TO SAY THERE’S a distinctly international flavour to this Honda CB1100RD Special Brew is a slight understatement. Currently on the phone is Darren Begg – maker of this bike, owner of DB Customs and a highly skilled fettler of early ’80s Hondas whose work will be familiar to regular PS readers. Based in Ontario in Canada, about 3500 miles away from the Practical Sportsbikes offices in Cambridgeshire, Darren’s being joined on the line by Simon Richards – the man who commissioned Darren to make the bike. The fact that Simon lives in Dunedin in New Zealand – 9103 miles away from Darren’s HQ and pretty much the bottom right-hand corner on a map of the world – was not going to deter him from owning his dream special.
“I’ve spent the last few years drooling over Sanctuary bikes but it’s pretty hard for us to get them out of Japan and into New Zealand,” explains Simon. “I was racing an ’82 Katana with a 1260 kit at the Island Classic at Phillip Island in Australia last year – I regularly ride for the New Zealand team – and a few of the guys there had pictures of the Freddie Spencer tribute bike that Darren built a few months ago. When I saw it I just flipped out and said, ‘Where do you get hold of something like that?’ One of the guys said, ‘Have a look at this – there’s a website with his email address.’ So I emailed him right there and then from the pit garage. Darren got back to me really quickly and the ball started rolling.”
"I'VE SPENT THE PAST FEW YEARS DROOLING OVER SANCTUARY BIKES. I FLIPPED"
“Simon had seen one of Sanctuary’s recent CB1100RD builds and wanted me to pretty much replicate it,” adds Darren. “That was no problem because my approach is pretty similar to Sanctuary’s – there’s actually quite a standard recipe of parts on my builds like Öhlins suspension, bespoke exhaust and swingarm. Luckily I know a few people with CB1100s so I bought this F and got to work.”
Work, as is usually the case with a special build, was the operative word. The 1983 CB1100F was in a shonky state, although that didn’t matter to Darren. “All I need for a project like this is the frame, engine, wiring harness and a few brackets,” he says. “The tank was going to be replaced with one from a CB1100R and things like the brackets are all custom-made anyway – as long as the motor’s OK, that’s the main thing.”
First job was getting the engine out and checking all the components were OK – anything within tolerance was tidied up and reused. Fortunately Darren didn’t have to hunt for things like seals and a primary chain – parts he admits are getting harder to find for these CBs. The engine was ready pretty sharpish, allowing Darren to get cracking on one of the trickiest areas – the frame.
“This part is a little bit of a challenge because the frame on the F is different from the R in certain areas,” reveals Darren. “The seat cowl is different, for example, so you have a frame that is basically the same just with different mounting points. I already had an aftermarket seat cowl that I think might be a Harris one, so I found an aftermarket fairing in Japan which meant I was able to replicate the fairing stay.”
Even for a seasoned fettler like Darren there’s always stuff to discover about bikes, and so it proved when it came to sorting the headlight. “I looked at the 1100R fairing stay and all the brackets and attachment points, and I knew it was going to be a challenge,” admits Darren.
“I did some research and found that the headlight assembly for the Honda VF750 Interceptor was rectangular like the CB1100R’s and looked pretty similar. I found one on eBay for $70 and decided to give it a go. It turns out that pretty much most of it was compatible – all I had to do was cut off a bit of the bracket and it fitted straight on.”
"ABOUT HALF THE COST OF A SANCTUARY BIKE, BUT CERTAINLY NOT HALF THE QUALITY"
Other than the Suzuki GSX-R600 swingarm, most parts are faithful to early ’80s Hondas – although the fuel tank is the only real CB1100R part on the bike. Darren bought it three years ago and despite the many dents, a trusty paintshop near Darren sorted it, straightened it and gave it and the rest of the panels the fantastic finish you see before you. The decals are hand-rendered (the Honda wings on the tank comprise six different vinyl components with five coats of lacquer), but it was the paint that made what should’ve been a six-month build a seven. “Sourcing the colours was a big challenge,” admits Darren. “Even though we had the paint codes, Honda couldn’t find any in their system. We had to match them by eye, although I had a brainwave for the white: I’d always liked the white that’s used on the Cadillac Escalade, so we used that.”
