Shed built. That used to be a phrase excusing a hobbyist tinkerer from achieving acceptable levels of fit and finish, or perhaps striking for aesthetic brilliance yet sending their curveball straight into the woods. But that was then, and now the bar is so high that there must be a crust of ice forming on it’s edge. Pro-builders have upped their game accordingly and those inspired by what they see at events, shows and online continue to blow us away with their ingenuity and good old fashioned craftsmanship.
One such shed dweller is Steve Robson, an electrical contractor from Northumberland who’s been working on bikes for years. Well, that’s not the whole story and Steve’s shed isn’t a normal one with a knackered Flymo gathering cobwebs in the corner.
Steve’s other business is breaking bikes and retailing the parts though his online shop, meaning the end of the garden is a treasure trove of hard-to-find components and bits needed by folk across the land to keep their bikes running. You know what that means, yup, Steve built himself a bitsa, but not a scrap yard rat rod, instead this outstanding 1978 Triumph T140V Scrambler. So, if you have every single copy of Nacelle Magazine, collated in leather-bound folders perhaps close this screen and enjoy images of a well restored classic elsewhere.
With the big half century looming Steve’s family suggest he buy himself a classic bike, instead of blowing all the cash on a party straight after Christmas. Wise advice. A 60s or 70s Desert Sled was on the wishlist but with Norton versions commanding a big ticket attentions turned to a T140V Bonneville on eBay that had been in hibernation since 1998. With a deal secured Steve did the right thing and equipped himself for the journey ahead, adding a lathe, pillar drill, grinding discs, Mig wire, AF spanners, UNF bolts to the shopping basket.
After many months of tool time and his family forgetting what he looked like, Steve wheeled out his two-wheeled endeavour and what cracking job he’s made of it. There’s so much to talk about hopefully I don’t miss anything out.
With the donor stripped and the unwanted bits sold it was time to make parts from other bikes not only fit but add their benefits of modernity to the equation. Being able to simply reach up to the shelf and see what looks right or could fit must have been as satisfying as it was time consuming, with the subsequent machining, turning, welding drilling in the quest for successful adaptation.
A set of Aprilia RXV 45mm Marzocchi forks were shortened to 190mm of travel, the same as the original Ceranis had in period. Larger diameter bearing caps were turned and welded into the headstock so as to accept beefier yokes, the set-up rolls on a 19″ Excel rim and Talon hub. Impressive stopping power comes from a Magura 4-pot radial calliper with mount and matching master cylinder and connected with custom Goodridge hoses. A Mitas trials tyre looks the business but might be superseded by more road biased rubber.
Out back a longer swingarm with eccentric adjusters was fabricated by Storik to Steve’s spec. He wanted big shocks at a relatively acute angle, reminiscent of the Honda XL250 from the seventies. Maxton made a one-off set of adjustable shockers especially for the project, which have been through a few spring rates options to ensure a plush but firm ride. The rear hub is the stock T140 unit with an 18″ Morad rim, black anodised to match the now re-anodised front rim, multiple shades of black never looks cool and as you have gathered by now, Steve doesn’t do things by halves. Skidding in the desert, or Kilder Forest, is thanks to a Yamaha R1 rear brake with shed-built hanger and torsion arm.
Right, that’s the bouncy and rubby bits covered, now onto the revvy part.
The T140’s head was sent to Sky Classic Bikes to have the spigots re-threaded to suit T120 headers, whilst at it the valve seats were replaced and new valves and springs fitted. A quick rebore and new pistons would see the engine back together, nope, never that simple with old bikes is it. The rotor keyway on the crank was damaged so that was packed-off to SRM for a refurb. It came back dynamically balanced and sporting a new pair of rods, whoops. Vapour blasted cases, all new seals, gaskets etc were a must, as were new main bearings and an oil pump.
Before bolting everything back together T120 profile cams were added for an improved torque curve. Transmitting the power is taken care of by a Tony Haywood belt drive primary and clutch.
Initially fuel was to be dispensed by an Indian made tank but once landed at the painters a call came in to say that the rougher than a badger arse finish would take more man hours than it was worth to put right, so with “Buy Cheap, buy twice” resonating in his head, Steve listed the vessel on eBay and commissioned a British craftsman to hammer-out a handsome shape.
Mixing said fuel with air was a task trialled on a brace of Wassel carbs, Amal copies. Despite multiple runs, disassembly and fine tuning there was rarely a time when both cylinders united in harmony, so off came the imposters and Amals fitted. The motor sings freely, idles smoothly and is a joy to ride. Steve has tried to utilise new components manufactured to replicate those from days gone by but after the carbs, tank, a clutch hub and a myriad of other parts there’ll be a different strategy for future builds.
Anyone who’s owned a Brit classic will concur that wiring is a definite Achilles heel, added to which Steve wanted lights with luminosity that wasn’t rpm dependant. A 3-phase stator, rotor and regulator rectifier take care of charging whilst a small lithium battery provides plenty of power. And for additional reliability and performance an electronic ignition replaced the points and condenser setup and a twin output coil was mounted under the tank.
Now Steve sounds like my sort of guy, he hates cable ties. Instead, over 50 round nuts were carefully welded to the frame so that P-clips could be used to grip the brand new loom, a shed-built braided and one of course. Unfortunately Steve let himself down not once but twice, there are apparently two cable ties on the finished bike. They are hidden, but that’s not the point. Steve, hang your head in shame.
In a bid to redeem himself Steve shared a shed secret for persuading wires down the LSL Flat Track bars. A guide cotton thread was sucked along the tube and out through the tiny switchgear holes courtesy of a vacuum cleaner. That sounds better than twirling welding wire around with cable taped to the end, so we’ll forgive his lazy double misdemeanour.
The seat pan is from the shed, as was the battery tray and mudguard brackets. If you need a set of the latter perhaps give Steve a shout, the ones fitted here are version six, the previous one’s not quite reaching the aforementioned icy bar of standards. Saddle Craft not only upholstered the seat but also took care of the powder coating. Rather than powder, the T120 exhausts and Biltwell Canon silencers were ceramic coated.
Not a fan of the highway-esque, feet forward position of pegs on the stock frame, mounts were moved backwards for a more modern and natural position, especially important with the now taller stance that Steve compares to the ergonomics of a KTM 990 Adventure. Happy with not only the riding position but the build as a whole Steve has notched up nearly 1000 miles so far and plans to exhibit the bike at various shows this summer, we just wish he hadn’t taken so long being perfectionist, then he could have ridden down for Bike Shed London in May and share the fruits of his labour.
I built my first custom scrambler from a near 50 year old donor although it starts first or second kick, the thought of taking it green laning fills me with dread. Shiny bits can be repainted and leather stitched-up but it’s the riding along waiting for something to break that saps the enjoyment and willingness to keep the throttle wide open. This bike should suffer no such pampered future.
Steve has well and truly surpassed his own brief and not only built a unique bike but acquired invaluable knowledge and enjoyment in the process. His family might have regretted the initial suggestion of solitary confinement in the shed for most of this year, but we don’t. For us, stories about discovery and adventure whilst getting one’s hands dirty and simply having a go are why the Bike Shed was born in the first place, and we can’t wait to see what Steve builds next.
Photos by Critical Tortoise Photography