Creativity Mechanized: Suzuki GS650 by Purpose Built Moto

suzuki GS650 Cafe Racer

“Hard work or good luck is what you need, and you can only control one of those things.”

Over the years, we’ve had the pleasure of watching small, one-man operations grow from part-time gigs and hobbies into full-blown, full-time custom workshops. Make no mistake: building custom motorcycles and manufacturing parts is a grueling, punishing business, and those who achieve success have often survived a years-long crucible of late hours, sleepless nights, busted knuckles, and empty bank accounts.

suzuki GS650 Cafe Racer

One of the builders who’s impressed us most over the years is Tom Gilroy of Australia’s Purpose Built Moto. Starting from a farm shed in Queensland, where old bikes served as his textbooks, Tom has steadily built his business into a full-time shop and recently brought on a fabricator to keep up with orders. His custom builds have been featured across the world, his feature film Handcrafted gave an insider’s look into Aussie custom moto culture, and Pipeburn recently featured his Youtube series.

suzuki GS650 Cafe Racer

For today’s feature — a 1981 Suzuki GS650 — we decided to delve deeper into Tom’s creative process and what he’s learned on the journey of running his own shop. Interestingly enough, while CAD drawings and design are integral to his parts development, Tom doesn’t start with a sketch or CAD file for his custom bike builds, preferring a more organic approach instead:

“The bikes are built around a relationship of trust between myself and the rider. They never know exactly what it will look like until I deliver it. That’s a more truthful way to build custom motorcycles I think.”

suzuki GS650 Cafe Racer

For this build, they were starting with a solid engine and simple frame, but a previous attempt at modification had to be reversed, cutting off the old parts and starting from scratch. We’re particularly fond of the angular tail section — a better match to the squarish CB750 tank. After the mitered chromoly tubing, Tom decided to work on a new skill:

“I decided to have a go at shaping some sheet metal. First time for everything right?”

suzuki GS650 Cafe Racer

That emphasis on constant improvement, discovery, and evolution seems intrinsic to the PBM philosophy. We asked Tom if he had any advice for builders wanting to open a shop. While he says he’s not sure he should be the one giving advice, if someone wants to listen, he’d say this:

“If you’re wanting to start your own shop, it’s not enough to enjoy building a bike. You have to have the resilience to push through the hard stuff, usually on your own. Place importance on relationships and people, find others that understand what you’re doing. Forget about the money, as long as you can keep the lights on, and gas in your welder, that’s enough.”

GS650 Cafe RAcer

There’s always the importance of not just following the worn path, but cutting your own:

“Most importantly forge your own path. Find a new way to do things, a different way to reach people, ideas you’ve never seen before. Once you have that, work your fucking fingers to the bone to make it happen.”

Perhaps the best piece of advice is the one that applies not just to building bikes, but to most any pursuit in life:

“Hard work or good luck is what you need, and you can only control one of those things.”

Amen to that. Below, we delve deeper into Tom’s creative process, the specifics of this GS650 build, and what’s next for Purpose Built Moto — along with some killer photos and video from Cameron Bruntt of Electric Bubble.

Suzuki GS650: Builder Interview

• It’s been amazing to watch PBM grow over the years. What’s new at the shop these days and what are you working on next?

Thanks mate, I really appreciate that. In the shop I now have a fabricator working with me, we’ve been getting extremely busy so I needed to bring someone on board. I’ve also been working on my product line and will be announcing some upgraded LED lights before the year is out. My most exciting project is happening outside the workshop. I’ve just started work on a new film, Wide of the Mark. We can’t reveal too much yet but you can follow our Instagram to see what we’re up to: @wideofthemarkmovie

Suzuki GS650 Cafe Racer
More LED Headlights coming soon…
• What’s the make, model, and year of the donor bike? Why did you pick it?

The 1981 Suzuki GS650 was bought by the rider as his first bike. It had been modified poorly before so we basically cut all the old stuff off and started from scratch with this one.

Suzuki GS650 Cafe Racer

• What was your design process like? Did you start with a sketch, a digital rendering, or just a vision in your head?

The process has always been very organic for my motorcycles. I get all my CAD and design done on my products. For me there’s a big difference between being creative and designing something. When designing, function is at its core. Starting with what this thing needs to do, and going from there, that’s how I design my parts. With my bikes, I start with a certain vision, and a feeling on what I want this bike to be. Taking that idea and working in the function of the motorcycle. Making sure it will work, and do the job I want it to, around my idea on how it will look and feel. There’s never a drawing, or CAD file created. Some sketches on small parts and measurements on the geometry or ergonomics, but the bikes are built around a relationship of trust between myself and the rider. They never know exactly what it will look like until I deliver it. That’s a more truthful way to build custom motorcycles I think.

Suzuki GS650 Cafe Racer

• Can you give us a rundown of the custom work done to the bike?

The GS650 wasn’t a ball breaker to build. We were working with a nice motor and a relatively simple frame.

– Tail chop and a hand-shaped steel tail cowl
– We retro-fitted an 80’s model CB750 tank
– Custom seat and undertail electrics tray
– PBM LED lighting all round, the 5.75″ headlight hung of some custom stainless brackets
– To give a comfy riding position but without ruining the line of the bike, we custom-built a set of clip on style bars that bolt on top of the triple clamp
– Carb re-build + DNA pod filters
– Aluminium bikini fairing to house the speedo

Suzuki GS650 Cafe Racer

• Does this GS650 have a nickname?

I never really name my bikes, It’s just a GS650 that I built.

• We especially love the seat and tail section of the build — can you tell us a little more about the design and execution? And how about that trick tail-light / license plate mount — is that an original PBM piece?

Building a tail to match a sharp tank on a retro bike can be a bit of a task. I’ll often see a square tank matched with a rounded tail hoop and to me it’s a little out of place.

On the GS650 we fabricated a mitred tail hoop from some chromoly tube, then I decided to have a go at shaping some sheet metal. First time for everything right?

I started with a paper template, cut that out in 0.9mm steel and shaped then welded it up. It’s a simple shape, but I’m a simple man. For me it’s important to learn new skills with achievable steps.

The lighting and tail tidy are an easy fab job, nothing special just simple, effective parts.

Suzuki GS650 Cafe Racer

• Lastly, is there any single piece of advice you’d give to new builders just opening their workshops?

I do get asked this one quite often. It’s a tough one because I feel as if I shouldn’t be one to give advice to anyone. If someone wants to listen to what I have to say it would be this:

If you’re wanting to start your own shop, it’s not enough to enjoy building a bike. You have to have the resilience to push through the hard stuff, usually on your own. Place importance on relationships and people, find others that understand what you’re doing. Forget about the money, as long as you can keep the lights on, and gas in your welder, that’s enough. Most importantly forge your own path. Find a new way to do things, a different way to reach people, ideas you’ve never seen before. Once you have that, work your fucking fingers to the bone to make it happen.

Hard work or good luck is what you need, and you can only control one of those things.

suzuki GS650 Cafe Racer

Follow the Builder / Photographer

Web: www.purposebuiltmoto.com
Instagram: @purpose_built_moto
Youtube: youtube.com/c/purposebuiltmoto

Photog: www.electricbubble.com.au
Photog Insta: @cameronbruntt

One Comment

  1. Kenneth Cooley

    Not real impressed with the language used to be quite honest.
    Building a bike from another bike is fine.
    Hope he can make an living at it.
    I do understand the work having been involved with three frame off total custom builds and owning a high end production shop myself for 30 plus years.

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