The final word should go to Simon, the man who opened his wallet to buy the bike. “It’s probably about half the cost of a Sanctuary bike, but it’s certainly not half the quality,” he says. “Graeme Crosby built me a KZ1000 in those 1972/’73 orange and brown colours and I saw firsthand the work that went into it. It makes it all the more incredible because there are quite a few people who work at Sanctuary – Darren does pretty much everything on his own.”
Simon’s such a fan of Darren’s work that he’s actually getting another bike made as we speak – the finishing touches are currently being applied to a Suzuki GS1100ES. So until both bikes are crated up in Canada, put on a boat and clear New Zealand customs, Simon – just like the rest of us – will have to make do with these shots of the CB1100RD. “I should get the bikes sometime in May, and I haven’t looked forward to something so much in my life,” laughs Simon. “There’ll be nothing else like it in the whole country.”
1983 HONDA CB1100RD
ENGINE 1983 1062cc, dohc, 16v, air-cooled, inline-four, 39mm Keihin FCR carbs from a 1993 Suzuki GSX-R750, uprated camchain, manual tensioner, full Jaygui exhaust system
CHASSIS Modified CB1100F frame, modified 1977 Kawasaki Z1 top yoke, 1997 Suzuki GSX-R600 swingarm, Honda VF750 Interceptor front headlight assembly, OZ wheels – 3.5x17in front and 5.5x17in rear, Öhlins universal forks, Öhlins rear shocks designed for a Kawasaki ZRX1200, Koso digital dash, see darrenbeggcustoms.com for more information
39mm Keihin FCRs from a 1993 GSX-R750, with a Darren dodge: “They’re spaced differently to an 1100, but if you use two number one and two number four intake insulators, they align the carbs correctly and with better entry to the head.”
All Darren’s builds use Öhlins suspension. The rear shocks are designed for the ZRX1200 – Darren used them because they’re the same length as those needed on the CB but with rebound and compression adjustment.
Darren stocks these gorgeous Jaygui exhaust systems – this one is a great fit under the bike, with cans based on Spencer’s 1982 superbike. Owner Simon says that many racers at Phillip Island use this exact exhaust system.
Simon wanted the same kind of top yoke Sanctuary use, which meant the full repertoire of Darren’s skills coming out. “The yokes are actually for a 1977 Kawasaki Z1,” says Darren. “The steering stem was about 30mm too short, so I had to make another stem to press into the bottom yoke and be long enough for the bearings to be in the correct position. I did a sketch on paper, got on my lathe and got to work. And it went straight on.”
CASH FOR DASH
The Koso digital dash is another favourite of Darren’s, used on many of his bikes. Driven by a sensor off the front wheel. It works well and looks great – enough said.
The engine had 17,000 miles on it when Darren got the bike, allowing him to tuck straight into getting it sorted. “I use Vincent Hyde Racing for a few parts that are known to fix a lot of the issues that these engines have,” says Darren. “Things like the improved camchain and a manual tensioner help it run better. A lot of people who race these bikes use a 900F crank for the 1100 because it has the same stroke but a smaller primary chain and primary chain gear, but because this bike is just for street use I stuck with the 1100 one.”
Any idea what bike that swingarm’s from? If you guessed 1997 Suzuki GSX-R600, pat yourself on the back. “I used it because it’s the same length as a CB1100F’s but made of aluminium, and the front section is cast, which I like,” says Darren. The bracing was all custom work by a mate of Darren’s called Jes Built. “He always has an F frame lying around so he had a good handle on what was required. The pivot got new bushes because the original spindle diameter is larger than an 1100F.”