Back in 2019, we showcased a very special build from Craig Jackson, a Texas-born engineer and former motocross racer who competed in the Grand National Championship three times at the Houston Astrodome. About a decade ago, Craig turned his hand to building custom bikes.
“I couldn’t find a bike that looked exactly the way I wanted. I don’t like driving or riding the same thing as everyone else.”
Craig invited his sons, Max and Sam, to accompany him in the process:
“I told by boys (15 and 19 years old at the time) that I was about to attempt to build a custom motorcycle and asked them if they wanted to build their own with me. We bought and built our first three custom bikes. That’s how it all started.”
Years later, when their skills had improved, they rebuilt one of those machines into the Jackson 5AM V2.0, which was showcased in the 2019 Handbuilt Show. The “CX500R” you see here is another one of those first three builds, newly rebuilt. Craig says the handling of the original build was terrible, the tail wasn’t perfectly aligned with the tank, the mild steel exhaust had begun to rust, and the bike needed wider, more aggressive wheels and tires.
This time around, they raised the original tank four inches in the rear and had Mike Lapp paint on the red stripes, echoing the factory stickers but aligning the lines more properly with the rest of the bike. They swapped in a complete Yamaha R1 front end, complementing the wide front sport bike rim with a 5″ wide Takasago EXCEL rim out back, welded to the original hub and spokes from a 16″ Comstar! Those wide wheels allowed them to run a set of uber-meaty MotoZ Tractionator GPS tires: 130/80-17 front, 150/70-B15 rear.
“Yes, we had to notch the driveshaft side of the swingarm to get this tire wedged in there.”
Other highlights include the binocular projector headlight, clear radiator shrouds, custom stainless steel exhaust, and the mono-shock conversion, paired with a YZF600R rear shock.
The bike was a standout at the 2022 Handbuilt Show, and took home second place at the 2022 Front Row Moto Show in Arizona. Congrats, y’all! Below, we talk to Craig for the full details on the build, along with more photos from Alex Garza.
Jackson CX500R: Builder Interview
• Please tell us a bit about yourself, your history with motorcycles, and your workshop.
I am a husband to my beautiful wife of 30 years, as of May 30, 2022. And dad to two fantastic men, Max and Sam, and two lovely ladies, Gabby and Ellie. I am a Senior Software and Electrical Engineer with 27 years experience in the Semiconductor Industry. I also invest in commercial multifamily real estate with my two sons. As a kid, I started out riding mini bikes. Tore those up. Moved to a Suzuki DS80. At 10 years old, I had my first motocross race. I know that was for me! For the next 30+ years I raced motocross, all over the great state of Texas. Went to the Grand National Championship in the Houston Astrodome three times. Motocross is in my blood. Riding, racing and driving things with growling internal combustion engines are a part of my daily life.
I started building nine years ago because I couldn’t find a bike that looked exactly the way I wanted. I don’t like driving or riding the same thing as everyone else. I want something completely unique. After several long months of searching, I came across a design style called “Cafe Racer” and a custom-built bike that had the look I wanted. I told by boys (15 and 19 years old at the time) that I was about to attempt to build a custom motorcycle and asked them if they wanted to build their own with me. We bought and built our first three custom bikes. That’s how it all started.
The creative process is what I like the most. We start with an inspiration bike, a design or an idea, but I let the bike talk to me, tell me what she wants. I spend more time sitting across the room looking at every angle than I do building. If she doesn’t like what I wanted, I cut it off and start again. I honestly don’t care at all if it isn’t comfortable to ride. I want it to look good sitting still and look good while riding it. When it’s done, I want my natural response to be: “I wanna throw a leg over that!!” The sound is also important. Not just loud, but a nice fresh tone/growl that gives you chills, makes you excited to go for a ride. The exhaust is the voice of the bike, a big part of its personality. I spend hours tuning the sound.
My workshop is inside the Astin-Porter House in downtown Bryan, Texas. This home is 121 years old, built in 1901. The bikes spend half their time in the garage where they are cleaned, cut, welded, transformed, mocked up, and prepared. After parts start coming back from paint, powder coat, and chrome, they move inside the house into the Club Room for final assembly. (“Club Room” is a 1950’s term. Today, we would call it a Great Room). The bikes stay there until they are ready to be rolled out for their maiden voyage.
• What’s the make, model, and year of the donor bike?
• Why was this bike built?
This bike was also built twice, a similar story to our “5AM V2.0” build. My son Max and I built it as part of the first three bikes we ever built together in 2013. Over the next few years, as skills improved, thoughts turned back to this bike to make drastic improvements. The original build of this bike retained the stock front fork. The handling was terrible. The rear subframe and tail were not in line with the tank. The original tank — black with red stripe stickers — was in GREAT shape for its age…but needed to be PERFECT. The pipe-wrapped mild steel exhaust was starting to rust. The skinny wheels and tires didn’t do a “racer” any justice, and so on….
