There can’t be many things as polarising as custom motorcycles, one man’s marmite is another’s elixir but whether you’re in agreement with someone’s taste-o-meter or not there can be no denying achingly gorgeous craftsmanship when it’s as obvious as this semi-naked yet fully-sexy Ducati. deBolex Engineering hit the new wave scene running with a succession of particularly well turned-out CB750 brats but it soon became clear that founder and frontman Calum Pryce-Tydd was determined to not to be seen as a one trick pony and pushed himself to learn new skills and develop those already being exercised.
It’s a brave man who in such a competitive climate turns down work to pursue more challenging projects, not simply for financial gain (we all know that actually earning a crust building custom motorcycles is harder than learning Cantonese) but to prove to himself that tenacity and dedication can yield fantastic results. OK, so it sounds like I really want to be on the deBolex Christmas card list but those close to the London custom scene will be in agreement that it’s been a pleasure to watch a young lad stick two fingers up at conservatism, roll his sleeves up, get grubby and come out shining.
It would be hugely unfair though to let Calum take all the glory for the run of gorgeous bikes rolling out of deBolex’s Croydon HQ. Master upholsterer and fabricator Des Francis has been onboard from the early days and quietly shares the burden of a weighty workload. We’ve hung out with the guys and seen them at work and it’s obvious that their talents compliment each other, with the net beneficiaries not only being the customer but also us and anyone else looking at these photos. Sketches and elaborate renders aren’t a precursor to what you see here, the shapes and lines are in Calum’s head, often to the frustration of Des, who hasn’t yet mastered telepathy.
Right, enough smoke blowing, what about the bike. Well, a discerning and knowledgeable customer approached Calum with a simple brief, he wanted a deBolex bike and it had to be Italian, that was it. We like customers like Gerry as it’s open minded people like him that allow talent to grow. Gerry was clear though that he didn’t want to spend budget unnecessarily on turning a sow’s ear into a silk purse so Calum was forced to search far and wide to find a decent donor. Decent in the metal, not just the advert description as is so often the case! A few wasted trips later and a low milage 749S was collected from Lincolnshire and laid bare on the deBolex bench. With the bodywork removed the extent of the previous owner’s fastidious maintenance regime became evident, allowing Calum and Des to concentrate on the customising part of the job.
Without a plan for full-on bodywork to hide the uglier components that make a motorcycle work the guys were going to have to get creative with the Ducati’s hiding places. As it turned out Calum’s favourite part of the build is the bellypan. The left side contains the electrics, the oil cooler remains in the middle but set back slightly with the exhaust header for the front cylinder running along the right hand side.
Attention then turned to the fuel tank, often the customiser’s nemesis with Ducati builds. The trellis frame might be lovely to look at but it’s a pig to mate to a tank. The steep slope and wide structure running down from the headstock nearly always upsets the visual balance and weird angles end up happening. The answer here was to embrace the Bolognan beauty and her sturdy structure by shrouding the awkward part with a super-wide tank.
A wooden buck was cut, shaped and shaped again until the guys were happy with the silhouette before an arduous couple of days of pushing and pulling aluminium sheet through the english wheel. Fabricating the base was a relatively simple process by comparison as the fuel pump and airbox were to be left stock but joining the two sides and top to the base took nearly as long as all the rest of the shaping combined. Filler is a dirty word in the deBolex workshop so I’d imagine many a late night was had trying to weld and coax the aluminium into place.
A stock 749 has an extenuated kick-up at the rear of the subframe to clear the huge silencers so with this obstacle negated by leaving them off altogether a much simpler and flatter subframe could be made and bolted to the main trellis. The tail and seat is of course aluminium but what isn’t evident from these photos is how neat the unit looks once the Alcantara seat pad is removed, which is worth pointing out is held in by just one, cleverly located fastener. Just in case the Power Commander requires dialling into a track mode. Des doesn’t let Calum near the sewing machine and rightly so, I haven’t seen stitching that neat on a factory bike! A small Shorai lithium battery lives in the tail for easy trickle charge access.
The simplest looking parts are always the hardest things to make and the diminutive nose fairing was a challenge for even the most talented of metalworkers. A small steel frame holds the nose and clocks in place but to say its tight fit is an understatement. A Motogadget tacho and radiator header tank hogged so much space that Calum had to have a FaceTime chat with Gerry to see how if he really planned to ride the bike at night. It was decided that a daytime MOT would be a perfectly acceptable compromise in exchange for the unique looks. Nice one Gerry, good choice.
I’d tried to bend Calum’s ear into having a bespoke radiator made in a bid to make it disappear but he had other ideas, thank goodness. He painstakingly fabricated shrouds for each side, cloaking the end tanks for a near seamless fit. From what I hear the workshop swear jar was overflowing the week these were made.
Both Calum and Des have backgrounds in paint as well and bodywork so it no surprise that the finish is not only brilliant but the colour choice too. Gerry fancied a particular Porsche blue and Calum had seen a light grey GT40 tear around Goodwood a couple of weeks before the bodywork was complete so they settle on this combo. An inspired choice, up close the two-tone scheme highlights the prototypal nature of the build. And seeing as a headlight hadn’t been invited to mess up the Ducati’s appearance a nice big racing roundel, in Ermine white, carries the company logo.
Bike Shed Paris 2016 was already booked and the guys had burnt more than their fair share of midnight oil in a bold attempt to have five bikes show-ready. Calum recalls: “With all the components back from the powder coaters and all the panels painted we were like kids in a toyshop, eager to reassemble the bike and see how it looked. With hours to spare but not yet run and no brakes we jumped in the van and headed for Paris. It was a huge sigh of relief and a moment of reflection to see the Ducati sitting on the plinth at the Bike Shed event along with 2 other new builds and 2 previous ones.”
Once back on home turf the Ducati was fully serviced with new belts and whisked off for an ear splitting session on the rolling road to ensure it ran as fast as it looked. The chap at the tuning house foolishly asked about the lack of silencers, Calum grinned “Why? Because its sounds awesome!” He’s not wrong, we were treated to a brief run at our Shoreditch HQ last week – my ears are still bleeding and Dutch now looks at me blankly when I speak.
When I mentioned that the owner of this Ducati is discerning, I meant really discerning. He owns the Max Hazan Ducati Monster, yes the sensationally pointy one, and a certain Shinya Kimura is working on an MV Agusta for delivery later this summer, which will be parked next to this deBolex. It might be bold mentioning them all in the same breath but we expect to see even greater things from Calum & Des now that this Ducati has drawn a thick, deep line in the sand.
Images by Autohouse London