It brings me great pleasure to feature another of Gareth Roberts’ motorcycle follies. If you missed the last one take a look here. Gareth’s ability to turn a seemingly simple task into an overcomplicated and wallet busting experience is second to none. I enjoy his scant disregard for logic in the quest for custom perfection. He’s not a rich man, primarily thanks to his two-wheeled obsession, but does have his priorities straight, believing that you only get one ride around the block so you might as well make the most of it. Things like invoices are an inconvenient array of digits on a piece of paper for him to stress about at a later date. Sadistic as it seems I do revel in watching Gareth struggle with his man math calculations and moto-justification.
A couple of years ago Gareth phoned to say he’d read my ride report from the press launch of Yamaha’s final edition XJR1300 and thought he should own one “you know, something practical that I can ride every day, strap a bag to and cruise down to Biarritz. Something new that works and doesn’t need continuous fettling”. For a moment I thought his half century of years had suddenly imposed a modicum of wisdom and that the delayed chrysalis into becoming a grown-up had finally happened. He found a nearly new XJR at a main dealer and enjoyed many, many miles of practical motoring. The End.
Of course he bloody didn’t. He rode the perfectly decent, comfortable and well engineered bike around the corner and then filled his eBay watch list with exotic and unnecessary components before dumping boxes and said bike at deBolex Engineering for a light makeover. If you know Gareth or have seen a deBolex build then you’ll know that such an outcome is impossible. The perfect combination of picky customer and fastidious craftsmen has led to this exquisite 3-in-1 build.
Usually Calum and Des at deBolex prefer a blank canvas upon which to work their magic and part of this process is component selection but Gareth’s impatience meant needing to incorporate Kineo Wheels, ISR brakes, MV Agusta Brutale forks, Performance Parts DE yokes, an RSD headlight and Wrenchmonkees engine covers, rather than starting from scratch. A good thing that Gareth’s magpie eye hunts down top notch accoutrements.
So, what do you do when the customer gives you a load of fancy parts and asks for a daily rider that needs to look rakish while remaining practical and capable of carrying a pillion. You over engineer it of course. deBolex aren’t in the game of just painting bikes a nice colour, looping the tail and moving onto the next one, they pride themselves on details so hidden and intricate that sadly a bystander might not even notice them. It’s as if they’re building the bikes that the manufacturer’s designers originally penned before beancounters, bureaucrats, marketing departments and the fun police got in the way.
The stock XJR tank is actually a lovely shape and narrower at the knees than the voluptuous versions on earlier models, so that was retained to free-up time to concentrate on the rear-end – the cap though is now a Rizoma race style unit. Shaped from aluminium to tolerances Yamaha could only dream of the seatpan and tail section you see here is the result of many iterations and experiments. The tail and pillion seat is a single, seamless piece and slides over a steel substructure which then bolts to the original but slightly extended subframe, fixed with lovely Pro Bolt conical fasteners. In all three modes there’s a storage compartment inside the tail large enough for a spare pair of gloves, base layer or in this case probably a supply of Gareth’s artisanally vegan roadside snacks. There’s a simple cable loop under the main seat to pop the catch to either gain access or swap the top section between steel tubed luggage rack (the lightness of aluminium was discounted on the basis of strength), pillion pad or solo tail (aluminium). With the ignition relocated to below the pod air filters, popping the saddle is achieved with the stock key. Des’ seemingly laser guided red stitching compliments the decadent feel of the charcoal Alcantara.
While beating, rolling, filing and sanding took place (Calum is old school and hates filler, avoiding it at all costs) the rest of the components were treated prior to fitting. Cerakote is deBolex’s finish of choice these days for small parts as it’s tougher than powdercoat and offers superior result. According to Flying Tiger Coatings you can Cerakote a bolt and still spin a nut along the thread. The frame left Yamaha’s factory with a perfectly good coat of gloss black powder but it was decided that the bodywork would be the only part of this bike to shine so it was blasted and recoated with a satin black.
The XJR’s wiring harness is a fairly extensive and bulky one which needed to be hidden, most of which is neatly tucked under the seat base along with a Power Commander in an aluminium box and is powered by a properly sized Shorai Li-Po battery mounted beneath the swingarm pivot. The ISR lever perches feature integrated switchgear allowing for internally routed wiring through the Renthal Fatbars. The red Knightrider-esque display on the Motogadget Motoscope Pro suits the bike and matches the colour palette of the rest of the bike. Motogadget pin indicators front and rear are surely the brightest and smallest on the market and well worth the premium price. A Highsider rear LED stop/tail unit is also from Germany and equally powerful. The RSD headlight is finned at the rear, conveniently echoing the ribbed theme of the Wrenchmonkees engine covers.
The thick-spoked Kineo wheels look great clad in Metzeler Roadtec tyres, especially with ISR floating discs fitted. Venhill Cables supplied the brake lines in bright red to the delight of Liberace Roberts. Thankfully the rest of the bike is subtle and although appearing completely black in some of these photos the base coat actually contains tiny red metalic flecks. deBolex have their own paint booth and despite the hours of flatting, prep and polishing sucking time out of other areas of the project Calum prefers to control the finish.
The XJR is blessed with the last of the large displacement air-cooled four cylinder powerplants before EU4 regs suffocated all but a few old school legacies. With nearly a hundred horsepower and oodles of turbine-like torque there was no plan to fiddle with the motor further than the fitting of K&N pod filters and a free flow exhaust. The headers are stainless and beautifully fabricated in-house and mated to a single Akrapovič endcan. Again the satin black Cerakote looks subtle and classy.
Öhlins Blackline shocks match the performance upgrade of the Marzocchi fork and offer a range of adjustability for solo or pillion trips. LSL passenger pegs on stock (Cerakoted) brackets are easily removable with a pair of bolts each side should Gareth give up on the idea of being sociable.
I’ve been lucky enough to pop into the deBolex workshop a few times over the last couple of years and witness Gareth’s XJR taking shape. I’ve seen the painstaking lengths Calum and Des go to in their pursuit of engineering excellence. In another world away from motorcycles I’m sure they’d be sectioned and put on a course of OCD suppression medication. What beautiful photography fails to convey is the satisfying, teutonic clunk that the saddle and tail pieces make when pressed into place and the fastidious overall finish. While others succeed in replicating a range of parts to keep the bank manager at bay deBolex are steadfast in their one-of-one philosophy, which seems to be working as the workshop is always brimming with projects.
Thankfully Gareth isn’t a man to leave his bikes locked away so at some point we’ll steal the keys and see if these mods were worth it.
And keep an eye out for Gareth’s documentary film series Oil In Blood
Images by Autohouse London