By Craig Els | Published on 2020-04-17
I’ve been thinking about these stories I’ve been writing over the last few days and what it’s done is take me to a really good space in my head, where everything feels cleaner and crispy fresh, although at the time this was all happening, it seemed a lot more confusing and tumultuous.
Another thing that’s happening is, there are a hell of a lot more memories flooding in, it’s amazing how you pack things away in your head, and to a certain degree almost lost in everyday life, consciousness and function, and when given the right condition like this lockdown has been imposed on us, the time to sit and reflect on the successes and failures you have experienced for yourself over the years, take that and make new plans and set new goals. I’m almost very sure you have heard the saying "Hindsight is a perfect science!" with all the info you already have in your memories, you should have everything you need in hindsight to make better educated and calculated decisions for yourself going forward. That said, let’s move forward.
Enter KTM 520 Cafe
It was one Friday afternoon, sitting on my couch flicking through some pics on Pinterest or Instagram or FaceBook...... and I see a Roland Sands ( An American based Custom Bike builder, for those that don’t know yet...go look them up) post on this Little KTM 525 Cafe Racer, it was only one picture, and I was floored at what they had done with it. I had to see more, so got onto uncle Google, and Boom 💥... there it was, a whole page dedicated to this build, lots of pics and some background to the build. I won’t include any of their pics in this post as I feel I have already pushed the boundaries in using their build to inspire mine, although different in many ways.
30 minutes later, Dylan walks in and says, “Dad....have you seen this pic? And shows me exactly what I’d been looking at, and with a look of disappointment asks me why on earth did I sell the 520 a few years prior. We spoke about it for a while, and both of us felt that this is a bike we would attempt to build. In the end, there was only one, I wanted it, and I couldn’t have it, so there was only one other option.... make my own one.
Step one, find a donor bike, at that stage we still had the 06 450EXC that I bought from Gary Smith (Sox..to people that don’t know his real name) to replace the 520, which Dylan was using, and I had a newer 2010 450EXC that I bought from JP, that was my Enduro weapon. We were still riding actively so these bikes were out!
Gus Woodburn had bought the 520 from me and I’d seen some, very few in fact, posts on some Friend groups that he had been riding the bike and was loving it, but they were old posts and there was a good chance that he no longer had the bike. I had to message a few of his mates to find his number, eventually one came through, I called right away and we spoke for a bit, and I popped the question, “Do you still have the Black 520 I sold you a few years ago?”
“YES” was probably the best word I heard the whole day... he went on to tell me, that him and his Wife had actually been speaking about it the night before, and because he had been using his Adventure bike more in recent months, maybe it was time to sell the 520. I was over the moon with excitement, we touched on the price and left it open until I had seen the bike and then lock it in.
I didn’t know he still stayed in Noordhoek and it turns out, he lived three roads away. The very next morning I walked up the road, and it was already standing outside for me, just as it had left my garage, in the same condition, what a bargain. We spoke for a while, and I ended up paying him almost what he had paid me for it a few years back. It didn’t start as the fuel had gone stale and the Battery was flat, so I freewheeled down the road on it back to my place and got it straight into the garage. And this is what I bought back.
Cleaned the Tank, used a little Aerosol Compression Stabiliser (Awesome product for restoring old carburettors and getting all the Crystallised fuel out of the jets) in the carb, checked the oils and Coolant and it was Crunch time...will it run, and how well will it run, were the two big questions.
Two little squirts of the throttle, and no more than two kicks, and it started, a little puff of smoke was all it gave and it ran like the day I sold it! Truly an Awesome Feeling, and to hear that carb whistle again on every throttle blip brought back so many memories.
Our home garage had also started talking shape in terms of getting all the tools sorted out, putting the bike bench together, putting a sound system in and Finding a good spot for the Red Pleather Two seater Sleeper couch to go.
Bike was on the bench, Dylan too young at that stage to have a Rum and Coke with me, although I do think he was having a few sneaky beers anyway, we would sit in there every night for a week or so, on the couch and look at the bike, take a few bits off, talk about the suspension and what wheels we were going to use, and scouring the internet to look for the bits we needed. Low and Behold, Noordhoek delivered AGAIN...in the form of a 06 KTM450EXC with a White Plastics kit fitted and a set of Motard Spoked 17” wheels, right there on Gumtree... also turns out I knew the guy from doing a few Foot-ups trials on the local circuit.
For the life of me, I can not remember his name, although not a Gas-Gas distributor, he had a huge Mercedes Sprinter van full of Gas-Gas Branding and a few Trial and Enduro bikes inside, lekker oke! Gave me a good deal and we had a full bike, that was also Roadworthied and licensed.
Without hesitation, we swopped the wheels over, and the white bike went straight back on Gumtree for a few grand less than we paid for it, and it sold fast.
My Wife, Vanessa saying in her next life, she wants to come back as one of my bikes... you can read into that as much as you like, and I’ll give you a hint, it has to do with the fact that my bikes get ridden a lot!
The 520 then also got loaded up, and off to MP Custom Valve for the Suspension shortening. Martin Paetzold is an absolute guru when it come to this sort of thing, and had the bike for a month or so..he also had to turn the upper fork tubes down a little so the clip on Bars would fit where I wanted them. When the bike came home again, it was time to level the subframe out, and some cutting and Ally welding was all it needed, I did have some extra gussets laser cut to strengthen the frame a little and it also served to add a Blatant hint as to what the bike actually was, I had the letters 520 EXC cut into it as well.
