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...
HOME OF THE BRAVE
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
TRIAL AND ERROR
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.
THAT’S WHAT WE CALL MINIMALIST
“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
WORDS HANS SEEBERG PHOTOGRAPHY JASON CRITCHELL