By Dan Rodarte, Photos by Jason Guy www.jasonguyphotography.com
Riding, and building Café bikes started for me in the mid 80’s in San Francisco. You might say I had the time of my life living and riding in the City, my hometown. My brother-in-law turned me on to BMW Airheads; he had been riding these peculiar bikes for some time. It was inevitable that I’d soon have my own. I combed the classifieds and found an ‘81 R65. It was love at first sight. It was also my first motorcycle. I had no clue how to ride. I went to the school of hard knocks as far as riding lessons go.
I have always had to put my personal touch on everything I own. As a teen, I had always stripped down my bicycles, painted them to suit my taste, and customized them to my liking. When I got my first car I looked through sports cars enthusiast magazines and found aftermarket parts to personalize as well. It was inevitable that my R65 would get the same attention. I quickly painted the bike black, installed a cockpit fairing, powder coated the wheels red, added red Marzocchi shocks, a black and red Corbin seat and bar-end mirrors. I had a café racer. Then I took a several year respite from riding, but Café Racer TV show got my interest again.
After a long search I found a worthy candidate with a strong engine and a freshly powder coated frame. Chris Harris at Affordable BMW posted some great videos on the basic mechanics of these airheads. I searched Ebay for parts, as well as selling some parts that I took off the bike. It was there I found Chris Canterbury of Boxer Metal in Chico, CA for my first purchase– the air box block off plate. When I found out how close he was to me I went to meet him. He helped me expertly craft the crankcase breather box that sits atop his block off plate. Chris was instrumental in expanding my knowledge of airheads and he was also hands-on with two of my build projects.
I started the tear down in late summer of 2011. I decided to upgrade the front with a dual-disc brake. I found a /6 that already had such a conversion. I bought the bike, swapped the brakes and converted the /6 back to a single disc bike. The RS also had a San Jose triple clamp on it and a set of Luftmeister fork brace on it, so I liberated those parts too for this build. The bike took on different looks as I played around with different parts. I remember spending a lot of time vacillating over the use of clubman bars or not. T They epitomize the look of a true café racer. After finding Bavarian Café online, I met with Brandon Mungai (whose blue Café was featured in OTL Magazine) in southern California and went to purchase my first of three sets of different Tomaselli bars. It was then when I first saw his current build, a BMW R100 Café Racer in Laguna Seca Blue. I knew then that eventually I would source out the same fairing he purchased for his bike. As I researched parts, I liked the ones that Edgar Marques of Flat Racer put out for airhead cafes. I went Tomaselli clip-ons. After perusing Flat Racer’s site, and Boxer Metal’s custom parts, I had a huge shopping list and proceeded to move forward with the conversion. I started to think about the color for the build. Instinctively I reverted back to a black a red color scheme, but then I saw a Dodge Challenger rolling down the road and that color took me back to my boyhood playing with Hot Wheels. I remembered that color from a toy car I had called Mango Tango, which quickly became the name of the bike. I remember seeing an ad for Ryan’s Motorcycle Painting in Sacramento and contacted Ryan about my build. What I love about this color is how it changes with light the brighter the sunlight the more orange it becomes, darker and it becomes more copper like. I added a twist to Ryan’s job, which was to introduce a checkered flag into the mix, and he executed it brilliantly. When it came to doing the fairing, he enlisted the help of his friend James Dean; seriously that’s his name. James owns Rebel Design in Roseville, Ca. Ryan and said that if I wanted the same graphic of a rally flag wrapped around a curved surface, then I should have him do it. James had recently worked on another project with Ryan. Ryan did the base coat and James did the wrapped look. Not only did James knock it out, he did so in less than a week.
When it came to the seat, I approached a friend that I met online, Don Vigarino, of Wrocket Products in Foresthill, Ca. I used Don on previous occasions for other projects, and as always he executes with precision and expertise. As I began this Café build I started a group in my area to meet other Café enthusiasts. We have a group page on Facebook, called Gold Country Café Racers. The logo I came up with for the group was used on the seat; Don was able to incorporate it in the seat back.
This bike didn’t just happen overnight. I got to know the guys at A&S Powersports pretty well, my local BMW dealership in Roseville, CA They are always helping me out, and accommodating me. Their annual Vintage Bike Show in October is always inspiring too. After attending an RA Rally in Birmingham, I decided that Mango Tango needed Ohlins shocks in the rear, instead of the previously mounted Hagons. Then I called my friend Chris, at Boxer Metal and told him I needed Spiegler stainless brake lines in translucent smoke with gold fittings, after all it had to match the rear shocks’ looks and the smoked checker flag.
The bike is a blast to ride. there’s no shortage of awesome country roads throughout gold country where I live. I also like to do a weekend to the coast on this, and my other airheads; doing 400 miles in a day isn’t unheard of for me, as long as there’s a beautiful coastal view along the way. A lot of my riding friends just aren’t into Beemers. I tell them that they’re amazing machines. Not only are they great for carving through the canyons, but they’re also very easy to maintain. After a recent ride I decided I wanted to try a reinforced swing arm, because of the flex I felt in some descending sweeping turns. I remembered an ad on ebay where a guy in the mid-west builds them to the same specs of the old San Jose BWM model and sells them already powder-coated. So I purchased it, dropped new bearings and seals in it and away I go. Because of the opposed cylinder design, once these machines grab hold of a line, they stick. I liken it to a gyroscope; the force of the crankshaft inline with the frame as opposed to being perpendicular like in most bikes makes for a very balanced ride with the pistons shooting outward instead of straight up and down.
I have to admit, I do love the attention this build gets. I stopped for coffee on my way home and noticed a /6 parked under the shade at the cafe, and this guy was sitting their enjoying his coffee along with a few of his buddies, and a couple of local policemen. They saw me, or should I say heard me pull in thanks to the Hoske mufflers, and started asking me all sorts of questions about it. As I came out of the coffee shop they were all huddled around Mango Tango, pointing at things they noticed about the bike; these were not young enthusiasts, these were veteran Airheads, and they really liked the bike.
I belong to several Airhead forums, so I get to read comments that other Beemer riders say about custom builds, in particular Café bikes. Many of whom think it’s sacrilegious to create an “abomination” out of a beloved airhead. I also believe that to each his own. Some of these airheads are only getting the recognition today for the potential that they have as a Cafe, a Bobber, or even a Scrambler. Sorry, but I think turning one into a Chopper is just wrong. What I love about this process is the amount of knowledge gathered along the way. There is still so much to learn. I just didn’t buy a ready-made bike. I created something, with the help of many friends.
Many thanks to:
Ryan Smith- Ryan’s Motorcycle Painting, Sacramento, CA www.ryansworkshop.com
James Dean-Rebel Design, Roseville, CA www.rebeldesignpaint.net/
Don Vigarino- Wrocket Products Upholstery, Foresthill, CA (530) 367-2984
Chris Canterbury- Boxer Metal, Chico, CA www.boxermetal.com
Edgar Marques- Flat Racer, UK www.flatracer.com
Brandon Mungai- Bavarian Cafe Racer, Costa Mesa, CA www.bmwcaferacer.com
Jason Guy Photography, www.jasonguyphotography.com