Monnom Customs goes outside their comfort zone to build a burly BMW…
Many custom builders tend to gravitate toward certain donor models: British twins, Honda SOHC fours, BMW airheads, etc. After all, vintage motorcycles are idiosyncratic machines, and it pays to have the right tools and hands-on experience to keep them running and their owners happy. For Mike Gustafson of Iowa’s Monnom Customs, his interests were clear:
“I love vintage Japanese motorcycles, Hondas from the 1970’s to be exact.”
Just this year, we’ve featured Honda CB750 and CB550 builds from Mike’s workshop, and his 70s Honda builds have graced the pages of Pipeburn and Bike EXIF as well. So when a new customer approached him about transforming his 1987 BMW R80 into a café racer, Mike’s first instinct was to decline.
“He was very persistent and eventually I caved and accepted the commission. And, I’m so happy that I did.”
The BMW R80, powered by an 800cc version of the famed flat-twin “airhead” engine, is a far cry from a Honda four. What’s more, the client wanted to incorporate styling cues from the iconic Nimbus Grey Audi TT into the build:
“I’m personally not a fan of laying out all the color and upholstery details of a build so early on, I’m more of a ‘see where the bike takes us’ kind of person as things seem to change so much throughout a custom bike build. But, this was his bike and his money and I actually kind of liked the fact that this all made me nervous.”
Mike got to work stripping down the original ’87 R80, a bulky touring beast, leaving the bare essentials: frame, motor, and wheels. He sourced a slimmer 4-gallon tank and fabricated a two-up seat frame and relocated the passenger pegs. As they moved forward with the build, the concept did begin to transform:
“We began this project with a sleek, minimalist café racer in mind but the build quickly took a turn into realm of tough tracker as the client shared his desires for comfort, storage and set of fat Heidenau tires.”
Mike fabricated a new headlight assembly and speedometer mount for the slim Trailtech digital speedo. Out back, he installed a new Progressive rear monoshock and fabricated an underseat electronics tray to house a large lithium ion Antigravity battery and a Purpose Built Moto Black Box electrical system.
The seat and back end of the bike were tailored around a set of repurposed SW Motech bags that include an ingenious quick release mounting system. The beefy 130mm Heidenau tires were installed on the stock rims, which gave the bike the tough stance they were looking for.
The unique leather seat upholstery was left to Chicago’s Dane Utech (@plzbeseated). Says Mike:
“I supplied him with plenty of Audi TT reference photos and we worked together on making sure the scale of the upholstery design was the right translation for the size of the seat and feel of the bike. He created a masterpiece with the leather whipstitching and the chunky textured foam. We also added a set of custom leather wrapped grips to the project to pull everything together.”
The paint is color-code correct to the Audi, a dark grey with a small amount of pearl. The tank was topped off with BMW appropriate pinstriping and a fresh set of badges. Says Mike:
“Brandon Walker of Walker’s Way Custom Paint took on the task and he also knocked it out of the park.”
We especially love the textured 2k Raptor Liner used on the underside seat, rear taillight housing and front headlight guard. Says Mike:
“The textured bedliner added a nice touch of toughness to the refined tank paint and leather upholstery.”
As for the exhaust, Mike fabricated a new set of high-and-tight pipes using the stock headers and a new pair of Cone Engineering mufflers, adding heat shielding to protect the rider’s calves:
“The pipes were wrapped to fit the mood and raw style of the build and I will tell you that this bike is one of the best sounding builds I have been a part of.”
To round out the build, he added fresh cables, stainless steel brake lines, a 100% scratch-built wiring loom, a large Nissin front master cylinder, Domino throttle assembly, and all LED lighting. He used a Custom Dynamics LED strip light for the rear brake lighting and indicators, with Custom Dynamics bar end signals for the front.
“Upon my first test ride of the 800cc opposing twin cylinder R80 I was sold on the platform. This build is by far the most fun I’ve had on a motorcycle around the city. The sound is primal and the torque is unreal. The bike handles great and is a sheer joy to ride. Once this bike was delivered I found myself longing for the refined crudeness of that engine. I will admit that I have been thinking about selling a Honda or two to acquire one of my own.”
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Photos by Ted Sandeen: @sandeen_photography