There are bikes built to be polished garage queens that look good parked in front of coffee shops…and then there are bikes built to be ridden — machines that seem to sniff out adventure like bloodhounds, ripping down dusty roads and slogging through downpours and roaring dead-on into sunsets. This Honda NX650 scrambler — “Rum Runner” — is one such build.
Builder/owner Justin Smith (@with_eagles) came to Western Australia as a backpacker on a holiday work visa from Canada and got a job at well-known custom workshop 66 Motorcycles. The shop had been using a tired old 1996 NX as a parts runner. However, the bike soon became an avenue for Justin to practice his fabrication skills and creative engineering…and blow his paychecks.
The result was a go-anywhere machine with a big gas tank and long legs, built to get in and out of trouble in a hurry. As it turns out, Justin wasn’t the only one pleased with the “Rum Runner.” Just after he finished the build, a joyrider stole the bike and a 1.5-hour police chase ensued, involving a helicopter, news coverage, and some off-roading on the part of the rider! After the bike was recovered, Justin had to tear down and rebuild, resulting in the “Rum Runner 2.0.” Together they rode off into Western Australia sunset after his six month gig at 66 Motorcycles — the longest stint his visa would allow.
Below, we get the full story from the man himself.
Honda NX650 Scrambler: In the Builder’s Words
This bike came to me when I showed up late for an interview for a fabrication position at 66 Motorcycles near Fremantle, Western Australia. After meeting the guys and talking business for a bit, Duane Smith (co-owner of 66 at the time) tossed me the keys to the Domi and told me not to be late on Monday, I got the job. The bike was kicking around the shop as a parts runner with the intention of becoming a shop project in the future.
The bike was mainly stock with exception of a few fairing pieces missing after a previous owner laid it down and discarded the scars. I rode the bike in that condition with only minor modifications like turn signals and a tail tidy for a period of about 6 weeks. One of the guys noticed that the fuel tank sprung a leak after sitting in the hot Aussie sun for the morning. I removed the tank and within minutes, I was already picking through the tanks on the shelf to find a suitable look to start my build. Being a backpacker on a holiday work visa from Canada, I felt I’d gained enough experience in custom motorcycle restoration, repair and modifications to have the confidence to take on my own project within that first month and half of working at the shop.
Over the next 4.5 months, I threw countless hours of creative engineering, ideas and paycheques towards the build in the back shed and fab bay of the bike shop. With the help of Paul Smith and Scott Heckingbottom, I was able to refresh the engine and install 101mm piston, machine the heads and valve seats and be able to ask any questions related to the many other small mechanical tasks that were above my expertise.
Peter Ellery would lend his creative and artistic ideas on most of the builds we did, including this one of mine which in the end, I had complete creative control over. With the intention of taking this bike on long trips, I chose to use a 1977 Suzuki Gt 550 fuel tank in which I frenched in the speedometer into the tank bezel.
I’d repurposed an old ammo crate for the air box that also held the battery, some electrics, tools and a wheel lock. A custom aluminum chain guard and stainless steel licence plate and light mount were fabricated by your truly as well.
I used a Screaming’ Demon muffler and high polish tubing for the exhaust. For the most part this bike was a budget build with parts like fenders and headlight left over from customer builds, and of course catalog parts at the discounted rate.
I’d used the Shinko Big Block 805 rear tire which managed to harness the engine power and take me wherever I imagined. It didn’t always get me out of every situation though. After working my full six months at the shop (the longest length of stay at any one occupation my visa would allow) I left the payroll and rode off on my freshly built steed to blast around the Western state.
Two versions of this bike were built while I was living in W.A. Just after hashing out the bugs and setting the bike up for my riding style, someone figured they’d rather have it more than I. I reported the bike stolen and shortly after, a police cruiser had spotted the joyrider and called in re-enforcements. After an hour and a half police chase using a helicopter, and a very restless night, I’d received a call around 4:30am stating that the bike had been recovered and that I shouldn’t be excited about it’s condition.
The bike went into the shop again for another couple weeks where I tore it right down, fixed the broken bits, refreshed the paint and decided to power coat the frame black. The Rum Runner 2.0 was finished and armed once again with a brand new horse, I rode off into the sunset hypothetically speaking – there’s a lot of ocean instead of land looking West.
Follow Justin on Instagram: @with_eagles