Gold Stroke Motors: BMW Airhead scramblers for the next generation of riders…
In 1969, BMW introduced what would be the first of their “Airhead” motorcycles, the Slash 5 series featuring the company’s new air-cooled flat-twin boxer engine. Over the next 25 years, the BMW Airhead would become nothing short of a motorcycling icon, a modern classic that earned a reputation for ruggedness, ease of maintenance, and versatility:
“Between 1970 and 1995 the company’s family tree would morph into a relative kaleidoscope of models, colors and freshly defined sub-categories—adventure bikes shod with knobby tires, fully faired station-wagon touring bikes, bikini-fairing-clad early sport bikes, refined classics and a few quirky outliers in between.” —Union Garage NYC
One of the nation’s best Airhead shops is located right here in our home state: Boxerworks of Athens, Georgia. The shop started as a regional Airhead shop, but has branched out into custom builds over the last several years:
“Although we’ve done everything from sidecars to cafe racers, we are most known for our R80G/S custom builds.”
Unfortunately, BMW motorcycles have never been cheap, and Airhead values have only risen in recent years. That makes it tough for younger riders who are drawn to the airhead mystique but simply don’t have deep enough pockets for a high-spec custom G/S of their own.
Enter Mike Thomas, who’s been managing the Boxerworks parts department for the last three and a half years. About a year ago, Mike convinced Nathan, owner of Boxerworks, to let him scramble a non-original R75/5 they had for sale in the shop. The budget build sold in a matter of hours and a new brand was soon born, separating these budget-built scramblers from the world-class customs that Boxerworks normally builds:
“Gold Stroke Motors builds have gotten more complicated than that original but the general theme remains: building custom Airheads for people who normally couldn’t afford them.”
Below, Mike gives us the full story on the most recent Gold Stroke build, a 1980 R65 that’s sporting a rear rack, solo seat, 19-inch front wheel, knobby tires, shorty mufflers, and more. Because the shop already has so many parts at their disposal, they can piece together an adventure-ready Airhead for a fraction of the normal cost. Says Mike:
“Everyone in the Boxerworks shop who took this bike for a test ride said it’s something they wouldn’t mind making space for in their garage.”
What we love about most about this Airhead is that it’s meant to be ridden, and hard. It would be perfect for weekends on the dual-sport trails of mountain south, backroad bombing, or moto-adventures like the Vintage 1000 — an airhead that maximizes the fun-per-dollar quotient as much as possible:
“Nathan and I want to bring in the next generation of younger riders who love the scrambler look but don’t have the money to afford them without us.”
Below, we get the full story on the build and brand from Mike himself.
Gold Stroke Motors: In the Builder’s Words
I’ve worked at Boxerworks managing our parts and eBay department for about three and a half years. During that time we’ve gone from being a regional BMW Airhead shop to doing some really amazing custom builds. Although we’ve done everything from sidecars to cafe racers, we are most known for our R80G/S custom builds. I started building my own custom motorcycles around a year ago. There was an R75/5 toaster with a Mac 2-1 exhaust system and a Corbin Gunslinger seat that we had been trying to sell for a year. I convinced Nathan, the owner of Boxerworks, that it was the perfect candidate for a scrambler build because it had already been modified so no one would mind us scrambling it. My idea was to take the Corbin seat and toaster tank off, sell them on eBay, replace them with a banged-up large tank and a solo seat and put some knobby tires on it.
With a general idea of what I wanted, a full knowledge of where every random part in the shop was and having some of the best airhead mechanics and custom builders in the country there to answer any question I had, I started building a scrambler. We subtracted the money we made selling the parts from the sale cost of the bike and ended up listing it for well below the normal asking price. It was a huge hit. It sold in about 4 hours. So, we said let’s do it again but let’s create a new brand to separate the world class custom motorcycles that we build at Boxerworks and the low budget scramblers. From there, Gold Stroke Motors was born.
