple more of these in the works. They’re almost done with a supermotard version, and there’s a flat track version planned next. [More]
Yamaha XJR1300 by Wrench Kings The XJR1300 is one of the last true modern UJMs. This 1999 specimen has all the muscular goodness of the stocker, ramped up with a huge hit of classic racer style. And we have Dutch shop Wrench Kings to thank for that.
Wrench Kings took the big Japanese four, and re-dressed it in hand-formed aluminum bodywork from The Custom Factory. Then they treated to a livery straight out of the 70s. The tail sits on a custom subframe, the seat’s wrapped in leather, and there’s an LED tail light neatly mounted out back.
The team also installed Tarozzi foot controls and clip-ons, new switches, Brembo master cylinders and Daytona clocks. There’s a full complement of Motogadget-ry too, and bits like the frame and wheels have been powder coated.
The airbox has been replaced by a row of pod filters, and the twin exhausts are from Cobra. But this wasn’t some half-assed hop up—the bike’s been properly tuned on the dyno. Numbers now sit at 127 hp and 130 Nm at the back wheel…so this XJR goes as good as it looks. [More]
Yamaha XT250 by Mokka Cycles Budapest shop Mokka Cycles have a knack for building svelte, cute off-roaders. This little XT is one of their best yet—loaded with everything you need, and nothing you don’t.
It’s a 1982-model XT250; a punchy little enduro with no electric starter, and therefore no battery. Mokka took full advantage of this, trimming the Yamaha right down to the basics. But don’t let its unassuming looks deceive you—every nut and bolt on this XT’s been touched.
There’s a custom subframe and seat, custom aluminum fenders, and a clean, high-mounted stainless exhaust system. The front wheel’s been swapped from a 21” to a 19” rim, for a more balanced stance. Classic motocross bars, Mokka switches and Ceriani headlight ears round out the package.
The paint is super-classy too—a riff on Yamaha’s liveries from back in the day. Mokka tell us that all they wanted to do, was build the bike they reckon Yamaha should be selling today. An OEM retro 250 cc enduro? Count us in!
Yamaha SR500 by Chabott Engineering Shinya Kimura over at Chabott Engineering in California has made a name for himself as a master metal shaper. His motorcycles have a raw, asymmetrical feel—like they creeped out of his mind directly into metal.
This SR500 has all the hallmarks of a classic Chabott build. Even though the individual shapes seem random, there’s a harmonious flow going on from front to back. Everything’s hand-made, from the elongated fairing, right through to the straight-through exhaust in the tail.
The donor’s actually a 1978 SR500 frame, with a 2018 SR400 motor wedged in. Shinya rebuilt the motor with a new piston and camshaft, then added a Keihin CR carb and Honda XR250 oil cooler. There’s also a Kawasaki KX250 swing arm, Works Performance shocks and Dunstall forks.
The rear brake’s from a XS650, the front brake’s from a 1969 Yamaha TD3 racer, and the wheels have been shrunk to 16”. I was lucky enough to see this alluring machine in the flesh at the Mooneyes show in Japan…my favourite bit? That bizarre trio of headlights. [More]
For power junkies, the Honda CB1000R is one of the best roadsters on the market today. The build quality is superlative, the Fireblade-derived inline four pumps out a stonking 143 hp, and the Showa suspension is top-notch.
We’re on the fence when it comes to the ‘neo sports café’ styling though. So news of a custom competition to revamp the CB1000R piqued our interest at EXIF HQ. Dealer competitions are usually a bit hit-and-miss, but the standard is remarkably high in this one.
It’s run by Honda Iberia, and open to dealers in Spain, Portugal, and the Balearic Islands. Thirteen shops took up the challenge, and our favorite build is this flat track-inspired machine from Comercial Impala of Barcelona.
Impala is a ‘HondaONE’ dealer, a badge reserved for the very best concesionarios, and this custom will certainly bolster the reputation of their workshop.
“When they proposed that we customize a CB1000R, we had a lot of ideas immediately,” says Enric Ferreres, Impala’s commercial manager. “The bike is an incredible base. But we also had a limited budget. So we decided to build a motorcycle with only a few extras added. A flat track race bike was perfect.”
The budget for custom work was just €3,000—around $3,400. So a little ingenuity was required.
The Impala mechanics dismantled the original rear subframe and replaced it with a new one—designed in SolidWorks and made out of aluminum. “It’s shorter, lighter and more minimal than the original.”
All the subframe pieces were laser-cut and screwed together, with no welding required. Then, after checking that there was enough room for some of the CB1000R’s essential electrics, Impala crafted a tail and seat unit out of fiberglass.
