Motorcycle Classics Blogs > Black Side Down

Diamonds in the Rough: Turning dogs into classics

by Richard Backus

Tags: ,

Dime City Cycle Honda Shadow Custom 
Payback: Dime City Cycle's custom café was built from an unlikely platform; a 1988 Honda VT800 Shadow. 

As classic customs – everything from café racers to bobbers – continue gaining in popularity, practitioners of the art of customizing increasingly face a basic question: Do I keep doing the same old same old, or reach out and try to redefine the custom market? There will always be plenty of builders who take the first approach; fortunately, there are also more than a few willing to follow the path less traveled.

A lot of builders, tired of doing the same old build over and over, are reaching out and getting seriously creative. The bikes they’re building still fall into the general café/custom/bobber categories, but they’re very different from what we’ve grown used to. So what makes them different? They’re mostly dogs that have been turned into beauties.

A perfect example is the Dime City Shadow 800, a bike the guys at Dime City Cycles call “a Dunstall-styled street custom.” Although it pushes the café theme in directions purists might not like – long wheelbases are usually reserved for cruisers, tourers or choppers, not café racers – it’s an intriguing and very creative example of what can be done with bikes many of us would usually walk right by.

Dime City Cycle's Custom Honda VT800 Shadow 
Peashooter pipes are a nice touch, as is the Dunstall tank. 

Dime City’s Jason Micheals and Herm Narciso have made a name for themselves with their skillfully crafted custom cafés and bobbers, and this bike, built for Jason’s dad, shows what can be done with a platform you’d likely never consider for a special. The bike, originally a 1988 Honda Shadow VT800, was nicknamed “Payback” – an inside joke between Jason and his dad.

Greg Hageman of Doc’s Chops is another great practitioner of the art. Working out of his shop in Iowa, Greg has been doing unlikely things with Honda CX500s and Yamaha Viragos, bikes that, like the Dime City Shadow, you’ve probably walked past and ignored for years. There’s no ignoring Greg’s creations, which take these bikes in a café/bobber direction their makers never imagined. Greg’s latest project is a 1982 Virago 920. Inspired by his Virago build for Café Racer TV, Greg's 920 is featured in the May/June 2012 issue of Motorcycle Classics.

Doc's Chops Honda CX500 Custom 
Custom Honda CX500 from Greg Hageman at Doc's Chops. 

Regular readers will remember Derek Pauletto’s 1979 Honda CB650 Special, a beautifully executed café racer featured in the November/December 2011 issue of Motorcycle Classics. Pauletto built the bike only after failing to find a buyer for it when it was still in stock form. Disgusted that nobody wanted his old faithful, he launched into a comprehensive transformation that resulted in one of the coolest customs we’ve ever seen.

Derek Pauletto made his special from a 1979 Honda CB650 nobody would buy. 

The trend is showing signs of going international, with British company Café Racer Kits recently announcing the availability of a kit to convert your CX500 into a café racer. You supply the donor bike, and they supply custom fenders, a seat, instrument casings, exhaust header pipes and various other bits to transform you CX from mild to wild.

 Honda CB500 Cafe Racer Kit 
England's Cafe Racer Kits is supplying kits for the full café racer treatment. 

They’re not for everybody, nor are they supposed to be. But whether you love ‘em or hate ‘em, we think they’re important for what they represent, and that’s simply new blood, a new generation of builders who are taking old iron everyone else ignored and scoffed at for years, and are turning it into something new. And in the process, infusing new energy into both the old and the new bike cultures.