Life, that fickle mistress, can turn on a dime and in March of 2010, Eric Bess experienced something that many across the US were facing. With the economy in a slump, Eric found himself without a job after a round of layoffs at Kawasaki Motors. He’d worked for Kawasaki for 8 years, first on the road for Consumer Events, then in Quality Assurance as a tech and test rider. With motorcycles woven deep into his fibre, there was little chance of getting away from them so, glass half full, this was the opportunity to take his own path.
The day he was laid off, Eric made a critical decision: he no longer wanted someone in control of his future. Dead-set on this, he decided to open a motorcycle shop back in his home state of Missouri. So just a few months on from the unwelcome news, the independent Flying Tiger Motorcycles was appropriately born on the 4th of July 2010, situated in a small 900 sq ft shop in Maplewood, Missouri.
The initial plan was to restore and sell vintage bikes, but that slowly evolved as customers looking at the finished vintage bikes started asking if Eric would work on their bikes.
As Flying Tiger Motorcycles grew, Eric wanted the shop to be a place where you didn’t have to have a certain type of bike to come in the door. After visiting numerous shops over the years, they seemed to have one thing in common: exclusivity to brand and types of riding. “We are an enthusiast shop where two wheels of all kinds are welcome” Eric says. “There will never be any kind of attitude given here. I like to think of us as a place for people that don’t have a place. Somewhere that everyone can feel comfortable and be treated fairly. If they are not, I want them to tell me.”
The shop has grown to become a staple in the vintage and custom scene around St. Louis. Since 2010, it has moved to the building next door and now occupies about 6,500 sq ft that includes a showroom housing Royal Enfield Motorcycles, as well as Genuine Scooters. While the majority of work during the riding season is service and repair, restoration and custom work is what everyone enjoys most. At anytime you can walk into the shop and see a classic Goldwing, a 60’s Triumph, or a modern scooter on a lift. However, winter is the time for builds and the shop has several in the works with many more in wait.
We’ve previously featured Flying Tiger’s take on a heavyweight Harley Cafe Racer and can now present the other other end of the two-wheeled scale.
Eric tells us, “This little 1965 Honda Super 90 came to us as an older restoration that sat for years as an in-house display piece. Though the previous resto was done many moons ago, the work proved to be good quality. Our customer wanted a build similar to one by Deus Ex Machina, but I was not overly excited about modifying such a nice bike. We worked it out where the build could be done without modifying the frame or other irreplaceable/hard to find parts.”
Maintaining the option for originality tends to make a build a darn site more difficult than just whipping out the grinding discs. So once up on the bench, the stock seat, fenders, taillight, and bars were taken off and carefully boxed. New seat mounts utilised existing fixings to carry the tail section and license plate holder. The whole lot can be removed with just two bolts that previously secured the rear fender. Rich Phillips covered the seat pan in simple black leather, while the elegant paintwork was shot by shop friend Darren at Liquid Illusions. The pinstriping picking up the classic solo-hump seat shape.
With the original S90 high rise bars looking at odds with the new found Cafe style, finding more appropriate scaled down bars provided a challenge to maintain both functionality and proportion. A set of NYC Café bars made for a scooter were chopped down and a cut was made for the internal throttle slide hole. The bars were then drilled them for internal wiring and finished off with a black powder coat.
An old set of fenders were sourced and trimmed down, and the rear crowned with a small taillight allowing the Flying Tiger logo to flourish on the hump. Small but perfectly formed, I believe is the expression.
Once back together, the diminutive ride then just required some love and attention with Autosol and she was ready to ride. No need for bubble tires, or pipe wrap here, the sympathetic updates let the original styling speak loudly and inject a little more sport into the S90’s step. Less can definitely be more.
As Eric says; “By no means is the S90 fast, but it is very nimble and fun to scoot around the city on. Simplicity was the key here.” Were I more homunculus than humongous your couldn’t stop me swinging a leg over, alas I’m happy to just sit back and admire the ’60s charm oozing from every inch.
Plaudits for the photos must go to Jonathan Reed and be sure to keep an eye on the Flying Tiger Site and FB page for their upcoming work. And take a look at this finely crafted film-ette starring Eric’s BSA and taking a closer look at his beloved and bewinged Tigris.