Custom Classics

Cut-back bobbers and café racers have become a common sight on the classic bike scene, with key styling cues being adopted by mainstream manufacturers. Which means the modified bikes are going to even greater extremes. Bob Pickett argues that it is possible to over-egg this particular pudding. Cat, meet pigeons…

Bike Shed’ s annual custom show is held at Tobacco Dock; the former failed shopping and entertainment complex now transformed into an event venue. For me, it’ s a fitting venue for a festival dedicated to transforming standard bikes into something new. The show features a range of custom conversions, from the professional customisers to ‘Shed Builds’  by home enthusiasts. And the designs range from cleaning up and adding a nice paint job to extreme Mad Max makeovers. I know the latter (and, in some cases, the former) will have some quarters up in arms. Me? I’ m… ambivalent.


I understand the concours point of view, even if I don’ t subscribe to it. Can I really get too upset if the tank badge is 3/7ths of an inch too far to the left? I’ ll be the one pleased the bike is in such good condition and admiring the paintwork.

I was lucky enough to be given the opportunity to ride a 1979 Kawasaki Z650 LTD. It was fitted with an aftermarket US Marshall exhaust (anyone with information on Marshall, the owner and I would love to hear from you, so please comment below). The Marshall let the bike breathe more easily and perform. Far as I’ m concerned, it’ s a valid improvement.


I also understand the professional companies wanting to show what they can do. These are extreme works. Rather like fashion shows, these pieces are meant to show off the designer’ s talents rather than create something the customer will buy and actually wear.

But the latter is where, personally, I draw the line. Ultimately, a bike was built to be ridden and enjoyed. Would you do that on the conversion of a 1976 Gold Wing shown here? Can it even be ridden? I’ d rather have seen a sympathetic conversion. Do something original, but I’ d like to have an inkling of the bike it once was.


My standpoint is: yes, do something new. But please treat the bikes with respect. I love the little 1961 Benelli Street Scrambler, all shiny with an excellent paint job. And the 250 CZ ‘Budvar Bike’  drew me in and made me smile.


I can see the fun in the 1977 CB125 artwork (though my soul shrivelled and died a little when I thought it was a CB125J, which is where I cut my biking teeth).

These machines began life as bikes. By all means give it new artwork, make some changes. But let it be what it is, not a sculpture or an ‘art’  installation, but a motorcycle.


Words and photos by Bob Pickett

Enjoy more RealClassic reading in the monthly magazine. Click here to subscribe.