Steven Wilson shows what you can make with a knackered frame, a vintage sewing machine and parts from 14 different bikes
THE SEWING machine says it all. A vintage Singer model bought for £50, it seems a curious object to be talking about in relation to a home-built motorcycle – but then Steven Wilson is a bike builder like few others. He’d bought the sewing machine near the end of the two-year build process on this RD350, having decided that instead of getting someone to reupholster his seat unit he’d just teach himself to sew and do it himself. “I like to learn a new skill whenever I take on a project,” he smiles.
Added to the other self-taught talents that have seen Steven take on his own powdercoating, sand-blasting, zinc-plating, wheel-spoking, wiring loom build and even paintwork, it’s all culminated in a unique machine that started as a lone frame and now incorporates parts from 14 different bikes that span the entire range of the PS era. From a 1973 Kawasaki 750 H2 rear brake cable to a 2000 Suzuki GSX-R1000K1 sidestand, Steven’s aim was simple: “I wanted to include as many different makes and models of bike as I could just for a laugh, to see what finally rolled out of the shed.”
As you can see, what duly emerged from said shed after two very busy years is a special of incredible skill and ingenuity – not that this was some sort of random, aimless build that saw Steve trying different parts until stuff fitted.
“I pictured the finished bike in my head before I started, all the way down to the paintjob I did which was loosely based on the old Gulf Racing colours from the ’60s and ’70s,” he says. “I’ve built lots of specials and it’s easy to get sidetracked – my biggest piece of advice is to have a plan and stick to it. Otherwise the bike will look crap and end up for sale on eBay as an unfinished project.” What certainly did look crap was the manky old RD250 frame Steven started the entire project with – though it didn’t stay that way for long. “It was a twin-shock frame originally, but I braced the headstock, replaced the rear engine mounting to accommodate the LC engine I wanted to go in it and modified the whole thing to make it monoshock,” he shrugs somewhat matter-of-factly. How on earth did you know where to cut, Steven?
“When I was at school I was an apprentice sheet metal worker and I’ve also got access to a workshop – plus I’ve been messing around with bikes for the past 40 years, so you learn a few things. For this build I decided to buy myself a TIG welder and learn how to use it.” Frame duly sorted, it needed a swingarm to go with it – in this case one from an early ’70s Yamaha RD350A that Steven modified from twinshock to monoshock. This, as you might imagine, was not the work of five minutes. “It involved a lot of cutting and welding,” laughs Steven. “I had to bend and form the pipe for the bracing and then weld the shock mounts on, but making sure everything was true was the biggest challenge. It’s got to go down the road straight as well, hasn’t it?”
With the RD350LC engine built completely from scratch using a mixture of 1980-’83 parts Steven sourced from eBay (“It’s all pretty standard as I think LC engines run better the closer to stock they are”), the 1974 RD350A forks were next – complete with springs from an ’82 Yamaha XJ650 which Steven thought would be a bit stronger given the XJ’s weight advantage over the RD. More news skills were soon on the way as Steven watched a few YouTube videos to teach himself how to spoke the rare Borrani rims he also bought on eBay. “When I first put the wheels together they were all over the place, so I really had to work on straightening and balancing them – it probably took half a day to spoke each wheel and nearly a week to true both of them. The sprocket carrier is from an RD350A but the brake plate is from an early Yamaha YDS7 from 1972, because that’s a bike with a right-hand chain drive. The brake plate is actually fitted on my bike upside down – that was just me trying to get another different bike part on there again.”
When it came to the bodywork, the good news was that Steven managed to acquire a tank and seat unit for a 1980 TZ350. The less encouraging news was that more extensive modification was needed to make them fit. “I had to alter the headstock quite a bit,” explains Steven, “because where you pull the tank off there are these little half-moon brackets that the tank rubbers slot into. I actually had to make those myself and weld tank mounts underneath for the rubbers, plus a mount at the back as well.” With additional parts including a 1992 Yamaha FJ1200 clutch mastercylinder, a slave cylinder from a ’92 Kawasaki ZXR750 and a 1988 Yamaha XJ600 brake lever, not to mention Steven’s homemade wiring loom (“I used an RD350 one for reference – I taught myself about electrics too”), it all begs the question: what’s the bike like to ride?
