Japanese for Bandit: Moto Milo’s Suzuki GSF1200…
The Suzuki Bandit 1200 is one of the most beloved muscle bikes of all time, an air/oil-cooled beast that earned a global following that continues to this day. As with any muscle bike, the engine is the real heart of the animal, an 1152cc inline-four from the GSX-R1100:
“The motor is a legend. It was plucked from the Gixxer 1100 and ‘detuned.’ (That’s what all the bike mags said back then.) In reality, the compression ratio was decreased and different cams were selected that brought the big top-end number down, but allowed the bike to make whoppin’ torque in the basement and on the first floor.” –Revzilla
The engine makes around 100 hp in stock trim, and a few key ingredients could boost that number nearly 40%. The bottom ends were all but indestructible, making the Bandit engine a favorite of drag racers.
Enter our new friend Alexander Yiannopoullos of London’s Moto Milo, who worked as a freelance product designer until embarking on a career path as a custom bike builder seven years ago. He enrolled in tech school to learn welding and fabrication, and began by doing commissioned projects for clients.
Now he designs and builds custom bikes of his own design, selling them after they’re built. For this build, Alex picked up a ’98 Bandit 1200 partially converted into a streetfighter. The bike was a little rough, says Alex, but everything was there.
Normally, he makes lot of sketches before starting a build, but he decided to go with a more spontaneous approach this time around, giving the alloy fabrication he planned to do:
“I wanted to see where the forming and fabrication of the aluminium parts would take me — sometimes the metal informs and guides you to the most suitable and agreeable form.”
He outfitted the big engine with Mikuni RS36 carbs and a custom airbox, then swapped out the OEM suspension and brakes for Ducati 900SS forks, a Nitron rear shock, and Brembo stoppers.
Then came the hand-fabricated aluminum parts, which include the fuel tank, aforementioned airbox, fenders, instrument housing, peg mounts, and more. A channel was cut into the underside of the tank that for an ally housing to hold the wiring loom, ECU, and battery.
Alex nicknamed the bike “Sanzoku” — Japanese for Bandit — and he says not only the aesthetics, but the handling and performance have been much improved due to the lighter weight and upgraded suspension / brakes. Below, we talk to him for more details. Photos courtesy of Nikolas Louka (studio) and Roberto Garagarza (show).
GSF1200 Bandit Café Racer: Builder Interview
• Please tell us a bit about yourself, your history with motorcycles, and your workshop.
My name is Alexander Yiannopoullos, I run Motomilo, a custom bike workshop based in London. I studied Transport Design at Coventry University, and then embarked on a career as freelance product designer. During this time I have always been passionate about motorcycles, in fact my final thesis project at University was a concept motorcycle.
I bought my first bike 20 years ago, a Honda VFR400, and have been riding ever since. Approximately 7 years ago I become a weary of my career path and wanted to embark on something more fulfilling. Inspired by the likes of the Wrench Monkeys, I decided to combine my love of motorcycles, design and making things, by building custom motorcycles.
I did not know how to weld or fabricate so enrolled into a technical college for a year and gained various certificates in TIG welding and gained some proficiency in metallurgy and fabrication.
I started with commissions that entailed customers requesting various levels of customisation from individual bespoke parts to major redesigns. Over the last couple of years I have moved away from this model and I am now concentrating on creating complete motorcycles of my own design, which I then sell.
• What’s the make, model, and year of the bike?
The bike is a 1998 Suzuki Bandit GSF1200.
The donor bike was found through a “friend of a friend.” They had started to convert the Suzuki into a streetfighter: Renthal straight bars, stubby exhaust, streetfighter-style twin headlights, spray can painted tank, maroon colour frame — get the picture. The bike was a little aesthetically challenged, but all the important parts were good.
• Why was this bike built?
The reasons for the build were as mentioned earlier, with the aim of selling the motorcycle. Also I chose this model as the platform for the build as I believe it encapsulates many of the structural aesthetics and performance requirements wanted for this genre of bike.
