Our man from Cheltenham, Dave Solomon of Butchered Classics, is back with another build. This time, it’s a 1989 Suzuki GSX-R1100 built for his “vertically-challenged” mate, Topper. As you may know, the 1989 “K model” was fitted with the legendary 1127cc oil-air-cooled motor, producing 138 horsepower in a bike that weighed less than 450 pounds.
With this bike, Dave set out to build a modern cafe racer that would fit his friend’s needs. We’ll let him tell you the rest.
GXR-R1100 Cafe Racer: In the Builder’s Words
So it’s late summer last year. There’s a few of us sitting round a table outside a typical English pub in the heart of the Cotswolds–you couldn’t get a more English pub. Close by, the river runs by and there are a good variety of customers sampling local ales and ciders and generally having a good time. This pub being a “biker friendly” establishment means motorcycles are discussed more than often at various tables by different parties. I was sat with a group of friends who were discussing bike building and different needs for different people. One particular individual (whom we’ll just call “Topper”) was making claims that he could never have a “special” as his small frame meant it would have to be a low rider or chop of some sort. I returned the remark by saying all choppers or “low riders” can be different in their very own way and there’s no need to follow the “norm.” The word custom means just that…custom to that person and that person alone. If others appreciate the build also, all the better.
This comment obviously sunk in, as a week later we met at the same pub again and sat at the same table and Topper asked if I’d help him build a bike. He was thinking a hardtail or low-rider of some sort and what was the best way forward. I suggested he start scouring the internet for an unfinished project of some sort and we’d just fit our own engine and go from there. He has a 1200 Bandit for his everyday ride, which has been lowered “big time” but still resembles a fairly stock looking bike and at one point there was talk of using that in the hardtail project, as it had a great engine…however I left him with his ideas and that was that.
Weeks went by and various frames came up, either too expensive or too far to collect, so the build was going nowhere fast, which is normally the way with pub talk motorcycle projects. But then I got the call!
Topper had rung to say he hadn’t bought a frame. What he had bought was an engine package. At the time I was under the impression we were using the 1200 Bandit engine from his bike, but he had decided to buy this engine from an acquaintance because of the price. Alarm bells were ringing with me at this point. We had two engines and still no frame; he then went on to explain that the seller let him keep the frame with the engine as well as the electrics and he thought there may be a chance we could do something with it.
I arrived at his house to find what he’d actually bought was a GSX-R1100K engine and frame–in my opinion, the best engine Suzuki ever created during the 80’s/90’s sportbike era. It was a complete bike but the previous owner decided to split the bike for parts and Topper bought the engine. The only problem I could see was the frame. Being a top-beamed aluminum frame, this was useless for the hardtail/chopper project and would look totally absurd. I explained the situation to my vertically-challenged friend, who as quick as a flash said, ”It’s okay, I’ll have a café racer instead.” The alarm bells began to ring again–he’d gone from one style of build to a completely different style within a second as if it was nothing …lol.
Nobody had mentioned café racer in all the pub conversations we’d had. I had no problem with the idea; it was just his small build meant this bike was gonna be a challenge.
The frame/motor was dropped off at my place and the work began. A front end originally taken from an Aprilia RSV1000 was sourced along with a single-sided Metmachex swingarm. I spoke with the nice men Mark and Neil at Burlow Engineering and they fabricated a new steering stem. I pressed the old stem out, fitted the new machined item and presto the front end was in!
The rear was a little more daunting. The swingarm was originally fabricated to fit a Fireblade, so to get the shock to clear the new arm, it was machined to within an inch of its life to give the clearance needed. A little work on the Ducati hub and the swingarm was also in and in line with the front end.
The subframe was left to welding guru Andy Barnett whose expertise is second to none. I loaded the chassis and took it to his works where in one night we had the subframe fitted as well as a new battery box to fit the ultra lightweight and minute Lithium battery. A week later he took the tank and fabricated a skirt around the rear of the tank to hide the nasty four inch gap that had been created with the low subframe height.
We were about ready for paint. One man and one man only was getting this job, Chris Davison. I explained where I wanted the rear light and again (like so many other paint jobs he’s done for me) he worked wonders. The light was fitted perfectly in the rear seat unit and he sprayed the tank and seat in a Ford gloss black, which has a silver gold fleck in it. Once painted black he then went on to paint the pinstripes on giving this bike its classic stance.
While this was going on, I was busy sorting the wiring whilst Topper was on Ebay buying the new oil cooler and secondhand stainless steel exhaust. The brakes were bled along with the rear line running through the swingarm for cleaner looks. The issue with regards to the speedo was resolved with a mini digital speedo being mounted in the shell of a Suzuki 600 headlamp. Red and green LED’s supplied the warnings as and when needed and adds to the finishing touches quite nicely.
This bike is a true custom from any angle,this was built with one person in mind and only one person I know can ride it. I can’t even sit on the bloody thing without dislocating a hip! God help any bike thief over 5’3″ who thinks they’ll be riding this off in the dead of night…it ain’t gonna happen (would be funny to watch, though)!