Creative decisions that are right for you.

Taking my time to find the right position.

Taking my time to find the right position.

Time to take a look at cutting and fitting the new rear mudguard. There is much talk in bike building circles about getting the stance of your bike right as a prerequisite for coming up with anything good looking. There is a school of thought that is very prevalent currently to have the line of the bike very flat. That’s to say, the visual line from the back of the seat running through the base of the tank to the front suspension should be pretty much parallel to the ground. Hence you see lots of bikes that are all starting to look the same and share the almost totally flat seat which is almost ubiquitous in its manifestation. This is all well and good if you’ve got the time, money and the need to go down this route. Personally I haven’t. As I’ve mentioned before, without resorting to large amounts of frame modification  (read expensive welding bills and jiggery) and spending a whole pile of cash on different suspension equipment, there’s not much one can do beyond a certain point. The creative challenge is therefore to move away from the standard look enough to create difference and come up with something that works with the proportions one is presented with. This can be a lot harder than you think, but it is possible on a very limited budget and is generally a case of taking ones time in positioning, cutting and mounting components. Once you’ve cut metal there’s very little you can do to rescue things, so it pays to exercise patience and adopt a methodical approach no matter how quickly you want the project to be completed.

Position set, holes drilled, just the light to mount.

Position set, holes drilled, just the light to mount.

Of course, what “looks right” is a purely subjective conclusion. Because these kinds of projects are pretty personal in their nature, the result must first be right for you, in your own eyes. That’s the most important thing really. Decisions you make in a build are always contextualised by a whole host of factors and compromises that one has had to deal with on the journey to the final outcome. Others may not like your final iteration but then invariably they have little knowledge of this context. As a maker, of anything, one has the luxury of knowing that you could change or modify things in future if the urge takes you, but it’s an option that you can reserve to exercise if you so choose.

When I first built this bike I made a pile of decisions about how it would look based how I felt about the life it would lead, about practical issues like comfort and durability as much as aesthetic considerations. I reserved the right to change things if I wanted to but generally didn’t feel the need to do much other than periodic tweaking. Now, some time later, it is time to make some changes  based on living with it and riding it for a few years. There are still certain things about the stance I can do little about, but these are not a problem. The bike started life as a factory custom and so caries with it some small legacies of that life which I’m happy to live with, like the long forks and the steep rake of the tank.

A rather blurry shot courtesy of my iPad, but you get the idea.

A rather blurry shot courtesy of my iPad, but you get the idea.

So here are some shots showing the process of getting the new rear mudguard (fender) sitting in the right place, at the right angle in the right way. Once I’d cut the bare rolled section I’d bought to roughly the correct length I spent ages with bits of foam, tape and cups of tea trying it in different positions to get the look I was after. Once I was happy I marked the mounting holes for drilling and returned to the shed for some hole making. The critical factor was getting enough section over the wheel without it looking overly long but still having enough curve available to support the light/plate assembly at the right angle. I didn’t think things had changed much until I held up the new piece next to the old one to see that I’d actually reduced the length by about 150mm, very satisfying.

The final shot shows the guard in place with the light mounted and everything else ready to go. The final piece of this refresh is painting the petrol tank, which I’m currently working on a design for and I’ll be posting about that very soon.

Seize the moment.

Stripped and ready for action.

Stripped and ready for action.

The decision to get cracking on the bike coincided with two pieces of good fortune. First, work called just before I started on it to ask if I’d mind staying at home that week as there wasn’t enough work going through the studio to keep me busy. Regret that I wouldn’t earn any money that week was countered by the prospect of getting a fair crack of the whip on my bike build, so a reasonable result. Then, to my utter surprise, the weather turned unseasonably warm and sunny for about a week, perfect for fettling bits of metal out in the shed and garden. Having wrestled the bike into the back garden, no easy task given a very narrow access alley out back and the need to fit some much reduced width handlebars, the strip down was quick. Originally I’d built it in a way that would enable me to take it apart if I ever needed to and so was grateful for having made that decision. The work plan was front mudguard first, then the clocks and headlight area and finally the rear mudguard. After a quick once over and a clean it was time to get started.

Not bad, considering.

Not bad, considering.

