Let’s build a bobber

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I’ve wanted to build a custom bike since I chopped my first bicycle at 12 (…more on that here). Now, 48 years later, I’m finally getting around to it.

What took so long, and why now? I don’t have a good answer to the first part. Too busy grinding away at boring jobs? Lack of space? Performance anxiety? Take your pick.

I do know the answer to the second part—why now? As I mentioned here, a couple of years ago I started taking apart old bikes and selling the parts on eBay. I thought I could just make a little money on the side, but mostly I wanted to tinker on old bikes. Looking for old unloved bikes to cut up brought back memories of my early riding days. I rediscovered a fondness for old Jap bikes and old Jap muscle bikes like the CBs, KZs, XSs and GSs. Reasonably priced bikes that were bullet-proof.

At that point I was also sick of seeing all the $20K+ bikes coming on the market, most of them aimed at people who ‘dream’ about riding and think it would somehow make them cool, but in reality just keep their expensive toy (or toys) in the garage gathering dust.

At the risk of sounding really old, when I started riding in the 60s, there were no $25K Harleys sitting in ultramodern showrooms. My local HD dealer was basically an old barn ‘converted’ into a garage that closed around the time AMF bought HD. A lot of guys in my area had HDs. They were inexpensive, as best I remember. In ’74, my bud bought a 1972 HD from a classmate and still had that same bike when he passed away a few years ago.

In this neck of the woods, the motorcycle scene is way different now than it was back in the day. Bikes weren’t popular with the average Joe or Jane back then. So, you either knew, kinda knew, or knew of most everyone who rode in the area. Waving wasn’t a ‘thing.’ You waved because, like I said, you knew the other rider. In this area, Jap bikes didn’t garner much respect from the locals…but they were faster.

The Dirtbag Challenge

A few weeks ago, I stumbled on a site called the Dirtbag Challenge. A guy named Poll Brown and some friends were hanging out in their shop in a gritty barrio of the San Francisco Bay area, lamenting what they were seeing on the tube—the big-bucks build-offs. They thought:

“Why couldn’t we do something just as good, more fun, and much cheaper—like build a chopper in two weeks for under five hundred?”

ThDirtbagat was the first Challenge 12 years ago, and it produced four bikes, three of which ran. They did it again a year later and had six bikes. When the limits were increased to a month and $1,000, the event took off.

The rules are simple but not easy: Build a motorcycle in a month’s time, for under a grand, and ride it 90 miles. No Harleys allowed. If you want the behind-the-scenes look, check out their film at Choppertown (on download or DVD).

After telling my wife about the site, she said we had to watch the movie. I think she knew that would get the fire going again, and it did. Not to do the Dirtbag Challenge—since I’m on the East Coast and trying to do it in 30 days would probably send me to the hospital—but to finally build my own bobber, regardless of how long it takes. She’s tired of hearing me talk about it all these years while she’s trying to get some sleep. She works the night shift.

My B.Y.O.B. Challenge

In my world, B.Y.O.B. not only stands for Build Your Own Bobber, but also Be Your Own Boss. Taking charge and doing your own thing in your own way. At some point, the bullshit in life falls away, you stop giving a crap about doing the conventional thing, and you get down to business…building a bad bike. So my goal is to build a bobber-style motorcycle from a 1984 Kawasaki ZN1100 LTD using basic tools and a minimum amount of welding in my garage. That’s it. Keeping it simple.

There are a million ways to B.Y.O.B. The idea is to make it your own, so don’t put too much weight on how I’m doing it. This is just one way. I’m not a mechanic, engineer or fabricator; just someone who likes to ride and wants to build a bobber.

Maybe what I do can give you some ideas or a little fuel to finally do your own build too. That would be great. If nothing else, though, you might get some good laughs as I fumble make my way through the project. Let’s get started.

Next: What to look for in a project motorcycle

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