An encounter with a police bike often does not end well with anyone. However this particular encounter was much more pleasing than the rest. One of the facts that helped with the process was that this particular police bike was on retirement. However when I mean retirement, I do not mean lying about in a shed somewhere; it has been given a new lease in life with a makeover to help suit the lifestyle.
Now in a country where vehicle prices are off the roof, people often value their wheels regardless of make, age or style. So as you may imagine, a “barn find” here is almost never heard of! However to almost everyone’s shock, Muditha (builder of the epic bug from ISSUE 1 of T&T) discovered a pair of retired Police Yamaha XS 650 –Euro Spec. With the regulations on bikes above 250cc highly moderated and the global surge for vintage customizable bikes, finds like these remain heavily sought after here in Sri Lanka.
Before we get into the makings of the “Knuckleduster”, let’s talk about customization and custom culture. Motorcycle customization dates back to as early as the early 30s to when people used to cut off sections of their factory Harley Davidson’s in order to be more visually aspiring. However motorcycle customization really came to life in the early 50s with the burst of the “Hot Rod” culture. In the USA, builders were keen on the bobbers and choppers whereas over the pond in the UK, it was all about café racers whose motive was to lose as much weight and clock the fastest time between cafes. At the other end of the world, in Japan, builders were more enticed by the extreme aesthetic modifications which gave birth to the Bo-So-Zoku and the more tasteful, Street fighter style customization. Amongst these major customization cultures, there were other cultures such as Rat Bikes, Scramblers, Brat style etc which took some time to hit the limelight.
So what is Brat style?
The roots of this particular bike customization culture can be traced down to one custom bike builder in Tokyo called Go Takamine who runs the world renowned Brat Style custom shop. Takamine was known for a very popular body style that was eventually copied globally and this particular style of build was eventually named Brat Style. As they say, Imitation is the greatest form of flattery and the greatest rendition of this is when a whole genre custom motorcycles lands under this umbrella of “Brat Style”. Much like how the term “Jeep” is actually a brand of SUVs as opposed to a type of vehicle however the brand is so distinctive and strong enough to own the space which eventually leads to generations creating a genre under the particular brand name.
What exactly defines a Brat Style build?
The essence of a brat style build is rather simple. A custom bike based on a soft tail frame with a flat one piece seat long enough to seat two obtained via minor rear frame modifications. The rest of the bike does not go under severe change. Dirt or Mini Ape handlebars go upfront coupled with bobbed fenders (Mudguards) and tastefully reduced chrome and fairings. It’s a rather simple recipe that Takamine followed for all his bikes however over time; this style has been through several evolutions with Brat builds today seeing the likes lowered solo seats on a flat frame that is duck tailed upwards with a Café Racer-esque end as opposed to the conventional single long seat capable of seating two.
A majority of motorcycle enthusiast often have the vision for their build however do not possess the expertise, time and equipment to bring these creation to life. It is in situations as such when they enlist a fabrication centre or bike shop to take care of the whole builds with the end objective of customizing the bike to match the image that one might have in their head.
Viraj however decided to build the bike completely at home with the assistance of his trusty father in law. One of the reasons why Viraj opted for the XS650 as opposed to Honda’s mighty upper CB range or the more cliché Harleys was that the frame and tank in itself did not need extensive modification thus helping preserve the structural integrity.
As Viraj put it, custom bikes are an extension of the rider’s personality and the style of customization really shows the true mindset of the builder whether it be a builders, painters, tinkerers, fabricators, artists, engineers or just dreamers with a vision of what their ultimate machine should be. Many argue that the true essence of bike customization is much like traditional hot-rodding where the owner creates the piece of art on wheel in his or hers garage with whatever tools and parts they have at their disposal as opposed to taking it to a shop and getting it done for you. Something you may realize at this point is that Viraj had a clear map on how he wanted the build to go which meant there was heavy prior research leading to fewer alterations during the process.