The fiberglass tail was made to measure, respecting the original proportions of a typical flat tracker, and is a surprisingly good visual fit to the angular CB1000R tank. The one-piece unit screws directly to the new subframe.
The next job was to trim the wiring loom and remove any systems not required for the track. So it was goodbye to the traction control and ABS, the lights, the blinkers and the digital display.
The original bars were replaced by an oversized aluminum Jared Mees replica bend manufactured by the French specialist Neken. The left control buttons were binned, leaving only the start button on the right side of the bar.
The brakes had to stay, but the master cylinders (and hand levers) have been upgraded to Brembo components. In place of the headlight is a classic number plate, with laser-cut mounts again designed in SolidWorks for a factory-level fit.
Given the output of the stock engine, no substantial mods were necessary. But Impala have installed pod filters on custom mounts and an IXRACE exhaust system, deleting the catalytic converter. Interestingly, the CB1000R electronics handled the changes without any hiccups.
Impala have also swapped out the original Bridgestone S21 tires for more dirt-oriented Pirelli MT60s, and added custom fork protectors too—with brackets designed in CAD and using the mounting points of the original fender.
The icing on this particular cake is lustrous gold paint—a nod to the famous ‘Candy Gold’ seen fifty years ago on the grandfather of the CB series, the 1969 CB750.
But what we really want to know is: what’s it like to ride? “It’s awesome,” says Enric. “150 hp on the dirt track is crazy—and for expert riders only, jajaja!”
The good news is that Impala are probably going to produce a street version of this CB1000R, with all the legal niceties left intact. Now that could tip us over the edge to put the big inline-four in the EXIF garage.
In the world of professional motorcycle racing, development is a constant grind.
Hooligan flat track racing is the same. But here, the upgrades are done by racers and builders on tight budgets. Not massive teams of engineers with eighteen-wheeler trucks full of SnapOn tools.
So we’re fascinated by the way Scott ‘T-Bone’ Jones of Noise Cycles has rebuilt his fire-breathing Street Rod 750 tracker. It’s the same 2017-spec XG750M he raced with last year—but it’s evolved radically since then.
As the season ended, Scott and teammate Brandon ‘Gonz’ Gonzalez had a clear idea of how to build a better racer…so they did.
“The concept for this year was to make a functioning bike,” Gonz tells us. “This meant making the bike narrower.”
“The last version paid homage to the XR1000, but in doing so the bike ended up wider than what was ideal to race with. The exhaust sat high and wide, to the point where it was uncomfortable to ride. That had to change.”
The initial idea was to build a new one-piece body, out of fiberglass. But after taking inspiration from pro flat track and supercross, the guys started wondering if they could simply adapt a set of motocross panels to fit the Street Rod.
“Our friends at SMCO happened to have a Husqvarna FC450, which is my favorite motocross bike” says Gonz. “So we borrowed their plastics to test fit.”
The fit, amazingly, was close to perfect. So Noise acquired their own set, and massaged it to fit—fabricating mounts to attach the panels to. Most of the cutting happened on the left, where some plastic had to be trimmed away to make space for the left cylinder head and exhaust header.
Scott then fabricated an aluminum fuel tank to hold just enough fuel for race runs. It attaches to the Street Rod’s backbone and the left side of the frame, with rubber grommets to dampen vibration. And yes, it took some crafty sculpting to utilize the maximum amount of space available.
Seat specialists Saddlemen hooked Noise up with a new seat pad up top. And 270X designed, printed and applied a custom decal kit.
Scott and Gonz considered trimming the rear frame rails more (they’d been cut for last year’s build), but they decided to focus their attentions elsewhere. After all, they were building the bike up in a 4×8′ space they’d cleared in Scott’s home garage, wedged in between multiple other projects.
Just a handful of mods stayed on from last year. Scott’s still running the same wheel combo: a 19” Sportster front wheel, with a 19” V-Rod front wheel adapted for the rear, fitted with a quick-change sprocket.
The engine hasn’t been touched much either, and still runs an S&S Cycle air cleaner and a Vance & Hines FuelPak3 tuner. And the cylinder heads are still flipped. Yes, you read that right: Scott went to considerable lengths last year to flip the heads, so that he could run a high, left-side exhaust without a crazy tight radius bends in the headers.
But he hated burning his pants on the exhaust all the time, so he decided to change it. And since flipping the heads back was too much effort, he had S&S manufacture a custom system that would exit on the left, then shoot through to the right.
