IF KTM MADE MAICOS
“Two years ago I saw the Caselli KTM built by Roland Sands Design. I’d not seen anything like it before,” says Dan Ridge about RSD’s tribute to off road racing star Kurt Caselli, who died while competing in the Baja 1000 in 2013. “I thought, ‘I can do that,’ so I decided it was time to do a project bike.”
Caselli won the AMA Hare and Hound National Championship three times, competed in eight ISDEs for the American national team, and won two Dakar Rally stages in 2013. He was voted AMA Sportsman of the Year in 2007. As a tribute, and in association with KTM North America, RSD took a brand-new KTM 450 SX-F in 2015 and turned it into a desert sled custom. But for his first ever custom build, Dan had his tired and battle-scarred 2004 KTM EXC400. “I used it as a green-lane enduro bike,” he says, as we stand chatting in the disused quarry that he used to practice in. “The bike was unloved. It was in the shed, covered in mud, plastics cracked and battered. It ran but it was in a right old state.”
Dan used to race schoolboy motocross, winning the Mid Wilts club championship before becoming a top-ten runner in British nationals by the time he was 17. “Then I reached 18 and realised there were other things in life, like girls and parties. I quit racing but the thrill of riding off road never left me, so that’s how come I had the KTM in the shed.”
While he was inspired by RSD’s custom, the reason for creating a 1970s style crosser comes from the very early days of his motocross career. “My dad and uncles all raced motocross in local AMCA events on big two-stroke Maicos and it was that vision of those old bikes, plus seeing Steve McQueen play in the dunes on Husqvarnas [in the epic On Any Sunday movie], that left a lasting impression on me. I’ve always loved the style of those late ’60s and early ’70s motocross bikes with the boxy shaped tanks and long flat saddles.”
Dan stripped the sorry KTM down to the frame and then set about the rebuild. “It had to be right aesthetically so I started with the tank and seat,” he said. “It needed the posture and stance of a vintage ’crosser. The tank was a saga. I wanted a tear shaped tank but it didn’t work, so I got the tank made with a more boxy Maico style shape and then got the painter to come up with a teardrop shaped graphic. It’s very square, but if it had been a teardrop the seat fit would not have been right and I’d have had to compromise there.”
Next job for Dan was to design a new subframe to follow the bottom line of the tank. It was fabricated in aluminium alloy by Lumley Engineering in Highbridge, along with the fuel tank, sidepanels and front number board. And the rather sweet diamond-stitch seat was produced by the company that’s handily located next door to the fabrication shop.
The spot on alloy mudguards are actually off the shelf vintage Husqvarna parts which Dan bought on line: £110 front, £70 rear. He bought two sets so there is always a pair of standby replacements in the shed, just in case the originals get damaged.
Creating a 1970s styled off road custom is a cool idea. However those original bikes, be they two stroke or four stroke, were all giant air cooled blunderbusses. So Dan came up with a plan to conceal the radiators of the water cooled KTM four stroke single as much as possible, within a tight budget.
“The radiators were tricky,” he admits. “On the original motocrosser they are covered in plastic, so I bought radiator guards and painted them black, aiming to make it look as much like an old air-cooled bike as possible.”
As KTM’s raceready off roaders have always come with top grade components, the original WP fork and shock were just cleaned up and rebuilt, and then the headstock bearings replaced. Dan stripped the original wheels then had the hubs and rims powder-coated. “I bought Dubya spokes and orange nipples from the States only £50 plus £40 delivery – and relaced the wheels. That was a very theraputic experience, almost Zen-like!” Tyres are Euromaster knobblies. The original Brembo brakes have been rebuilt using all new seals, however they now grab new brake discs.
“The trouble is the more shiny stuff you have though, the more it highlights the old tatty stuff,” reckons Dan. The top end of the motor has been stripped and rebuilt. The piston and camchain are new, while the valves, springs and rest of the valve train are all original. While the top end was off, Dan got the bottom end of the 398cc single checked out by a local engineering firm who said it was in really good shape and so didn’t need pulling apart.
The EXC comes with electric start, however Dan’s bike is now kick only for simplicity. “It’s a nod to the orginal motocross bikes that were always kick only,” he says with a smile. “That exhaust pipe is custom made and definitely not Akrapovic - that’s just a 25p sticker on there.” The header pipe is original, and has simply been sandblasted and then painted with barbeque paint. “I think ‘high temperature paint’ is the technical term,” he laughs.
If RSD’s Caselli KTM inspired Dan, we reckon Dan’s KTM is inspiration to others thinking about building a vintage retro crosser. Although now it’s finished, Dan’s not exactly sure what to do with it.
“Maybe it was always more about the project rather than building a bike to ride,” he says. “At the time my mother had passed away, and getting out in the shed and working on the bike helped me through that period. It also became a family thing well, my wife Sarah Jayne got co-opted into helping work on the bike. She became an ace brake bleeder and was always an extra pair of hands.
“But now it’s finished I’m not quite sure what to do. Ride it? It is fully road legal, but if I ride it, it’s only going to degenerate. It’ll get covered in stone chips.”
Having the project on the go gave Dan a great work/life balance during its build, though he says his work has gone nuts recently and so he’s glad he got the bike finished. “It was always meant to be fun, so if I did start to feel stressed I’d just walk away from the project for a while.” The KTM has revived Dan’s interest in competion bikes, though. “I’ve bought an old Yamaha WR450 and I’m planning to go back racing – but this time on dirt ovals with the DTRA. I’ve already done a couple of practice days and really love the buzz of competition.”
And as for custom bikes, he’s already planning another project. “I quite like the idea of a big V-twin, maybe a Harley Sportster or Yamaha Virago as the base but with a single sided swingarm, oversize R6 forks, and the same size tyres front and rear – something like JvB Moto have done with their Flat Red Ducati. I’ve had Ducati road bikes before and JvB have provided the inspiration that’s got me thinking.”