“It’s fun, because I’ve kept everything as short possible,” says Steven. “It’s twitchy but I don’t get scared about damaging it – it’s there to be used. To be honest I enjoy the build as much as the riding. I have friends who make anal nut ’n’ bolt minters, but all you do is buy specific parts and fit them. Where’s the fun in that?” Steven is proof that whether it’s sewing, welding or electrics, learning new stuff can revolutionise the way you build a special.
ENGINE Yamaha RD350LC engine with 1986 Yamaha RD250 crankcases, RD250 YPVS reed cages, 1980 TZ350 exhaust system, front brake and clutch mastercylinder from 1992 Yamaha FJ1200, slave cylinder from 1993 Kawasaki ZXR750, 1973 Kawasaki 750 H2 rear brake cable, homemade wiring loom
CHASSIS Yamaha RD250 frame converted from twin-shock to monoshock, 1974 Yamaha RD350A forks with springs from a 1982 Yamaha XJ650, homemade adjustable preload, Yamaha RD350A swingarm modified from twinshock to monoshock, 18in Borrani wheels with stainless steel spokes, homemade number board, 1980 Yamaha TZ350 fuel tank, seat unit and mudguard, 1999 Yamaha R1 rear shock, 1974 Yamaha RD350A clock, 1989 Kawasaki KR-1S temperature gauge, bespoke rear light, custom paintjob based on Gulf Racing colours, homemade footrests, 1988 Yamaha XJ600 gear lever and rear brake lever, 2000Suzuki GSX-R1000K1 sidestand modified to fit
TIME TO ADJUST
This blue dial is very clever – a homemade preload adjuster. The silver button next to it is a homemade push-button ignition ‘on’ (there’s no key), with an identical looking kill switch on the other side.
SEEING THE LIGHT
“I just bought a piece of ally, shaped it and cut a hole in it, then bought a fog lamp for a car and fitted that before fibgreglassing and painting the whole thing,” says Steven. “Pretty simple really.”
The 1999 Yamaha R1 shock is just one of many parts Steven has made fit. “Originally it was a dry build – I do that with everything on all my bikes to make sure it all works properly.”
Mounted off the frame just below the fuel tank, the 1989 Kawasaki KR-1S temperature gauge shows that not all instruments have to be in the conventional place.
Steven’s decision to put 1982 Yamaha XJ650 springs inside 1974 RD350A forks made things stiffer, but there was no adjustability due to their age. His ingenious solution? “I modified the top nut on the forks and made an adjustable preload on there myself,” he laughs. “It took a bit of working out, but I looked at how standard ones worked and tried to replicate them. The theory was simple but complicated in practice because you’ve got moving parts inside and outside, and you need seals in there as well to stop oil escaping. But I got there in the end.”
Steven bought all the parts for his RD350LC engine off eBay, plus the pair of ’86 RD250 crankcases. “I’d never built an LC engine before but it’s quite straightforward,” says Steven. “They’re fairly basic and there’s a lot of information around about them. I got the crankcases pretty early on in the project so that when I was doing the monoshock conversion, I put the engine mount in at the back in order that the crankcases would drop in.”
Given that the original TZ was a racing bike it didn’t have a rear light – not that this little triviality deterred Steven from fitting one. Getting hold of a generic rear light, he simply fitted it courtesy of some cutting and fibreglassing. “I made the two aluminium thumb-turn nuts underneath them as well,” adds Steven. “It means everything on the bike is quick-release – I can now strip the tank and seat unit off the bike without the need for spanners if necessary.”
REAR WHEEL EXHAUST
“The rims are by Italian company Borrani who’ve made wheels for decades,” explains Steven. “These are genuine old school racing rims that old TZs used to run on, which I bought on eBay. I phoned Borrani once I’d got them and the guy there said they were from either 1968 or ’69. I used hubs from an RD350A knowing that they’d fit the swingarm, and then joined them to the rims by doing my own spoking. The exhausts are another item from a 1980 TZ350 which bolted straight on after I’d made up some rear brackets.”