I’d sketched out several solutions for mounting the front guard but, in the end opted for the simplest one which used two straps or hoops connecting the mounting holes on the fork legs with the guard mounted on top. Ok, not that elegant, but essentially all you need and adhering nicely to one of my general philosophies when approaching making anything, which is the KISS principal (Keep It Simple, Stupid). Due to the front forks having a leading axle arrangement, the mounting holes are off-set to the wheel centre so the straps needed to be of different lengths, and so I slotted the holes on the rear one to enable some positional adjustment when finally mounting the guard. Trimming the guard from the longer piece of rolled section I had was relatively easy, the tricky bit is joining it all together. For this you need to find the centreline of the guard, awkward on a thing that curves in two planes. My simple solution was to lie the piece on its side and establish the centreline as a height rather than a width, using a pen taped to an adjustable square. That done, it’s much easier to define the hole positions for your fixing screws or rivets to attach the mounting straps. Nothing worse than drilling holes only to find they’re in the wrong place. With the holes drilled I screwed the whole thing together using some M4 button headed screws and thread lock compound. Doing it this way allowed me to tighten things up just so, and minimise the risk of pulling the surface down onto the straps too much and dishing the top surface. The rolled mudguard blanks came with a polished finish but this is a nightmare to maintain, so the final thing was “brushed” with Scotchbrite before a treatment of anti-corrosion spray. Ok so far. Next up, the clocks and front light area.

Before the making starts.

Strange proportions and some serious wear and tear you can't see.

Strange proportions and some serious wear and tear you can’t see.

In the last post, which was primarily concerned with getting into some making as an antidote to creative imbalance, I mentioned that the project I’d be launching myself into would be a refresh of my already custom built little 250cc motorcycle.

Above are a couple of shots taken not long ago of how it was looking. From this distance and angle there doesn’t seem to be that much wrong with it but upon closer inspection it was really starting to show its age. First modified nearly six years ago, it has since endured a life of quite heavy use as a daily commuter and weekend run about. There were two aspects that I wanted to address in my refresh. Firstly, the finishes that I’d applied all those years ago were starting to look very tired. Numerous scrapes and scratches, injuries sustained from sharing public parking bays with careless scooter users, and general wear and tear had taken their toll on the paint work, and the protective lacquers applied to keep it all shiny had reached the limits of their life. Surface cracking and other problems giving the whole thing a rather worn appearance. Some patina of use is good, some just makes things look a bit sad and unloved. So time for a fresh face.

Secondly, there were some aspects of the proportions of the whole thing which I realised I hadn’t got very right the first time around. As you can see the bike is quite low at the back and high at the front, a product of it being a “Factory Custom” bike in its previous life. I wanted to reduce this height a bit to bring a bit more balance. The rear fender was causing me some worry too. I’d made it longer at the outset for practical reasons more than anything, to keep the road dirt off everything, but have come to see it as way too long, the overhang above the rear wheel being too far which seems to exaggerate the odd proportions even more so.

So the plan was to create two new fenders, or mudguards, see what I could do about the height of the front and give it a fresh coat of paint. Thinking it through it seemed like better sense to keep the guards in bare metal, very a la mode these days but, no more worrying about precious paint finishes on bits that get very dirty. I’d purchased two new rolled sections just for this purpose some time ago at a local autojumble so saw this as a quick fix solution that I could do at home.

Dealing with the front end would be a bit more tricky. The instrument bracket I’d made and its effect on the headlight position, together with the fly screen all contribute to a visual height at the front which seems at odds with the rest of the bike. Changing all this and giving it all a bit more breathing space should help, and mucking around with bar positions and suchlike will help too. The forks are pushed up into the yokes as far as they will go, so without drastic fork shortening there’s not much I can do beyond small changes. Some have suggested the more severe approach of having the frame modified but that’s way beyond the brief and, after all, this is a daily workhorse bike not a show pony aiming for total perfection. Not to mention the fact that major engineering of that magnitude costs a good deal of hard earned cash, probably more than the bike is worth.

The final piece in the puzzle will be the new paint scheme. The bike is mainly black and I’ll keep it that way. I want something subtle, but different enough to make it individual. With only the tank and side panels to do it needs to be quite simple. I’d like to have an element of hand painted brush work in there as well as a tiny splash of colour. I’m yet to settle on a final idea though I’m leaning heavily towards something slightly more decorative that a big white stripe. I’m going to keep in under my hat for now, until it’s resolved, as I’ve told a couple of friends it will be a secret until I’ve finished it. Don’t want to let the cat out of the bag yet.