1988 Suzuki LS650 Zero

Back in 2012, as the shed build movement began to gain traction, I decided that I wanted to build my own bike, custom-made to how I wanted to ride. I am no engineer but I had a vision and knew what I wanted to achieve. I knew it would be a journey and I am glad to say that with the spare time COVID-19 has presented us, I have found the time and inspiration to get the job done.

It could not have been achieved with out the support of my good mate Robin and the last 8 years has been a journey for both of us, we have overcome our own personal challenges along the way and this has been a testament to our friendship and support for each other. We can look back on this build with pride and realize a lot has been gained during the journey and not just in the outcome, although I can say I am very satisfied with what we have achieved.
As a creative person I believed I needed a vision that would drive the project and maintain the design focus throughout the build. I liked the idea of taking a Japanese bike due their metric nature and the idea that parts could be adopted from other bikes or replacements procured if and when required due to their standard metric sizing. From that an overall design theme was formulated that would encompass the build.

The design is a homage to the Mitsubishi A6M “Zero” the long-range fighter aircraft operated by the Japanese Imperial Navy from 1940 to 1945. At the time it was considered to have been the most capable fighter in the world, combining very long range with excellent maneuverability. Once the concept was finalized I needed to source a donor bike that would fit the build and design theme; the Suzuki LS650 was selected due to its mid range size, which produces a nice thumping sound from its single-cylinder, four-stroke engine. The sizable engine provides enough torque and power to get you down the road without being to unwieldy with a nice ride height allowing the rider to get both feet flat on the tarmac. The aim of the design was to be clean and fluid, therefore I wanted a hard-tail-back-end to follow the lines of the existing frame, which complements the simplistic lines of the petrol tank. The existing integrated instrument cluster within the petrol tank provided the ability to maintain the clean look as the mirrors where to be mounted on the old indicator mounts that sit on the upper forks and the switch gear wiring could be integrated into the handle bars leaving the front of the bike with a clean uncluttered look.

Once the donor bike was procured from a well known auction site, the job of stripping it back to its frame commenced. Parts were dismantled, boxed, bagged and tagged before the frame was sent away to a blacksmith who I had enlisted as he had experience in building bike frames. This was sent away in late September 2012 with my detailed design brief for the rear end including a number plate mount, unique integrated battery box, fender with integrated rear light, headlight mount and a new shortened straight through exhaust pipe. This initially was to take a month all told. It eventually took 6 months in an act of foreshadowing what was to come throughout the duration of this build.

To be fair, time really was not mine back then, I was recently widowed with two young boys, so they commanded most of my time and efforts, however the project was something to keep me busy late into the evenings once they had gone to bed. Procuring parts, managing suppliers and learning the specialist skills required to complete a bike build including bead blasting, powder coating and knowledge of all the ancillary parts. During this time I had found an old mechanic that was going to give the engine an overhaul, so he stripped it down for me so I could send it away to get bead blasted and procure new piston rings. I also had the forks refurbished with fresh oil and new springs and seals. I sent the petrol tank away to be cleaned and relined ready for paint. The wheels went away to be powder coated and then fitted with new tires and bearings. I researched parts and accessories that would fit within the design brief and built up a shopping list to be procured as and when the time required. I hunted down some old unique parts that were either damaged and or beyond repair from all points on the compass and repurposed them. I designed bespoke parts and had them fabricated, such as mounts for the mirror arms that fit in to the old indicator mounts, a brass headlight mount to get the headlight sitting at the right angle and integrated seat and tank mount also in brass to maintain the simplistic clean design build.

The paint motif is based on the pop rivet manufacture of the original airplane and detailed research was done to ensure that we got the exact colour codes to match the original planes. I even designed a unique victory marking which was applied before the final finish coats were applied. These can be seen at the base of the rear fender and are the big ‘S’ from the Suzuki logo laid over top of a Harley Davidson flat head engine to denote a victory won by the aircraft’s pilot. The use of victory markings originated during World War II and frequently took the form of the roundel or national flag of the aircraft defeated, I thought this would add to the design theme. It even has bullet markings along the petrol take to indicate that it has been in a dogfight.

This became my outlet for a number of years: reaching various milestones along the way and then having to wait for a part or person to become available to move the project forward. For instance, my airbrush artist was recommended to me however he had a huge waiting list and it took almost a year to get my project started. This was midway through 2016, by then I was used to the set backs and had just accepted that the project would get completed one day.
I could only do so much, my strengths are in project management and creativity, I can weld a spanner but some aspects are beyond my ability and I needed the help and guidance from my dear friend Robin, who was a sounding board throughout the project and provided advice, guidance and assistance when things needed to be resolved.

In September 2017 we assimilated all the components that had been completed, engine, frame, forks, wheels etc and began the process of reassembling the bike ready to commence the process of wiring the electronics. I know nothing about electrics and therefore the plan was to simplify the process using the Motogadget M-Unit as the base of our wiring solution. This would be linked to the Motogadget M-Button connected to Motone microswitches internally mounted inside the handlebars. A Bitwell single cable throttle with the KungFu handlebar grips along side black retro hand controls to finish off the handle bar configuration.

Things were moving swiftly along over a period of weeks every Sunday in my garage, putting the bike back together a few minor adjustments were required such as a the rear fender stanchions needing to be lengthened and
re-manufactured due to rubbing and clearance issues, they were designed based on the original tire and not the new thicker wider tire. The single cable throttle needed a work around as the ferrule would not marry up to the Bitwell housing. Progress was being made and I was starting to see the vision I had drawn up on paper starting to finally take shape, we cracked on with the wiring harness configuration and were making good progress when all of a sudden, one Sunday progress ground to a halt and this remained the case until January 2018. Robin revealed he was having a number of personal issues, which I was already aware of, and that it would be better for him if we could move the bike to his shed, where he could work on it when time permitted, and this is where it remained until recently.

Fortunately, I believe in completing what I’ve begun have learnt patience from this project and other over the years and nudged and cajoled the project where possible along the way without applying to much pressure. I would pop down regularly to work on the bike and build him back up as he doubts himself, I would be there for him to offload and use the bike as a stimulus to drive conversation and action. During that time in the shed we had a number of setbacks, we realized that the engine was not properly reassembled for one reason or another and a new cam-belt chain and tensioner were required. The M-Unit also caused a few more challenges than expected and was not as easy as first thought, finally in early March this year we had a break though and she fired up for the first time spitting oil all over the place. It was identified that the cylinder head seal had not been replaced correctly and a new one was required, thank goodness for CML in Holland as they got us one in 3 days just as lock-down had commenced here in the UK and that was the catalyst to get this bike done.

Over the coming weeks Robin got her started and running, fine tuning the electronics and carburation and finally on April 11th she was returned home and is sitting pride of place in my garage waiting for her MOT, so that we can get her out and about in the community to show off to my biker pals who have been badgering me for years to see the completion of this project.
To say it has been a journey for both of us is an understatement, I had the drive and the need for a project as an outlet after my personal loss, he needed to regain the confidence he had lost and with that we have both come full circle. I have completed what I started and am now looking forward to enjoying this out and about with my new partner and his new found confidence has given him the impetus to crack on with his own project that has been sat dormant for over 10 years.

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