Dutch and I don’t do favouritism, we try not to at least. Being biased though is a different thing altogether, we’re both complete suckers for Italian bikes. He’s got a couple and somehow I’ve ended up with four. Ducati engines are either something you love or something you hate, folk rarely sit on the fence when it comes to clattering Bolognan Desmos. For me there’s something pure and visceral about that 90 degree L-twin that never fails to excite. Throw a Cagiva into the mix and that’s me done for, weak at the knees and excitable as an over-sugared kid on a bouncy castle.
Last month’s Bike Shed London show saw 151 custom motorcycles exhibited at Tobacco Docks, some from down-the-road and others from slightly further afield. Nuno Capêlo and his buddy Ricardo Santos from Elemental Rides strapped two bikes to a trailer, hitched it to a BMW saloon and drove all the way from Portugal. And my goodness are we glad they made the effort. Two stunning demonstrations of creativity and command of fabrication skills. More on Ricardo’s bike soon but for now I’ll wax lyrical over this diminutive delight of Nuno’s.
If you saw this bike at the show it’ll come as no surprise that Nuno is an architect by trade, designing bikes for customers under the Capêlos Garage banner came later. It shouldn’t be a surprise either that his time spent working out where to put windows and doors is reducing due to increased demand for his wonderful two-wheeled creations. Seeing as Portugal is vying for the mantle of custom capital of Europe Nuno was spoiled for choice when it came to finding talented craftsman to help bring his dream bike to reality.
Nuno’s orchestra consists of Leonel Ribeiro who took care of the majority of the mechanical work, his aforementioned co-driver and friend Ricardo who’s a whiz with the wiring, João and Bruno Project 724 and Miguel the painter. Nuno may not have had his hands actually on the tools but he was involved in every stage of the build, right down to the last fastener.
A few years back Nuno had uploaded a few rough renders to a forum when a friend Pedro Novais suggested a Cagiva Alazzura would make a fine custom and that Nuno should design a bike to blend classic design and soul with a modern edge. And now, the original whim has become glorious reality.
If you’re not familiar with the Alazzura I’ll save you the Google search, it was a crappy looking Kawasaki GPZ 750 doppelgänger. At least in Ducati Pantah trim (Cagiva had bought Ducati back in those days) the bodywork suggested track derived performance but beneath both was a delicate tubular perimeter frame that used the powerplant as a stressed member. It didn’t take Nuno long to figure out where to go with this 1987 Alazurra he’d bought for the project. The engine, frame and fuel tank were kept, the rest recycled.
The engine was completely stripped with anything inside showing signs of wear replaced. While apart the cases, barrels, heads etc were vapour blasted and painted where necessary. ‘You could eat your dinner off it‘ is an oft overused phrase but trust me, the original engine wouldn’t have left Bologna/Varese this clean.
The Italian tax regulation friendly capacity limit of 350cc resulted in some pretty wheezy motors so Nuno and the guys had to keep an eye on weight to ensure performance matches the looks.
About those looks. Going with the flow standing in front of the English Wheel with a sheet of ally in hand is one thing but having a definite design to work to and a precision vision in one’s head is a whole different kettle of fish. Nuno’s mind is an ordered and exacting place where symmetry and balance rule. So, finding the correct fairing was an impossible task, instead an existing unit was sliced, spliced and streamlined into the air piercing shape you see here.
The lower part sweeps rearward, beneath the original tank. Original but not standard. It’s been heavily modified to achieve this stylish and sophisticated silhouette which wouldn’t look out of place on even the most decadent of cafe racer builds. The rear was cut open, re-shaped and carefully welded back together before being filed and sanded. Filler wasn’t going to feature on the build shopping list.
Continuing rearward your eye is drawn to the seat and tail unit. An untrained pair would suggest fibreglass off-the-shelf jobbie, an easy win for finishing-off a custom bike. But as you might have gathered, Nuno doesn’t cut corners, he goes around the block seven times, barefoot, on a hot day. Fibreglass, pah! The 3D printer was fired up and a 1:1 model produced from ABS plastic. Once happy with the result the fabrication guys were given the task of replicating the height of technological prototyping in good old fashioned steel. Why steel and not aluminium? Because Nuno wanted to achieve a single piece, uni-body construction. The fuel tank base appears to blend into the seat base, because it does, beautifully welded together and exquisitely filed smooth prior to paint. The whole process took over a week of solid work before Nuno was happy. A hard task master but well worth it, the result is truly stunning.
An LED stoplight is perfectly set into the rear but my favourite parts are the winglets that partially mask the shock mounts. They not only serve a purpose but add at least 10 mph to the optical top speed. To crown all of this hard work is the neatest race foam seat pads I’ve ever seen. The foam isn’t stuck directly to the steel base below but to a formed and brushed aluminium sheet, giving the rider an opportunity to fit thicker pads if required.
Apologies, I’m banging on like a proud dad on sports day but it’s this level of design and craftsmanship that makes my job enjoyable. Why does a dog lick its balls? Because it can. The reasoning behind pushing boundaries needn’t be any more in depth than that. Build what you want, how you want it is what I say.
Back to the rest of the bike. Obviously the front end doesn’t look particularly 1987. Wheels are 17″ and were destined for a supermoto, the front grafted onto a Yamaha Super Tenere hub and machined spacers. Rebuilt and refreshed R1 forks not only offer a massive performance hike but are also very handsome, adding presence to the stance without looking bulky and out of place. Under those sexy winglets at the rear a pair of Showa shocks and narrow gauge springs dampen this featherweight’s ride and ensure every last one of the cavalli bambino are delivered to the road.
The distinct lack of wiring is no mistake either. The tail section houses a lithium battery and the bulk of the loom. That’s the beauty of working with these older carburated donors, pure simplicity. At the heart of any super slick build these days is a Motogadget speedo, in this case a Motoscope Mini nestles in the top yoke and ignition is taken care of by the RFID keyless system.
There’s a whole load more work that’s gone into this bike and it’s been a labour of love for Nuno and his team, another thousand words of ramble from me won’t cover it or do it justice but suffice to say that I watched the faces walk into that end room at Bike Shed London 2016 and I’m certainly not alone in my appreciation of this wonderful display of creativity, focussed engineering and craftsmanship.
I’m off to price-up a one way ticket to Portugal but you can follow Capêlos Garage here
Photos by Helder Bento