By Josh Withers #179856; Outdoor Photos by Kevin T Vu, Studio Photos by Josh Withers
I was just coming off the high of my second 'frame off, down to the crank' airhead restoration when I got a random call from a guy in North Dakota. We got to chatting, and he quickly revealed his interest in having me make a custom motorcycle for him just like my latest build. Due to the internet and a few magazine articles, my bright blue 1973 R60/5 toaster cafe conversion was attracting attention from all over the world, and now from this guy Shane in North Dakota. In this first conversation with Shane, I prefaced that I was not a professional mechanic and I work out of the garage of my humble Southern California townhome. I would need help rebuilding the engine, I'd have to send off items for paint, etc., and it would take about a year or two due to my day job, a teaching job, getting married, being a father, etc. He was understanding of that, put his faith in me, and thus our project and friendship began.
Within a month of starting, we found a carcass of a 1972 R75/5 for $600. It was in really bad shape. Broken rod, wiring was a mess with extra lights and switches drilled in the headlight and many other parts were missing, broken or downright bastardized. As I met the seller in the California desert, took the bike out of his pickup truck, began to take it apart to load it into my station wagon, another man walked up and asked if I would be interested in another R75. Considering I already had one halfway into my car, I laughed him off at first, but then we got to talking. I soon learned that he lived nearby and had a warehouse full of motorcycles. His R75/5 was a complete bike but hadn't run in twenty years, had no title, yet he was asking $400. I had to check it out and before I knew it, I had not one but two 1972 R75/5 motorcycles in my garage. Let the restoration begin.
Shane's one request was that the bike matched his recently restored silver 1965 Porsche. Given that this bike was for somebody else, I couldn't cut the same corners I did for my own personal restoration. I decided to have everything rebuilt so the bike would run like new without any guessing or wondering when an old part will fail. This means completely rebuilding the engine, rebuilding and upgrading to a 5 speed transmission, new drive shaft U joints, rebuilt final drive, wheel bearings, front forks, steering bearings, speedometer... I think you get the idea.
The other opportunity was to upgrade whatever we could along the way with all the new upgrades and accessories available today. I am very happy to see that the aftermarket part selection on old airheads is always growing. We found a good selection of bodywork in the past few years since my last restoration and settled with Cafeboxer who even made a custom ridgeless front fender for us. I found a local powder coat shop that also uses a liquid based baked on enamel for a well known brake caliper company that matches the Porsche color. After hearing good reviews from the Siebenrock piston and cylinder upgrade kit, we decided to buy a set instead of spending extra money on a BMW set of R75 pistons. The Siebenrock kit bolts onto the same rods and uses the same heads as the stock R75. Supposedly it offers a 20% upgrade in power. A lightened flywheel was a must. Electronic ignition from Dyna was added. Rear shocks from YSS looked like the match for our 'theme' bike. And what would be a classy cafe bike without some wide shoulder Akront rims laced on powder coated white hubs. Let’s hope the hubs stay clean!
A Shorai battery has been tucked under the cafe seat. The tail light came from an old British retrofitted 6V turn signal. I found a set of drag bars that matched the same reach as my clubman handle bars on my blue cafe. Of course I had to get some custom gray and silver throttle, brake and clutch cables made. I had custom swing-arm caps made to match his Porsche, and the stripes on the toaster panels were painted white to match our side covers. To customize the bike even further, we found a reproduction set of exhaust from a 1937 R12 BMW. It was Shane's idea to get the mufflers and at first I was hesitant, but now I have zero regrets. I had to customize them to fit the header pipes and then sent everything off to Jet Hot to get coated so the pipes would forever stay silver. They sound beefy too!
Two years and four months after that first phone call, I was happy to let Shane know that his bike was complete. I've enjoyed every minute of the zen time in my garage designing another custom BMW. I had a lot of help along the way and continue to learn the nuances of these old bikes. Above all, through this process, Shane and I have shared countless phone calls, emails and text messages throughout the two years and about 25% of them related to his motorcycle. We have become good friends and have shared the joys and sorrows of two separate lives from completely different parts of the country. Shane and I will meet face to face for the first time in a few weeks. It will be a bittersweet encounter for it also means that I will have to say goodbye to my two year labor of love and send it to North Dakota. In order to heal that anticipated wound, I've already started planning out my next build!