Customising a bike, where do you start? Well, the Bike Shed is a pretty good shout. We can talk the hind leg off an iron donkey and relish the prospect of welcoming a rider to the not so new wave scene. Sebastian, one of our founder members started picking our brains last year about which bike to buy and who should customise it for him. We had a few beers, threw some ideas around and shared our experiences of the trials and tribulations of taking a perfectly good motorcycle apart in the name of aesthetic enhancement.
Fairly early on Sebastian saw sense and realised that there’s no such thing as one bike for all occasions so he settled on one all-out custom and something stock for banging around on. At least that’s how he’s sold it to himself, I can’t see the second bike staying standard for long. But back to the stunner you see here.
One of our neighbours rolls around on a gorgeous W800 which was partially inspired by Dutch’s foray into the world of neo-retro Kawasakis. Dutch’s own W provided a firsthand insight into the pitfalls awaiting the ambition to blend old and new. More on that later. Suffice to say that Sebastian fell for the classic looks of Kawasaki’s bevel-drive twin and its more unique place in the bike park amongst an array of Hinckley derived machinery.
The obstacle for us though is recommending a custom builder. It’s all too easy to band names around and if things don’t go according to plan ending up with egg on your face is annoying but treatable, a disgruntled friend less so. We’ve longstanding relationships with loads of folk, from sole traders in sheds to global manufacturers but it’s not just about the end product, the customising experience is just as important. Sebastian works long hours in London and wanted a hands-on approach to his dream build, even if that meant juggling ideas and thoughts rather than tools.
deBolex Engineering are no strangers to these pages or our Shoreditch venue. The company’s founder Calum is a savvy chap and is fully aware that for those who work in the big glass towers behind our meagre railway arches there’s rarely such thing as a lunch break, let alone a quick bit of welding over a Pret sandwich. Calum’s ability to put together a great bike is never in question but he also knows how to hold someone’s hand and lead them through the custom build process, making it a simple yet rewarding experience. The fact that the HQ is only a short train or bike ride away means he can zip up to the ‘Shed, chin a burger with a customer, run through the options and be back in the workshop to discuss the project with right-hand-man Des before the end of the day is a real string to the deBolex bow.
Rather than try to break new ground and enter a game of custom oneupmanship Sebastian and Calum settled on channeling the budget into a subtle build with a focus on finish and ultimate reliability. After a quick call to a Kawasaki main dealer a brand new 2105 W800 was unloaded at deBolex’s Croydon workshop, where it sat for about five minutes before Calum and Des had stripped the thing down.
Extravagance wasn’t invited to this party os each component to be re-fitted to the finished bike needed to earn its place. The engine is already a stunning piece of mechanical art and with just the slightest of exterior fettling can confuse most into thinking it’s half a century older. The fuel tank though is a different proposition. deBolex’s previous W800 ran a debadged stock tank and looked fantastic but Sebastian wanted a slightly sleeker line and a noticeable point of difference over the original bike. Having heard Dutch’s regret at fitting a tiny Yamaha SR tank to his Kawasaki tracker the decision was made to be slightly cautious. Keeping it in the family a KZ750 tank was chosen and the grafting of old to new could begin.
Rather than run external fuel pumps and try to recalibrate fuel level thermistors Calum and Des chopped the standard pump, fuel level sender and cap out of the donor tank and grafted it carefully into the voluminous KZ unit. Apparently it was a major ball ache but well worth the effort as the ECU is none the wiser and fuel reserve is similar to stock so Sebastian can nonchalantly ride passed a petrol station, perhaps a few if he’s feeling daring.
Not wanting to compromise on steering lock the new fuelling setup was mounted slightly further back than the original mounts allowed which has the added benefit of an uninterrupted view of the gorgeous black and dark bronze paintwork. Or is it metallic brown? For goodness sake don’t ask Calum if you see him, from what we gather Sebastian wasn’t exactly spontaneous when it came to colour choice. But who can blame him. By the time I’d chosen the flat blue for my first build the tank had nearly rusted through. The cogitation was valid and warranted in my book, the result is resplendent and whether you’re an admirer of brown or not, Sebastian’s bike looks the nuts up close. The pin stripe is cream by the way. It looks like Old English White to me but I dare not make such a statement in person.
The other area that can put some people off the W is the slightly trapezoidal subframe that kicks-up at the back, try and work around this feature at your peril. It’s so wide ahead of the shock mounts that most efforts just end up looking goofy. Des did the right thing and lopped the tubes off, leaving Calum with the job of welding new seat rails and supports. With Des’ laser-neat stitching, in brown of course, on the black vinyl seat the whole top line flows beautifully, punctuated at the rear by a notched-in yellow stop light. A single stainless steel pin locates and fixes the rear of the seat allowing quick and easy access to the inner workings beneath.
There’s a surprising amount of electrickery entwined around the Kawasaki’s frame and there aren’t many hiding places. Suspending the new lithium battery below the swingarm certainly helps as Calum wanted a layout that would allow easy access for maintenance. Wiring wizard Will from London Motorcycle Wiring had the mind boggling task of remaking the loom, incorporating Motogadget’s M-unit and persuading the octopus of cables, control units and fuses into a slimline box beneath the seat. There’s also a Power Commander installed to make sure the ECU doesn’t capitulate to bogus emissions regulations. A new ignition and fuelling map was uploaded to maximise the potential of the under-stressed parallel twin now running a pair of pod filters and free-flowing stainless exhaust. If you haven’t heard one of these W800s uncorked, then you’re missing out. There’s definitely something classic-bike in the tone accompanied by a pleasant whir from the gear driven valvetrain and with a few more ponies on tap the motor now spins-up with more vigour.
Zorsts have become a bit of a speciality for Calum. As he’s a bit of a neat freak (slight understatement) and endeavours to put most of the work into neat cuts and joints, therefore needing little or no filler rod when welding the whole lot together. In fact, the more time you spend looking over the bike as a whole the more impressed I am with a deBolex turned-out machine. If you like ratty, rough or patinated you’d better order a bike from somewhere else.
With a bunch of weight shed and extra pep in its step it seemed a shame to hinder Sebastian’s riding experience with a rubberised style statement. The overall style is a melange of street tracker, brat and scrambler but a set of semi-knobblies would have landed the finished product way over towards a particular aesthetic. Again Sebastian was thorough with his research and wanted a sporty option that still looked classic. Avon Roadriders have a subdued tread pattern, a nice rounded shoulder and clean sidewall – perfect.
Hagon did the honours with the wheels, swapping the 19″ front to an 18″ for better stance and a slightly more nimble feel. The original hubs were powdercoated black to match the new matt black rims. The front brake is stock and I love the solid centre to the floating disc carrier, shaves years off the looks.
Seeing as the whole process had been a family affair from start to finish a proper effort was made for the bike handover and inaugural ride. Sebastian and his actual family headed to Bicester Heritage in Oxfordshire where lensman extraordinaire Tom Horna was waiting to shoot the bike. Bicester is a gentrified RAF base and therefore has private runway, perfect for testing one’s new pride and joy.
To say that Sebastian is pleased is a true understatement, he’s a regular at the Bike Shed and always arrives beaming like a kid with a new toy. He rides his W800 in all weathers, has piled on some miles and couldn’t be happier with the result. And without wanting to over egg an already proved pudding, everyone that sees the bike parked-up can’t help but take a step back and hold a rather long admiring glance. We just need to find out in which jacket pocket he leaves the keys.
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Photography by Autohouse London