What’s in a name? For some reason, in the 90s Suzuki’s marketing department seemed to have had a little trouble with naming their bikes; particularly those in the cruiser segment. Hayabusa aside, if it wasn’t a race replica with an alphanumeric designation then it was a sure bet that a bikes call sign might trigger a wry smile. Intruder, Eliminator and Marauder don’t quite elicit the terrifying images the marketing departing perhaps envisioned when the rather flaccid machines are seen for what they are. And who can forget the magnificently monikered Freewind?
But behind the names, and lost opportunities these forgotten bikes offer some capable donors. While the Honda Dominator currently reigns supreme as king tracker donor, the Freewind acts the wallflower, ashamed to step into the limelight. Is its gassy designation to blame? Possibly so.
The Savage is another case in point. Available in 650 and 400 variants, it’s often overlooked as a potential starting point for a build nowadays. But take a step back, and its virtues become apparent. Simple, aircooled and reliable. That engine is also quite the handsome devil; the way that big header pip swoops along the edge of the clutch cover is a nice touch. Sure, some companies like Ryca have spotted the potential but it still lags behind other big thumpers in the hearts of Sheddists.
Based in the Ho Chi Minh city, Vietnam, Minh Hyunh knows a bike is by far the easiest point to point weapon for getting across town, so he wanted something other than the typical scooter to stand out in the crowd. Spending his days scrapping it out on the trading floor for one of Vietnam’s banks, he was looking for a little distraction. In his spare time he paints tanks and helmets for fellow bikers and it was long overdue that he build up his own special. Finding what must be one of the few LS400 Savages in South East Asia, was a great starting point.
A case of see it, buy it: an on the spot purchase. Minh was soon the owner of a rusted out, smokey-engined Savage. Quite how the previous owner has managed to ruin such a reliable engine only he will know, but it was now in more caring hands. Minh then sat on it and decided which direction to take go. A café racer is just ergonomic suicide on the crowded streets of HCMH so an upright tracker it was to be. With a good friend, skilled in the art of wrenching, the bike was thoroughly transformed over the next 5 months.
Once cracked open it was clear a lack of oil had produced some premature engine wear, so a full rebuild was in order. Worth it for the peace of mind for a build intended to be kept. No need to chase power, the relaxed single provides a torquey enough thump to propel the little bike along at a fair lick. Keeping that visually defining exhaust meant the carb only needed a minor tweak to work without the original airbox. Suspension and wheels remain stock, just receiving a freshen up by way of some black powdercoat and set of gaiters on the front.
An entirely new subframe was fabricated to raise the rear of the bike, transforming its stance from cruiser to tracker; the low top shock mounts the only clue to the bike’s heritage. A neat bit of triangulation and some perforated side panels hide the electrics from plain sight, keeping things neat and tidy. But it’s the combination of that seat and tank that provide the defining features of the bike. Both handmade items by Minh’s handy mechanic friend the steel tank has a classic tracker look. The mini speedo is recessed into the top of the tank, leaving just the idiot lights up by the bars.
The diamond stitch leather seat has room for two; or three or four if local custom is a suggestion on carrying capacity. The contrasting white thread, grab strap and contoured shape shows a significant level of thought having gone into it. A host of other modifications and small changes are the pickled carrots on this Banh Mi. Custom lights, indicators, mirrors and grips all add up to transform the looks of the little Savage. The forward controls and riser bars remain, making this a comfortable place to be; this isn’t a bike to rush around on and after a frantic day in the bull pen I’m sure it’s exactly the tonic Minh needs.
While the streets of Ho Chi Minh City aren’t quite as rabidly manic as those of Hanoi old town, a nice light single cylinder bike seems like the perfect steed to swoop and dodge around the numerous scooters. It may not be Savage, but it’s all the better for it. Thanks for sharing Minh.