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.
ODDS AND (INDEED) SODS
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 2-tcats.co.uk (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.
BECAUSE HE CAN
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 (2-tcats.co.uk), but don’t expect him to process your requirements quite as quickly as he did for Russell.