Adversity often brings out the best in people and their endeavours, highlighting that all the tools and equipment in the world cannot replace perseverance and determination. The custom playing field is becoming ever more level thanks to a huge online resource of inspiration and the ability for the everyman to order parts that were previously the exclusive to the pro workshops. But just when it seems that everyone has access to a workshop and a host of CNC equipment someone pops up who’s achieved a fantastic result despite having more of an obstacle rather than resource to their bike building dream.
We met the builder of this bobber, Arthur, when he popped into the Bike Shed to have look around. One of our spotters sent a telegram up to the office suggesting “cool bike alert”. As you can imagine, our bike park is awash with awesome machinery most days but after a quick discussion it became abundantly clear that this chap wasn’t the ordinary shed builder, for a start he didn’t even have a shed. But he did have a loft above the apartment he was renting. The work in progress smartphone photos were enough to convince us that the bike needed sharing.
Arthur picked up this project as an already butchered 1980 XS650, the frame having been subject to an attempted hard tail conversion. Despite being completely skint the allure of that classic looking parallel twin proved too much, a cheaper donor could have been sought but where’s the fun in working on something that you don’t love.
Once the XS had been dragged through the hatch and into the loft Arthur needed to kit the ‘workshop’ out with tools. His meagre budget extended an arsenal of second hand equipment, a pillar drill, angle grinder and an arc welder from Lidl. The £25 welder also required customising, with a CPU fan from a computer to ensure at least a degree of reliability. I’m sure his neighbours would have preferred the grinder-free lines and dull buzz from a TiG setup but needs must!
Arthur’s list of trial and error runs to many pages and hats off to him for upcycling his way through his lack of funds and materials. The mesh from a kitchen extractor hood provides baffling for the exhaust, with brass tips made from a repurposed curtain pole. But make no mistake, this isn’t some Heath Robinson build. Up close the attention to detail is quite something, regardless of the facilities available.
Not content with making life hard for himself refurbishing the mechanicals Arthur set about perfecting the basic leather working skills he’d leant from his grandfather who was an old school saddle maker. Arthur’s seat is made from thick bridal leather which is notoriously resilient to effort and even the stoutest of needles. He must be a good student as this is a mighty fine effort, not just as a first attempt but compared to pro-made saddles. Not satisfied with just stitching the thing together Arthur taught himself leather carving and added a lotus flower detail to the top side.
The clean lines of a bobber are easily ruined by a poorly routed wiring loom so Arthur decided to keep cabling to a minimum. The cylindrical receptacle below seat contains the electrical gubbins whilst the battery is mounted directly to the frame utilising the negative terminal of the battery making the frame, the earth. Hidden from view by a beautifully crafted leather case. Thankfully electrical knowledge gained at school was enough to get the finished bike working reliably, although I’d wager he has a few spare jars of smoke that fell out of the loom during the testing stages.
Obviously we haven’t even come close to doing this bike the justice it deserves with this brief description of Arthur’s build process and the completed machine really warrants a closer inspection. Luckily we can do that from time to time when he pops into Bike Shed London but for those of you from far afield this is one young guy to follow.
Check his Facebook page for updates and more detailed photos of this bike.