Gone is the Red Bull oil catch can that Scott dug out of a trash can and taped to his bike last year. A custom-made aluminum unit has replaced it. Other tweaks include an MX foot peg on the right, and a custom shifter setup on the left.
The cockpit’s sporting Pro-Taper bars and a Pro-Taper clutch levers, a Motion Pro throttle and Scott grips. The rear brake’s been upgraded to a Lyndall Racing rotor and a Honda CRF master cylinder.
Scott’s Street Rod is also sporting an all-new and vastly improved suspension setup. Up front, he’s got the same S&S Cycle triples and risers the Indian factory team runs, with a custom stem.
They hold a set of Yamaha R6 forks, making the front end lower, lighter and tunable. There’s a pair of 15” custom valved RWD shocks out back.
Geometry-wise, the Street Rod now has a slightly shorter wheelbase and a touch less rake. And with narrower bodywork and a longer seat, Scott can use a lot more body English. It makes for a much more responsive bike and a much happier racer.
It’s also one of the most interesting Hooligan bikes we’ve seen. You’d think MX plastics on a Harley-Davidson would look weird—but it works surprisingly well.
Maybe we’ll see more of this style out on the track…
The 21st century motorcycle is a complex beast, crammed with electronics and trick engineering in the name of one-upmanship and regulatory approval.
But there’s something strangely compelling in the simplicity of an older bike from less complicated times. And they don’t come more stripped down than this 1972 T120 from Pitstop Motor Werk.
Pitstop is a team of three led by an Indonesian builder called Agung. They’re based in the hot and humid province of Central Java, and like most Indonesian builders they have to be incredibly resourceful and thrifty. Yet this does not seem to affect the quality of their work.
It helps that Agung has been wrenching on bikes for 20 years now. “I used to get called up by friends to repair their bikes,” he tells us. “Then Pitstop went public about seven years ago. We do engine rebuilds, custom work and restorations.”
This Bonneville is actually a T120R, one of the lesser-known Meriden models. It was an export version of the base bike, and branded as the ‘Bonneville Speedmaster’ by dealers in the USA.
It’s not an especially well-documented model, but the fuel tank was smaller and the bars had a slightly higher bend.
The tubular twin cradle frame also carried the oil, and the 649cc parallel twin pumped out a rorty 50 hp at 6,700 rpm, via classic Amal carburetion. It was enough to comfortably exceed ‘the ton.’
Triumph motorcycles are very thin on the ground in Indonesia, like most other European and American bike brands. So Agung had little chance of finding a complete T120R to work on.
Instead, he imported an engine from the USA, and decided to build a bike around it. He describes his vision as ‘minimalist chopper’ but we’d say it’s just as much a bobber.
Unfortunately, the 47-year-old motor was showing its age, and required a complete rebuild, including a new pushrod and valves. New clutch plates from Barnett went onto the shopping list too, and Agung converted the ignition to CDI while working on the engine.
The exhaust was a much simpler job: two straight shootin’ pipes, one set high and one set low.
The heavy lifting is in the frame, which is entirely hand-made and fashioned from seamless 28mm steel tubing. It’s hooked up to an old school hardtail back end, but the front end is much more contemporary—the forks are from a Kawasaki Ninja 250 and are a surprisingly discreet addition.
They’re topped with compact hand-made Z bars, with an equally compact Bosch headlight nestled up tight against the neck stem.
Agung has kept the brakes traditional, though. The T120R originally used drums, so he’s fitted a BSA A65 assembly to the front, and a vintage Ariel NH350 unit to the back.
The front rim has gone up a couple of sizes from the T120R original to 21 inches, but the rear stays the same at 18. They’re shod with Swallow and Unily tires, popular brands in Southeast Asia that sell mostly vintage patterns.
The delicate bodywork—a tiny peanut tank and a rear fender with a little old school upkick—is hand-made from galvanized steel sheet, and expertly painted in blue and warm grey tones by Danny P of Hacka Pinstriping.
It all harks back to the days when a motorcycle was little more than an engine, a frame, and two wheels.
And much as we love riding modes and ABS and traction control, we still find the charm of a vintage Bonneville custom absolutely irresistible.
Where is the line between meticulous and just plain nuts? Because we’re sure Albert ‘Ash’ Aeschlimann crossed it at some point during this astounding build. What started out as a simple ’48 Panhead custom turned into a seven-year project—with hardly any of the original bike remaining.
Doing things ‘the right way’ is an essential part of Ash’s day job. He’s a technician at a major science museum in Switzerland, and before that, he studied architecture and worked as a carpenter. After hours, he makes magic in his workshop under the Ash Kustoms banner.
