Suzuki RF900RR


In one of the unlikeliest specials ever, Nolan Freebury merged a Suzuki RF900 with a Yamaha R1 – and made a seriously quick track bike for less than two grand


THE SUZUKI RF900’s styling was designed in a pitch black room by a drunken chimp conducting a series of experiments into the effects of poor quality acid. OK, maybe not, but there’s a reason why you don’t see many RF900s taken on as projects in PS. “Nice bike to ride but they’re bloody ugly,” is Editor Jim’s assessment. “Fast but not the prettiest,” agrees Alan. “I wasn’t down with the styling and most of the colour schemes were horrendous.” Only Gary ‘Big G’ Hurd is on hand to leap to the maligned Suzuki’s appearance. “All Suzukis have their own unique style,” he reasons. “Let’s face it, you don’t look at the mantlepiece when you’re poking the fire, do you?” Nolan Freebury has heard all these opinions and more about the RF900, but this is what attracted him to it: after 15 years out of biking, he started looking for an old bike to get back into two wheels in his late 30s and liked the idea of the Suzuki’s curious blend of solid engineering and a back-end only a mother could love. Promptly scouring eBay, he found a decent ’96 RF900 for £950 and soon had this mechanical John Merrick back in his garage.

Then came the epiphany, and the moment that this Special Brew was born. “I started getting PS and read about a trackday that was coming up at Cadwell Park,” he says, proving that while you might take exception to his taste in bikes, his judgement in magazines is unparalleled. “I instantly fell in love with track riding, and after the first session one of the instructors said to me, ‘I can’t believe you can get this bike through Hall Bends that fast.’ I thought, ‘I wonder how many other people think this bike shouldn’t be doing that?’ “That’s what really interested me: taking something that shouldn’t be any good on a track, making it work – and hopefully shaming a few people on newer and more expensive bikes while I was at it.”

The project began with a strip-down to the engine and frame, where Nolan’s suspicions were duly confirmed: underneath the dreadful purple and grey paintjob and the fake carbon and cheap sticker addiction that had preoccupied the previous owner, there was a very solid bike. “Take all the plastic off and there’s not a huge amount of difference between this and a GSX-R750, or even some modern stuff in terms of the frame design,” he says. “The engine is based on the old liquid-cooled GSX-R1100 block – it’s the same bottom-end just with a different head – but it’s the suspension and finish that let it down.” With the aim of making a rather unlikely RF900 track bike, Nolan set about resolving these two issues – starting with the handling. “I had a thought that it would be quite fun to put radial front calipers on an RF,” he laughs.


“When I bought the Yoshimura headers I also got the full link pipe and end-can with it,” says Nolan. “I really wanted to use the can but when I put it on it didn’t look right – it was actually lower to the road than the SV650 rearsets I’d fitted, so I went for an Akrapovic can that was for a 2004 GSX-R1000 instead. It’s only 97dB but when I hammer the bike it really howls.”

Alongside the RF’s ‘unique’ styling, the 900’s engine was the reason Nolan bought the bike. “It’s basically the bomb-proof engine from the GSX-R1100, which Suzuki just sleeved down,” he says. “I’ve put 7000 hard trackday miles on it since I’ve had it and it’s never missed a beat. I’ve just bought some 1993 GSX-R750 cams for £50 – they’ll let the engine breathe a lot better at higher rpm and give about 8bhp extra. I don’t really need them, but a bit more is always a good thing, isn’t it?”

Like pretty much everything else on the bike, the paint came from eBay. “It’s called Midnight Blue and it was only £35 for a litre, plus £12 for a litre of white,” laughs Nolan. “It’s the first time I’ve ever painted a bike so I’m pretty happy with it – I just gave it three coats of cellulose primer, two coats of white, two coats of blue and two coats of lacquer. It only took a week.” A marked improvement on the purple and grey hideousness of the original, we’re sure you’ll agree.


The rearsets are from a 2002 SV650, while the quickshifter is also handy. “It gives gearchanges of 75 milliseconds, which is very useful on trackdays,” says Nolan.


“My mates were taking the mick out of the RF and gave me this Ford Fiesta TDCi badge, so I gave it pride of place. I reckon it stands for ‘Track Day Complete Idiot.’”

The complete R1 front-end turned out tobe an inspired choice for a trackday bike, as Nolan explains. “The carbon-ceramic pads and SBS dual-carbon discs are unbelievable – just what you’d expect from a sportsbike that’s 10 years younger. But the whole front-end is perfect: once I’d got the forks rebuilt they were great, and the R1 mudguard just slotted straight on.” What about the handlebars? “They’re from a 1992 GSX-R1100 – they were the first thing I bought for the bike,” he laughs. “I had no idea if they’d fit or not...”


Using a bit of plywood covered with fake carbon, Nolan made a new clock surround for the stock RF dials. The LEDs were another bargain – 50p each from Maplin


“I used papier mâché, like you used to do on a balloon as a kid,” says Nolan. “When I took the headlight out I just filled the mould with fibreglass and sanded it.”


“Initially I thought I’d be looking at GSX-R1000 stuff, but the steering stems are too long. I thought about TL1000 forks as well, but they’re too short – plus they’re not radials. Then I had a look online and found that the 2006 YZF-R1 5VY was the perfect match – the fork length is the same as the RF900’s at 730mm.” Having bought some R1 forks on eBay, Nolan simply required a top bearing change for the piffling sum of £6.99 and his new forks – 10 years newer than his bike and made by a different manufacturer – slid straight in. “I’ve not seen it done before, and everyone is amazed how they fit,” laughs Nolan. “Mind you, no one is more amazed than me.” With 2006 R1 yokes, stem, wheel and brakes also purchased (individually to save cash), Nolan soon had a sorted front-end for £450. A fully-adjustable, RF-specific Öhlins rear shock from eBay quickly followed to replace the Nitron that was on it before, as well as a set of Yoshimura headers.

“The fact that they even made headers for an RF900 was news to me,” smiles Nolan, “but I tapped in RF900 headers to eBay one day and this set popped up for £200 in London – quite a result.” Despite the cheeky array of tasty items on offer this is by no means a bike that’s broken the bank – Nolan reckons he’s spent under two grand on top of the cost of the bike. “The SV650 rearsets were £80, the paint cost less than £50, the custom link pipe was £60, the quickshifter was £200 – even the handlebars were only £12,” he says. “I saved the big purchases for the front-end and that Öhlins rear shock, which set me back £600. I didn’t strictly need it, but it’s the kudos, isn’t it?” Given that the standard RF900 was a decent bike to ride anyway, Nolan’s fulfilled his aim of making himself a very quick track bike. “The 14/49 gearing I’ve gone for is pretty high, but it means I can keep up with much newer machines up to a given speed on a track,” says Nolan. “The bike shows 126.5bhp on the dyno, which is obviously a deficit of nearly 50bhp to something like a modern Fireblade, but the gearing helps to compensate for it.”

In actual fact Nolan was doing a trackday at Donington the day before we took these pictures, leaving a few all-the-gear-and-noidea owners on far newer and pricier machines slightly red-faced. “There was this guy on a shiny ZX-10R decked out in all the current livery, looking at me in the pitlane thinking he’d just cruise past,” smiles Nolan. “By the time I got to Coppice he was so far behind I couldn’t even see him. He didn’t show his face afterwards, funnily enough. That’s exactly why I built the bike.” If you fancy seeing the RF in all its glory then get down to the PS trackday at Cadwell Park on 9 July – Nolan will be there on the bike’s trademark wide seat, laying down some seriously impressive lap times. “People say to me, ‘Why don’t you put a GSX-R K4 seat on it?’ It might be the width of an ironing board but I like the seat and I love the whole look of the RF900.” He laughs and pats the seat unit, so big and wide it’s only a pillow and duvet away from doubling up as a single bed. “Plus, I want people to feel the shame when I go around the outside of them on a sports tourer...”



1996 Suzuki RF900RR


ENGINE 1996 RF900, 937cc, 16v dohc, Yoshimura headers, custom link pipe by NRP exhausts, Akrapovic end-can with custom rear hanger, K&N air filter, Dynojet stage one carb kit, five degrees of ignition advance, EBC heavy duty clutch springs, Honda CBR1000RR quick-action throttle, 126.5bhp@10,500rpm,

CHASSIS 2006 Yamaha YZF-R1 forks, front wheel and brakes, Öhlins fork springs, Brembo race front mastercylinder for front brakes, SBS racing pads, 1992 GSX-R1100 handlebars, Brembo Gold Line mastercylinder for clutch, Venhill brake lines, Race Gadgets quickshifter, 2002 Suzuki SV650 rearsets, Öhlins S46HR1C1S rear shock, modified fairing, custom-made clock surround


Yamaha TZR125 FIZZY


When he was 17, Dave Greenwood had a bash at putting a 125cc engine in an FS1-E. Now, 33 years later, he’s come back to do the job properly


HAD PS been around in 1983, we might well have done a Special Brew on Dave Greenwood’s first Fizzy. As a 17-year-old, he’d found the diddy moped woefully underpowered, and rectified this lack of horses by fitting it with a Yamaha RS125 engine – taking it from 4.8bhp to 15bhp in one bold piece of slightly ‘industrial’ mechanical surgery. But once a fettler, always a fettler. Fast forward nearly 30 years and despite owning a Triumph Street Triple with all its fancy gadgets and mod-cons, Dave couldn’t get Fizzies out of his mind. “The call of that first bike I had as a teenager was too strong,” he smiles. “I just love the shape – there’s something so joyous about it. I knew I had to do another one.” So Dave found himself in the slightly unusual position of doing a second take on the first bike he ever modified – with the major benefit of having acquired a load more experience on bikes in the intervening years.

The first port of call must’ve been to buy a donor Fizzy then, right? “I actually bought a 1990 Yamaha YB100 frame – it’s virtually identical to the FS1-E frame and all the Fizzy parts fit onto it, but they made the YB100 into the ’90s as well so you can get more recent stuff that’s easier to find.” The key part of the project was getting the UK-spec, 1991 TZR125 2RH engine Dave had acquired to slot into the frame, and the process started in a rather unscientific, suck-it-and-see way. “I put the engine in to start with to see how far out it was going to be, but the two engine mounts at the back lined up pretty much straight away – that gave me a really good start. “From there I needed to address the rear of the head, which has a mounting, and a mounting for the front to go on the two downtubes for the TZR125 engine.

The logical step was to get the two downbars for a TZR125, which had the engine mounting brackets for the front arm, and then graft them into the frame around the engine “The downtubes go underneath the engine and meet the frame at the back, so I just needed to bolt the cradle to the engine and then take off enough at the top so I could create a bracket to the frame, and take off enough at the back so it could be mounted to the frame there. Then it was in. There wasn’t loads of intricate measuring or anything – I just used a ruler.” Like many restorers, Dave makes complex and fiddly engineering sound as though it has the same level of technical expertise as making a cup of tea. “Seriously, it was surprisingly easy,” he says. “There was a bit of welding, drilling and hack sawing, but nothing that tricky. You’d be amazed at how a lot of stuff that shouldn’t fit actually goes on pretty well. I don’t know if it’s to do with mass production, but if you stick to the same manufacturer there are a lot of points on different bikes that will line up and work.