This bike was recently rebuilt to bring out the “racer” in cafe racer, with the intention of submitting it for inclusion in the 2020 Handbuilt Show in Austin, Texas. It was accepted, BUT…we all now know why the 2020 Handbuilt Show ended up being in 2022…. This bike also just won second place at the 2022 “Front Row Moto Show” in Phoenix, Arizona. Max and I had an absolute blast of a road trip that week!
• What was the design concept and what influenced the build?
The design started with the gas tank. Black with the crooked red “racing” stripe stickers. If we painted on the red stripes and aligned them properly (instead of the factory stickers) and the original knee coves, this tank lends itself perfectly to the Cafe Racer style. Since the gas tank is pretty wide, it needed to have wide tires; this led to wide wheels front and rear. We wanted to go as wide as possible. I also love tires with an aggressive tread pattern. (Don’t we all want to see the tread pattern first before picking out tires for our cars??) It must look great and handles like a modern bike, so modern suspension upgrades were a must…and on from there we go….
• What custom work was done to the bike?
The front end was replaced with a complete 2003 R1 USD front end swap. The R1 wheel rim was sanded and polished to match the rear — black spokes, polished rim. The typical 17” crotch rocket road tire was replaced with an aggressive and wide MotoZ Tractionator GPS 130/80-17.
Mounted a binocular projector headlight and mini fairing. All gauges were removed. (A real man “knows” his bike by feel.) Key switch removed and replaced with an industrial illuminated on/off button. (It’s a show bike, no need for a bulky key switch.)
The original fuel tank was raised 4” in the back, masterfully painted by Mike Lapp with crisp sharp lines based on the look of the original factory stickers. New chrome handmade “Jackson” logos mounted in the original Honda logo screw holes. Steel from the original rear subframe was heavily modified to hold a handmade custom seat and a rear fender sized to match the tank and the monster rear tire. (Part of the original center stand is holding the back of the seat and the tail section.)
The plastic radiator shroud was removed and replaced with two glass pieces mounted on rubber bushings. The top and bottom of the radiator were polished to reveal the beautiful brass hidden under the paint. A spark plug is used as the drain plug for the radiator.
The engine was cleaned with a toothbrush, sanded, primed, and painted a gloss black to catch the light on every edge, and we added the final dressing of a stainless steel bolt kit. Polished the intake manifolds and tops and bottoms of the carbs. Painted the body of the carbs gloss black.
The custom dual exhaust is all stainless steel. (Took two weeks to build.) We mounted the tips first, perfectly positioned under the tail, then started wrapping the exhaust around the engine following the lines to make it look as natural as possible. Individual exhaust pipes for each cylinder are critical for perfectly tuning and synchronization of multi-carbed engines.
Original foot peg mounts were swapped from left to right and modified to hold motocross style pegs. Brake and shift pedals were built to match the new foot locations. A custom battery box is mounted under the engine where the center stand and original exhaust cross-over used to be. The original rear subframe hoops and mounting tabs were cut off and used to build the rear mono shock mounting bracket attached to the rear swingarm. Rear shock is from a YZF600R.
The rear wheel started with the original hub and spokes from a 16” Comstar. This is mounted to custom tabs welded to a blank 5” wide Takasago EXCEL Rim. Around that is 6.5” wide MotoZ Tractionator GPS 150/70-B15 rear tire. Yes, we had to notch the driveshaft side of the swingarm to get this tire wedged in there.
• Does the bike have a nickname?
CX500R — similar to that of the old CR500R two stroke monsters of the 80’s.
• Any idea of horsepower, weight, and/or performance numbers?
Nope. The performance upgrades came out of three basic needs of the original factory design. The bike handled like crap, it couldn’t breathe, and the rider’s body was in the complete wrong position to handle the bike in racing situations (and while avoiding texting students and SUV-driving, lane-weaving soccer moms trying to discipline their kids in the back seat).
The suspension was completely upgraded to fully adjustable modern components, so that the bike and the rider can be one. The intake and exhaust are now open and flowing, so carb changes were required to give the bike more fuel to match the additional air intake needs. From my motocross background, riding position is critical! The riding position was drastically changed to give the hands, feet and body center of mass the optimum position for confident control while blasting down the twisting back roads and while making avoidance maneuvers.
• Can you tell us what it’s like to ride this bike?
This bike handles like a modern bike with its fully upgraded suspension and riding position. It sounds great and has more power than stock. Lots of looks, thumbs up, etc. It grabs a lot of attention.
• Was there anything done during this build that you are particularly proud of?
The exhaust came out very nice! It was a lot of work, but “one-of-a-kind” worth it! The rear wheel is super cool! Those who know CX’s will appreciate the work done to mount a fat tire onto the original Comstar spokes. The rear mono-shock conversion turned out very nice as well. Super balanced with the front end upgrade, and adjustable. The mono-shock hoop turned out so nice using the left and right sections of the rear subframe. The curve of the original metal was perfect for the size and shape of the new meaty rear tire.