Gold Stroke 1980 BMW R65
Gold Stroke Motors builds have gotten more complicated than that original but the general theme remains: building custom Airheads for people who normally couldn’t afford them. This is where Gold Stroke Motors builds are a lot different from custom builds. These aren’t full restorations or restomods — they are used bikes that run great and look great. We were able to get an R65 for a good deal which is why we decided to use it for this build. Besides the solo seat and the front fender, everything on this build is a used part that we already had in the shop. Being a parts guy, I have an idea of exactly what parts we have laying around. And an example of this is the rear rack. Before I modified it was a terribly welded homemade rack for a dual seat. I chopped most of it off including the terrible welds and made it fit over the sub frame to work with a solo seat. We rearrange and customize the parts we already have until the build starts to look good.
The biggest influence was a red Maico that we have in the shop. I wanted the R65 Scrambler to look just as sleek and agile. I was considering having yellow decals made for the tank before finding the tank pads that we ended up using. There aren’t any features on the Maico that we directly tried to recreate on the Red R65, but its general vibe was stuck in my head.
The biggest hurdle on this build was the front wheel. It doesn’t take very long hunting for a proper 18-inch front knobby tire to know that the options are limited, which is why we swapped out the front wheel for a 19 inch. There was a lot involved with getting that to work with the stock ATE Caliper that came on the R65. The Snowflake 19-inch wheel is wider than its 18-inch counterpart. We had to shave down both the front axle spacer and a little bit of the front axle lip to get it to work.
After we got the larger front wheel on the short center stand worked but not well — both wheels were still firmly on the ground. One of the nicest parts about BMW Airheads is how easy it is to remove the front or rear wheel when the bike is on its center stand. I wanted to keep that perk so I found a taller center stand that would be a direct swap. The center stand was a little taller than I had originally hoped but it worked with the off-road look of the bike and makes removing the tires even easier.
The stock mufflers were replaced with Emgo shorties. The Emgo’s do come with their own mounting bracket but they’re kind of a pain in the ass. I got lucky when Chuck, one of our custom builders at Boxerworks, heard me cursing from across the shop and brought over two custom brackets he’d made for another project. I was able to firmly secure them onto the original mounting points for the stock mufflers. There was custom work involved with getting the larger Emgo mufflers to fit on the smaller diameter R65 exhaust.
Both the front fender and the rear fender were painted red to match the tank. The front fender is a UFO supermoto which was not a direct fit. We had to first cut a large hole in the center of the fender. It does come with a cut-out down the center of the fender, but it wasn’t deep enough to accommodate the large wiring harness of the R65. We then drilled holes into the bottom of the triple tree to mount the fender, and swapped out the stock fork brace for a San Jose-style R65 fork brace.
The tank pads are stock BMW tank pads for /6 models, and they made a huge difference. I had been struggling with the look of the bike not going in the direction I was hoping. Coming back from lunch after putting the tank pads on I remember turning the corner and seeing the bike with fresh eyes. It was like a light from heaven was shining down on the red R65 and all the pieces had now come together.
The R65 has a shorter stroke and a smaller frame than other airheads which gives it a lighter, quicker feel. When you combine the quick acceleration with the louder mufflers it’s a blast. The rear tire is a TKC80. The TKC80 is a wonderful tire — not only does it look cool as shit but it’s also much more rounded than most off-road tires. While it’s never going to have the same grip of a race tire, it’s not like you’re riding on crutches. Everyone in the Boxerworks shop who took this bike for a test ride said it’s something they wouldn’t mind making space for in their garage.
What I’m most proud of about this build is that we were able to create a bike that looks cool, runs great, and sell it for $4,500. I want to take bikes that haven’t been touched in years, bikes that have just been left to rot in someone’s garage and bring them back to life. Not completely back to original form, but running well enough that someone can have the summer of their life riding it. Nathan and I want to bring in the next generation of younger riders who love the scrambler look but don’t have the money to afford them without us.