Most people do a double take when you tell them it only took four weeks to build this bike
In the world of custom bike building, four weeks is a pretty short time. People often spend several years building a custom motorcycle, that’s the norm, but at EMW we don’t do ‘norm’.
Usually in our shop it’s a 3-6 months build time for most types of bike, however a while back we were asked to build a bike for a big movie-studio and we were given just five weeks to complete, working off nothing more than an artists impression.
Fast forward five weeks and the bike was loaded on the DHL plane bound for the U-S of A, customer is delighted with the end product and it went straight to work. Proof that short timescales can be met!
We had agreed to attend the Custom Bike Show in Dublin but there was a problem. We had nothing to show, you see, all the bikes we build go straight to the customer when they are finished.
“Kids… never drink and think”
The only bikes we had in the shop were ‘wee blue’ my trusty little Sportster chop, a true bitsa that I built for myself to scoot around on. We build bikes to be ridden and Wee Blue has been well ridden but she was never going to fill the stand, we needed more.
I spoke to David who lives in Dublin and asked if we could borrow the Royal Enfield bobber we built a while back, and David kindly agreed. Noel who owns the Harley-Enfield bike also allowed us to borrow it and our friends in Herald were bringing across one of their custom builds.
Four good bikes confirmed, but we needed something for the centre of the stand. Kids, never drink and think… four weeks out from the show, after some beers… I had a brainwave… I would build a bike for the stand. Great!!!
With a packed workshop of customer jobs also to work through, this was going to be a busy few weeks.
I had an old CB650 that I bought about 10 years ago for five hundred quid. It was at the back of my shed. I had always intended to do something with it… then parked it in the shed. It drove in, so it should drive out!! Not quite, everything that’s supposed to turn was seized so it was with copious amounts of penetrating spray that I actually got the bike rolling.
I remembered it being in much better condition when it was parked up, but it was a good solid 1981 Honda, so it was built right and built to last. I loaded the bike into the van and brought it to the workshop where I immediately began stripping it down. I had absolutely no idea what I was going to build. I thought about a beach-bobber, then I thought about building a weird Japanese style racer with round headlight up in the air but nothing definite.
It was nice not having constraints and letting the build evolve organically, rather than sticking to a strict plan. I completed a few tests on the engine, to see if it was even going to run. There was compression in all cylinders, I had the sense to drain the carbs before storing it so although I did strip them and rebuild them, they were spotless inside. Add some electric and there was a hint of a spark, that was good enough for me. It’s a Honda, it will run! I took the bike down to the bare basics, frame and engine, then I began to cut the sticky-out bits off the frame until I was left with a cradle & engine.
The bike was originally a twin-shocker but I had an old mono-shock left over from the movie-bike so thought it would be cool to do a mono-shock conversion. I fabricated the brackets and tacked them in place. Sat on the bike and it compressed right to the wheel! I’d got my geometry very wrong. Measure twice… I re-calculated my angles (kids pay attention to Pythagoras in math class…) welded everything in place, and it was just about right.
“Something like a café-racer only a bit mental”
I had a general idea to build something long and low, short rear subframe, exposed rear wheel, something like a café-racer only a bit mental.
This is when the idea of a Psycho Café Racer came to mind. Long, low, drop bars, knobbly tyres with feet wayyyy behind like a drag bike… oh… and a suicide shift!...
I’ve been asked many times “why did you fit a suicide shift” and the answer is always… because I can!
Week One was strip and fabricate, cut everything down to size and start making all the new brackets. I wanted a tank that was rounded and long, and when I looked around, the Herald Maverick tank was the exact shape I wanted.
Quick phone call to the guys in Herald and they promptly dispatched a raw Maverick tank. It was the perfect shape and after some modifications to the underside, it fitted perfectly on the old Honda backbone.
A nice contoured rear subframe was made and a small tail-piece fabricated from half a spot-light and mounted to a round-bar frame and the bodywork was complete.
Week Two was mostly spent making a wiring loom, and making everything fit correctly. We made an undertray and covered it with Carbon wrap, it’ll probably never be seen but if someone does happen to look underneath, it’s a nice touch. We then set about sandblasting and painting frame, wheels and anything else that looked grubby. The engine was given a clean and detail, nothing too mental, just a tidy finish.
Before & After
The Third week was where it all really started to take shape. The Petrol Tank was seam-welded underneath and the tail-piece finished and sent over to my painting God Mark, who turned the job around in a couple of days with an absolutely stunning deep burnt-orange metallic over gold paint job. Everyone has commented on the paint, it is flawless and stunning.
The final week was strangely calm considering at this stage I didn’t even know if the bike would run. There are a million little jobs to do when finishing a bike.
These old Hondas are so well made, lots of thought has gone into every part of them and the finish on the brackets and fasteners is like nothing you would ever see with a modern bike.
It was no surprise that we got the bike running before final assembly. A bit of fuel and fresh filters some fettling of the carbs and she was bang on.
The other job I couldn’t do in-house was the leather seat. This was outsourced to my trusted partners Ann and Jenny at Custom Motorbike Seats NI who once again, done a stunning job. It was exactly what I had envisaged for the bike. They turned the seat around from steel base to a beautiful hand-crafted leather unit you see on the bike, in a couple of days. Ann then wrapped the hand grips in matching leather to really complete the bike.
Clock, pegs, exhausts, lights, rear-sets, switches, wheels, tyres… the list goes on and on but just as I was getting finished up, I decided that the gold chain was a beautiful accent. I had a small headlight with brass grill, earmarked for another project which would add balance to the gold chain, if it was fitted on the right.
A bracket and mount were hastily fabricated and the light mounted. At this point, my friend Gary, who was following the build online, came into the shop to get a sneaky look at how things were progressing. Gary, a hugely talented Airbrush Artist with an eye for detail, brought in a box of brass nuts and bolts. I machined a few pieced down on the lathe and the brass accents were fitted as bar-ends, foot-peg ends ad a few other accent pieces. The brass really ties the whole thing together.
This was a strange deadline, everything was surprisingly calm. All the jobs had been ticked off, the bike was running and the only thing left was to take it for a short run…Remember back at the start when I said the bike had been lying for around 10 years, well, the clutch plates had stuck together.
There I was, astride this beautiful creation, resplendent in the sunshine with suicide shift. Looking cool with my open-face Bell helmet, my Falco boots, Kevlar Jeans, a cool Segura jacket, tan leather City Gloves… I was the picture of cool. Engine running, I pulled the clutch and pushed first gear… only for the bike to launch and lurch forward and take off up the road. Me with one hand on the bars, the other trying to pull neutral!
"Disaster averted but dignity in tatters"
With feet flailing as, in my panic, I couldn’t find the foot-pegs, I’m sure there were also a few high-pitched screams!!! Real cool…. Damn psycho nearly killed me!
I had visions of the entire build lying upside down in the hedge! Luckily I managed to get it into neutral, warmed up the engine to the point that the plates came unstuck and away we went… Disaster averted but dignity in tatters.
The bike got so much attention on the EMW stand at the show although few people believed it was built in just four weeks. Luckily we documented the entire build live on Instagram and tick-tock and had the reels running on the stand, showing the entire process.It was somewhat a deviation from our normal build, usually we only build bikes to be ridden.
And although the Psycho Café-Racer is well capable of being ridden, it’s not the bike you would do the Wild Atlantic Way on! It certainly puts a smile on my face and it will be staying in the shop for the foreseeable future.
Checkout the build video below
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