Back Street Heroes
BMW CAFÉ RACER –
POLICE BIKES NE’ER LOOKED LIKE THIS WHEN I WERE ALAD!
Sometimes you get a bike that just fights you all the way, and this turned out to be one of those… which’s why it took about five years, and a pandemic lockdown, to finish! At times I got so fed up with it I left it for a while, and even built and finished another bike (also in BSH a while back) in between!
The donor, a 1979 R80/7, was found just across London. It looked worse for wear after a bad customisation attempt (and being left outside on a London street for a good while), but I rode it home, backfiring all the way. That should’ve been a sign of things to come really! The seller mentioned some electrical issues, and the reason why became painfully clear very quickly – when I lifted the seat, there was a nest of wires that’d been ducttaped together (some wires weren’t connected at all).
When I set out I wanted to restore some of the bike’s classic looks, with nods to its heritage, while putting in some modern updates. Researching its history, I found that it’d served as a police bike in a former life, so I decided I was going to have it painted white, but with a pearl for some extra glamour. The tank was to be the biggest drama (and expense) by far! It’d been badly painted in yellow, and the inner seal was peeling off so, to refurbish it, I had it chemically stripped, but the painter found a whole load of pinholes, which were addressed by a mate of his, but so badly it had to be chemically stripped again. I had it sealed somewhere else, but it turned out the acid baths’d damaged the threads on the fuel taps so I had the nuts welded on to the threads, but this damaged the lining (again!). I gave up on that tank, and sourced a new (old) one at considerable expense (these things are rare!), and had it painted, but the pain wasn’t over yet. Just before final assembly the tank slipped off a chair in his kitchen, falling on to a bucket beneath, and spilling the contents all over the living room carpet… luckily, the tank wasn’t
damaged (bar a small ding on the tank lid which’s been fixed). To finish off the look, I wanted it (and the mudguards) to be hand-pinstriped so I asked my mate Nefarious to do the work. As always he did a great job but, unfortunately, it took me so long to finish the bike he never saw it done. I am now superprecious about it as he’ll never be able to fix it, and in this way he lives on.
I was never enamoured by the looks of the ’70s-style headlights and controls, so I looked to an even earlier BMW era, and sourced a re-pop headlight, mirrors, and original ’50/60s handlebar controls. These’re very hard to find (very!) and I ended up buying three from Germany and the US, and using parts of one to fix the buttons of another. To stay with the classic look I opted to refurbish the under-tank master-cylinder, and stock brake calipers, rather than upgrading them, and a last hint of the ’70s is the car seat vinyl on the seat, and the car door trim edge on the tank.
Although the looks’re classic, the electrics’ve been dragged into the 21st century; a Boyer Brandsen ignition unit was installed, and a new regulator/ rectifier to allow the use of a Antigravity battery (hidden under the swingarm). Classic BMWs have an ignition key that inserts into the top of the headlight, so I installed a Motogadget keyless ignition in the same location, and I made a custom surround to go in it for a Motogadget Mini speedo, using a 3D printer to design it. These speedos’re usually run from a magnet at the front or rear wheel, but mine uses an Acewell speedo cable, in combination with a relay developed by a professor in Switzerland, to translate the signal for the Motogadget Speedo, and the speedo menu’s scrolled through by pushing one of the buttons of the refurbished R50/5 controls. Similarly, the indicators are modern X-Arc LED lights, the rear 3-1s (rear lights/brake lights/indicators) to make the rear of the bike as uncluttered as possible.
Being an ex-police bike, the radio box on top of the tank’s now utilised to house the electrical heart of the bike – the starter button (on top), the Boyer Brandsen ignition box, various relays, and a fusebox. Three strands of wire run through the drain hole in the tank, and connect into the loom with three Superseal plugs hidden under the tank. The loom’s been replaced/upgraded and, by using Superseal plugs, breaks into front, middle, and rear sections – easy to remove and install.
The finished bike’s registered as Historic, so it’s tax/MoT and, importantly in London, Congestion and ULEZ exempt. It’s also up for sale as I’m moving abroad – ring or text me on if you’re interested!