James Alkins wanted a cafe racer, but didn’t have the budget to buy a ready-built bike. Instead, he set out to shed-build his own budget bike. we think you’ll agree there’s nothing budget about the finished machine
I decided to take on this project as I desperately wanted a cafe racer but couldn’t find anything to suit me – or my budget. I’m 26 and a boilermaker by trade, but have experience in automotive painting and mechanics. I’m based in Perth, Australia, but my family are in Gloucestershire and Devon – that’s where my love for custom bikes and cafe racers began.
I’ve been working on cars as a hobby since my teens and over the last few years I’ve been working on my own little engineering business focusing on TIG welding and general fabrication. But as for bikes? This one was my first build. While the dream of a low-to-the-ground four-cylinder was appealing, my wife and I have recently purchased a small farm so with practicality in mind I was inspired to build a ‘dual sport cafe racer’ – a country roads blaster that maintained the look and appeal of a hand-crafted cafe racer.
Initially I gathered inspiration from raw scramblers but as the build progressed so did my desire for an agile cafe racer. So I decided on a spine frame, to easily fit a retro tank, a monoshock rear and light weight. Knowing that I also wanted electric start for everyday use I knew needed to look for a modern off-road bike. I found this 2007 Suzuki DR650SE locally – it was worn out and geared-up for long distance touring with a long-range tank, bag and carrier on the back. All of these were unwanted, but I knew the sale of these parts could help fund the build so I took the leap.
The project took six weeks to build after work and over the weekends as I took on every aspect of the build, from welding and painting to engine rebuilding. The DR650 is known for its reliability and high torque, so combined with its electric start and ease with which it can be stripped of weight, it was a great starting block. The finished wet weight was 135kg, so the power-to-weight ratio has been massively improved.
The old dash has been upgraded to an Acewell digital unit complete with pilot lights, tacho and many other functions. The wiring has been simplified, shortened and tucked into a custom built box under the seat which also houses the battery and alarm system (complete with knock sensor) and keyless start.
The motor was rebuilt, repainted and lightly reworked to uncork its true potential. Topped off with a Stage 3 jet kit, high-flow intake and a straight through retro muffler, the sound and responsiveness are spectacular.
Much to my surprise, the hardest part of the build was getting the look of the fuel tank right. I sourced a Yamaha XS500/TX500 tank online. Choosing the exact shape, mounting it so the lines flow without interruption, modifying it to fit, sanding, painting, detailing… it was all difficult to get right. It took a third of the total build time, but was well worth it.
The final product is a super fast, agile and reliable cafe racer with all the modern perks that is both comfortable to ride and loads of fun. The thing I love most is that I built it with my own hands – every part has its own funny story.
I know that some may not appreciate that this cafe racer had adventure bike origins, but I feel the finished build is almost a reflection of myself and I think the uniqueness of this type of build is what really drove me forwards to take on every challenge.