Built for a female air force officer…
The original Kawasaki KZ400 twin, introduced during the oil crisis in 1974, was billed as a middleweight commuter, featured in magazine advertisements alongside a VW Beetle with the tagline, “Think even smaller.” While the bike was not designed as a speed demon, it handled well in the twisties, was easy to maneuver in traffic, and as reliable as the sun. In fact, according to KZ400.com, one US magazine tried to break down the KZ and failed:
“They drove it down to Mexico, and in 100 degrees F, on two straightaways of 100 miles each, they drove the bike at full speed, and they never had the tacho needle fewer than 9000 rpm. And the bike survived. Nothing broke.”
Enter our new friends at WKND Customs, based in Portugal. As the name suggests, founder Sérgio Almeida runs this project in parallel to his day job as a graphic designer, working to join the worlds of design and motorcycle building, through services like digital concepts for anyone who wants to get their ideas for a build together, illustrated helmets or tanks, and custom builds and handmade custom parts. He built this KZ400 for a female air force officer, designing the machine to reflect her personality:
“The bike was baptized with her air force nickname: MoneyPenny, and like the James Bond character, this street tracker has a classy and sophisticated look, but also an aggressive feel and strong presence.”
Sérgio takes a very defined approach to his builds, starting with a digital concept, moving into custom fabrication and assembly, and going through functional tests before completely disassembling the bike and painting/prepping all of the parts for final assembly. And we especially love how he delivered the bike to the new owner…by surprise!
“The surprise and reaction when she saw the finished bike for the first time, instantly jumping on it, yet on the top of the trailer, and then checking all the details with a big smile, made all the hours dedicated to it totally worth it.”
Below, we get the full story on the build, as well as some stunning photos from Bruno Almeida.
Kawasaki KZ400 Brat Tracker: In the Builder’s Words
The client is a female air force military, who came to me to get some help to buy a motorcycle already customized through classifieds. One thing leads to another and after some talk we ended up searching for a donor bike to build something truly tailor-made.
She wanted a medium capacity bike, so I found a KZ400 and after speaking with the seller to get more information, due to the geographical distance, it was the client who went to check the bike and make the deal. However, I needed to make sure that she was well prepared for it, so I sent her some “how to buy a motorcycle” articles for reading. After the deal was done, the bike was sent to the WKND workshop. The bike was in really bad shape with leaks, rust, a dented tank… The usual for an old motorcycle. Fortunately, the motor had been recently rebuilt and after some test rides it was in good running condition.
WKND has a defined methodology to build custom motorcycles. First comes the digital concept, then all the fabrication and new parts fitting, and only after every last tiny bit is done and, on the bike, and after some functionality tests, the bike is ready to be totally disassembled and all the parts are treated to the final assemblage. These careful steps have in mind the avoidance of too many changes and redone parts along the way as well as the avoidance of surprises or problems to solve in the end when everything is shiny and painted — or at least the reduction of such unforeseen events.
The client didn’t give me a brief on what she wished for, but we spent some time talking, so I could know her better and then design a bike that could reflect her personality. At the end I already had a winning recipe, and once the first concept was designed I received a happy thumbs up from her.
The bike was baptized with her air force nickname: MoneyPenny, and like the James Bond character, this street tracker has a classy and sophisticated look, but also an aggressive feel and strong presence.
I started to take off all the unnecessary parts from the bike, untabbed and cleaned the frame, and then looped the subframe. First thing is to set the stance, so a pair of Avon MKII 4.00×18 were mounted on both wheels, the rear was raised 3cm with a pair of Showa shocks, and the front lowered 2cm.
The next thing was the repair of the gas tank, eliminating the dents, filling the badge mounts, and then the inside was cleaned and sealed. The fabrication continued with some custom brackets for the Bates style lights, turn signals, and speedo.
The client doesn’t like to see the usual empty space below the seat on custom builds, and I think that not everything always needs to be hidden if we can turn it into something pleasant to be seen — a custom box for the battery and electrical stuff was made along with clean side panels matching the angles of the bike, as well as some openings to ensure some air flow and cooling, combined with aluminum mesh for visual points. Some really short mudguards were fitted, the front one was made from two edges of an OEM item from Honda, so that we could keep that kick up and rolled edges detail.
Once the essentials were done we focused on the small parts and details, along with other things: a 3D WKND Customs logo was printed and placed on the battery box and we decided to make some custom switches to keep the handlebars clean. The design is really simple based on tubes boldly assumed, to accommodate every switch or toggle, with a body that is almost indistinguishable from the black handlebars. We are really proud of them and had already made and sell some pairs after several requests from people who saw it on social media, which is a cool proof of good design at least. We are currently working on a new and better version of these.
After taking the bike to pieces a lot of things were cleaned, rebuilt or replaced to make sure everything was working like new again. To achieve an aggressive look, we wanted a dark bike with only a splash of color or at least some contrast on the tank, therefore the frame, wheels and a lot of other things were powder-coated matte black.
The engine and exhausts were blacked out too, with some matching black aftermarket mufflers. I always loved the contrast between some shiny silver bits on a black background! So, the fins and logo of the engine were polished and a new set of stainless allen bolts replaced the old ones, and the black rims where laced with black spokes and chrome nipples and aluminium knurled air caps.
Other parts received the same treatment like the shocks that were disassembled, polished and the springs went to powder coating mtate black too for matching. The classy twist happens on small details like the Alcantara section on the thin genuine leather seat, but essentially through the paint of the tank and panels, a nice pearl white and Alfa Romeo metallic silver, which looks like gold with some light on it. As a final touch, and to leave no doubts, we can read now “MoneyPenny” in a hand-written style on the tank.
The electrics were redone. At the front everything runs through the handlebars, the rest was hidden as much as possible, and what is visible is covered with some braided style sleeves, matching with the fuel and air hoses. As a perfectionist I just can’t help myself not to spend too many hours finishing small details or making sure everything matches, sometimes things that can’t even be seen, but not doing it wouldn’t let me sleep well. I also try to keep all the fabrication in-house, always learning old school techniques or even making my own tools or machines, because limited resources shouldn’t make you less ambitious or demanding, only more creative.
All of this interaction with the client was made remotely, so that means that she only saw the old rusty bike and a couple of process shots. After the KZ was all together, running and with some miles on the clock to test and shake everything, we loaded the bike and went to deliver it without any warning. The surprise and reaction when she saw the finished bike for the first time, instantly jumping on it, yet on the top of the trailer, and then checking all the details with a big smile, made all the hours dedicated to it totally worth it.
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