“I need a good café racer for under $7,500,” was the request from “Café Racer” TV’s Executive Producer, Chet Burks. The man had a plan to present the bike as a door prize at Discovery HD Theater’s rebrand to Velocity. The network has been pumping up “Café Racer” like a supercharged dragbike and this would be a great way to give something back to the folks that make it happen. Sure, there are a few machines in the Café Racer magazine stable that we could be persuaded to release for that kind of money – and let’s face it – when you’re infected with the custom bike building bug, garage space is always at a premium. We gave Chet a better idea – “Buy a stock Triumph Bonneville T-100 and we’ll do it up in the three days we have left before the launch party.”
As magazine people do when faced by deadlines, we make promises, then decide later if we can actually meet them. Usually, we do. For this project, I needed to muster the troops–fast. The stock Bonnie was located at Atlanta’s WOW Motorcycles, where a low mileage, 2010 model was found with only 1,500 miles on the clocks. The shop promised a 48 hour delivery to our Pittsburgh-area garage, which left just enough time to call in chief tech and road tester Blake Kelly and his sidekick, Zac Leroy, a man who can do things with vinyl that even its inventors never imagined. The wacky, and quite controversial, H.N.I.C. Racing Ducati 999 custom sportbike that I’d once built in the pages of Motorcyclist Magazine – yes, the one with KFC, Trojan Magnum and Miller High Life livery – was Zac’s idea and he’s since delivered several more sportbikes and café customs decorated in funky, irreverent decal kits.
The Bonneville, upon spotting it, would require a different approach, Zac and Blake decided. “Pipes, bars, decals, a seat cowl and some attitude should take care of everything,” Blake said, wasting no time tearing off the excessive parts that adorn Triumphs owned by riders of a certain age and disposition. Passenger pegs? Who needs ‘em? Chrome grab rail that adds more weight than a lead brake disc? Off it went along with the quieter-than-a-baby’s-fart stock exhaust system. Along with the removal of the factory installed center stand, we’d managed to tear about 40 pounds from the bike in just over an hour. The good folks at Triumph’s Georgia HQ were eager to help out with the project. They hooked us up with a lightweight two-into-two Arrow full exhaust system and a groovy little gloss black seat cowl from a Bonneville Thruxton model that transformed the stock T-100’s lines. Blake popped off the clunky stock rear fender and canned it along with the D.O.T. turn signals; in their place came a tiny (but still legal, honest) aftermarket LED strip light and mini indicators. Thruxton rear shocks, which offer two inches more rear wheel travel than the low riding Bonnie units, were bolted in place. This alters the rear ride height of the bike for sharper turning.
Up front, Zac got busy disconnecting the factory O2 sensors that are a royal pain for every customized fuel-injected bike builder to deal with. The mystery of the project? We thought all Hinckley Bonnevilles were issued with fat, one-inch diameter handlebars, but this one came rockin’ a set of 7/8” buckhorns from the factory. Lucky for us, we had several pair of cheap, swap meet clubman bars lying around the magazine’s workshop and, with some expert rewiring help form Blake, fitted them easily into place. Zac conjured up a very natty vinyl sticker kit for the Bonneville consisting of a set of CRTV logos for the tailpiece and a checkerboard trail leading from front fender down the gas tank and over the seat cowl. The kit changed the look and attitude of the entire bike and required no painting, powdercoating or hassles. Cool.
Looking at the clock, we’d invested about four hours in turning a stock, ordinary roadbike into something we’d be proud to park outside the Rock Store or Milwaukee’s Fuel Café. But this baby was headed to her big prom night in front of Discovery’s bigwigs. Could she hold her own in a room full of exotic Lamborghinis and Porsches? More on that later…