Written by Andrew Jones
My kids recently took much pleasure in tripping me up with some trivia they had learnt in school. “What’s the largest desert in the world?” they quizzed, with a smug look on their faces. “The Sahara,” I proclaimed, confidently. “Wrong. It’s Antarctica!” they squealed. Of course, the little shits were right. Most people think that deserts are hot and dry, but really it’s just a lack of precipitation that defines them. So when I saw this snow-bound ‘Desert Sled’ from Montana’s Number 8 Wire, the whole sorry incident came rushing back. Lucky for me, there was a cool Honda CL350 custom on hand to numb the pain.
Speaking of the wilderness, it seems to be just the way Number 8’s number one likes it. “I am Colin Cornberg, the owner and operator of Number 8 Wire Motorcycles in Philipsburg, Montana. I do everything on the bikes except the paint and upholstery. I currently work out of my garage in the woods which is about 8 miles south of a town of 900 or so people.”
Aside from the usual business moves, Colin’s current big project is a supercharged Harley Street 750 he’s building for a client. Having already eyed the work in progress, we’re confident the bike will be a real head turner. And Colin seems to think so, too. “It will be unveiled at the 1 Moto Show this February in Portland.” We can’t wait to see the finished product in person when we’re there.
“As for this bike, it’s a purpose-built scrambler that started life as a 1972 Honda CL350,” Colin says, “It is called the ‘Desert Rose’. I got the donor bike from a friend a few years ago as a basket case. It’s the usual story with older bikes around here.” But Colin was determined to reverse the ravages of time and piss poor home mechanics, so he got to work.
“The inspiration for the build was to have a vintage desert sled I could enter in my friend Anthony’s ‘Revivalhouse Desert Race’ in Oregon.” Those up to speed on the West Coast custom scene in the US will know Anthony as the owner of Enginethusiast customs. “Turns out the bike was sold before the event, so I ended up having to ride in the modern class.”
The bike’s transformation required a full engine rebuild; this included oversized OEM pistons, a cylinder bore, a valve job and an upgraded cam chain system. “I wanted it to be rideable off-road, so I slapped on an old XL250 front end.” Of course, it wasn’t that simple. It never is. “I had to extend the stem and play around with some bearings to get it to all work properly.”
“After bringing that front end up, I had to then extend the swingarm and go for much longer shocks than stock. Next was the headlight cowl and faceplate, which I formed out of aluminum sheet.” Then plastic fenders, LED lighting, some new wiring, electronic ignition and a Trail Tech computer were added to bring the build up-to-date and to simplify the ride, crash, fix, repeat process. “As I do with all my builds, I finished it off by making a bespoke stainless exhaust with twin Cone engineering mufflers.”
“This was a fun build. I’ve done a bunch of these Honda twins in the last few years and it seems rare to not have a couple of the engines on the bench. The most time-consuming part of the build was probably extending the swingarm, steering stem and kickstand.” And after all the hard work, what are his final thoughts? “The aesthetic of the bike combined with the fact that it actually is old and it rips is what I like most about this build.” Me and my over-educated kids couldn’t agree more.