I’d been looking for an XS400 to do for a while, they have a good frame, a classic looking twin engine and if you can find the right one, spoked wheels with a front drum for a super clean look . Hugely popular in Japan for customising due to the difficulty and expense of getting a license for bikes over 400cc and the XS’s ability to take on a variety of styles from bratstyle, choppers and bobbers, through to Neo Tokyo street racers, which was my plan, something with a retro sci-fi feel not out of place on the neon lit streets of Japan. I’ve always been drawn to the Japanese design aesthetic, whether that was graphics or bikes and after reading Koichi Fujita’s interview in ‘The Ride’ book and the influence of the film Akira on his An-Bu bikes, I knew I had to do my take on one. The bike would be a metallic brown with a cream accent, sort like a pint of Guinness. The bike style and paint chosen I kept my eye on the usual sources.
Eventually I found this one languishing in the back of a shipping container in Wexford, and after a ten hour round trip to pick it up I had it back in Belfast. Some bikes like the XS400 Special G need the ugly taken off, and simply removing the seat, sissy and handlebars exposes the good bones underneath. I went ahead and rebuilt the wheels with stainless spokes and powder coated the rims satin black, I got a set of carb rebuild kits and new fuses.
One of the hardest thing to do is simplicity, when it looks like you’ve done very little but you have in-fact made countless decisions not to add a bit extra here or something flashy there, to hold yourself back, stripping away the unnecessary and adding in just enough to create an understated cool aesthetic. Having already started the strip down for the build I had seen the frame, engine and wheel hubs had a really cool patina, so I gently cleaned them back to retain as much as possible of their weathered hardened appearance to contrast the slickness of the new parts and paint against them.
The tail cowl seemed a logical piece to start with my introduction to metal shaping on the english wheel, not to big or a complex curve, I wanted to combine the traditional shape of a cafe race seat but raise up the finish point more like a modern sports bike. I set about creating a large curved bowl I could trim down into the final shape I wanted, it took a few goes to figure out how to shape the alloy in the right direction without going too far or simply ruining the piece, but eventually I had a shape close too the one I had planned.
Next was the fairing, before I started I looking at a lot of fairings for style and to figure out how I could put one together, having decided I would make it in three parts and then assemble it, I began with the front top part that would come up from the light and around the rider as that would be the most important piece to get right as the rider would be looking at that part the most, then move on to the sides. The front went well but the sides took a couple of goes to get what I was looking for, which that taught me a thing or two about thinking from 2 to 3d. Then my original plan was to use the XS headlight and cut a hole to that size in the front of the fairing but when I marked up the dimensions, it looked massive and I was going to lose some of the shape I had worked had to create and some structural strength at the side. I sourced a couple of small spot lights, a dipped and main beam and cut a vertical slot in the front of the fairing maximising the amount of materiel at the sides. I think it worked out for the best as the front has a cool Sci Fi feel, I also used some vintage parts I had been saving, a Magura quick action trials throttle and a pair of Harley cigar exhausts, then I brushed all the chrome and polished parts to dull them for a consistent look across the bike.