Then there was a lot more sitting around on the Red Garage couch as we tried on numerous tanks, bum boxes and headlights... (that look very odd)
And then this tank arrived... This was the base for what was about to happen.
I found a guy in Pretoria that makes Fiberglass Cafe BumBoxes and some Tank covers, I ordered a few bits and pieces from him and they seemed to work the best, but still not what I wanted. I think it was Jonathan Tee that pointed me in the direction of Keith Bright, the owner and operator of BrightGlass, I went to see him with the bike in the van and he said he was very busy and didn’t have too much time to do a once off like this, but he could see that I was passionate about the project, and said to leave it there and he will call me when he has some ideas for me.
After many phone calls, and visits to his factory, where I would just walk straight through to the back and deal with his factory manager on the design side, and he was the guy doing the work anyway, we eventually had the final design and finish in place for the BumBox, Tank with built in Radiator shroud and the little Headlight mini fairing.
While waiting for all of this to be completed, I had the wheels off the bike and we carried on with stripping and cleaning. I sent the rims, spokes and spoke nipples off to Powercote, for Ceramic coating, the stuff came back so awesome, I send the swing arm, Fork outer tubes, and a whole bunch of engine covers and bits and pieces to be coated. When I got the bill, I almost fell on my arse! Shit a brick this Ceramic stuff is Pricey! But it’s so pretty!
We did the spoke nipples in orange, and the spokes in Matt Black, when we put the wheels together, I was so floored at how easily the nipples spun onto the spokes and the threads were also coated, it’s super thin and acts like a ceramic lubricant. We got the frame and all the Fiberglass bits back from BrightGlass and I was sooooooo happy with what was done, now just to put it all together, make sure of all the fixing points and brackets that needed to be made and coated too. It was all coming together quite nicely in the garage.
Once done, the bike had to leave yet again, this time for painting at LT Custom, Lionel is a master painter and his finishing is second to none! It took a while for him to get the right colour mixed up that I wanted, as it was a Tangerine Burnt Orange with a gold flake in it. He has the recipe saved on his computer as Craig’s Orange, which we ended up using the same for my GP bikes orange bits as well.
At that point, I needed to start thinking about the finer detail and accent paint that the bike would get....Now let me tell you this, it’s not feckin easy to decide where the stripes go, and how thick they should be, and how many they should be, and and and......Again after a few more hours pouring through the inter web looking at endless bike pics, and I should tell you this is a dangerous thing for me, as there are lots of pretty pretty bikes on there, and I wanted them ALL too. I saved many pics for future inspiration, for future builds. I’d seen enough and I had an idea of what I wanted, and it was as easy as GT style racing stripes over the top of the bike, and just offset to centre, one slightly thicker than the other.
To add to the paint was an idea to include some of the old bikes history, so I kept the last racing number I had, which was 565, and then lastly the obligatory KTM logo on the tank, and I’ll tell you this, even the logo wasn’t that easy to decide on, through the years, KTM have changed the logo design a bunch of times, and not needing to have the correct year model logo on for the same year as the bike, but rather the correct logo that suited the style of the bike, became more important than ever. Old racing number and the GT stripes.
While that was all happening in the background, we started to get busy on the motor on my workbench. We gave some thought to opening it up and checking piston and rings and for any other wear it might have suffered, but, it worked and it sounded healthy from the last running. I’d seen some fancy bolts and nuts online, and so used uncle Google again and found a local dealer for a UK 🇬🇧 product called PROBOLT, the most stunning Aluminium and Titanium bolts your eyes have ever seen, and they did them in Anodised Orange for goodness sakes! Well I almost had to take an extension on my bond to get a little bag of these bolts, so off we went, only to find out that ALAN himself, the local PROBOLT dealer, is a bike Nutter as well. We spoke for hours and he took me to see his collection of 2 stroke track racing machines from the 80s.
And I can’t help thinking that if I never got into these projects, I would never have run into so many interesting people along the way, this is a completely unexpected bonus you get to be a part of and enjoy.
Buy this stage the Motor looked awesome, it was clean and had some nice shiny new Orange bolts all over the motor, but the standard Exhaust just wouldn’t cut the mustard in this case. I needed yet another plan, back to Gumtree I went..found a set of LeoVince GP Pro pipes for a GSXR600 and jumped in my car that next Saturday morning first thing, and off to TableView I went, yet again, dubiously meeting some guys that belonged to a “Very serious Cape Town Bike gang” with club jackets and all, and you must know when they tell you don’t come in, we have to put the 6 Pittbulls away first, you are dealing with another kind of dude.
How wrong I was, these are genuine guys, looking out for a fellow biker brother and yes, maybe we didn’t go to the same school or church for that matter, they were respectful and kind to the point they offered me a Brandy and Coke at 9 in the morning, so I settled on a Black Label or two 😂, and we spoke bike stuff for the rest of the morning. I walked away with the pipes I went there for, and a Beautiful Black Micron Slipon for a Yamaha R1, and a bunch of biker friends. Pipe in the right spot, now time for Header pipes.
We had the Header pipes done from the motor side, to where I wanted the tail piece to sit, in dairy grade brushed Stainless steel tube, with the welds visible, so when the pipe heated up, it makes the stainless discolour, to a very eye pleasing blue, purple and then onto the orange browns, I also wanted the collector (a piece in the exhaust pipe that joins the two pipes into one, a Y piece) to be as far as possible from the motor, as this is like a tuned length of pipe that will improve the Torque and develop more power, and since the pipe had an easier routing around the bottom of the engine, we had the space to do it. Looking Sick!
I've added a little video below of the 520’s ability to get that front wheel up for a bit!
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