Don’t buy it, build it.

A couple of years ago I came to the end of a long term contract which had seen me running a modelmaking and prototype workshop for a small Industrial Design company in west London. I’d had, and in fact still do have, a very good relationship with the guys at the company and had often been able to work on small personal projects after hours over the course of the contract. Before I headed out into the world again to look for more work I had a desire to make something substantial for myself. After not much thought I decided I’d like to build a motorbike, or at least modify one to my personal spec. This is something that I’d actually been wanting to do for years but never had the time or opportunity to have a go.

Over the course of an evening, armed with three of my favourite creative tools, a pint of beer, a pencil and a pad of paper I sat down to plan my project. I had managed to persuade the guys to let me use the workshop for an extra month before going, so that set my timeframe. But what bike was I going to modify? I wrote many lists covering capacities, bike type and performance criteria in an effort to get a clear idea. I’ve always had a soft spot for 250cc bikes and after rejecting many other larger alternatives (I’ve already got a big bike anyway) I settled on the idea of creating a small runabout for town use based around a single cylinder 250.

I wrote a little brief for finding the donor bike in the form of a list. It had to be light and manoeuvrable, cheap to buy, run and fix but, most importantly it had to have potential. With only a month of workshop time available I knew I wouldn’t have time for complex frame work or to farm stuff out, I had to do whatever I could myself and quickly. I set myself a budget and dived into the web in search of a likely candidate. I finally settled on Suzuki’s GN250, an oft maligned little commuter custom like a Yamaha SR250, but better looking and with more appropriate geometry. Although they turned up on ebay fairly regularly the prices were high and condition questionable. I tracked a good one down in Gloucester – lady owner, low mileage, big rear rack. Perfect. I took the train down, and rode it home the same day.

I was as excited about going to get it as I’d been some years ago when I went to pick up my new Triumph. It was everything I wanted it to be. The dealer had serviced it for me and put in new oil etc. It started easily and coped admirably with everything I threw at it on the ride back to London. Assuming an “aero” tuck with my nose buried in the clocks we hit an indicated 80 mph, the brakes worked ok, and despite minimal suspension damping, floppy steering and a totally square rear tyre I stayed out of all the hedgerows. It was 120 miles of fun. And it did the whole lot on less than a tank of juice.

Once my mate Richard and my girlfriend had stopped laughing at my new purchase it got a good clean and I took some quick photos outside Rich’s garage so I could chop the thing about in Photoshop and sketch out my planned mods.

Ever since I’d decided that I wanted to create a little roadster for town I’d not stopped thinking about a retro styled scoot with a single seat and so this was my start point for mucking about very roughly in Photoshop. Without much work it turned out that I could get close to what I had in my minds eye quite quickly. One of the reasons I’d gone for the GN was that geometrically it already possessed the right kind of stance, not too high at the front end, with a short wheelbase. As a result I could leave the wheels where they were, and the frame too for that matter and just chop the rest around, creating mudguards, seats etc as I went. This was a Sunday, so I gave myself until the end of the day to reach my final idea.

Inspired by classic bikes of the 50’s and 60’s I’d very much latched onto the “Bobber” style, though I had no intention of giving the little 250 a hard tail, really not a practical solution for London riding. Other details would be changing though, like suspension, fenders, handlebars and exhaust but, for now these simple visuals gave me enough information to get on with the task of planning the build.

Next up, where to start and where to get the bits I was going to need.

 

 

 

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