The front-end provided further examples of the uncanny way that Dave’s assortment of Yamaha parts somehow blended seamlessly together. “The TZR125 front wheel fitted in the YBR125 forks nearly perfectly – I had to have some spacers made but then it went straight in. “The back wheel was the same – just some new spacers and it was sorted. The TZR125 rear wheel is a lot wider than a Fizzy-sized one and I wondered if it would fit, but the YBR125 also has a wider wheel so you’ve got the clearance there. There’s always luck involved in a project like this, though...”

“The brakes are off a 4DL, the full-power Italian TZR125,” explains Dave. “Yamaha actually used the same brakes for that bike that were on the old TZR250. I thought that if they could stop a bigger bike with the same engine, then they’d be fine for this bike. Let’s face it, they could hardly be any worse than Fizzy brakes, could they? “I just needed to get different spacers and they went straight on. All I did was make a cardboard template to match up with the two lugs on the fork, put the caliper on, get it as near as possible to the two lugs on the fork and then get the template made out of 4mm steel.”

“This YBR125 swingarm is slightly longer than the one on the YB100,” says Dave. “I chose it because the back wheel needed to be further away from the pivot point, as with all the power I’d have with that new wheelbase the bike would be wheelying all the time. “The swingarm wasn’t particularly hard to fit. The only thing was that the Yamaha YBR125 had a monoshock, so to keep the twin shocks two steel plates had to be welded on to take them. I just took a cardboard cut-out down to my local engineers and said, ‘Could you make a couple of these out of 8mm steel please?’ £40 later, it was job done.”



Restorers usually have an anal knowledge of everything on their bike... well, most of the time. “I don’t know what bike thes rear shocks are off,” ’fesses Dave. “They’re just piggyback shocks off eBay, which were the right length at 375mm.”


“All I needed to do to fit the TZR125 radiator was weld a couple of lugs on – everything had to be moved as the radiator’s in a different place on a TZR. Once I’d shifted the cradles it fitted fine and the hoses weren’t a problem, either.”


“Because of the length of the swingarm, I found that I couldn’t get an off-the-shelf mudguard to work. So I dispensed with the mudguard, cut the end off and put that into the back of the frame to make it look right. I’m happy with the results.”

“The fake Fizzy airbox houses the powervalve controller”

So what about the classic Fizzy airbox on the side of the bike? This is where Dave satisfyingly reveals the most ingenious touch of the whole build. “Well, the cylindrical airbox with two chrome caps is not actually a Fizzy airbox – it’s a piece of rolled steel designed to look like one, made to the exact specifications of a Fizzy airbox. The air filter is actually inside the frame behind the side panels. I’ve used this ‘new airbox’ to house the powervalve controller – on the left-hand side of the bike you can actually see the two powervalve cables going into the box. “I did it because the Fizzy airbox is so synonymous with the bike and one of the first things you notice, so I thought that if it wasn’t there I’d really have something missing. It’s also part of the rear engine mount for the head, which is why it’s made out of 1.5mmthick steel. It’s structural as well as cosmetic.”

It wouldn’t be a proper Special Brew without a bit of head-scratching, of course, and so it proved with the wiring loom. “It’s a TZR125 loom and switchgear, and fitting it wasn’t that difficult to be honest. I had to shorten a lot of the wires because this bike’s a lot shorter than a TZR125, but the wiring goes inside the frame and it was all good. But when it was all fitted I couldn’t get a spark from the CDI, and it turned out it was because I didn’t have a sidestand switch, whereas a TZR would. “I contacted a guy on a forum and he said, ‘Have you earthed the blue wire off the TZR box?’ I said, ‘No, I don’t know what it goes to.’ He told me it earths through the sidestand switch – in other words, it thinks you’ve got the sidestand down and therefore it’s breaking the earth on that wire and won’t start. Once I’d earthed it, the bike thinks the sidestand’s up and it worked.” Having fired it up, it was time to ride it – so what was it like? “It went great but it was still so slow,” laughs Dave.

“I suppose it shows that while you love the bike of your youth, they’re not everything you remember them to be. I soon got offered a TZR125 4DL engine, which is double the horsepower and more or less an identical fit – I put that in and hardly had to modify anything because the hard work had already been done.”Now packing a dyno-tested 24.3bhp and capable of 112mph, Dave has finally nailed the 125cc Fizzy. “When I first rode it with the 4DL engine in, it was beautiful. No wobbling or vibrations – it just sticks and goes. When I put that RS125 engine in my Fizzy all those years ago it buzzed like mad and felt a bit unstable – but this one doesn’t.”

So here it is – a Special Brew finally done properly, 33 years after the first attempt. “I suppose it shows that good things come to those who wait,” smiles Dave. “And let’s face it, a 50-year-old’s going to do a better job of making a bike than a 17-year-old...”



Yamaha TZR125 4DL Fizzy

ENGINE 1991 TZR125 4DL, liquid-cooled, twostroke, reed-valve single with YPVS, 32mm Dell’Orto VHSA32 carb, bespoke Mick Abbey exhaust system, TZR125 wiring loom CHASSIS YBR125 forks, YB100 headstock, 1998 YBR125 swingarm, TZR125 4DL brakes consistingof 320mm front disc with Brembo four-pot caliper and 170mm rear disc with Brembo twopot caliper, TZR125 wheels with modified spacers, piggyback rear shocks, FS1-E fuel tank, FS1-E indicators, FS1-E indicators, FS1-E headlight

FUEL TANK “This was the luckiest find of the whole build. I bought it off a bloke on eBay – it had never been used and even came in the brand new NOS box. He only wanted £100 for it – you could sell it for five times that. I was just in the right place at the right time.”

EXHAUST “Initially I fitted a TZR125 exhaust, which was OK. But then I took it to Mick Abbey ( and he developed a really cool pipe for it. Even a policeman came up to me the other day and said, ‘Nice exhaust, mate.’”


Yamaha RD250LC


A 370cc engine conversion, a complete RGV front-end and an Aprilia RSV Mille swingarm with 60mm sawn out of it – Wayne Leach has been a busy old boy, and the results are absolutely stunning.


Picture the scene: it’s the recent Motorcycle Live show at the NEC, and Dunlop’s stand is home to Bruce Anstey’s Padgetts TT Superbike winner, a British Championshipwinning MX KTM, a pair of Thundersport GB bikes and a BTCC VW Passat. That’s over £400,000 worth of metal, not to mention the £44,000 Kawasaki H2R being displayed a mere 10 yards away.

Yet, somewhat embarrassingly, no one is looking at any of it. They’re too busy dribbling over Wayne Leach’s stunning Yamaha RD250LC. Rewind two years and the only looks this most special of Special Brews would’ve received would’ve been withering glances of scorn and derision. “It was a standard LC with a YPVS engine in it and I paid two grand for it, but it was tatty,” confesses Wayne. “It was in Kenny Roberts colours but it was battered and the bodywork was all cracked. I completely stripped it straight away.” With the bike in front of him in carefully labelled bits, Wayne’s intitial plan was fairly straightforward: make a hybrid with an RGV front and back-end.

As ever with these things, though, there’s an almighty ‘but’ coming. “I spent a year getting all the parts together, but then I was on an LC forum one evening,” recalls Wayne. “Everyone was raving about Fahron Engineering and this 370 big-bore engine conversion they did, which took a 250LC to 370cc and then tuned it as well. So I got off the forum, found someone selling a 250LC engine, and bought it – you can only do this conversion with 250 barrels not 350, because the 350 hasn’t got the wall thickness to the water jackets. Within days the barrels and head were with Fahron.”

Wayne is clearly not afraid of completely changing course halfway through a build if he thinks of a better idea. “Originally I’d wanted to keep the YPVS engine, but it wasn’t the only thing I ditched,” he laughs. “I had all my RGV parts and had even got NK Racing to convert them all to fit – but then I saw this.


While the front-end was just a straighforward RGV transplant, the back-end with its Aprilia RSV Mille swingarm and RGV wheel was a different matter. “The spindle and all the adjustors for an RSV wheel are 25mm, whereas the RGV is 20mm,” explains Wayne. “Everything either needed new bearings or spacers and sleeves. I had to machine the sprocket carrier down because that wouldn’t fit, but I got the sprocket to line up absolutely perfectly. It probably took three months to sort out.”

The engine wasn’t in a very tidy state when Wayne acquired the bike so it got completely stripped, with the casings aquablasted, gearbox bearings checked and bottom-end rebuilt. “Fahron Engineering do a meticulous job and my barrels were with them for five months, but the bike gives phenomenal midrange,” says Wayne. “There’s nothing up until 5000rpm and then it all comes in at once. It’s going to be a bit of a wheelie bike, which is fine by me.”

“I only got the pipes back two weeks before the show but they were worth the wait – they’re absolutely mint,” says Wayne. “They’re the best exhausts I’ve seen on a two-stroke – the welding is outstanding. Because I’ve had a big-bore kit they’re midrange pipes – everything comes in at 6000rpm, but it brings the power back down to 5000rpm so it’s more rideable. I’m really happy, because I wanted the cans kicking up like TZ exhausts.”


Recognise these levers? They’re actually off a 2012 Triumph Speed Triple R. “I’d bought some R1 levers and a mastercylinder off eBay but when I got them they weren’t that tidy, so I nabbed the stuff off my Triumph. All I needed was to get some bespoke Hel brake lines made – the rest was just a straightforward swap.”


The rear light can be tricky to spot, but it is there. “I made an aluminium plate up and asked the guy who painted the bike to fill it in, so I could run an LED light underneath it. It only cost me about £25 off eBay. It’s smoked, but it’s totally road legal.”


They’re standard LC clocks, but Wayne scrapped the casings. “I got new outers and replaced the standard black clock faces with white ones. That was a very fiddly job, because you literally have to peel back seals and take the clocks to bits.”


“This is one of the best-looking swingarms I’ve ever seen that’s not single-sided,” says Wayne. “To make it fit I had to cut it in half widthways not lengthways, take 60mm out of it and then get it welded back together. I tell you what, that was a big job. I felt a bit nervous when I was cutting through it. I used a heavy duty, industrial bandsaw with a laser. I just jigged it up in the clamps, cut it and it was spot-on – it was less than a millimetre out. I just measured the spindle where the swingarm goes into the frame – the LC’s frame is about 210mm, so I worked it out while giving about 3mm of clearance. “As for the rearsets, I didn’t want to run the standard hangers and NK Racing do rearsets for LCs. They bolted straight on but Kenny at Two Stroke Addicts had to make the exhaust match them.”


