Shanghai Customs GN250
By James McCombe - 10 Nov 14
I presume the Chinese equivalent of the Highway Code is a simple document. From my time there I recall seeing just one 'rule of the road' as such. That appeared to be: Try not to crash into anyone else, if you can. Everything else was handled in a take-it-or-leave-it kind of way. Yet strangely, for the most part it seemed to work; the number of accidents falling way below the expected amount considering the incoherent way the traffic flows through the blue neon lit roads. Be it getting t-boned by an electric scooter, wrestling for lane superiority with one of the numerous VW Jetta taxis or avoiding the random sink holes, a trip through Shanghai can be classed as anything but dull. To do so on a motorbike sends the experience into videogame squeeky-bum-Russian-roulette levels of excitement. In many of China's urban areas, large capacity bikes are banned in a futile attempt to reduce congestion and smog in city centres. If you want a bike bigger than 250cc in Shanghai, you need a bundle of cash and some seriously good Guanxi to get the requisite documents for a non-domestic bike. So it's best to just go with the flow, accept the laws and take advantage of the joy of small capacity travel. You'll soon realise 250cc is more than enough for the city, perfect for a bimble up the Bund and back in time for some Jasmine tea. The custom scene, having breached the Great Wall, is finding builders braving the roads and dodging the rules to produce some fresh new customs in China's largest city. Matthew, an ex-pat from New Zealand living in Shanghai, got into motorbikes while on holiday in the Philippines. Upon returning to China, he'd found his scooter had, ironically, been Shanghaied so he decided a bike was a far better idea. In Matthew's own words, it was a piece of crap, so he started investigating doing some custom work on it. This seemed to go well and he started getting requests to buy it. One thing led to another, the day job was soon dispensed with and Shanghai Customs was born. A year and a half later, Matthew and his crew have found their feet and are growing quicker than the city around them. For this build a 1998 example of the venerable Suzuki GN250 was sourced and a plan was formed. More power, less weight, exaggerate the classic form, yet retain the every-day function. Unafraid to dig deep, the engine had a thorough going over. Over-bored to 300cc for a bit more oomph, the rockers, cams, valves and cam-chain were all replaced. Checking over the gearbox, all seemed fine but a new clutch was put in ensuring the bike can handle the stop-start traffic. New Mikuni carbs with pod filters were fitted and jetted to suit and the whole lot breathes out through a slim reverse-cone exhaust, grafted onto the black wrapped 2-1 down pipes. The frame was stripped back, looped and cleaned up. The kink to the rear end giving suspension clearance and enough room for a pillion. The sleek electrics box built between the frame rails houses the CDI, Reg/Rec and assorted relays, while the battery is housed in a separate box, easily accessible just above the swingarm . It's worth noting that nearly all the electrics on the bike have been replaced. From the alternator and starter motor to the lighting system, the whole lot has been replaced. The ignition has been relocated next to the riders knee and the the rider is provided with not only a new analogue speedo but a digital gear indicator in a custom mount as well. The diamond stitch seat was built upon a custom pan and provides a generous amount of cushion. Wrapped in genuine bovine hide Matthew was considering perhaps using gold thread to pick out the paint but settled for black. Custom mudguards are minimalist but practical, the rear guard suspended from the swingarm to avoid an unwanted badger stripe on wet days. The tank and guards received a simple and sleek paint job, block white with silver panels highlighted by gold pinstriping and the Shanghai Customs logo. Chop Suey Cycles handled the painting detail as well as the coating of the engine in a high temperature finish. A number of small handmade touches adorn the bike. New foot controls provide solid standing and a classic sit-up-and-beg riding position. Picking out the pinstriping the gold oil filler cap also nestles in side of engine. While many of us enjoy a game of hide the indicators in a quest to streamline the looks of our bikes, I cannot blame Matthew for ensuring the winkers on the GN are as visible as possible, given the environment to be tackled. A bates light up front penetrates the city smog, and an LED rear keeps things clean: simple and effective. 18 inch Duro tyres wrap the powdercoated wheels at either end; 120 at the front and 130 at the rear give a nice chunky profile for the uncertain streets. While the suspension is standard, a check over deemed all was well so front gators were added to look after the stanchions. A brake upgrade has improved stopping performance, the bike is now fitted with a Frando disc and modified caliper mount to accept the larger diameter rotor. By all accounts the bike is a hoot to ride around city streets and the Shanghai Customs guys will be sorry to see her go. The photos, taken by Matthew as well, show it to it's very best and I don't imagine it will be long before it finds a new home. Matthew is still developing the Shanghai Customs website but it will be in rude health soon. It's certainly going to be a busy year for the guys with some interesting projects in the pipeline. Next on the cards is an SR400, ready to go in the workshop. After that Shanghai Customs will be stepping into unknown waters developing and building their own bike from scratch using Chinese power-plants and looking to export them. A new build, clean sheet Cafe or Tracker at an affordable price? Sounds good to us.