I judged my first custom sportbike show just six years ago. I remember the winning bike-a mean, green Kawasaki ZX-7R with a polished frame, fluorescent wheels, some anodized hardware and even a space alien mural on the fairing-and I clearly remember thinking it was the most outrageous sportbike I had ever seen. My, how times change...
That shined-up Ninja might have been all that and a bag of barbecue pork rinds back in the day, but it's not even from the same planet as a modern custom like this ZX-10R from Steve Kehler, owner of Hatboro, Pennsylvania's Tricked Out Custom Cycles (www.tocc.biz), who built this bike to compete in the upcoming custom sportbike build-off TV show Metric Revolution (www.metrictv.com). Featuring a stretched swingarm with a 300-series rear tire, a raked front end with an oversized, 19-inch wheel, custom bodywork made from pieces of at least five other bikes, gobs of chrome and stunning paint that looks like liquid metal poured over the bike, Kehler's ride looks like something sent from Planet Insane Sportbike to banish weak efforts like that pimped Ninja I remember from the custom sportbike world for good.
That assessment pleases the uncompromising (and insanely talented) Kehler, who knows more than a little about the art of custom sportbikes. After all, Kehler's been building them since those bad old days when a neon windscreen was considered hot sh*t, and he tells us that more than 300 tricked-out Hayabusas alone (!) have rolled out his doors since he opened up the Tricked Out Custom Cycles shop. "I've done everything you can do to 'Busas," he says, "and I honestly felt like if I saw another one I'd throw up because it wasn't really a challenge anymore. Now I'm really looking to do something different, something like this."
The Metric Revolution premise is simple-take nine of the best custom sportbike builders in the nation, give them a brand-new sportbike and 180 days, and challenge them to build the craziest sportbike they could imagine. As you might have guessed from the above quote, Kehler would have been happy to take any bike but a 'Busa as the basis for his entry. Actually, Kehler was hoping to land the keys to one of Kawasaki's new ZX-14s, something that no one had customized before, but instead he scored the 14's smaller sibling, the Kawasaki ZX-10R. Kehler, of course, wasn't about to let a little thing like not getting his first choice of bike get in his way. "I know I can take anything and make it look like a showpiece," he says. True that.
Kehler, who talks like a machine gun (and a profane machine gun at that!), tells us that he didn't waste any time getting started with his build-off bike, immediately sketching out a custom that looked as much like a sea monster from a Hollywood movie as a serious sportbike. The Kawasaki's stock bodywork was merely a starting point for Kehler, who cut the fairings up in pieces and then put them back together again with parts from various otherm sportbikes to create an utterly unique style.
Kehler and his crew started with the upper fairing, liberating the central ram air duct and relocating it six inches forward and down, at the very tip of the fairing, where it was molded in, complete with an aggressive point at the chin. The stock ZX-10R headlights were binned in favor of a pair of quad-projectors taken from a late-model Yamaha R6, and then the windshield (actually an R1 tailsection mounted upside down) was stretched and filled before it was cut out in the center to create the dramatic, flying-V upper profile.
The fairing is mostly ZX-10R except for the "ear vents" visible in the front view-these come from a Yamaha R1 tail-and the entire fairing has been plastic-welded together to eliminate mounting hardware and any unsightly seams. The leading edge of the bellypan has also been extended three inches to close the gap between the fairing and front wheel. The razor-edged tailsection is made from two different R1 tails and some GSX-R bits too. The sleek saddle is all custom, consisting of an all-weather vinyl cover (painted to match the rest of the bike) on a hand-built aluminum pan. "I worked hard to make it look flowing and stealthy, and it does just that from the tip of the tailsection, through the sub-frame, all the way to the nose," says Kehler, who estimates that he spent four months perfecting this bodywork. "It's all symmetrical, and the lines all match and flow and pick up on one another."