Steampunk, as any fule nose, is just about one of the most fashionable lifestyle sub-cultures around at the moment. Flat/street-trackers are equally as desirable. Put them together and what do you get? Well, this bike here actually…
Chris Vincent, the owner and builder of the black BMW cafe racer from the last issue, had an idea to build a vintage-looking street-tracker using copper, rust and a rubbed-back rat look to the paintwork – a steampunk rat-tracker, if you will. He actually built this bike before the Be-Em, and while he doesn’t actually say as much, it was probably this bike that made him decide not to do any more projects; not because it was a particularly difficult or painful process, but because he was so pleased with the way it’d turned out. As I said last issue, though, bike building, as I’m sure you know, is an addiction that’s hard to beat.
He managed to source a donor to work with – a 1978 XS650 that’d been sat unliked and unloved for a number of years, and had been partly converted to a flat-tracker at some point in the past with a reassuringly high quality Omars Fiberglass Company (www.omarsfiberglass.com) tank, fairing and ’bars, while the frame, which was destined to be copper-coated, had helpfully been powdercoated. Oh well.
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Once it was back at his gaff in Essex, Chris picked up his trusty angle-grinder and, opening a box of grinding discs, set about cleaning all the crap off the frame, taking the opportunity to de-lug the frame of any unnecessary bracketry and shorten the subframe too. Several caustic dips later, the frame was ready to be taken to Hockley Enterprises (www.hockleyenterprises.co.uk) in Southend to be suitably plated to make it look properly olde-worlde.
While it was away, he set about giving the motor a freshen-up. It was checked over, the barrels and head repainted, and all the cases that could be taken off and polished were, indeed, taken off and polished. Aftermarket air-filters required that the carbs were rejetted to deal with increase in airflow caused by the freer-flowing filters, and the new exhausts too, of course. These were made by Chris’s good friend Mark, a gentleman who’s quite ’andy (know wot I mean?) with a welder, in the style of the legendary Norton P11 desert-racers of yore because… well, Chris has got a bit of a thing about them. It’s not that surprising really, the P11 is a very sexy-looking bike so…
Anyway, moving on, he also fitted a PMA system, a Permanent Magnet Alternator (a useful gadget that replaces the ageing XS charging system with a much more powerful Neodymium rare earth magnet in place of the usual electromagnet, and ups its power output dramatically) from US XS specialists Hugh’s HandBuilt (www.hughshandbuilt.com), and a PAMCO ignition system (www.yamahaxs650.com) so powerful that it will, as the old saying goes, set fire to a bucket of piss.
The old Omars tank was nice, but it didn’t really sit well with the look he was after, so it was replaced with one from a 1955 Francis-Barnett Falcon, which was cut away to accept the electrical gumph that the bike needs to run underneath it.
A new seat was made by Chris and covered by Craig, and a ribbed rear ’guard was modified to fit just so. He set about creating the paint scheme and says that he really enjoyed creating the effects that it bears: “Instead of the disciplined world of the paint booth you find yourself spraying water, then paint, possibly oil, more paint, dead flies. Then you rub it all back ready for a few coats of satin two-pack lacquer.” He also bought a pair of vintage push-bike pedals in white for a fiver on eBay, and one of them now makes a fitting kick-start.
Running gear is still pretty much stock XS, with Omars flat-track ’bars, and another of those Piaggio Typhoon remote master-cylinders that he’d fitted to the BMW cafe racer to keep the ’bars nice and clean. A little Bates headlight with its glass painted yellow sits up front, and a traditional Vincent-style tail-light on the side-mount ’plate. And there are lots of neat little features, logos and nice touches that you can spend a good while looking for – the sign of a good bike, in my eyes.
The finished bike, he says, did take a fair bit of fettling to get just right – the mixture took a fair amount of head-scratching to get right but, now that it is, this little XS goes like a scalded dog and sounds like a proper hooligan; exactly as he’d planned all along.