Aprilia RSV Mille swingarm. It was stunning, and I knew I had to have it. I sold my RGV swingarm to a mate who’s now put it in his LC, and because I’m a maintenance fitter I started working out how the new swingarm was going to go on the bike.” The answer was with a lot of graft and some very expensive tools. “It was a hell of a job,” says Wayne. “Basically, I had to cut 60mm out of it and then weld it back together. I used a bandsaw with a laser that we’ve got at work, which cuts to an accuracy of 0.4mm – it’s not the sort of job you could do in your garage. But even once a mate of mine had welded it back together it was still tricky to fit. “A lot of the conversions people do will pick up the standard LC shock which is over the top, but I had to make some plates and have them welded on. I pretty much copied the standard LC swingarm dimensions, but the big thing was the bearings. The spindles were all wrong, because obviously the RSV Mille has bigger daimeter spindles, a bigger wheel and bigger bearings, so there was a lot of machining and sleeving and altering of bearings. I did it all myself but it took about three months to sort. “It was just sleeving everything down from 25mm to 20mm, or 16mm in some cases, but I knew it could be done. I was telling people what I was up to and they were going, ‘Your back wheel will be too big’. I told them I was cutting the swingarm in half and they would just say, ‘Bloody hell Wayne.’”

‘Bloody hell’ is also a phrase that comes to mind when you gaze at the pipes. “I’d already bought two GP pipes at one side from Jim Lomas, but after fitting them I didn’t like them,” says Wayne. “They were too low – I wanted them kicking up. There’s this lad called Kenny, who runs Two Stroke Addicts, and everyone was having their exhaust made by him. He handmakes them on the bike and they get good power gains, too. He had a three-month waiting list, but he needed the bike to make them onto. With the NEC show looming I couldn’t afford to be without the bike for too long, so I cobbled up a separate bike from spares that he could work on.” The exhausts came together with two weeks to spare, joining other easier mods like the mint Kenny Roberts paintjob Wayne had always wanted and the complete RGV front-end (“It’s a doddle to fit – it just goes straight in”). Finally, there it was – basking in the glory of public adulation at Motorcycle Live. “I knew it would get a bit of attention, but I couldn’t believe it,” he laughs. “There were crowds of people around taking pictures – unbelievable.” For the work Wayne’s put into this bike, not least with that swingarm, the adulation was richly deserved.


ENGINE 250LC engine converted to 373cc and tuned by Fahron Engineering, Blaster pistons, rebuilt crank and bottom-end with aqua-blasted cases, Metmachex O-ringed head, 28mm carbs, Lock-up clutch with billet casing, billet kickstart, Two Stroke Addicts stainless steel midrange exhausts, NOS switchgear and loom, Banshee racing coils

CHASSIS RGV250M complete front-end with billet yokes, Aprilia RSV Mille swingarm reduced by 60mm to fit LC frame, RGV250M rear wheel, Nitron shock, standard LC frame in satin black


“As soon as I saw this clutch case with its billet casing and window mentioned on a forum, I had to have it,” says Wayne. We can see why.


When making the two shock mounting plates that are welded to the swingarm, Wayne wound out the shock’s ride height. Also, it would only fit upside-down.





When you’ve just made a Rolls-Royce aeroplane engine for a Spitfire, modifying a Ducati 900SS by rebuilding the rear half of its frame and making a brand new fuel tank is obviously a breeze. Just ask Rod Merrill…


They do bike fettling a bit differently in deepest Cambridgeshire. Take Rod Merrill: he doesn’t just choose any old RD350-engine-into-an-RGV250- frame type of project – he’s made a carboncopy of a race bike of which only 38 ever existed. He’s made half a frame and welded it to his original Ducati 900SS one, just so he could have the bike to his own specifications.

He’s even made his own fuel tank, testing its range by riding around with a gallon of petrol in his backpack in case he conks out. It’s a project that has involved ingenuity, a protractor, a tape measure, patience, and even advice from our very own Ducati 900SS tinkerer-in-chief, Alan Seeley. “Do you do this kind of project pretty often then?” I ask him. “Well, the last thing I built was a Rolls- Royce Merlin engine,” he shrugs. You know, the thing that’s used to power planes like the Hurricane and the Spitfire. Once you’ve done that, making a bespoke motorbike is a bit like asking Mary Berry to knock up a gateau.

First up, to understand how and why Rod undertook a project of such brilliant randomness, a history lesson. “Do you know what a Baines Imola is?” he asks. Feeling like a dim-witted buffoon wearing a dunce’s cap, I sheepishly admit that I do not. “Well, in 2002 the Baines Brothers, who own Baines Racing, had the idea to put a belt-drive engine in a lightweight frame so that it resembled the old bevel-drive Ducati 900SS but was more reliable, seeing as the old bevels weren’t – I had one back in the day so I can vouch for that. So they contacted Roger and Gary Cotterill, who owned Denver Motorcycles, and Roger made 38 frames out of T45 Reynolds tubing. Sadly when Denver shut down, the jig that he made the frames on got chucked away.” This piece of reckless jig disposal was not the start Rod was looking for with his 900SS project given that he was going to make his own frame, but when you’re a 56-year-old master engineer and welder who wielded his first spanner at the age of 10, it was nothing more than a minor inconvenience.

“I didn’t rebuild all the frame – just the bit I needed to be a different shape”

The frame proved a big challenge, given that the Baines Imola that Rod based his bike on had a shorter wheelbase than a standard 900SS. “Even so, the Baines frames were very similar to the 900SS ones – the only difference was that they used 1.5mm tubing and Ducati used 2mm. That meant there was no point rebuilding all of the frame – just the bit I needed to be a different shape. “Once I’d cut the rear half of the frame after the tank, I put a 22mm tube inside a 25mm one, bent the loop back and slid it in. The shock mountings are all new where the footrest hangers and triangles are, too.” Rod didn’t use a jig, just a pipe bender. The frame took three months.

“These are the original clocks off a beltdrive SS but I’ve moved them so they’re more spaced out like the ones on the bevel,” says Rod. “I’ve got all the little idiot lights between the clocks like they were on the original Bevel too, and I’ve also put LEDs in there for oil, generator, high beam, lights-on and turn.”

STAMP OF APPROVAL For added authenticity, Rod got this badge from Baines Racing. "It was only fitting mine had one," he says. "Baines sold the kit for 026 but the bike was never built."


For added authenticity, Rod got this badge from Baines Racing. "It was only fitting mine had one," he says. "Baines sold the kit for 026 but the bike was never built."

“The engine was in a state when I got the bike,” laughs Rod. “I took it to pieces and rebuilt it. I’ve kept the standard pistons but I’ve fitted Keihin FCR41 carbs which really make it go – they bolted straight on. I’ve smoothed out all the ports as well –you don’t take loads out of them as that messes them up. “The engine was black to start with but the paint falls off them anyway, so I glass-blasted it and polished everything to get this finish. I got new bearings for everything from Anglia Bearings in Peterborough. Alan Seeley told me about them – they got me every single bearing I needed, even the ones Alan couldn’t find for inside his gearbox.”


 “Because I had a bevel-drive 900SS, I’ve got a proper workshop manual with the dimensions of the original frame. I’ve also got a workshop manual for the belt-drive 900SS which has the frame spec in. Through the Ducati forum I found a guy near me called Keith Bartlett who owns number six of the 38 Baines Imolas – one of only two left in England. I got in touch with him, and he let me go and photograph his bike and measure it. I wanted to take the monoshock off the back of mine and fit twin-shocks, so I needed to get all the angles for the footrest hangers and rear shocks. I just took my protractor, tape measure and straight-edge round and then I could start.” Having taken apart the slightly shonky 1994 900SS he’d bought as the donor bike, Rod got to work. “I used the front of the standard frame, and cut it off just after the tank. Then I made a new frame for the back, which I changed the dimensions for because I wanted a dual seat rather than a single one. It wasn’t that difficult because you know what the radius is for the back of the seat – you just measure across the frame. Then I slid it inside the standard frame and welded it up.”

The fuel tank has even more of a homemade vibe, being built completely from scratch by Rod. This wasn’t done in a look-how-clever-I-am-because-I-can-make-a-fuel- tank kind of way, but out of necessity given that the Baines Imola’s tank basically had the capacity of a can of Coke. “The Imola could only do 70 miles before it ran out of fuel, which was pretty useless,” says Rod. “So I made my own. I made a former, got some aircraft-grade aluminium and bashed it around a bit. I had a picture of Keith’s bike’s tank and I knew some of the dimensions of it, because obviously it had to cover the frame rail.

I also had the original tank because I had to copy that quite closely underneath – it fits over the airbox, so that bit had to be the same. The new tank has a capacity of exactly 15 litres and so far I’ve done 130 miles without breaking down, so I’ve roughly doubled the size of it from what the original Imola had.” For the swingarm, Rod used one from a Ducati 750SS but with the shock mounting removed. “Because it pivots in the back of the engine it’s dimensionally right – all I had to do was cut out the shock absorber mounting near the crankcase, and then put my rear shock mountings on the back end of it. I just got my protractor out to get the angles right – it wasn’t that hard.” Having rebuilt the standard engine, fitted Keihin FCR41 carbs and got a whole new set of bearings made at Anglia Bearings in Peterborough (courtesy of a recommendation from our very own Alan Seeley, who lives down the road from Rod), the bike was nearly finished.


All Rod had to do was… design and make the triangular side panels from nothing. “The Baines Imola didn’t have them so I had nothing to go on – but even if you could buy them I’d still have had to make them myself because all the angles on my bike are bespoke,” says Rod. “I made wooden formers for the side panels, put aluminium mesh over them, bent it to the correct shape, pushed it against the frame rails until it was right and then trimmed it up. Then I put some really fine fibreglass on and smoothed it down.” The pristine paintwork was done by Simon at Flying Tiger – another recommendation from Alan. With finishing touches like the Keihan exhaust, an original 1980 900SS double seat,genuine belt-drive SS clocks spaced-out as per the old bevel bike’s formation, and a front mudguard off a new Ducati Monster, Rod’s masterpiece was complete – and it has a major benefit over the standard bike. “The 1994 900SS weighed 186kg, but with the lighter bit of frame and other weight-saving parts mine is 168kg,” smiles Rod. “All I can tell you is that it’s bloody fast.” We told you they did things a bit differently in deepest Cambridgeshire, didn’t we?

“The forks are from the standard bike I bought – I just stripped them down and rebuilt them. I had to make a little plate with a 12mm slot in it, which holds the compression down on the spring while you undo the nut underneath. As for the Hagon shocks at the back, they were one of the first things I got for the bike as I needed them to build the swingarm.” “These wheels were from a ’94 Monster – the 900SS and Monster have the same wheels. They were still a bit tricky to fit, though, because the spindle and wheel bearings changed; Ducati increased the front spindle diameter from 14 to 17mm, so I needed different bearings. The speedo drive pick-up has a different sized hole as well.”


