Winter Project 2011.2 Design Brief: Re-cycle, Re-new, Re-use!
When creating something, it's important to have vision. So many great ideas are corrupted by time, complacency, and lack of focus and/or appreciation. I had a pretty good idea of what I wanted my next bike to be, but like all projects, it would be an exercise of compromises. Very rarely does anything turn out exactly as imagined, or exactly as planned. Because of this, I renewed my mental resolve to take as few shortcuts and compromise as little as possible when building my bike. I did not want to ever think, "Ahh, it's good enough.". I wanted to hone my skills further, through practice, and finish what I started. Here's the rough design brief about the bike I was to create.
Keep it clean, keep it subtle, make it appear factory built but lighter and stronger wherever possible. Keep the giant frame a dominant feature with its gorgeous welds. Keep the chassis/suspension all Honda/Showa, but upgrade it to current levels of performance . . . or beyond.
First things first, though. The Fireblade was leaking quite badly from it's left fork tube - so much so that the radiator was clogged with mung and the front brakes (pads and rotors) were saturated with oil. The gearing had been altered from stock, with the ubiquitous -1 +2 sprocket changes. I would have been fine with this . . . but even this simple mod was done incorrectly on this bike, with a 530 chain running on 525 pitch sprockets. All fixable, fortunately.
I rebuilt the forks one evening, and changed the fork fluid spec and height. With the front end feeling much firmer, I threw on some old SS brakelines and ground the original pads down until they were clean. I would have just replaced the pads, but I knew I would be replacing the front end in due time, and I wanted to spend the project funds in the best way possible. eBay!
The stock california exhaust was a one piece mild steel header, painted black. Owing to the elements, it had begun to show rust at the welds and was in general, unsightly. I quickly found a 49-state version from a '98-'99 model, which was stainless steel but heavily corroded. Several hours with various grits of sandpaper and some polishing compound and it was ready to be fitted.
Once I'd been able to ride the bike a bit and adjust the suspension to my liking (easier because of the very compliant carcass of the Pirelli's on the bike), I disassembled the carbs for a thorough cleaning and inspection. To my surprise, there was already a Dynojet kit installed in the bike, and I used the adjustable needles to my advantage by performing some "top secret works mods" to the bank. After the new header was fitted (with shortened Yoshimura can), I sync'd the carbs with this handy Motion Pro carburetor tool. I chopped the can with a bandsaw because the previous owner had dropped the bike on both sides and it was scraped up and slightly dented. I removed the offending bits and got a little bit of that "street punk" attitude, haha.
I then built some carbon fiber engine guards for the alternator and clutch.
They fit nicely with some industrial strength 3M automotive body molding adhesive tape, and are reinforced/backed with carbon kevlar for extra abrasion resistance.
At this point, I had also changed the grips (probably the first thing I do with every bike I come across). I rode it in this configuration for several months, feeling out the engine character and the torsional rigidity of the beautifully welded frame. What a great bike!
But would I be capable of changing it for the better? Depends on your definition of better.
We shall see :)
Winter Project 2011.1 What inspires me?
I was heavily influenced by this picture I'd come across on the internet and I wanted to create something similar, but with my own special touch.
This green bike appeared to be a '93-'95 CBR900RR frame and radiator, with an '04-'06 R1 tailsection (custom alum tube subframe), Acerbis headlight, and CBR954RR front forks and wheels. The swingarm had been "boxed" (aluminum plate added for rigidity), the exhaust modified, and aftermarket rearsets, cf frameguards, and an Aprilia RS250 front fender added. Dirt bike handlebars completed the transformation from Sportbike to Streetfighter. The license plate indicated this was a European machine. It looked obnoxious, aggressive, short (nose to tail), and purpose built. I liked it, and I liked it a lot.
Over the course of this project, I found another Fireblade Streetfighter build that I really liked, this time in Australia. Why were there no cool 'Blades on the West Coast? Could it be that no one was committed to building them or that StreetFighters simply weren't being given any attention/press? I suppose this style of motorcycle is something of an acquired taste, but having come from a background of customs and choppers, then high tech sporting goodness, I see these conversions as real pieces of art, and the true successor to the Chopper mantle. The same principles and goals apply - Strip it and Rip it - make it faster, make it stronger, make it stylish.
I think this bike is just about as perfect an example of a StreetFighter as I've come across. It was not built with a massive budget, but it is striking nonetheless. Judicious use of black paint and powdercoat on the bodywork, frame and swingarm make the chassis appear more modern than it is. The front forks are original to the machine, and their "beefiness" is accentuated by the small headlight(s). The subframe has been modified to accept a '04-'07 CBR1000RR tail section and seats, and like the frame, everything is Black. It is sinister and simple, and it looks like a blast to ride. There are markers of an amateur builder, though, such as the plumbing strap steel used to mount the exhaust canister and the dangling of the rear brake reservoir, which appears to be something of an afterthought. Then again, this is likely a work in progress and it's probably been fixed by now. I hope. Both of these bikes also have their radiator hoses and clutch cables hanging off the side of the bike, something I did not appreciate.
However, this black bike looks like it could have rolled off the assembly line from Honda, and that is something you don't often think when looking at a custom bike. There is so much to be said for the details and the small things, and the overall aesthetic of the motorcycle. This "factory" essence is difficult to capture or replicate, and it's part of why I admire this machine so much.
Thinking back, I had been convinced to buy my CBR900RR because I'd been told my eyes lit up more when I spoke about it, and that I would build a StreetFighter. I was determined to do so, but first I had to ride it a bit and get to know the machine. While the bike was in decent shape overall, there were a few issues that needed to be dealt with before it was truly roadworthy, and I'll detail those in a later post.
Winter Project 2011.0
In late summer, 2010, I picked up a beautiful 1996 Honda CBR900RR "Fireblade" in Santa Rosa, CA. It was well used, had a few scrapes and scratches, but I knew that I'd be modifying it in the future and it would be a fantastic base machine for me to be creative with. Initially I used the bike for commuting between San Francisco and San Jose to my office at Cisco's corporate headquarters, and while it performed this duty admirably, things would change and I would change with them.
In mid-1996 I was standing in Sandy Brodie's Honda motorcycle dealership in Waipahu, HI, and I remember seeing this bike sitting on the showroom floor. It looked short and stout just sitting on its kickstand, and was (at the time) the widest motorcycle I'd ever sat on. I wasn't interested in sport bikes at the time, and ended up riding away on a VF750C, Honda Magna. Too many months of reading Harley magazines at the Borders/Barnes and Noble bookstores and the dominant motorcycle culture in the paradise state was decided cruiser based - but I would change.