To set the scene, I need to introduce the shed before the bike. Sheds are generally fascinating places and some would say, the best inventions and creations have emerged from a shed. I absolutely agree with this last statement. The shed in the picture doesn’t look today like it did last Century, when 2 wheeled things with engines were created in it, but you have to admit, even though it is a bit overgrown now, the building has ‘SOUL’. It isn’t a big shed. It is about 4 metres square, or 12 feet in Brexit-land measures. The door is narrow, which means that bikes have to be ‘wiggled out’ carefully. The shed is not insulated, which means it is either the same temperature as outside, or warmer, or colder. The lighting inside isn’t great, either from the small window (which doesn’t open) or the 2 lightbulbs hanging from the ceiling. Ventilation is managed by opening or closing the door. Inside is a small workbench, made out of 2 old, oily railway sleepers, and which has a big vice bolted to them. There is no high tech’ shadow board on the wall for the organisation of tools. However, there is a metal toolbox that is overflowing with tools. This toolbox has been covered in stickers, which have been subsequently melted in places from welding sparks. Oh yes, there is a welder next to the bench. One wall has some warped shelves attached to it, so that the bottles of oil, tins of screws and other junk all seem to point in different directions due to the waviness of the shelf planks. The smell inside the shed is a cocktail of oil, welding fumes, burnt metal, cellulose paint spray, rubber (from 2 new motorcycle tyres hanging on the wall) and all with a hint of pork pie. The pork pie aroma is because it is the staple diet of the shed inhabitant(s). This is because they are made in a bakery over the road, so it is a short commute for breakfast, lunch, afternoon snack, dinner or in some cases, a mid-night bike making feast. All liquids for consumption (tea and beer mainly) are purchased on the day, for the day, and consumed on the day/night. This means that there are no issues with food’n’drink stock control, ‘use by dates’ or the need for a ‘first in, first out’ system.
The hybrid moto in the feature picture was created in this shed, and last century (you can tell it is last century by the quality of the bike photo). It is, what we now call in the 21st century, an adventure bike. This is a good description because it was an adventure making it, and riding it. It was made from three other bikes, and all from 3 different Japanese manufacturers. Firstly, the frame and engine is a mid-1970s Suzuki T500. At the time, the T500 wasn’t as pretty as its two stroke counterparts from Kawasaki, but it did have a great twin cylinder two stroke engine, which didn’t seize, was reliable and quite torquey. It was a good bike for a either novice or an expert. This means it didn’t try to wheelie around corners like the Kawasakis, or unlike its bigger Suzuki counterpart, the GT750, it could be put on its centre stand by one person, and not an army of people in the pub car park. The forks, swinging arm, rear shocks, side panels and mudguards came from a 1979 Honda CR250 Red Rocket moto-X bike. The tank, seat, headlight and wheels came from a 1978 Yamaha XT500. All of these ingredients blended together, make a top cocktail. There is one part of the bike which was hand made and especially fabricated for the bike. It was also the last thing to be made, and it was the 2-into-1 exhaust. Every two stroke expert will tell you that a 2-into-1 exhaust fitted to an engine like this will not perform as well as separate expansion chambers. However, when you’ve got a trail/adventure bike like this, gaining every bit of performance from the engine is not important. The sound bloody-well is though. Fact! The carburettors had K&N filters attached in place of the old airbox, and this helped provide the cacophony of sound. The ‘detail hunters’ amongst you will have spotted something; the exhaust box underneath the frame is vulnerable to damage if ridden off-road, which is why it has trail tyres on it, because it wasn’t really meant for riding off road, which is a bit like most of the adventure bikes of today, so nothing has changed really has it!
I’m missing a whole load of the fabrication journey out here, partly because it would be boring and partly because typing isn’t that much fun. It is just a means to an end, or the end of this story anyway. But before the end, there is one piece of advice I must provide to all shed people out there, and that is; The famous (and amazing, best-in-the-world) aluminium cleaner, Solvol Autosol, is REALLY NOT good for the stomach if consumed. This engine required a lot of polishing, which meant hands were regularly covered in aluminium and solvol paste, which is perfectly normal for the time. There were no rubber gloves used in the bike industry in the last century, they were only used in hospitals and by HRH Customs. However, there wasn’t a sink or anywhere in the shed for proper hand washing, and it definitely wasn’t a ‘food hygiene category A environment’, so this meant that the great pork pies, or the ‘made-in-the-shed’ sandwiches got contaminated sometimes. ADVICE: Make sure there is a hand washing break between metal polishing and food making/consumption.
And finally, lets answer the question that you are asking, which is not about the hand painted Mugen side panels, it is about the sound. The exhaust pipe didn’t noticeably decrease power from the standard pipes and not did it increase power. However, to this day, I have not heard anything as good as this thing sounded. There was a depth to the sound, not a bass guitar depth, but something special. The K&N filter part of the band joined in at about half throttle and when the thing got into its powerband, it shrieked. This sound in not like the screaming of a Fender Stratocaster guitar either, it was just ACE! So, in summary, I don’t know what happened to the bike in the end, it was last century after all, and I don’t apologise for the electric guitar sound comparisons either. It was fun to ride on the road, but was a bit unsteady in the wet due to trail tyres and a very tall seat height. The bike’s builder and shed owner wasn’t very tall and he did look like he was perched on top of it a bit. Anyway, want some more advice? Get making stuff in a shed and keep hand washing.
All photos (including the C20th rubbish quality one of the actual bike) by the author