“I had to get the fuel tank positioned right as I needed to make all the brackets to get the seat in the correct place. The seat is an original 1980 900SS one which I got on eBay. I was lucky because I’ve never seen another one for sale; if I hadn’t been able to get it then I would’ve had to revert to a single seat. It only cost £99 and I’ve just had it reupholstered. “The swingarms on the 750SS and 900SS are the same – it’s just that the US-spec bike got a steel swingarm and us Brits ended up getting an aluminium one. Modifying mine to fit twin-shocks was quite simple – it’s all about the angle of the shocks as you don’t want them facing straight down. I used a protractor to measure everything.”



1994 Ducati 900SS Imola

ENGINE 1994 Ducati 900SS, air-cooled 904cc L-twin, Keihin FCR41 carbs, smoothed ports, new bearings, glass-blasted and polished engine parts, handmade 15-litre fuel tank, Silmoto 45mm downpipes, Keihan stainless steel exhaust system

CHASSIS Frame made using front half of the standard 900SS frame with a bespoke rear half designed and handmade by Rod, Ducati 750SS swingarm with shock mountings removed in order to accept twin-shocks, rebuilt standard forks, Mead Speed 900SS-copy race fairing, homemade fairings, Hagon rear shocks, reupholstered 1980 900SS double-seat, original beltdrive 900SS clocks, 1994 Ducati Monster wheels with new bearings to help fitment, 2015 Ducati Monster front mudguard, homemade rearsets

THANKS John and Geoff Baines for all the help, Keith Bartlett, Simon at Flying Tiger Paintwork


Harris Magnum 4 turbo


Strangely, given that his bike has a Nissan Skyline turbo and nitrous, James Young is not a man to be rushed – this build’s taken 20 years


If you want to put in context just how long James Young has been building this Harris Magnum 4 turbo, consider this: he bought it when John Major was still Prime Minister. It certainly didn’t look like this then, though. In actual fact, having just been flipped by a Performance Bikes journalist and cobbled back together from the brink of being taken to the scrappy, it was basically, to quote James, “a shopping trolley.” “Underneath it all I knew it could be a great bike, so I started putting my own stamp on it,” says James.

That was 20 years ago. Not that it’s been a two-decade build up to this specific point, of course. The bike has gone through several alterations, including four rebuilds of the ’92 GSX-R1100 Slingshot engine James fitted as soon as he got it, and features a host of homemade touches that showcase James’s engineering prowess. But the first thing that usually catches the eye is the fact that James has not only gone for a whopping Garrett turbo from a late ’90s Nissan Skyline, but fitted a nitrous bottle under the seat as well. Because, you know, when around 250 horses aren’t enough, you might need another 50, right? “Too much is never enough,” laughs James. “Over the years I’ve owned hundreds of bikes, starting with a 100cc KTM I used to ride around a farm, and my goal was always to have a turbocharged bike. But I liked nitrous as well, so I thought I’d go for both.”

Riding the bike, as you can imagine, is a fairly lively affair – partly because of the power but also because of the rarity of the frame. Nothing focuses the mind and clenches the buttocks like a Harris Magnum 4 frame of which only six exist. “It’s one of the original 4s,” says James. “They made half a dozen with oversized frame tubes, before they reverted to thinner ones. But ‘lively’ is a good word to describe the riding experience. Up to 5000rpm it feels pretty much like a normal sportsbike... then the turbo kicks in and it turns the bike into a complete animal.


James’s thirst for more power had knock-on effects, not least on the Harris swingarm that came as part of the Magnum 4 kit. “Seeing as I was running a lot more power I needed extenders to stretch the swingarm, so I took it to NWS, who are based just around the corner from Harris,” says James. “They cut the end off and put a 9in extension on it, then braced it with that triangulated section you can see. I got the job of repolishing it. I knew that would be hard work, so I rigged up a washing machine motor to a mop and went for it. It took a whole weekend to get it shiny like that.”

The 17in Marchesini wheels are, without doubt, the swankiest thing on the bike. The reason? They’re ex-500GP rims from Harris’s brief stint in the top-tier of racing back in the ’90s. “I used to run stock GSX-R wheels but then I got a call from a mate of mine at Harris, giving me the nod that Steve Harris had the 12 sets of Marchesinis back from the race season,” smiles James. “I went down there and bought a set off him, plus the gold rear caliper that was off the race bike as well. Being magnesium, you can pick up one of these wheels with your little finger.”

The standout feature of this 1992 GSX-R1100 engine is the massive Garrett GT28 turbo, which made its way on to James’s bike from a modified, late ’90s Nissan Skyline R33. “If you want bottom-end and mid-range power you go for a smaller turbo like you’d get in a family car of some sort,” says James, “but if you want the engine to be driveable to a point but lairy when you want it, you go for one this size.”


This isn’t the bike for a swanky, titanium, four-into-one exhaust. The slash-cut header pipe is so short that you can put your hand inside and spin the turbo.


This picture has so much going on, you barely know where to look first. The biggest modification here is one only a Harris expert would notice: directly above the clutch, the two frame rails are two inches closer together than on the other side. Because the lower rail on the Magnum 4 frame comes across the clutch housing, James had to get Stuart at Warpspeed to cut it – a nervy business given that there are only about six of these oversized Magnum 4 frames in existence. Other nice touches include the engine temperature gauge on the side of the clutch, the blue-faced nitrous gauge and the red nitrous foggers.


I’m currently running it on about 6psi and it’s kicking out around 250bhp. When you think that it’s got the potential to have the boost wound up to 12-15psi, plus an extra 50bhp of nitrous on tap, ‘lively’ is about right.” But to simply categorise James’s bike as all about brutal power would be to overlook a seemingly endless list of ingenious mods intended to please the eye and keep people guessing.

Take the seat unit, for example. “Everyone thinks it’s off a Ducati 916, but it’s about two-thirds of the size of that – it’s actually from a late ’90s Cagiva Mito 125. It’s been chopped, reshaped and has loads of fibreglass in it. I really liked the style of it – it’s similar to the 916’s but I couldn’t find a blank 916 one where I could put my own rear lights in. I’ve cut about a fifth off the front, then where it curves under the seat it’s been reshaped and built up with fibreglass from the inside. It’s important to have stuff on the bike that keeps people guessing. Those who really know their bikes and engineering will be able to see the work that’s gone into it, but the average R1 or FireBlade owner might just see a bright yellow paintjob.” Which is Ford RS2000 yellow, by the way.

The list of stuff James has made himself, like the brackets, foot hangers and spacers, is almost too lengthy to go into, but even the eager specials builder has to call in help – and for James that came with the electrics. “Wiring is usually the Achilles heel of any special, so I contacted Ferret from Ferret’s Custom Electrickery, who’s usually in the What’s Your Problem section of PS,” says James. “He’s a real character. You have to book an appointment with him and then he decides if he’s going to do your bike or not. If your bike’s radical and off-the-wall he’s usually interested, so when I started telling him about it he said, ‘That sounds great – but I won’t be able to do it for another nine months.’

Still, when you’ve taken nearly 20 years, what’s another nine months? But eventually he came over, spent two days in the garage and made a bespoke wiring loom that’s amazing. He’s a proper genius.”Further help with the engine also came from PS’s very own Gary Hurd. “I’ve known Gary since my late teens, and he’s been my engine mentor,” says James. “He’s top – if you’ve got a bag of cookies he’ll fix anything.” Doing a special over such a long time means James has been able to find the best solutions, rather than simply hoping stuff works. “The brakes are a classic example,” he says. “I’ve tried everything, including six-pots off brand new bikes, but nothing beats the refurbed ’92 Nissin four-pots with the 320mm wavy discs and EBC sintered pads. Same with the ’92 GSX-R forks I got rebuilt – they’re nice and chunky, and suit the bike.” It’s a hugely impressive build, and one that it’s safe to say James will be keeping. “I’ve known this bike longer than I’ve known my missus,” he laughs. “A modern bike would run rings around it on a circuit but on a straight, this would seriously kick butt.” After 20 years, it must be a relief to have it finished. James looks puzzled. “Finished?” he asks. “A bike like this is never finished...”


James stops at nothing to get the right people. “The engine covers were by a guy who came out of retirement especially – they’re the last thing he ever made.”




James wanted retro dials, and found the genuine, ’80s turbo boost gauge in the US. An Acewell rev counter and speedo, plus an AEM air/fuel gauge, complete the set.


“I frenched in a pair of rear lights using aircraft-grade steel tube, which I merged into the rear seat unit. It took a week of polishing to get that mirror finish.”



Harris Magnum 4 turbo

ENGINE 1992 Suzuki GSX-R1100, air/oil-cooled 1127cc inline-four, Garrett GT28 turbo from a Nissan Skyline R33, 2003 Suzuki Hayabusa pistons, Warpspeed Racing stage one lock-up clutch, Wizard of NOS nitrous kit

CHASSIS Harris Magnum 4 kit consisting of frame, fuel tank and swingarm, frame modified to accept lock-up clutch, Cagiva Mito seat unit modified to fit, ex-Harris 500GP magnesium Marchesini wheels, modified 1992 GSX-R1100 front forks, Öhlins R&T shock, Eaton motocross handlebars, bespoke rear lights, Cibie headlights, ’bar end mirrors, Acewell switchgear, modified Harris rearsets, 1992 GSX-R1100 mudguard, refurbished 1992 GSX-R1100 Nissin four-pot calipers, 320mm wavy discs, EBC sintered pads, ex-Harris 500GP two-pot rear caliper with PFM rear disc, one-off wiring loom, Ford RS2000 yellow paint


Spondon Suzuki turbo


Rob Bean is a fighter jet engineer – just the sort of bloke you’d expect to build a bonkers turbo-charged special with 278bhp


Everything makes sense now. I’m looking at Rob Bean’s Spondon Suzuki, wondering what possesses someone to turbocharge a 1200cc engine in order to give their bike a frankly terrifying 278bhp. “What do you do for a living?” I ask. “I’m an engineer on Eurofighter Typhoons,” answers Rob casually, as if it’s the equivalent of stacking shelves at Tesco. Right. OK.

When you spend your day tinkering on state-of-the-art military planes worth £55 million a pop, capable of climbing at 255 metres per second thanks to a pair of turbofan engines that kick out 20,000lb of thrust each, it’s a fair bet that you are not going to be happy tuning an old AR50 to release 15bhp. His bike makes perfect sense. It’s a bike Rob was always destined to build ever since he clapped eyes on a Spondon when he was younger. “It’s been my dream bike since I can remember, so when one came up on eBay I knew I had to have it,” he recalls. “It was a bit tatty and had gaudy ’90s styling, but it was the basis of a great bike. I snapped it up for £3300.”