These days he draws inspiration from Japanese builders like ACE Motorcycles and Heiwa. He’s self-taught, and handles most tasks himself—outsourcing only specialist stuff like upholstery, paint and casting.
This project started off as a total basket case spread over multiple boxes. The more he tore into it, the more Ash realized that many of the parts were beyond repair, or not worth using.
During the build, Ash decided to build himself a new workshop. That ended up taking three years—and by the time he was done, his ideas about custom bike building had shifted. So he binned a whole whack of custom parts he’d already fabricated for his Pan, and started over.
The original 48 Panhead wishbone frame is one of the very few original parts now left. Wedged inside it is a 93 ci S&S Knucklehead motor, mated to a six-into-four transmission from Baker.
But even though both the engine and gearbox were new, Ash just couldn’t leave them alone. He’s replaced all the Allen head fasteners with hex or slotted numbers, for a more retro vibe.
Then he de-chromed all the shiny bits, matt-finished the polished aluminum bits, and reworked the S&S billet oil pump to look like a cast part. (The motor got a Morris Magneto ignition too.)
The S&S motor is sporting some slick detail work. Ash designed a venturi-style brass insert for the intake, then had a jewelry maker cast it in brass. And the kickstart has been modified with a pedal from an old Swiss military bicycle—Ash machined a new stainless steel axle for it, and replaced the rubbers with knurled aluminum parts.
The Panhead now rolls on custom wheels, built up from 18F/16R Akront rims by Special Wheel Company in Ditzingen. With a 36-spoke hub up front and a 40-spoke hub out back, finding a matching pair of rims was quite a job.
The rear hub is a Harley part with a hand-made cover. But at the front, Ash needed a big brake to cope with steep Swiss hills. So he’s used a repro Honda RC-162 system, with a hand-made air intake. According to Special Wheel Company, it’s the biggest drum brake hub they could fit to the 18” wheel.
All of the Panhead’s bodywork is custom, hand-shaped by Ash in his workshop. The oil tank’s particularly neat—Ash took inspiration from old hot rods, and decided to cast it out of aluminum himself.
So he built a wood form, sand cast it in two parts, and welded it up. It wasn’t quite perfect, so he then painstakingly filled in any pores with his TIG welder.
Almost everything else on the Harley is custom or modified. The front brake lever’s an original Panhead fitment modified for two-cable operation. The foot controls and their linkages were all made from scratch, and even the floorboards are one-offs.
And what you can’t see, is that every pivot point has a brass bushing and washer.
The handlebars are custom-made, and incorporate the light and horn switches—the latter taken from a classic Vespa. The speedo’s an old Smith Chronometric unit, and measures the speed at the secondary chain via an old Ford speedo cable. (Ash set it up like this purely so he could tuck the cable away).
There’s also a Smith oil gauge, with a modified dial to match the speedo.
The bike’s kill switch is from a B-17 Flying Fortress heavy bomber, and sits on top of the fuel tank. Ash used it as a homage to early bobber culture—when GIs returning from World War II started modding and racing motorcycles.
A lot of Ash’s inspiration comes from airplanes and old race cars. In this case, it was the ‘Bardahl Special’ Indy 500 racecars from the late 40s. So he sought to replicate the deep, glass-like paint job sported by machines from that era.
It took ten coats of black nitrocellulose lacquer to do the trick. Ash gave the job to the only company in Switzerland still allowed to use that type of paint: the Italian vintage car specialist Autolackiererei René Sahli.
Other nods to the original Bardahl Specials include the gold rims, white exhausts, and the custom-made oil catch can.
The saddle upholstery is just as exquisite as the livery. It has a hole in the center for quick access to the oil tank, which almost gave upholsterer Rene Wenger a heart attack.
There are probably hundreds of details that we’ve missed—like the cloth-wrapped electrical cabling, the safety wiring, and the subtle drillium.
But whether you’re far away or up close, Ash’s Panhead is a stunner like no other.
Harley-Davidson is under a microscope right now: its every move is dissected, examined and critiqued.
And there have been plenty of moves lately. They’ve killed the Dyna while relaunching the Softail. They’ve announced a barrage of new models, including the Livewire. But although revenue is holding up at the moment, sales figures have been declining for several years—and were down 10% in 2018.
It’s a challenging time for the Motor Company. So I sat down in Milwaukee with Harley’s VP of Styling and Design, Brad Richards, to ask how they’re going to fix this. Harley’s PR lead Joe Gustafson joined us too, and both were raring to go.
