Passion, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, is a noun used to describe a “strong and barely controllable emotion”. I find it to be an overused word. Often people refer to their passion for motorcycles, but I don’t buy it. Like, sure. Really enjoy, yup. Love, save that for your mum. A “barely containable emotion”, I think not.
In the world of customising motorcycles passion is easier to spot as it is genuinely uncontainable. Step into the right workshop and you’ll see loads of it, spilling off the bench and all over the floor. Meet the right builder and they’ll have some of it under their finger nails and dark shadows of it under their eyes. And that’s just the start, wait until they open their mouth, it’ll spray everywhere uncontrollably.
We became acquainted with Dan Thomas from Lion’s Den Motorcycles a couple of years ago and it was blindingly obvious that he is one of these people. Before we’d even met, passion had fallen out of Dan’s head and onto a keyboard. His first bike demonstrated that, straight out of the gate he had the eye for what should go where and how to put it there properly. Since that first build he’s worked tirelessly to try and carve himself and his company a niche in an incredibly crowded market.
Luckily then that in life’s scissor, paper, stones there’s a joker card that trumps them all. Yup, you get the idea.
Trying to produce a truly individual or innovative two wheeled design is next to impossible. Someone somewhere is likely to have already done it or at least a derivation of an original idea. If I was a customer ordering a motorcycle I’d obviously want to enjoy the ride but I’d also want to see the sweat and toil of the person asking for my hard earned cash. This endeavour needs to be evident in the parts bolted to what’s effectively an inanimate object.
Despite the challenge Dan has already found his feet, chosen a style and is sticking with it, which is a good thing as I’m not the only person who thinks he’s onto something. The last two Bike Shed London shows have yielded new customers for Lions Den along with a growing fan base, including the owner of this SR500.
Said owner had run into an incredibly unlucky patch. First he was knocked off the thing by a dozy car driver, shortly afterwards the bike was stolen, only to be found in a field with the fuel tank kicked in and the wiring ripped to pieces. Scrotes! Normal motorcycle garages wouldn’t take-on the repair work and the poor little SR nearly ended up on the eBay listed under projects. A visit here to the Bike Shed HQ turned things around, we’d given the chap a shortlist of decent London based custom shops and Lions Den was chosen for the SR. The brief was simple, “low and aggressive” leaving the rest up to Dan. The perfect customer!
With a fresh avenue for Dan to offload a few gallons of passion no time was wasted. Passenger carrying wouldn’t be required so the SR’s rear was unceremoniously lopped off. The squat subframe was rejoined with an incision made for the LED light cluster. A smidgen of hand-rolled mudguard pokes out beneath giving a bobber-esque feel to the otherwise brat-style rear. (Wow, what a wanky sentence – you get the gist though, its a lovely blend of styles).
With the frame de-tabbed and tidied, wheels stripped down and various engine covers removed the good people of Hi-spec Coatings in Sussex were called in to apply the various black finishes. Henry Ford’s famous quotation about colour, or lack of it, was thanks to Japanese black enamel being the only paint that would cure quick enough to allow for a switch from batch to line production. These days it seems that paint is passé, stove enamel kills unicorns in the rainforest and powder coating has become old hat. Cerakote is the new black. Harder than the drill used for drilling diamonds Cerakote is touted as the toughest of the ceramic coatings on the market.
It doesn’t chip like powder coat and the layering is more consistent than squirting powder at something and then melting it. It’s heat proof, doesn’t react with petrol and can protect parts with a coating just 20 microns thin. Dan decided to liberally incrust nearly everything in this snazzy technology as it is not only practical but archives a wonderful mid-sheen finish. Whilst at it the bottom of the fork stanchions received an application. Less expensive than nitriding and from here it looks pretty darn smart having black and chrome forks.
Ceramic coatings might be clever but for expansive objects like fuel tanks you can’t beat old school skill. Greg from Black Shuck Kustom is another one of those obsessive, passionate perfectionists who labours over the most intricate of details, a perfect match for Dan. Gold pinstripes over deep gloss black is a classic and classy choice but what isn’t obvious in these shots is the super-fine dusting of gold in the top coat. Under the right light the tank takes on an enchanting shimmer.
The SR’s half-litre single is a pretty bomb proof power plant but needs a little tickling to realise its full potential. A rebuilt and rejetted carb sucks through a K&N filter and bellows through a wonderfully formed stainless exhaust. Dan’s handiwork of course. And he assures us that there’s a small baffle in there, just to take the edge off.
With the matching gold thread running along the newly upholstered seat, light was just visible at the end of the tunnel. Or was it. It was then that Dan embarked on the enjoyable but painstaking job of making this bike a Lions Den Motorcycle.
Rather than raid the Rizoma catalogue Dan decided to make life hard for himself and fashion a bunch of the controls from scratch. The footpegs, kick start, brake pedal and gear shift have been turned from mild steel bar, knurled and then carefully ground down to a neat, radiused end. With the R&D nearly completed prior to this build, Cub 003 now features parts that will be available to order through the LDM website.
The indicators up front are tiny LEDs set into brass housings, mounted to the signature steel bar arrangement, held together by some pretty neat welding. I had a good poke around of this bike and it’s these little intricacies that I hope the owner appreciates. I’m sure Dan is a very efficient worker but I’ll bet the farm on him having only invoiced for a small portion of the time it took to make these, preferring to do the job right than go to bed on that particular night.
As if the lights weren’t enough Dan has designed a range of handsome looking switchgear, which will available to order very soon. The body is machined from aluminium and in this case Cerakoted before inserting solid brass momentary switches, all controlled by the clever little black, chewing gum sized flasher relay by Motogadget.
With all the parts back at Lions Den HQ Dan set about assembling everything in time for Bike Shed London 2016. Early on the setup day the last few bolts secured the remaining handmade accoutrements and Cub 003 was wheeled into Tobacco Dock to be displayed alongside the cream of the U.K. custom scene. Justifiably the bike garnered accolade and compliment that more than made up for all the late nights and sacrifice.
Passion has got bugger-all to do with money, in fact being passionate about building bikes is a near sure-fire way to ensure that you’ll never have any of the stuff. Being able to stand back, content that you’ve built something to be proud of, that’s something money can’t buy.
What money buy though is a Lions Den Motorcycle, but get in quick, Dan’s order book is getting thicker.
Stunning photography by Autohouse London