Rob’s initial plan for the Spondon was to race it in a series called Thunderbike Extreme, so he stripped it, fitted an 837cc GSX-R engine and a nose fairing, and promptly caned it at a few circuits. But a couple of crashes, Spondon going out of business and the death of one of the company’s original founders, Bob Stevenson, made Rob slightly rethink the cavalier existence his rare bike was being subjected to. Even though it wasn’t going to get any more outings on tracks, Rob’s aim of making a turbo’d machine meant the purchasing of lots of parts designed for somewhat lively use, although they didn’t come with the sort of eye-watering pricetags you might suspect. 



The main thing about the dash is that, er... there isn’t one. “It’s road legal although it does feel a bit wrong,” laughs Rob, “but if the wheel bearings are right and the brakes work, it’s job done.” Elsewhere you’ll notice the Harris fairing bracket that Rob chopped to fit, which he admits places function over beauty: “Lots of things need finishing as they’ve been made to work rather than look pretty.” The 1999 Aprilia RSV mudguard was another eBay purchasethat was hacked about. “It was cheap so I just cut the back down, drilled a couple of new holes and it went straight on.”

The Spondon tank is the one that came on the bike when Rob originally bought it, but it’s had a hard life. “The bike was crashed to cut the bottom off the tank twice before bashing the side out and putting filler in it, ” smiles Rob. “These tanks are so hard to get now – I’ve seen them go on eBay for over £800.” The seat, though, is from a slightly different source. “I had this one for a 1994 Honda RS125 racer lying about, so I offered it up, cut a bit off the front and went for it. It follows the line of the tank nicely.”

With the Bandit 1200 engine fitting straight into the Spondon frame, Rob got a secondhand turbo kit. “The turbo needed a lot of careful cutting and measuring to get it to fit,” says Rob. “I cut and shaped the bits that bolt onto the intercooler, and then a mate of mine welded them as my welding skills aren’t that great. The other main thing I’ve fitted to the engine are pistons from a 1999 Suzuki Hayabusa. They take it from 1157cc to 1216cc, and drop the compression to make it ideal for turbo use. If you had normal compression on this bike it would just explode...”


The Hayabusa pistons, for example, are a well known mod for these engines in drag racing circles, and were found on eBay. “You can either spend £600 on some forged pistons or £100 on some used Hayabusa ones that are strong enough to take 350bhp,” says Rob. “They’re the same gudgeon-pin size as standard Bandit ones, so you just bore the Bandit liners to match them and they fit straight on the rods. It’s a tried and tested modification, so I knew it would work.” Not that Rob stuck to just bike-specific parts, of course. If nothing else, working your spanners on the world’s most sophisticated fighter jet gives you the confidence to try new things and see if they work, hence the Subaru Impreza turbo and aftermarket Toyota Supra intercooler that Rob chopped in half to fit. “The intercooler was designed for those crazily tuned cars from the ’90s and could work on engines that pushed out over 900bhp, so it seemed like the perfect part to try,” he laughs.

The intercooler meant that are-jig was needed at the front of the bike, so Rob’s done away with the fairing and headlight and replaced them with a big oil-cooler, plus a separate oil-cooler for the cylinder head. They’re positioned on a Harris race fairing bracket bought off eBay, which needed some chopping around to fit. As you might expect, having a bike with this much power means constant mechanical attention. “I’ve spent three years fiddling with the regulator and fuel pressure to get everything right so it doesn’t leak out of the carbs when it ticks over,” says Rob. “Every 500 miles I take everything to bits and re-set the float heights in the carbs and check all the pressures to make sure it runs smoothly. I can take it to bits in one-and-a-half hours and go through the fuel system in a morning.” Having such insane power at the flick of a toggle on the dash (aptly called the ‘Brave’ switch) means that Rob’s had to modify the rest of the bike to cope with it. “I fitted a lock-up clutch because the standard Bandit one won’t take anywhere near that amount of power,” he says. “A mate of mine has a CNC machine so he just knocked me one up.”

Elsewhere, Rob took a chance on some Öhlins R&T forks that he saw on eBay. “They went straight in the GSX-R1000 K1 yokes,” he says. “All I had to do was machine some spacers to centralise the front wheel.” A GSX-R1000 K1 wheel and 320mm K1 discs completed the upgrades to the front-end. The fiddliest part of the whole build was actually getting the GSX-R750 rear wheel to fit. “I had to have 5mm shaved off the inside of the hub and the bearing housing, then 5mm off the sprocket carrier and spacer in the middle to allow it all to fit. Nothing too bad, just the normal sort of fiddling and fettling you have to do on a project like this.” It all begs one rather important question: what’s it like to ride?

“The funny thing is that without flicking the ‘Brave’ button it’s actually quite normal – I’ll happily take it to the shops,” smiles Rob. “Things change a bit when you hit the switch, though. The bike only weighs 180kg, so when the boost kicks in it’s unbelievable. It sounds like a jet engine. “It gives progressive power right the way through the rev range, but it’s when you get to 120mph that the turbo really comes into its own. Give it too much throttle it’ll rear up on the back wheel at 150mph. I’m taking it to the Pendine Sands speeds trials soon and I’m hoping to top 200mph. Fingers crossed...” We’ll keep you posted on how Rob gets on trying to do a double-ton while riding a bike with 278bhp on a seven-mile stretch of sand in South Wales. He might not quite make the Eurofighter’s 255 metres per second, but something tells us he won’t be far off...

If 200bhp isn’t enough for Rob, a flick of this aptly-titled switch doubles the boost and frees up another 78 horses. “It makes it sound like a jet engine,” laughs Rob

Rob’s day-job as a fighter jet engineer means he has no qualms about trying all sorts of outlandish parts to sort mechanical solutions. Take the intercooler for example – it’s not some expensive bike-specific part, but a secondhand one that is actually an aftermarket item for a late ’90s-era Toyota Supra. “I cut the end-cap off, chopped it in half and got it welded back together, and it’s been fine,” laughs Rob. As for the turbo, that’s an IHI VF23 that started life inside a 2000 Subaru Impreza. “That was educated guesswork to be honest, but it’s worked perfectly.”


The used Öhlins TTX race shock was only £300 off eBay – three times cheaper than a new one. “Race-spec stuff was my only option with this much power,” says Rob.

“There isn’t much to distract me on the dash,” laughs Rob. “When I take it for an MoT the guy checks the brakes, presses the horn and then just says, ‘Done.’”



Spondon Suzuki turbo

ENGINE Suzuki Bandit 1200 bored to 1216cc using 1999 Hayabusa pistons to drop compression, lock-up clutch, modified Toyota Supra intercooler, Big cooler and separate head cooler, Dyna coils, FBM blow-through turbo system with standard carbs, IHI VF23 turbo from 2000 Subaru Impreza 22B, adjustable wastegate with electronic boost, Ignitech programmable CDI, max power of 278bhp with 200lb.ft of torque at 14psi

CHASSIS Spondon Monster frame, alloy fuel tank and rearsets, GSX-R1000 K1 yokes and front wheel, Öhlins R&T forks with K-Tech cartridge upgrade, PVM monoblock caliper, PFM RAL6 discs and radial mastercylinder, Spondon swingarm, Öhlins TTX shock from a Yamaha R1, GSX-R1000 K1 wheel and disc, Harrison billet rear caliper, Honda CR mastercylinder, Honda RS125 seat, Ducati 916 clutch mastercylinder, mountain bike speedo, WP steering damper, Aprilia RSV Mille mudguard

THANKS Battle of Britain Memorial Flights for letting us do the photoshoot at RAF Coningsby in Lincolnshire


Yamzuki RGT 421


Sean Adams has always wondered what a 350 version of the Yamaha TZR would’ve looked like. Fusing parts from remotest Scotland and America, meet a hybrid that’s 30 years in the making


YOU CAN’T SAY Sean Adams isn’t organised: he’s been planning this Special Brew for 30 years. It was back in 1986 as a young racer in the 350 Production Class that he looked on enviously as the Yamaha TZR250 came out. “All of a sudden there was a 250 that was nearly on a par with the 350: the handling was better and the power wasn’t far behind,” recalls Sean. “A lot of us at the time were thinking, ‘When Yamaha bring out a 350 version of a TZR, it’ll clean up.’

Sadly, it never came. Over the years I’ve wondered where Yamaha would’ve ended up if they’d have carried on with 350 twostrokes, and this is my interpretation.” Making a hybrid of such ambition required an idea, and Sean immediately knew the path he wanted to go down: fitting a Yamaha RD350 YPVS two-stroke engine into a Suzuki RGV250. This craziness required two donor bikes, which turned out to be from differing ends of the quality spectrum. “The first thing I bought was a 1993 RGV250P off eBay, which was in about the most northern part of Scotland there is. Any further north and it would’ve been in the North Sea. I bought it for £1700 but I could see why no one wanted to go up there – it took three months to collect it because the owner was so remote he basically got snowed in.

I eventually got hold of it in March 2011.” While the RGV was, to quote Sean, in “belting condition”, the YPVS he bought for £400 to get hold of the engine was certainly not. “I just needed the crankcases, gearbox, clutch and wiring loom, but the bike was a state. The guy couldn’t get it running and I wasn’t surprised – he’d actually put the powervalves in back to front.” The previous owner’s clottishness wasn’t all bad, though – the engine and barrels were in great nick and quite a bit of cash had been spent on the top end. After the purchase of a CP Industries engine kit to beef things up,

Despite all the modifications to the engine and frame, the area that caused Sean the most head-scratching was the wiring loom – and bear in mind that this is a man who spent a lot of time in his r acing days tinkering with looms. “I wanted to use all the Suzuki switchgear and lights, but with the Yamaha wiring loom,” he says. “Planning how to make those two things work together took a lot of time, because on the Powervalve everythingis under the fuel tank on a plastic tray above the cylinder head, but I wanted it all in the seat hump. There was a huge amount of electrical stuff to relocate and it took me the winter of 2013 to do it.”


“I got a new, one-off sprocket made but when I finally got it on, the chain hit the expansion chamber,” smiles Sean, rolling his
eyes. “It would’ve sawn a hole straight through. I had to get Barry at Blue Haze to modify it, which took another
few months. But once I’d got the clearance right it went to the dyno and made 80bhp straight away.”


Sean went for GSX-R400 wheels front and rear, which had two major benefits: firstly, Sean felt a four-stroke wheel would handle the extra power and torque, and secondly they were about half the price of RGV wheels. As a bonus, the front went straight in.

Hastily ditching the bike’s Lucky Strike paintjob, Sean decided he wanted to design something new – so with the help of Steve
Puffer at Barwell Bodyworx, he got cracking. “I wanted the classic Yamaha red and white, but I took a bit of inspiration from one of Colin Edwards’ colour schemes from MotoGP,” admits Sean. “It’s Tyga bodywork and the only thing I had to cut down was the bottom half of the fairing – I had to make a slot in one side to take the Yamaha clutch case because it’s a bit wider than the Suzuki’s. I had to cut it back quite a bit at the bottom to clear the pipes, too.”