• What was the design concept and what influenced the build?
Coming from a design background, I always do a number of sketches for each build, consisting of overall style renderings through to drawings for individual parts, along with packaging plans detailing the layout of components. I normally do some kind of 3D modelling for a build, usually from shaping and sanding blue foam.
However with this build, I was confident enough to work straight from the sketches. Also, as I planned to leave the metal work unpainted, I wanted to see where the forming and fabrication of the aluminium parts would take me — sometimes the metal informs and guides you to the most suitable and agreeable form.
• What custom work was done to the bike?
The build took 4-5 months.
When deciding on what performance upgrades, usually with this period of motorcycle and age, the brakes and suspension are the first things that are dealt with. As you are probably aware, the engines from the Suzuki 1200 are legendary and almost bulletproof, so not a lot needed to be done, just the addition of a set of Mikuni RS36 carburettors, along with a hand-fabricated aluminium airbox.
For the front suspension, I fitted a set of 1999 Ducati 900ss USD forks, along with top and bottom yokes, which although from the same period, give better feel and damping compared to the Suzuki’s standard forks, whilst aesthetically matching the period for this motorcycle.
For the rear I chose a Nitron NTR R1 Shock. The brakes are Brembo calipers — however, special mounts had to be fabricated in order to mate them to the discs.
The build consists of a number of hand-fabricated aluminium parts, which include the fuel tank, airbox, front and rear mudguards, clock surrounds, instrument housing, footrest mounts, wiring loom, and battery housing, which also incorporates the seat mount.
One of the most challenging aspects of this build was the aesthetics and preconceptions of this motorcycle, due to the rather uninspiring styling of the original bike by Suzuki and perhaps the perceptions of this model by some in the motorcycle community — it is a motorcycle that is often overlooked as a platform for a custom build.
However with this build I hope I have been able to reveal some of this motorcycle’s more purposeful and enduring qualities.
Another challenge faced, in terms of packaging, was relocating the wiring loom, ECU, and battery in such a way that did not interfere with the aesthetics while being accessible. This was achieved by creating a channel in the middle of the underside of the fuel tank allowing for a fabricated aluminium housing for the loom, ECU, and battery.
• Does the bike have a nickname?
“Sanzoku.” Means Bandit in Japanese.
• Can you tell us what it’s like to ride?
The bike is considerably lighter and this has had a beneficial impact on handling. The new Mikuni carbs make the already torquey engine more linear but more responsive.
The new rear suspension offers lots of feel and improved rear grip. The improved braking and front suspension marries very well with the character of the engine.
- The aluminium hand-fabricated parts (using an English Wheel), which include the following:
- Fuel tank
- Airbox (two parts),
- Front and rear mudguard (including chainguard)
- Battery and wiring loom compartment, which runs in a channel under the fuel tank
- Front radiator mounts
- Speedo and rev counter housing
- Instrument cover and housing
- Rear Swingarm pivot covers
- Rearsets mounting plates
- Front headlight mount
- Rear subframe is hand-fabricated and welded.
- Front caliper mounts were fabricated using CNC.
- Front fork leg uppers, and front Brembo calipers were Cerokoted.
- Engine and wheels powder-coated.
- Frame painted
- Hand-fabricated stainless steel parts include:
- Exhaust system, starting from where the down pipes join into one
- Exhaust Hangers
- Italian tan leather used for the following:
- Seat Unit
- Handle bar grips
- Frame Inserts
- Instrument cables sleeve.
- Additional new parts include:
- Nitron NTR R1 rear shock
- Mikuni RS36 Carburettors
- Goodridge Hoses for front and rear brakes, and clutch.
- Domino XM2 quick action throttle
- Messnermoto Aluminium Control switches
- SES Rearsets
- Nissin brake master cylinder
- Nissin clutch master cylinder
- Rizoma front and rear brake reservoirs
- Rizoma clutch reservoir
- R&G bar ends