Bike EXIF:There’s a lot of pressure on Harley-Davidson right now. People expect every new bike the company releases to be ‘the’ bike to turn things around.
Brad: It’s so funny that you should say that. It’s as if you’re the Rolling Stones or the Beatles, and your entire library was forgotten before whatever single you’re putting out. That’s what you’re judged on—the latest track.
You really think that we’re just going to abandon the core, and start doing other things? The messaging has always been that we’re going to embrace electric … because it breaks down so many barriers for new riders. There’s no transmission, there’s no clutch. It’s very simple to get involved in two wheels, via electric.
But we’re also going to innovate with our core internal combustion product as well. The only reason that I think folks are letting us get away with the electric stuff—and not everybody is accepting of it, but most people are—is because we haven’t abandoned our core product. If you think about Pan America and the Streetfighter and so on, those are bikes in the middleweight space, and we’re clearly innovating and investing in the future of that product.
So when I hear people saying ‘Oh, Harley’s lost their way, they’re making an electric bike, it’s all over…’ you’re exactly right, they’re only looking at the electric product. I feel like they need to look at the rest of the portfolio too.
Right after announcing ‘More Roads,’ you released the FXDR 114. Detractors were saying that it’s too traditional a Harley and won’t attract new riders. And some older Harley fans didn’t quite get the modern styling. How do you manage that tension between the brand’s history, while still looking forward from a design point of view?
Brad: I think it’s a great question. If you look back at the history of Harley-Davidson—from the birth of the company—we were incredible innovative. People say we’ve never done an adventure touring bike—in 1903, roads were not paved. Every bike we made was an adventure touring bike.
During World War II we made a hundred thousand WLAs; that was a bike that was also intended for pure off-road use. You can argue that World War II kind of created the birth of the segment, and we were there with a product. There are still thousands of them running around today, still functioning.
So when people have a hang up on what we’ve just released. Most of the time it’s because the context in which they’re making that judgment, is the last 20 years. The boom years, the core, mid-90s through early 2000s, where our current archetype rider was defined.
The new generation wants nothing to do with that archetype—loud and proud and bold. We love those folks, and I love that part of the culture. But millennials don’t want that. They want subtlety, they want high quality experience, but they don’t brag, they don’t boast, they’re not loud, they’re not obnoxious. So we have to be able to tailor some of the products to this new generation.
It’s the same problem that we had in about 1947. Post World War II there was a massive boom. Guys came back from the military, and there was this huge investment in social free time and hobbies and so on, and our bike sales went through the roof. But by 1949, there was a massive drop-off in the sales of our big twins. The volumes were almost cut in half. And so we invested in light weight and low displacement. That’s how Sportster was eventually born.
We’re going through the same thing right now. It’s so cyclical. So it’s funny to me.
We’ve done tons of research. And the research has told us that the younger generation loves the brand. They know what it stands for, they know its authenticity and quality and the history, but they just don’t see products that they really wanna ride. So the More Roads initiative is to create bikes that appeal to that generation, because they’re giving us the permission to go into adventure touring, to go into electric, to go into Streetfighter, and other places that we’re gonna go.
It’s the tip of the iceberg. The next five years, we’re gonna blow minds. I keep thinking about the reaction we’re getting now, it’s like ‘holy smokes, wait two years from now,’ because the stuff is just gonna keep coming.
When the new Softails were released, a lot of people were upset that the Dyna was gone. But when the Dyna was first released, no one liked it. So I guess by now you’re used to weathering that storm of criticism…
Brad: You have to have a thick skin. Some of the younger guys in the studio who are right outta school, they design something, and all of a sudden the feedback starts coming out on Instagram. They’re like ‘Holy smokes!’ It’s okay…most of the folks that you meet love what we’re doing and understand what we’re doing.
When Pan America [below] was revealed, and the feedback started coming in, it was pretty polarizing. There was some great stuff and there was some pretty bad stuff, and what I told upper leadership at that time, was, the worst thing that we could have done is release a design and no-one commented on it.
I personally love all the feedback, whether it’s good or bad, and I love people that bring it to me and are very frank, and ask me why we’re doing what we’re doing. As a designer, I wanna do things that are compelling, that are remembered. Our team wants that.
And are we gonna have home runs every bike? No. That’s impossible. But we’re gonna have some really compelling product, that in the future will be in the museum, and people are gonna say ‘You know what? That’s the moment when they pivoted, and thank God they did, because they’re still in business today.’