“I got a few bits like the rear lights, seat, rearsets, top yoke and clocks from Tyga in Malaysia, rather than pay someone to make them for me,” says Sean. “Also, because they sent them to me as ‘sample motorbike parts’ I paid no VAT or import duty.”


Sean decided there was only one company to work on his forks – Maxton. “I stuck with RGV250 forks – I thought they’d be best seeing as they were built for the bike,” says Sean. “I figured that once Maxton had worked their magic on the internals, they’d be a better set of forks than I am a rider.”


We’ll let Sean explain the name ‘Yamzuki RGT 421 Cheetah’: “Yamzuki because it’s a Yamaha/Suzuki hybrid, RGT because it was an RGV but the V for the V-twin has been replaced with the T for the parallel twin, it’s 421cc and Cheetah is the name of the CP Industries cylinder kit on it.” Simple, eh?

“I decided from the start that I was going to get a tuning kit with big-bore barrels for the engine,” says Sean. “You get them from America and I knew from other people who’d tried them that it was a proven route to go down.” The CP Industries engine kit duly arrived and, while it was one of the project’s biggest expenses, it was just the job. “It came with a longstroke crank, a set of full 421cc barrels, new powervalves, reed blocks off a CR500 that go in the back of it, forged pistons, inlet rubbers, and all the nuts and bolts,” says a clearly chuffed Sean. “It had everything I needed to build the engine.”


As part of the CP Industries engine kit, Sean got these pneumatic powervalves. “They work with exhaust pressure rather than an electric system,” he explains. “The engine parts were expensive, but worth it.”


The intricate framework was carried out by Nigel Kimber at NK Racing, who Sean describes as Britain’s “Mr Two-Stroke Chassis Modification Guru.” The engine ended up fitting more-or-less straight in.


Sean stripped down the Powervalve motor and shipped it all to Stan Stephens to rebuild (“I went the chicken’s route because I’d heard a lot of people had problems with piston-tocylinder clearance”). You might think that getting the YPVS engine in the RGV frame would be an utter nightmare, but it turned out to be surprisingly easy. “It needed a new engine cradle for the front, which was made by Nigel Kimber at NK Racing,” says Sean. “He also reformed the rear top engine mounts, cut the RGV ones off and put some new ones on to suit the Yamaha motor, and also made a new subframe to carry it. It was a big undertaking. You’d have thought that starting with a chassis housing a 250 V-twin and then fitting a 400cc parallel twin might cause an issue, but it’s almost as if it was designed to go in.”

Next up were the beautifully welded exhausts. Well, sort of. Sean had identified Barry Dawson at Blue Haze Engineering as the man to fashion his new pipes, but regular readers of PS will know that plenty of others regularly do too – hence Barry’s six-month waiting list. “I thought it would be fine and give me time to sort the wiring loom out,” says Sean. WRONG. Taking the Powervalve loom, unwrapping it and planning how to wire the Suzuki switchgear into it redefined the word ‘nightmare’, and with one thing and another meant that Sean missed his slot with Barry. “I had to go to the back of the queue and wait another six months,” he laughs.

Sorting things like the forks and frame in the meantime, the pipes finally got done – and it was worth the wait. “He’s an absolute no-nonsense perfectionist,” says Sean. After a brief modification to the Tyga bodywork, the moment had arrived for the first fire-up. There was a big drum roll... Sean turned the ignition... and nothing. It turned out that the generator that came with the bike had failed, so with that sorted he tried again... but still no spark. “I was trying to work out what the hell was going on when I accidentally kicked it over with the kill switch in the ‘off’ position,” laughs Sean. “It sparked first time. It turns out that the Yamaha kill-switch works differently to a Suzuki one – one works on open circuit, one works on closed circuit. What I thought was some complex electrical problem was just the flick of a switch.”

Having started the project in March 2011, Sean finally finished it at the end of last year – and has spent the intervening months enjoying it. “I like doing hybrids because there are no constraints,” says Sean. “No one’s going to say, ‘The nut wasn’t that colour on the 1985 model.’ For 80bhp and 120kg, it shifts. I built it to ride, not to look at.” Next on Sean’s list is the modification of a Testi Champion Veloce Special – a rare moped with a monoshock chassis and a Minarelli engine. We know how Sean likes to take his time if the 30-year gestation period of the Yamzuki is anything to go by, so we look forward to featuring it some time in 2046.



Yamzuki RGT 421 Cheetah

ENGINE 1986 RD350F2 two-stroke parallel twin, CPI 421cc Cheetah kit with pneumatic powervalves, Hot Rods welded crankshaft, V Force reeds, 34mm Keihin PJ carbs, Blue Haze pipes with carbon silencers, uprated clutch plates with heavy-duty springs, Zeeltronic programmable ignition, Dyna ignition, lightened flywheel, Yamaha R6 radiator, Kartelli inline thermostat, uprated water pump, silicone hoses

CHASSIS Suzuki RGV250P frame and swingarm, box section aluminium engine cradle and frame modifications by NK Racing, Tyga subframe, RGV-P forks with anodised legs and Maxton internals, Tyga yokes, Maxton RT10 shock, Suzuki GSX-R400SP wheels, Michelin Power 3s, 120/60 17 front, 160/60 17 rear, Galfer front discs with Hayabusa six-pot calipers, Brembo mastercylinder, Goodridge lines, GSXR400SP rear disc, Suzuki RGV-P caliper and mastercylinder, Tyga rearsets, Tyga fairing and seat unit, Suzuki RGV-P front mudguard and tank, Harris clip-ons, Ohlins steering damper, one-off fabricated electrics tray, coil and radiator brackets, Koso speedo/tacho, modified Yamaha RD350F2 loom, Suzuki RGV-P switch gear, Tyga lights, Honda battery strap



Kawasaki ZX-7

For the sheer tenacity to get back on a bike and overcome whatever obstacles life puts in your way, Steve Bucaro is a lesson in inspiration


At first, as Steve ‘Wheels’ Bucaro nails his Kawasaki ZX-7 (ZXR750J to us – JM) around the sweeping right-hander, you can’t tell that he’s paralysed from the chest down. It’s only when he pulls into the pits at the Willow Springs circuit in California, 80 miles north of LA, that you see a bike with some different mods to most Special Brews.

As Steve stops the ZX, a six-inch linear actuator extends arms with rollerblade wheels at either side to keep the bike stood up; controlled by a button on the handlebar, they are then lifted off the ground when Steve wants to get on two wheels again. “I call it my landing gear,” he laughs, flipping up his visor.

It’s taken Steve a while to get to this point. Back in 1998, at the age of just 20, his life was changed forever after a 95-year-old in a Cadillac ran a red light and turned in front of him. The resulting accident put Steve in a coma for two weeks, and the broken spine, collar bone and femur left him hospitalised for nine months. Only now able to move his arms, neck, shoulders and parts of his back, you would’ve forgiven him for knocking any thoughts of motorbikes on the head. But Steve is no quitter. Even as he lay in hospital he was hatching his ingenious plan to get back on two wheels – even his house burning down two weeks after his release couldn’t dampen his enthusiasm. “I got the idea for this bike shortly after my accident, but it took 10 years to finally get the project done,” he explains.

“My buddy Lee Beaver actually came and demo’d a bike to me at the hospital which had similar technology, so I knew that the stuff I’d need to enable me to ride again was out there. I just decided to wait a few years until it got that much more advanced, so I could buy it for my bike and adapt it rather than have to reinvent it altogether.” It helps that Steve’s hardly inexperienced when it comes to custom machinery, and he duly spent the first few years after he came out of hospital building modified trucks for people. But soon, it was Kawasaki time again. “I found the bike four years ago – the same year and model that I had my accident on – so I bought it to reminisce,” he says. “The ’92 ZX-7 is the bike that helped Kawasaki win the Superbike series that year. It’s the one that has the two air intake tubes that no other bike has, and it’s still one of the original superbikes. Maybe I should’ve gone for a newer machine, but there was something about getting the bike I was on at the time of the accident that I couldn’t shake.” This isn’t one of those specials where someone’s taken a Suzuki front-end, Yamaha swingarm, Honda engine and Ducati bodywork and somehow merged them to make something brilliantly one-off. In fact many aspects of the bike are standard – with the exception of the technology that allows someone without the use of his legs to ride it. The four-button Grip Ace control panel, situated on the left handlebar, is linked to the clever Pingel electronic shifter which allows Steve to change up or down at the flick of a button.

Look closer at the left handlebar and you’ll see four subtle buttons, which are the key to Steve’s whole bike. “It’s a product invented by my good friend Tim at a company called GripAce, and along with the landing gear it’s what makes it possible for me to ride,” explains Steve. “It allows me to start the bike, change gear and control the landing gear. It took a while to learn how to use it... the first time I tried it I poked a button before letting the clutch out and fell over in the driveway. That journey only lasted about two feet, but hey – it happens.”


The six-inch linear actuator is mounted to the subframe, then connected to the bar with rollerblade wheels. “It was pretty awkward using it the first time and things like how fast the landing gear comes up and down and where its stopping point was all had to be adjusted. But after I’d sorted my balancing issues and dialled it all in, it was fantastic.”

The ingenious support arms either side of the bike, complete with rollerblade wheels, were invented by an American bloke called Lee Beaver – himself a paralysed stunt rider. “It’s basically a kit that he sends you that fits on to pretty much any Japanese bike, although I found it didn’t work on Ducatis,” explains Steve. “To fit it I just had to cut a little bit off the rear fairing for the actuator as well as the bar, but the modifications are quite subtle and only took me a couple of days.”


The Pingel electronic shifter, linked to the four-button GripAce on the left handlebar, allows Steve to change up or down via a button, and controls the starter motor.


One of the problems Steve had on the bike initially was that his legs were sliding everywhere. The answer was industrial strength velcro to keep them in place.


“This is the switch I had to make to be able to change up and down,” says Steve. “Basically, once I’m on the bike I never have to take my hands off the ’bars.”


The bike’s front brakes are controlled by the standard lever, while the rear is never used. Vitally, it all means that Steve can ride the ZX-7 without ever removing his hands from the handlebars. Even with the adapted bike it wasn’t an easy process getting back to trackday levels of confidence (“for the first few times it was quite awkward to get my balance”), but Steve took to it well enough to quickly build up his speed. Yet with increased speed came new fettling challenges. Involuntary leg spasms were causing him to slide off the seat while riding, meaning he spent most of his time shuffling back into the right position. His legs and feet are now attached with velcro, which stops any movement but isn’t without its risks.

“The problem with it is that for some reason when bikes crash on track, they tend to cartwheel – and that wouldn’t be a good situation for me because I’d be cartwheeling with the bike,” he says. “But I can’t have my legs moving, that’s the bottom line. The Velcro works fine and I don’t move, and my times are getting much better each time I ride.”

Steve’s determination to be the best rider he can be is mixed with an infectious sense of humour that allows him to see the funny side in pretty much everything. Recently, while Steve was out riding the ZX, he accidentally stalled as he pulled out at an intersection; unable to get the landing gear down, he coasted to a stop before the bike toppled over with him on it, petrol gushing from the tank just to compound things.

