We often bang on about that haves and the have nots.
But it’s not whether you have money, loads of tools, a cavernous workshop or a degree in engineering. It’s the care and attention that separates a good custom from a great one. Taste, looks and donor are mostly irrelevant, quality shines through a logo, paint job or exhaust note.
A young chap got in touch with us last year and submitted a CB550 for the Bike Shed London show, and we immediately liked the cut of his jib. An amateur bike builder with a humble and gracious attitude, which turned out to be totally out of kilter with the quality of his craftsmanship. The evidence of Jamie Smith’s endeavours arrived at Tobacco Dock and we promptly exhibited it right alongside the cream of Europe’s pro-builders. The quality was that good.
18 months on and Jamie is back with this Kawasaki Z650 which from here not only looks like a meticulously prepared and finished motorcycle but a considered one, rather than a cookie cutter carbon copy of what has gone many, many times before. OK, so there’s not a lot new in the custom scene these days, but we liked Jamie’s latest bike the moment the images appeared in our inbox.
Jamie had always fancied a big ol’ Kawasaki Z1000 but a restrictive budget saw eBay searches aimed at the slightly smaller displacement versions. A badly modified and scruffy Z650 from 1980 caught his attention, the next day it had been procured and strapped into the back of a van. “It sat for a little while whilst I finished a café build. Then one day I took it out, did a few sacrificial burnouts, rode it home, and started to strip it. That was about a year ago, blending the build in with a full time job, family and a new baby.”
“The design brief for this build was simple, big spoked rims, a monoshock, USD forks, declutter and lose some weight.”
A Nitron shock was pinched from another build along with a chunky, braced swingarm from a Kawasaki GPZ. With these and a few other crucial parts offered-up the cutting, grinding and fabricating could commence.
The neatened subframe now has tiny LED indicators plugged into the end of the rails and alloy rearset brackets bolt onto new tabs. With the twinshock setup removed and braced swinger in place the medium-Zed is transformed into something far more burly and purposeful.
The beefy theme continues up front with a GSXR1000 fork, re-anodised black and mated to a Cognito Moto front hub and 3.5″ rim. Oversized rotors and R6 calipers will deliver more stopping than engineers could have dreamed of three and a half decades ago when the Zed rolled out of the factory. The whole combo looks the business too.
Further proving the creativeness of his sourcing process Jamie had a Honda CRF motocross hub relaced to a 5″ rim, grabbed by brake setup from an XR650. Dunlop’s acclaimed Mutant tyres provide proper levels of grip along with the race wet aesthetic. There can’t be any arguments about that being anything other a good thing.
The fuel tank is nearly stock but with the addition of a GSXR400 filler. The rest of the bodywork is modular. In 10 minutes stock side panels and headlamp can be removed, to be replaced by the setup you see here. Drilled number boards and a Darth Vader front board with integrated LED light. Beneath the ducktail rear lives a stealthy tail light, guarded by an aluminium grill.
The engine only required minor internal work. The head was popped off and valve stem oil seals replaced, along with a conversion to a manual cam chain tensioner. The obvious and obligatory service and inspection work was also carried out, but it doesn’t take a genius to work out Jamie is a fastidious chap and the Kawasaki’s innards are as clean as the bits on show. A Boyer Branson electronic ignition and GPZ750R1 carbs replace the recalcitrant originals and add crispness to the performance. Deklavic stainless headers lead to a homemade collector and Danmoto silencer, which should all combine for a an lovely soundtrack.
There was no way Jamie was about to entrust all of this handwork to a near four decades old wiring loom, especially one that had been this butchered and messed with, so that made the bin. A fresh harness based around Motogadget’s now industry standard system is now hidden away, operated by minimal Motone switches.
The final job was the paint, which took an age. Outer engine casings were removed and powder coated with a cast black finish, similar to the hardwearing stuff that make expensive wood burning stoves look good and last a lifetime. The frame, swingarm and rocker covers were treated to the same, contrasted with gloss black barrels and heads.
Like some of the OCD people I have to work with at the Shed, Jamie is a symmetry guy. But on this occasion he forced himself to accentuate the crisp white paintwork with off centre, asymmetric blocks of colour. Kawasaki green to grey gradient, with the tail and front mudguard mismatched in angles to the tank. Then he went around the blocks with a pinstripe, by hand. All of this freestyling must have pushed Jamie into a state of insomnia.
Finally a seat pan was made to accept the full grain Italian leather saddle, “I’ve never had to buy half a cow before.”
Jamie claims to still be an amateur, working from a shed at the end of the garden when time off from the day job allows, with the aim of turning dream into reality one day and supporting his family with building bikes full time. Ammeter in approach certainly hasn’t led to any compromise in finish.
The name Smith and Son Motorcycles hangs above the door but this is far from a commercial enterprise, simply passion combined with graft and a keen eye. “I hope I’ve taken a fairly ugly duckling and given it a new lease of life using some up to date parts. The 650 is never going to have the grunt of the Z1000MkII I wanted, but I think it looks pretty cool.” And he may have just given us an idea for a t-shirt with his final words “When the kids go to bed, I go to the shed.”
We hope to see Jamie’s bike in the metal at some point soon and more builds from Smith & Son Motorcycles.
Article first appeared on The Bike Shed; republished here with permission.