Joe: You look at Softail, and you look at what was added to the conversation. You look at Dyna, and people like performance, they want the feel, they want the look. And Softail’s lighter, it’s smoother, and it’s faster.
Yeah it’s better, in every way.
Brad: I have a Low Rider S, that’s my favorite bike [below]. And that was the first bike that I did when I got here with the team. We had a hole in the life cycle plan, and we needed something quickly, just to be totally frank, and all the parts and components were there. And we all knew what was happening with Dyna.
So was that your ‘twilight’ Dyna?
Brad: Yeah, we wanted to make the ultimate Dyna. That’s why I’ll never sell mine, I think it’s gonna be a collector’s item. But having said that, and as much as I love my bike—and I put money into it, upping the performance and suspension and doing all kinds of things to it like everybody does—when I went to Spain and rode with you guys on the new bikes, there’s no comparison.
The new Softails are just infinitely better motorcycles. And if you talk to anybody who really does this stuff and takes it seriously—Mark Atkins [Rusty Butcher], Speed Merchant, Noise Cycles—the guys who are riding our new bikes, taking them apart and customizing ’em. They all know that the new bikes are infinitely better too.
Are you feeling a lot of pressure to progress on the tech front? Premium bikes like the FXDR 114 and Road Glide [above], for example, don’t have some of the same tech (like switchable rider modes) that their competitors do.
Brad: We look at everything. I wish I could take you to the test track in Yucca, Arizona, and show you all the things that we’re experimenting with.
We are not static any more. We are embracing these things, and we are exploring all avenues of technology, and motorcycling. Because all of these things that you’ve described, make motorcycling safer, and easier, and it breaks down barriers for people to get into the sport.
Joe: If you look at Livewire [below], it’s got riding modes, it has a six-axis IMU, it has cellular connectivity. I could be sitting at lunch and know when my bike’s being charged.
But that tech (in Livewire) comes at a massive premium.
Brad: Livewire’s a halo product. It’s a halo product for EV, but it’s also a halo product for connectivity and all these other things that Joe just described. These things eventually become less expensive, and we do integrate them into the rest of the product line.
But let’s be frank. It is not a bike that’s been designed for millennials, from a price point. And the EV technology’s expensive right now. Battery technology’s incredibly expensive. It will get less expensive, and it’s going to change, but Livewire’s really about the first product from a major OE, that’s very compelling, very well engineered.
I think that there was a misconception, in the way it went to market for some reason—it didn’t really come from us—that it is the answer to the millennials.
From a design point of view, Livewire does hit that sweet spot between modern, and keeping with Harley-Davidson’s design language. But how did you figure out the smaller electric vehicles, from a design point of view?
Brad: We had the one that’s in between a dirt bike and a mountain bike—the one that was at X Games [above]. But we felt in the studio that there might be something that was more like a 70s minibike [below]. Because a lot of us that ride Harleys, grew up on a little Briggs and Stratton minibike.
So it was like: “What if we took this, and did the modern interpretation of that?’ And all of a sudden you have this whole new generation of younger folks, learning to ride a Harley-Davidson on something like that.
A lot of the baby boomers, and what we call our core customers, are sort of ageing out of the sport. They’re embracing things like boating and RV-ing and camping. And really, that is a migration stream that’s happening. So I said, “What a great way for that generation to reconnect with Harley-Davidson, by having a couple of these strapped to their Airstream trailers.”
We wanted to do something that was very friendly, very approachable. But the trick is, that when you get on it, it’s gotta be fast as f–k. We called it the ‘Angry Little Bastard,’ that was its nickname. So you have this little thing that looks like a kid’s scooter, you get on it, and it’ll outrun a Sportster ’til 3rd gear.
Joe: From a riding situation—no license, torque, speed—it pulls so many notes of what people love about motorcycles into a new package. That’s really what it’s all about. We were at X Games with these concepts, people that didn’t even ride…it kind of pulls at those heartstrings. ‘What is this? I love Harley, I want this.’
I guess online commentary always leans towards being more negative than positive… was the reaction different when people saw the bikes in person?
Joe: Oh absolutely. Think about on Bike EXIF with the seat argument. ‘You can’t sit on that seat, there’s no way that’s gonna be fun!’ Then you see it in person. I would challenge a lot of Bike EXIF commentators to say if they saw that bike in person, they would love it.
There’s a lot of riding scenarios, that you gotta look at those two concepts where it’s not, you know, “I’m gonna buy this bike and I’m gonna go to Sturgis.” It’s: “I’m gonna buy this bike, and fit it in my life.” Which is a really cool aspect of these bikes.