“It was so funny – all these people were so serious,” he grins. “I’m laying on the ground and these guys run up, yelling at me not to move. I was like, ‘Dude, I’m already paralysed, just drag my ass.’ So they pull me to the kerb and there’s a crowd of people wondering why I’m not getting up. It was hilarious…”

Though he’s got no plans to officially race the bike, regular trackdays are helping Steve to get that need for speed out of his system – although he admits that the learning curve is steep and constant. “Being able to flop bikes from side to side when you’re paralysed from the chest down is not the easiest,” he smiles, “but the main thing for me is to be out there on two wheels. I thought the ultimate freedom for me was driving a car, until I got back on the bike. You can skydive, take drugs or do whatever you want, but the ultimate rush for me, in my situation, is riding my bike again.

1992 Kawasaki ZX-7


ENGINE 749cc, liquid-cooled, dohc, 16v, inline-four, Pingel electronic shifter, GripAce electronic handlebar controls CHASSIS Lea Beaver custom ‘landing gear’ kit consisting of 6in linear actuator mounted to the subframe and connected to a bar with rollerblade wheels, powdercoated frame, carbon fibre-effect paintwork, custom made crash cage, Velcro leg pads “I put on the helmet and reality stops.”

It needs a turbo - Suzuki GSX7/11

Andy Harriman has had years of previous experience with big GSX Suzukis. He just cannot stay away from them. With good reason.


Some things in life are etched in stone: like Andy Harriman always having a big Suzuki of some description. But perhaps not the Spondon 1260 turbo that managed 13 miles to the gallon.

"I pushed that into the local Tescos too many times to be funny. I lost patience with that and sold it to a guy in Ireland,” says Andy. “I did warn him about the fuel issue, but he still rang me up in disbelief a couple of times.”

Some models, and often one particular engine, can take hold of a generation and never let go. Yamaha’s LC springs to mind, Kawasaki triples too, and in the big four stroke category, Zeds and Suzukis predominate.

The reasons for anyone’s one model mania can be many and varied. In Andy Harriman’s case, he immediately explains precisely what it was that sent him crazy for GSX Suzukis:

“I was 11 and on holiday when these bikes pulled into the campsite all loaded up with tents. I was like ‘WOW’ and my dad was telling me to get away from the bikes, to leave the blokes alone. But that was it, and it was the size of a GSX11’s headlight that did it for me.”

So simple, so indelible. And yes, a GSX11 headlight is still a thing of wonder. Fully nine inches in diameter, it would not look out of place in a lighthouse.

As it is, the manhole cover-sized item that forms the focal point of Andy’s GSX7/11 is an unmissable reminder of just how a perfunctory item can assume huge styling significance. How it can define an entire machine. But let’s not obsess about cycle parts (crucial though they are) when the primary attraction of the GSX is an engine that simply knows no bounds when it comes to sucking up abuse, happily accommodating all manner of extreme tuning work, and all the while happily ferrying you to work every week, or firing you down a quarter mile strip every weekend. It has few equals.

As you might expect this is not Andy’s first big Suzuki. He’s had five, so far.


These have included the Spondon-framed, turbo'ed, nutter bastard thing and three others as extreme as anything out there. His current device is yet another iteration of a machine he knows inside out and simply can’t stay away from.

“This one started out as a 750, and a mate had an 1100 engine for sale, so it was all pretty obvious what was going to happen,” says Andy. “It’s what happens with anything from when you start riding. If you’ve got a Kawasaki AR50, then an 80 engine goes into it. I had a Yamaha RD125DX, that had a 200 engine in it. I even had a Suzuki GP100 with a motocross rear wheel, MX bars, and, of course, a GP125 engine.

“The beauty of the big Suzukis is you don’t really have to do much unless you want huge amounts of power. The cranks are bombproof, the rest of it pretty much the same. It’s probably the best engine Suzuki ever produced. They looked at what Kawasaki had done earlier and then sensibly went forward from there.


Apico Pro-taper ’bars for that oldy-worldy Superbike vibe: “I tried some Renthals but they just weren’t quite high enough. The mounts are Renthal though. Rearsets are Harris, I can’t remember what for, but they fitted first time, so that was that.”

GSX: “It doesn’t make any odds if it’s 750 or 1100 because the only difference is the fuel tap mount is half an inch further forward on the 750 tank,” says Andy. The battery box and undertray were fabbed by Andy at work. The kicked up tail piece (in a commendably Bosozoku style) is a mildly reworked GSX-R1000 pillion seat cover.

Largely Suzuki GSX-R1000 K8 with 6-inch Hayabusa rear rim. “The neat thing is the rear brake caliper mounting plate slides onto a lug on the inside of the swingarm, so you don’t need a torque arm. Keeps things nice and clean,” says Andy.

Andy is more than fortunate to work at a laser cutting firm. Any odd brackets and mounting plates he might want, he can casually knock up in his dinner break, or after hours. A bit better than being given past-its-sell-by meat if you work at Tesco. Is it not?

Being such a gnarly piece of work as a stock job, you don’t have to go to town on it. Crank and rods are standard, with just a little skim off the head, liners have been punched out to give the favoured 1260cc. It breathes through 36mm Mikuni RS flatslides sucking through Ramair filters. Sparks by Boyer Bransden electronic ignition, Dyna coils and Taylor HT leads.

“For all I’ve saved I’ve spent absolute fortunes on other stuff. If you added it up, you’d never build another bike”

“The EFE was proper nice. I went to Belgium on one about eight years ago, to Spa, with a bunch of mates on GSX-R1000s. It would do 140mph all day long, and even with no fairing it was strangely bearable,” says a wistful Andy. He even flirted with a GSX1400 for a time. “I saw it at the Autosport Show and bought one there and then. It was OK, but then there were hundreds of them appearing everywhere, so it had to go.”

It’s clear then, that he’s a fool for any big Suzuki, yet has now managed his wish list down to an acceptable level that involves just the one Suzuki now. But what a machine. He’d done them before so there were few mysteries to fathom when it came to bolting this one together. “My mate’s garage is pretty much a Suzuki parts bin, so first off was persuading him to let me have a GSX-R1000 K8 swingarm in the matt black. It’s funny thinking there used to be a 130-section tyre back in the day, and now it’s got a 200 there. And the way it all fits together is really straightforward.

“The Japanese are great when it comes to keeping things more or less the same. Sure, they’ll change little bits here and there, but with a couple of spacers each side and machining a little off the gearbox sprocket it all lines up. As for the front-end I was all set to rebuild some SRAD forks, and just as I was about to tear them down an entire SRAD front end appeared on eBay that had already been sorted by K-Tech, so that was a stroke of luck. “Almost the same thing happened with the exhaust. I was all set to go with black powdercoat on the Harris system, then a set of brand new original Harris downpipes in chrome appeared on eBay. So I put a bid in and forgot about it, fully expecting not to get them, and of course I ended up getting them for ninety quid. That meant cutting the whole thing to ribbons and re-chroming the collector and can.”


As ever, a minor inconvenience when an opportunity to make a significant improvement presents itself. Plus, a change of plan midway through a build is always preferable to a major rethink if a big element of a build turns out to look substandard at the final twirling of the spanners. So much for the more substantial ‘big bits’ of the build. When it came to the real nitty-gritty, the bracketry, spacery and cleverness that truly defines the quality of a special, Andy had it made – literally. Working at Bystronic laser cutters in Coventry provides him with access to high-end machinery most of us imagine only exists on spaceships in other galaxies. “A Yoshimura tail tidy is £119” says Andy.

“I’m lucky I can copy one at work. The oil cooler mountings are another work job, the battery box, lots of stuff. I must have saved a few quid here and there, but I honestly don’t count, it’s a bit scary. For all I’ve saved I’ve also spent absolute fortunes on other stuff. The oil-cooler was £350, the Yoshi sprocket cover £200. I’m not even going to mention the sandcast clutch cover. If you added it all up, you’d never build another bike again. You’ll never get it back either, but that’s not the point is it?” It’s not. But don’t get the impression Andy is one to merely throw money at random projects. “I find it hard to comprehend certain bits of the bike world these days. For example, like a lot of people, I quite fancy building another LC. I’ve got a soft spot for them after I got knocked off my first one and bought a GSX1100ET with the compo money. But, try finding something – you’re looking at anything from five to seven grand. I remember building one in my bedroom – and then not being able to get it down the stairs – the bits we used then cost fortunes now.

And while I’m at it, my first X7 was given to me. In bits, admittedly. I remember shovelling it into the back of my dad’s Talbot Alpine. You won’t find anyone giving away X7s now.” You won’t be finding any Talbot Alpines either. It’s not for want of trying Andy’s had little luck in finding any two-wheeled experience to rival that of his beloved GSXs. “I had a Ducati nine-nine-something for a bit, but got rid of that. Unless you were on a nice A-road doing about 130 it was a complete waste of time. I mean how painful do they want a motorcycle to be?” Andy is a man who appreciates enormous quantities of grunt in a comfortable sit-upand- beg package. Hence his appreciation of the GSX-R11. “The first slabbies were great,” he says. “But then they got more and more uncomfortable over the years. A mate of mine had the millionth anniversary edition 1000, whatever it was, and yes it was great, mental, but the whole thing is getting a bit ridiculous now. In the Isle Of Man the Superstock bikes are just seconds off the pace of the Superbike spec machines...

So to try and address the less mental side of things Andy has a Harley-Davidson Nightster. “It sounds a lot like a house falling down, but sort of makes sense if everyone else is on a Harley. You wouldn’t want to ride one when everyone else has got a proper bike.” Quite. And just as you think he might have actually turned a corner in his quest for a slice of the more sensible side of life he reveals his GSX is not finished (even though it is). “I think a lock-up clutch is next,” he says. “And despite my previous experience I’ll probably end up turbocharging it too. These things go so well with a turbo.”


ENGINE 1260cc (oversize cylinder liners), dohc, 16v, air-cooled, inline four, skimmed head, Mikuni RS36 carbs, Harris four-into-one, sandcast clutch cover, Ramair filters, Boyer Bransden electronic igntion, Dyna coils, Taylor HT leads.

CHASSIS GSX750 frame (cut down to within an inch of its life). GSX-R1000 K8 swingarm and rear brake, Hayabusa rear wheel, Suzuki GSX-R750 SRAD forks and front brake calipers, petal discs, Apico Pro-taper ’bars on Renthal risers, handfabricated battery box, Yoshimura-replica tail tidy, Suzuki GSX-R1000 seat cover as tail-piece, non-specific Harris rearsets, all fiddly bits by Andy including spidery-web-thin headlight mounts.


“Chris Stokes, who usually does scooters, did the paint,” says Andy. “He mixed both the blues himself, which are pretty much Suzuki blues but with a bit of pearl in them.” The simple Suzuki S nudges anyone unfamliar with the machine in the right direction for the name of the manufacturer, while a refreshing lack of stickers completes the clean look.


