Every single motorcyclist wants to personalize their bike to make it their own. And why not? In many cases these machines are both their livelihood and personal mode of transportation. Just like any kind of enthusiast, bikers are extremely enthusiastic about their rides.
Of course, much of the pride comes from standing out from a sea of hundreds of other bikers. How would one stand out? With a custom build done on a budget.
Since way back in the mid-1990's, I've always wanted to build myself a cafe racer. When this craze all started in the UK back in the 1950's, the idea was to take a used motorcycle, strip off all the parts that are not necessary for going fast and leaving the rest. Modifications are made in the name of speed and lightness, resulting in a sleek, simple and functional motorcycle.
In the Philippines, the hankering for classic looking motorcycles is still strong among riders. As such, my goal was to build this kind of motorcycle that can also be used on the daily.
The Base Bike
Iconic among cafe racer enthusiasts, the Honda CG125, better known here in the Philippines as the TMX 125 Alpha, is one of the best bikes to convert. Being a popular Pantra (pantrabaho, business model) and in homage to the recent passing of Chadwick Boseman, I decided to call it the Black Pantra(pik).
I chose this bike, first off, because the parts support from the aftermarket is astonishing. Literally everything you will need is available for this motorcycle. From front to back, frame, engine, to wheels and tires, all available for purchase and easy to install. After doing some research on the parts that I would like to use, I knew this would be the best starting point for this project.
Being that times are tough from a financial point of view due to the current pandemic, I wanted to accomplish this build on the cheap. Before I started, I was riding a Keeway Cafe Racer 152 (see a trend here?). Having two bikes was out of the question so my idea was to build a cafe racer out of a Honda TMX 125 Alpha using only the cash I received from the sale of the Keeway. This meant I needed to find a bike that was cheap enough to have money left over for the modifications. It also had to be in good enough condition with little need for repairs or replacement parts. Additionally, the parts that I will be replacing should be in good enough condition to resell. This way, additional funds can be put towards better quality aftermarket parts. So, I posted the CR152 for sale and she sold for a very good price.
My go-to hunting ground was Facebook Marketplace. Each night, I would search the listings for a suitable candidate.
There were a couple of listings I decided to check out. One was a really nice 2018 model with new tires and a modified exhaust. Alas, it was one of those sketchy deals where the seller promises the original certificate of registration and original receipt will come in a couple of months.
There was another listing for a TMX 125 but the owner seemed to want a bit more than I originally wanted to pay. But the bike, a 2019 model, was in great condition and already had some good parts on it. It even had aftermarket wheels and tires, a lowering top triple clamp (aka, butterfly clamp or crown), bullet muffler and a utility box. The wheels were just this gaudy anodized day-glo green. But hey, I'm sure someone out there will want a set of these.
To make a long story short, this is the bike I decided to purchase. Papers were complete, deed of sale was signed. Now the bike was mine.
Rules of the Build
As I mentioned earlier, this build was to be done on the cheap. After paying more than I originally planned for the TMX 125, I needed to get the best parts for the money. Any and all parts that are taken off the TMX are to be resold to pad the build budget.
When modifying, no welding, no power tools (unless it’s possible to borrow), no shops. The build was to be done in a condo parking garage, in between parking spaces. Anything to be done had to be accomplished with my limited amount of hand tools. So, preparation and creativity was a must.
Online Shopping Time
I fired up the online marketplace and started checking out the parts needed for this build. This being a cafe racer build, the bike shouldn't need a whole lot of parts-- just minimalist modifications.
So I put together a short shopping list: Lowering Top Triple Clamp, Rear indicators, Side cover grommets, Rear shocks, Drag style handlebar, Headlight with built-in indicators, Cafe racer seat, Tail Light, Classic grips, Mirrors, Silencer for bullet muffler, Fork boots, and a Tachometer.
First off, the reason I bought another lowering top triple clamp was the one that came on the TMX was a really low-quality item. This would probably break if I removed the forks one time too many. So to avoid any mishaps, I took it off and ordered a better one.
Headlight, indicators, and the tail light needed to be changed to get the aesthetic right. The boxy and overly large proportions of the standard parts just weren't going to work.
For the handlebars, traditionally, clip-on bars would have been the way to go for a cafe racer. But after seeing so many builds with these handlebars, I wanted to be different. I haven't seen many builds with a drag style bar so I figured this would be a differentiating item. Plus, it does accomplish the same thing -- lower the steering controls for a more aggressive seating position.
Speaking of seating, a proper cafe racer has to have a cowl seat. Or in this case, a seat that looks like it has a rear cowl. Riding two-up is not in my future with this bike. Plus, a proper cafe racer is mainly a single-seater machine.
The bullet muffler that was already installed on the bike was just way too loud. I felt guilty just idling. Moreso revving the engine to 9500 rpm in top gear on the roadway (yes, I did that.). So, to be more acoustically proper (and avoid confiscation), a silencer had to be purchased.
A proper cafe racer has a tachometer. In my case, only a tachometer. Again, simple, minimal, functional. I can always derive my speed based on engine RPM, gear ratio and tire diameter. Best of all, it's cheaper than having a speedometer with a tach.
For the rest of the items, they're mainly for aesthetics. Majority of the build will be spent disassembling parts and coming up with creative ways of installing stuff.
That sums up the first stage of the build. Tune in next time when I put together some of the parts and show you how it looks.
Written by Dr. Clunky