Brad: It was all about getting people to embrace two wheels, because that wasn’t happening with the current state of product that’s out there.
I love the smaller electric concepts, but personally I think Livewire’s too expensive for everybody.
Joe: If you look at the package of that product—it’s performance, it’s the riding suite, it’s connectivity. So it’s not price point. It’s, “What experience are you trying to get for that?”
Brad: I’d argue that there are some customers who have never looked at Harley-Davidson, because there hasn’t been an EV product. If you read some of the feedback, it’s “never been interested in Harley-Davidson, never noticed the brand, until they agreed to do this. Until they showed this.”
When I said Livewire wasn’t designed for millennials…the experience was. But that wasn’t necessarily our primary objective. Our primary objective was to do a very compelling motorcycle in general, with this new EV technology. And put it in the Harley-Davidson lineup, designed with Harley-Davidson DNA and ethos.
So was the motivation more about a solid product than massive sales?
Brad: There are a lot of people at Harley-Davidson that are much smarter than I am, and figure out business cases. We don’t set out to lose money on anything. But a product like this, there’s a different nuance to it, because it’s about the future. And it’s about trying to attract a new customer to the brand.
And frankly, there are a lot of places in the world where internal combustion will eventually go away. And so we want to have something for those folks. So that is the other piece that’s very important to think about.
Because again, going back to the beginning of the company, I argue to people that in 1903, Harley-Davidson was Apple. In 1903, most people didn’t go more than, like, 14 miles from the farm they grew up on. All of a sudden here comes this product that allows you to go 100 miles from home in a day. Your social network has just increased in a magnitude of a hundred.
Changing gears back to gas and oil for a minute; when Pan America and Streetfighter [above] were announced, it was very subtly mentioned that the new motor would be coming in a 500 cc, 750 cc, 950 cc and 1250 cc versions. And I immediately thought, is this going to replace the Sportster?
Brad: We would never walk away from Sportster. Sportster is like Mustang. I had this conversation with a friend last night, the design director of Ford. We were talking about Sportster and talking about Ford. In the early 80s, they created the Ford Probe—remember that thing?
He said the Probe was the new Mustang. They felt the technology, and space age…this was gonna do it. And they researched it. And it just absolutely tanked. So at that point they decided, ‘you know what, let’s just keep Mustang around.’
A lot of companies have extremely equitable iconic names in their brands, and sometimes, for whatever reason, they start to challenge whether those are still of value to the overall big picture and ecosystem. I think there were probably some conversations at Ford Motor Company that time, and somebody said ‘yeah we don’t see value in the Mustang name anymore, the new generation doesn’t care about that.’ And obviously they were proven wrong. Thank God, because that’s one of the best selling cars that Ford has.
So I love Sportster. I love internal combustion, Harley V-twins…that’s my passion. I can’t divulge future product stuff, but you know, the company would be in some kind of dire straits to walk away from the Sportster name and brand.
Pan America, Streetfighter and Custom [below] are pretty progressive, design wise. But take a bike like the Sportster Iron 883…is there room in that new platform for an updated Iron? How do you still develop bikes that appeal to core customers that want a ‘typical’ Harley?
Brad: One way to do it is to have an extremely modular platform. And so, again, there are certain iconic products in our lineup that we will continue to embrace. It’s very exciting designing Harley-Davidson motorcycles, because of all the passion that our customers have.
You evolve the product. And what we showed with those first three models, I think that shows the diversity that we’re really after. And showing what we can do when we really decide to move the needle in a way that’s going to attract a whole bunch of new incremental customers.
With those new models, are we looking at better performance, lighter bikes?
Brad: Have to. Because to your point about some of the metric competition, you can find bikes that are a lot less expensive than a Harley-Davidson, that have some of these performance attributes, that are more compelling. So we have to move the needle on everything. It’s gotta be lighter, it’s gotta be faster, it’s gotta be more of a visceral experience.
We can’t walk away from the connection that you have emotionally to a Harley-Davidson when you ride it. It’s not the same connection I have when I ride one of my Ducatis, or ride a friend’s Yamaha. They’re great bikes, but emotionally they’re the most un-compelling. They’re appliances to me.
A Harley-Davidson is not a disposable product. It’s something you hand down to your son or daughter. We need to continue to do that, with even the electric product and all the technology that we’re embracing, the Harley DNA needs to come through. That is our special sauce, we cannot walk away from that.
A lot of people see you as a company that just makes cruisers—are you trying to break that perception, trying to get back to being perceived as a motorcycle company?