Here’s a bit of sensible thinking. Why faff about with all manner of disparate components when you can (if you think about it) simply draft in one big lump – in this case a GSX-R1000 K8 swingarm, sprocket carrier and brake. Line it all up at the pivot end and that means only one set of spacers to make up. Unless you like making spacers, it’s the way to go.


Mikuni RS36 flatslides do not come cheap, but then they are pretty much the zenith of high peformance carburettors, unless you want to play around with Lectrons or other such rare groove devices. Ramair sponges do the debris-sieving duties, and let’s be frank: Nothing really beats a nice bank of quality carbs for either simple, effective fuelling, or looks.

Love it or hate it, Suzuki X7

Russell Pilkington took an innocent X7, then applied his sense of the ridiculous and a no-half-measures approach to create The Riddler


Odd sometimes, how what you think might happen, turns out to be the polar opposite. When Russell Pilkington and his partner in crime Bri Gent imagined how The Riddler would go down with the wider motorcycling public, they imagined a degree of outrage at the massacre of a perfectly half-decent X7 fuelled by further mutterings about inappropriate paint schemes (plus whatever other cusations can be levelled against builders who deviate from an accepted norm). But that’s not what occurred.

“I thought everyone would hate it,” says Russell. “But on the whole they absolutely love it. It was always just about taking a theme and working it. Like there used to be Mars Bar and Seven Up LCs, Weetabix GSX-Rs and the like. We originally saw this X7 as The Mongrel, then after a few cans it became The Riddler and not just because of all the guesswork involved in building it.”

Russell has previous here at PS; an X7 resto that featured in April 2016. That was a straight rebuild. The Riddler, although X7-derived, is about as far away from stock as we are from living on Mars. “I’d ended up with seven X7s after that first resto,” says Russell.

Bear in mind this was slightly before two-stroke prices went utterly stratospheric. “They were all for spares, after things spiralled out of control, so I was always going to do something else X7-based. Bri and me worked out what no one had done to an X7 before and went from there. I bought an NC24 swingarm and wheel off eBay, offered it up to the X7 frame and thought ‘How the hell is that going to fit?’” So we guessed a bit.

Guessed properly though – with cardboard templates and bits of paper – and then cut the frame into seven pieces.” Russell had other X7 frames if it didn’t work, but trial and error was never an option. He had almost precisely the look he wanted in his head already. “I knew I wanted the NC24 back end,” he says. “And I knew a three-spoke front wheel wasn’t going to be right either. That was never going to suit it.” The Riddler needed something to mimic the distinctive spoke pattern of the NC24 rear, and Russell found it in a ’93 Cagiva Mito Evo front. OK, so it’s a six-spoke wheel, the rear’s an eight, but both are italic, complementing each other as near as makes no difference. What are a couple of spokes between ends? You’d be right to imagine the builder of The Riddler living in some sort of cave. After all, the Batman movie franchise features various subterranean freaks (including the Batman himself) residing in a Batcave. When PS speaks to Russell he is, of course, in a cave. “I’m in me man cave. Would you believe it? I’m fixing a stainless exhaust bracket, which has typically decided to let go the day before you’re doing the photographs.” Russell’s cave is a big triple garage, it needs to be to house all those X7s (and a horde of RD200s too). Now 43, Russell runs a roadworks firm from home, so with his cave on site, he spends as much spare time as he can immersed in builds (after he’s fought his way past the TDR and 350LC too). This is the first where he’s taken a theme and worked it to this extent though. Take, for example, the horn. “The airbox is fake because we needed somewhere to hide the AWOOGA horn,” says Russell.

“You’d be right to imagine the builder of The Riddler living in a cave. After all Batman resides in a Batcave”

Entrusted to Mick Abbey in Harrogate (07802 896103) for a workover. Russell is the first to admit that ideally he needs a bit more than 250cc to get him moving swiftly along. But on its short gearing, and with porting aimed at a tractable bottom end and midrange punch the wee twin fairly zips up to a 90mph top whack.

Huge mix ’n’ match selection here from the Mk3 X7 clocks (purple by Russell), some £15 cheapo levers in green via eBay and a 350LC handlebars. Hoses by HEL with purple banjo bolts (no, really?) and green lines (surprisingly).


The job of painting The Riddler went to a retired sprayman called Garry (who’s not actively looking for any more commissions). He did all the pinstriping and the handrendered Riddler logos too. And all in the back of his little shed too.

Never one to spend money for the sake of it, Russell knocked up much of the rear suspension linkage and gladly accepted any parts offered. The rearsets (ex-RGV) came from a bin – as in dustbin, not parts bin – quick clean, lick of paint. Easy.


Russell: “If you can think what it’s going to look like in your head – you can do it. Aside from brain surgery, there’s very little you can’t do. It might take you a lot longer than it would a professional, but you’ll get there in the end. And buy yourself a lathe. Even if you only make spacers, it’ll save you enormous amounts of time (and money).”

“There’s a levity to this bike, it’s an inclusive running gag. The joke being it’s a very effective motorcycle too”


The AWOOGA device is an air horn fitted with a cut down ally trumpet fitted to alert other road users of The Riddler’s presence.

“As if it wasn’t daft enough already, the horn really makes it.” So, as this purple and green ‘thing’ rolls down the road, how does it go? “It’s got a Mick Abbey-tuned engine with 37bhp at the back wheel,” says Russell.

“But we’ve tried to stack it at the bottom end because I’m a big lad. It’ll still fly up to 90mph, but with a runt on board it could wheelie in every gear and do a lot more. It does 14bhp at 4000rpm and then produces its 37bhp maximum at 9300rpm. The gearing’s limited by the chain run, but we’ve done as much as we can to fix that by running a motocross-style chain tensioner and a one-off ’box sprocket. Suzuki used a 520 chain, where Honda had a 525 on the NC24. Sprockets Unlimited made it all fit and it works well enough.” However, making the sidepanels and dummy airbox fit, was, in Russell’s words, nothing short of, “A nightmare.” And, somewhat unsurprisingly, it was hiding the AWOOGA horn that caused all the bother.


After chopping the frame into tiny bits and reassembling it to accommodate the single-sided swingarm, it was inevitable there would be issues with the refit of the cosmetics. “We had to move the oil tank, and I still wanted the airbox to look like an airbox with the airhorn in it, which meant moving the sidepanels. That required reshaping them to match new mounting points.”

You can tell by the tone of Russell’s voice, this was one of the more irritating elements of the build. Measuring and making up spacers is child’s play compared to remodelling body parts so they don’t look like something you’d find on an old car from the former East Germany. The build is now just less than two months old and the “to do” list is non-existent. The big bits all work.


And tellingly so do the details – arguably the finest points of this fantastic (and we use the word literally) transmogrification. Witness, for example, the front and rear brake reservoirs: “It’s a Marmite bike, there’s no question about that,” say Russell proudly. We’ve seen miniature Jack Daniel’s bottles employed as reservoirs, and all manner of engraved, anodised aluminium creations, but not so far, a yeast-based savoury spread receptacle. “It was easy,” he says. “I sent off to China for some diamond-tipped drill bits. Then machined up some nylon inserts to fit inside and out, then fixed them with epoxy resin along with the brackets I made.” Sounds almost easier than rebuilding a mastercylinder.

Then there’s the Lego Riddler as a bung on the left-hand mirror perch, another detail that embodies Russell’s meticulous approach to piecing together more than just a special. There’s a levity, an inclusive running gag to this bike that’s seldom found elsewhere.


The majority of specials tend to be straight-faced affairs featuring knuckle-dusters (if firmly in the streetfighter category) or race sponsor branding when a machine’s in the outright performance bracket. The Riddler is so far number one in a field of one in PS’s comedy hall of fame. The joke being it’s a very effective motorcycle too. It wouldn’t have worked without considerable attention to the paint either. The garish hues were not simply a matter of matching shades to screen grabs from a movie. Oh no.

“Don’t forget The Riddler had bright blue shoes, so Garry (an X7 forum man) who did the paint in his shed, shot a blue underneath,” says Russell. This leads to a polychromatic effect in the sun when a blue sheen peeks through to subtle effect. And that’s without taking into account the white and gold pinstriping and freehand logos. The seat is another masterstroke in lurid excess: tuck and roll in purple and green with a finely embroidered ‘The Riddler’ on the rear hump too. Aside from the din from the air horn, The Riddler also packs some aural delight from the crossover high exit spannies too. Fashioned by Jim of 2-T Cats in Scarborough, they only took a week to make and lend The Riddler a sharp crackle off the throttle and a throaty growl when it comes on the pipe. Russell was advised by engine man Mick to “Get it up to temp and then rag it.” And that was fresh off the bench.

He’s obeyed instructions diligently, and is quick to point out, “It’s a two-stroke,” says Russell. “If anything goes wrong it’s only a kitchen table job to fix. That’s why we all like them, and it’s probably why they’re still going up in value too.” And… it all works. Photographer Jason (who’s shot more specials for his sins than almost any other photographer left alive) was moved to say, “I totally get it.” And that, is as ringing an endorsement as any builder is ever likely to get.

1983 Suzuki X7
ENGINE 261cc (1.5mm oversize), reed-valve, air-cooled parallel twin, ported by Mick Abbey (07802 896103), hi-exit crossover pipes by Jim Alonze at (07973 266955), Ramair filters, otherwise stocker than an OXO cube CHASSIS X7 frame (cut to ribbons then rewelded to accomodate Honda NC24 swingarm and rear wheel, Cagiva Mito Evo front end, Suzuki RGV250 rearsets, seat by Graham at Impact Upholsterers, Jacksdale, Lancs, brakes hoses by HEL, Yamaha RD350LC handelbar, paint by Garry in his shed, build assistance from Bri Gent. “I think I’ll do an LC hybrid next with YZF front and rear ends and a Banshee engine. But Trudy’ll kill me. I’ve already been warned. She’s standing here.”


The front end needed to at least make a polite nod to the NC24 single-sided rear. A 1993 Cagiva Mito Evo front turned up and was deemed to be as on the money as anything else around: italic spoke pattern (to mimic the rear wheel), a decently powerful single disc, plus the fork stanchions were already gold. In it went with minimal fuss.


It’s not often you can say (without a hint of irony) that the best bits on a bike are the brake mastercylinder reservoirs. Humourous, neat and nicely executed, this could start a whole new scene in nutcase reservoirs. We can see it now: old paint pots, jam jars, pottery ornaments, corned beef tins, disposable lighters, hollowed out sticks... we could go on.


Almost unbelievably, the entire exhaust system took just one week to complete, from “Here’s the bike” to “There you go, job done.” Jim Alonze, the man in charge at the Scarborough-based fabricators (07973 266995) will shortly be up and running with a new website (, but don’t expect him to process your requirements quite as quickly as he did for Russell.