If you were to stare at the side profile of this machine, the first thing you would appreciate is how well proportionate the bike looks with clear lines of flow and stunning symmetry right throughout. In order to achieve this, Viraj replaced the stock 19 inch front rim with the 18 inch rim from the rear wheel of the bike. He had the inch smaller rim bound to the factory hub which helped keep the process simple. The rear wheel was then replaced with an 18 inch wheel off a Honda XR Baja hence allowing the uniformity when it comes to the side profile. As the bike was on the path to be a Brat, it was only right that the bike lost both the front and rear fender aiding the minimalistic look. The frame was lowered as well with slightly shorter rear shocks and the front forks slipping in 1 and half inches into the triple trees. The stock handle bars which were more classic ape styled bars were swapped for a more aggressive handlebar that came off a Honda XR Baja as well. This handlebar is slightly lower and wider giving the rider a better stance and more control over the front end of the bike. The Headlight and signal lights all around were swapped for an aftermarket matte blacked out billet aluminum set giving it a more sinister look and giving essence to the name Knuckleduster. What is further unique about this set up is that the smoked rear signal lights are set up on the swing arm of the bike making it almost invisible amongst the other hardware around until the light is actually turned on.
The most definitive and crucial part of the build was the centre section. Viraj started by having the frame “de-tabbed” by grinding off all the unnecessary holders and loops. The next step was to then retrofit a custom-built iconic brat style long seat with the low sponge and the vintage cross stitched pattern to compliment the lines of the bike. The other modification that made a world of a difference was that he relocated the battery from under the seat to a custom built aluminum battery box on the swing arm as a result creating the much desired empty space in the middle of the bike. This space perfectly put in view the dual carburetor system of the bike paired with 2 cone pod filters. To complete the transformation, the frame, swing arm and the lower half of the suspension were painted gloss black. The engine, exhausts, rims and all the other accessories of the bike were either painted matte black or powder coated maintain the uniformity all around. The stock tank was repainted a retro matte military green which really brings its curves to life and compliments the rest of the predominantly black bike. It is safe to say that the bike ended up looking like an absolute stunner and certainly shows how research and planning with a clear build map can help achieve tremendous results in customization.
The Knuckleduster not only looks the part, it certainly sounds and feels the part as well. Viraj stated that he calls the project “Knuckleduster” as his intention was to create a bike that would be stripped to the bare minimum however being able to “pack a punch”. He also claimed that “this was never planned to be about polished chrome and bespoke parts” however it is safe to say that the bike looks an absolute stunner and is guaranteed to catch your eye when it is on the road. It is not only the looks of the bike that would grab your attention though; it is also the rumble of the 650cc Yamaha engine from the eighty that is sure to catch your interest.
It is no myth that riding an elderly cruiser bike that is heavy on the road is a completely different sensation to riding a modern lightened cruiser with several technologically advanced elements that tend to make the ride easier. The Knuckleduster certainly does fall under the category of a Dinosaur in comparison to modern bikes of the same class such as the new Triumph scrambler and that is not necessarily a bad thing. Viraj explains the feeling of riding the bike as “The bikes let you know that you are straddling a big chunk of metal. It’s definitely not a nimble bike that you understand as soon as you take it off the stand. Kick starter needs a fair bit of leg work and the rumble on start up sends enough feedback up the seat and into your spine to wake you right up. The engine has heaps of torque at the low end and the bike can pick up speed without you even realizing it.” Furthermore, modifications such as the Baja handlebars which are wider and lower that the stock handlebars feel perfect for the bike as it gives the rider a more commanding position which assists you in taking control of this beast.
With lots of manufacturers putting out bikes like the Triumph Street Cup, BMW R nine T Racer, Ducati Scrambler Café spec etc, we wanted to know which other bike other than the iconic Triumph Bonneville Bobber, what other factory bike Viraj would like to own. His response came to me as quite a surprise as he was rather keen on the Confederate X132 Hellcat, which is a bike that falls neither here nor there in terms of genre however is certainly is in the naked bike class which is known for is extensive aggressive styling that scream ‘MURICA! and it’s monster 2100cc V Twin engine.However if he was to walk away with custom bike built by one of the finest custom shops, just as I would, he too would walk away with a Murdered out Yamaha VMAX such as the one made by JVB Moto in Germany for the VMAX’s 30th Anniversary.
Then again, flashback to reality and the Knuckleduster is sure to entice you just as much as some of the finest custom builds. For that, I congratulate and thank Viraj and his father in law for putting this deserving beast back on the Lankan roads.
Words: Hisham Samsudeen
Images: R2: Studios
A Big Thank You to: Viraj M Perera