Brad: Yeah. I think that everything we’re doing is proving that’s our goal.
In the world of vintage desert sleds, the Rickman Triumph Métisse reigns supreme. It was a pretty legit scrambler in its day, and also one of best-looking motorcycles from that era.
For VTR Customs boss Dani Weidmann, though, there’s an even deeper connection. Back in the 80s, 17-year-old Dani took an apprenticeship at a company called Meier & Lutziger—the Swiss importer of Rickman frames and parts. Dani fell in love with the classy design of these throwback sleds.
When the VTR Customs crew were recently shooting the breeze over coffee—and reminiscing about the past—the idea of building a Métisse replica popped up. And since VTR is the custom arm of the BMW dealer Stucki2Rad, it could be based on the BMW R nineT. Just like that, the ‘Bétisse’ was born.
“Since we knew very well how the ‘Bétisse’ should look,” Dani tells us, “the design was done very quickly. A gas tank, seat and tail combination in the classic Métisse style.”
The original Métisse body kits were fiberglass—but VTR prefer working with aluminum. So their head tech and ‘alloy godfather’ Cello Brauchli whipped up a full complement of hand-made body parts.
“I think Cello prayed to God that, one day, we’re gonna have simpler ideas,” quips Dani. “After producing the Spitfire, we still fear he might kill us one day.”
Cello nailed the lines; hints of the original Rickman design are unmistakable. But it took some under-the-hood work to get right too. The design called for a straight fly line front to back, but due to strict Swiss regulations, the main frame couldn’t be modded.
So VTR took inspiration from another R nineT custom they’d seen, and built a bolt-on subframe to run the length of the bike.
It’s beautifully crafted, and also accommodates a custom-built air intake that replaces the stock unit, on the right. Look on the other side, and you’ll spot a matching air box cover. The new arrangement also called for a serious wiring cleanups.
The original airbox is still in play, but the exhaust is completely bespoke. It features custom two-into-one headers, terminating in a modified Akrapovič connector and end can.
“This is a pure ‘racing only’ solution,” says Dani. (The bike comes with an additional, street legal system from Hattech.)
The team deviated from the source material on the livery a bit. An OG British Racing Green paint job was on the cards, but it felt too on-the-nose. So VTR opted for baby blue, polished alloy, and gold highlights, with replica ‘Bétisse’ logos. Paint shop Freuler over in Benken sorted it out for the guys.
The frame had to be period correct though, and that meant nickel-plating it. But Swiss laws got in the way again (something along the lines of influencing the frame’s structural integrity).
So VTR nervously switched to a nickel-esque powder coating instead—and breathed a sigh of relief when the results came back.
One glaringly modern touch still remained: the R nineT’s motor and drivetrain are all black. So the guys took the brand new BMW, and stripped it right down to refinish it.
“The most shitty job,” Dani tells us, “was the sandblasting and glass pearl finishing of the engine. Stefano did this, in order not to stress Cello out even more.”
From there on out, it was a case of dressing the Bétisse in the right finishing kit. VTR started with BMW’s own Option 719 billet accessories, including foot controls, valve covers and the motor’s front ‘breastplate.’ They picked the clear alloy finish, but painted the cylinder heads black themselves, with some contrasting lines and lettering.
The cockpit was treated to a set of Renthal MX bars, new grips, and Magura master cylinders. Inspiration for the headlight came straight out of the 60s, with a deliberately “ugly, frog eyes and big plate look.” Out back, a pair of Kellermann tail light LEDs were sunk into tunnels in the rear section.
Classic dirt bikes didn’t sit as high as their modern counterparts, so VTR debated at length whether they should jack up the R nineT Scrambler’s suspension. In the end, they fitted a new shock and forks from Wilbers, with a 7 cm lift at both ends.
Then they added an 80s hit, with a pair of gold wheels from Kineo. They’re wrapped in Continental TKC80 tires, measuring 120/70 19” in front, and 170/60 17” out back.
Final touches include a small, hand-made fender up front, and leather upholstery on the seat by VTR’s upholsterer, Yves Knobel.
It didn’t shock us to learn that the Bétisse was sold before it was even finished. “It’s found a home alongside some other VTR Customs, inside a regular client’s garage,” Dani tells us. We just hope it doesn’t stay in the garage too long.
If you’re hoping to order your own Bétisse, we have some bad news. None of the parts are available in kit or complete form—everything was made specifically for this build.
“One of our client promises,” says Dani, “is that we build single and unique bikes, and that no copies will ever be reproduced by us.”