READY PLAYER ONE. A JPS Honda CX650 from One-Up Moto Garage
Written by Marlon Slack
Think you’re busy? Spare a thought for Taylor Henschell from Arkansas’ One-Up Moto Garage. As the name implies the entire business is just him. A one man shop that designs, builds and finishes a custom ride every three months. And he does everything. He does the paint, he does the welding, he sources the parts and he does the stitching. Each bike is a rolling resumé that showcases the incredible work he does alone – and none more so than his latest build, a F1-inspired 1983 Honda CX650C dubbed the ‘John Player Special’.
The distinctive livery of the bike was done by request of the client, a father of a Formula 1 driver and obsessive F1 enthusiast himself. He wanted a motorcycle that was a tribute to the infamous team Lotus John Player Special car originally driven by Mario Andretti and Gunnar Nilsson in the 70’s. That inspiration directed many of the tidy little design details found on the Honda. But more on them in a moment.
The bike itself was built from several partial donors found on Craigslist that have been cunningly fitted together. But the main components come from a middleweight 1983 Honda cruiser. And Taylor isn’t much of a fan of the factory version. ‘The stock CX650 is such an awkwardly proportioned bike,’ he explains, ‘I didn’t know in the beginning if I could totally erase the ugliness of the donor’s stance’. But oh, how he did. But first Taylor stripped it down to see what he had to work with.
‘Step one was to get rid of everything except the main frame and the engine,’ Taylor explains. He then fitted a pair of CBR600RR forks and anodized the upper tubes black. Beneath that is where the JPS homage really begins. ‘The front wheel was sourced from a Honda CX500 Turbo,’ Taylor says, ‘They were a must because they’re light aluminum and 6 spokes like the F1 car, which was a request from the client’. But there was an issue – the CX500T Turbo has a 18” front wheel and only a 17” rear. To get the stance Taylor was after both ends had to match. Which is where things got tricky.
The bike was converted to run a single fully adjustable GSXR600 rear shock and the swingarm was heavily gusseted to manage the conversion. To get the matching rear to work the gusseting was paired to a 3 bolt CX500 rear hub with a CX650E rear wheel locked in with a handmade stainless steel spacer, rear caliper holder and brace arm. ‘Keeping everything straight, rigid, functional and light was a balancing act,’ he explains. But now he had the lines he was after.
At this point One-Up had a lowered rolling frame with some serious stopping power and damn good suspension at the front and rear. The whole assembly came apart for paint and powder coating while attention turned to the engine. Seals were replaced, valves lapped, new head gaskets, stator and everything else you can imagine was overhauled. It was also treated to a one-off, 2-2 exhaust system with Lossa Engineering mufflers, inhaling through aluminum manifolds with brand-spanking new Mikuni VM34 carbs.
But the best thing about the John Player Special racer is the attention to detail that One-Up have used on the build. The rectangular LED headlight is similar to a vintage Indy car’s grill, the twisted metal handlebar brace is a nod to the exposed skeletal front end of many vintage F1 cars and the design on the upholstery itself comes from an aerial view of a vintage F1 nose that Taylor spotted while doing research. Everything on the Honda is bang on – including the hand-built stainless tank with the 24k gold leaf custom decals underneath – and virtually all of it done by Taylor.
It’s no small amount of work for a shop to take on, let alone a one man operation. And he’s not just working on bikes these days either – he’s in the process of building a cafe he’s going to own and run in his home town of Fayetteville, Arkansas. The man doesn’t know when to stop. But I hope that the bikes don’t take too much of a back seat as the work he does is so damn good.
And he’s understandably proud of his latest creation. ‘I love the flow of the racer from the front to the back,’ he says ‘I love how the tank interacts with the cylinders and tapers into the seat. Looking at now the only thing I recognise is the iconic Honda engine that I started with, and that’s my greatest pleasure to see.’ ‘But best of all,’ Taylor admits, ‘It’s a fucking rush to ride!’