Itching to do a project

I’ve been back on bikes now for about 19 months and so far so good, have ridden a vast range of entertaining machines and taken in many of the best biking roads here in the Yorkshire Dales; including an S1000RR, various Ducatis, my own Street Triple and the later 765RS as well as a BMW GS1200 Rallye and sponny new Suzuki GSX1000R on the 2017 test day at Squires.

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One itch that I still haven’t scratched though is my desire to buy and refurbish some kind of older project bike – so now I’m starting to seriously look for something interesting to work on.

Happily I’ve actually come up trumps and found somewhere terrific to work on the bike; there is a great little place in Keighley called Renaissance Motorcyle Workshop that runs like a collective organised by Roger Henderson, a former lecturer at Keighley College in motorcycle maintenance.

I popped down to meet Roger who it turns out is a great chap, very approachable and helpful; he gave me a tour and explained how everything works; it’s basically £55 a month to rent a bench which includes access to all the various tools they carry (a lot) as well as his expertise and assistance as you learn your craft. They have welding equipment, lathes and even common nuts and bolts (chargeable at cost) so you aren’t running backwards and forwards all the time looking for sundries.

If you are a local and like me interested in learning to maintain your bikes, why not pop down, you will be made very welcome.

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So, having identified a space to work, all I need now is a bike that I’d like to work on.

I say ‘all’ a little tongue in cheek as it is actually proving far harder than I’d anticipated. You realise once you start looking how little you know about bikes as well as what marks out an interesting prospect from a potential money pit. Roger had already explained that you don’t renovate motorcycles for commercial gain as you always end up with a bigger bill than the bike is worth, even so if you choose poorly some bikes can end up costing way more than you anticipate so it makes sense to take your time finding a suitable bike to work on.

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I’ve spent ages so far on eBay (a minefield) and the internet, as well as popping over to look at bikes in various shops around Yorkshire, so far without success.

Part of the issue I think is I haven’t really got a clear enough idea of what I want to work on – the heart is pining for an older classic like a Norton 750 Commando, similar to the one my dad had when I was a toddler, or a Bevel Ducati, although both of these bikes are already fully valued (short hand for f@#king expensive) amongst collectors – a scrappy Commando is about £5-6k and a 900SS is, well, don’t ask, suffice it to say it’s unlikely to be one of the bikes I cut my teeth on.

Other options include an early Fireblade (the 92-96 versions are quite interesting) or maybe an RD Yamaha, the RD400s appeal to me most. There are more of these types of bike about yet finding a base for a good project still proves challenging.

I recently looked at a ’95 (SC28) Fireblade being sold in a local shop on behalf of a customer and whilst it looked (and sounded) reasonably good, it had apparently been tracked and as a consequence had aftermarket downpipes which had melted the lower left fairing and it also had a non OEM brake lever which I took as suggestive of the fact it had been dropped at some point in it’s 23 years.

Not an issue in itself as long as the frame was straight although finding those downpipes, a fairing and front tyre (puncture) would have added at least £500 to the cost of buying it even before any rebuild costs began in earnest.

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And that is the nub of things really, most people want more for their bike than realistically it is worth, and not choosing a wrong ‘un is harder than I’d ever imagined, given my relative inexperience – so I’m still on the hunt right now, I figure it is better to take longer and find the right bike than buy something flaky and pay double on the renovation itself.

Well that it is for now, hope to be able to update more in due course

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Cafe Racers – Second Coming

Is it just me or are we in the middle of a renaissance for Cafe Racers?

Let me be clear up front I am a huge fan of these stripped back, racers for the road machines which found prominence in the 50’s and 60’s. My interest in them most likely arose from discussions with my dad about the way he used to amend his father’s BSA Gold Flash for tearing about on at the weekend.

Nowadays the BSA Gold Flash in standard form would most likely be considered cool by most fans of motorbikes. Back then without clip ons and with it’s stock mudguards it was considered a little how might I say ‘fusty’, something which my grandfather would use day to day to make his way to work on. Steady and reliable transport for the working man.

So on a Friday night dad would jazz it up a little ready for the weekend.

From what I have read and heard the principle aim of the movement was to take a bike which was ok if a little ordinary and turn it into something which looked and was faster. Perhaps due to their relative ubiquity at the time Norton, Triumph, Vincent and BSA are all well represented in the group of bikes given the full Cafe treatment.

Norton in particular has a very good showing. Presumably as a result of the immense success they had achieved at the Manx TT with the featherbed frame. As well as standard Manx Norton Cafe Racers the well regarded platform also spawned a broad range of derivatives which are highly sought after today including Norvins, NorBsas and Tritons.

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I digress. Cafe Racers or bikes with a similar look and feel at least as those original machines have become so incredibly popular now that they dominate the social media feeds of the current generation of motorcycling fan. In an age in which MotoGp and Superbikes remain as popular as ever I guess it is natural to want to emulate this.

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Many of these bikes are actually being built by mainstream manufacturers such as Triumph or even BMW with their popular R nine T model. As commercial businesses they will be on the front foot when it comes to spotting a resurgent trend. They also have many advantages in that they can build and promote these machines at real scale to customers.

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I like the R nine T variants, the Triumph Thruxton is an undoubtedly good bike, Ducati is perhaps cashing in somewhat shamefacedly with it’s Scrambler Cafe Racer Edition however who can blame them although I would argue it has lost the core ethic which made this motorcycling genre so popular to begin with. And what of Norton’s Dominator?

Norton more than most can legitimately lay claim to this space given it’s heritage. Albeit they are a very different company now than they were in the 50’s and 60’s. Stuart Garner their owner and CEO has made leaning on the history of the company a core strength of the recent relaunch of the famous Norton brand. Their Dominator exemplifies this.

It is a truly beautiful machine which clearly borrows much from Cafe Racers of yesteryear. Price tag to one side, this is the mainstream manufacturers bike that I would choose.

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Mainstream manufacturers clearly have an advantage in this resurgent category. They will make many of these bikes so they can achieve efficiency and reliability for customers. However it is arguably the smaller, niche bike builders today who might best be able to make what is a credible claim to be the holders of the torch in this particular category.

Bike builders such as Pepo Rosell in Madrid with his standout creations based on often quite mundane or dull looking donor bikes. This is what he calls extreming a bike although when it is considered it has much in common with the ethic and general aims of the early pioneers who developed the UK Cafe Racer movement.

There are of course many others around the world doing similar things. Imagining and then building some simply beautiful and very desirable machines. Whether each of these is trying to be or should be considered Cafe Racers is somewhat academic. Motorcycling enthusiasts from many years back would surely agree the spirit of their machines survives.

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