My self-taught journey on customizing and renovating a Yamaha YBR 125 Custom.
One of the first things I did once I got my licence back in late 2017 was sign up as a member of the Bike Shed in Shoreditch. They’ve got several tiers available, but I decided to go for the Gold level as I figured it would get me the most for the money. You get discounts in the store and off your food and drink, but they also give you access to the events they host throughout the year. The event that caught my eye was the Bike Shed London Show in Tobacco Docks, which occurs around my birthday each year.
When the day finally came around, Julie and I headed there, and I remember my body shaking with excitement as I had never been to anything like this before for bikes. Sure, for as long as I can remember, I’ve been going to supercar events like Goodwood and show events at London ExCel, but this was different. I could finally ride a bike, so I felt part of this community.
The event did not disappoint. There were pop up stands to buy your motorbike gear, tattoo parlours, whisky and craft beer stalls. Whatever comes to mind when you think of the stereotypical biker lifestyle, it was probably there. There was even a blues band performing! I went there, of course, to see the custom bikes, and they were incredible. One can only imagine how many hours of labour were poured into each creation.
Having studied mechanical engineering and product design at university, my mind was firing on all cylinders (see what I did there) figuring out how each bit worked and what steps the builder took to get the final result.
In the world of custom builds, several bikes seem to dominate the market. Some of you have probably already guessed, but I’m talking about the likes of the Honda CB500, BMW /5 and /6, and finally the Yamaha Virago. I’m sure there are lots more, but these are the ones that I see all around the place.
As soon as I left the event, I looked at my Mutt Mongrel thinking what could I change. I didn’t have my full licence yet (blasted L plates) so was unable to take a pillion, and I was never too fond of the bench seat. The thoughts started rolling in, perhaps if I chop this bit off, what if customised this. All in all, my plan would have been to change the Mutt to a single-seater. I would have removed the airbox and relocated the battery elsewhere to create a nice triangular space under the seat. The drag bar would have been changed out, and so the list goes on. Unfortunately, I never got around to doing this, but the thoughts would stay with me.
I used to live in a multi-storey building by the river in Battersea. It was rather lovely and had underground parking which was extremely convenient, but thieves would still get in, and the occasional motorbike and car would go missing (that’s London for you).
Throughout my entire time living in the flat, a Yamaha YBR 125 Custom remained parked in the motorbike bay and never once moved. The dust layer on it was thick enough to act as foundations for half the buildings in the surrounding area. The tyres were flat and cracked; the bars were in a mess, the dials were all broken. It was an eyesore.
I phoned the DVLA and enquired about it. Several phone calls later, including to a special police unit to check it hadn’t been stolen among other things, and then back the DVLA, I was told the steps needed to take ownership of the bike. A few forms later, along with a cheque for £25, and the bike was mine!
I do not need a 125cc bike, so the bike, when it’s done is going to my girlfriend who will soon be doing her CBT.
Onto the bike build...
As mentioned before, the bike wasn’t in good shape. To make things, even more interesting, I didn’t have a key, so I had no idea if it even ran and what shape the moving parts were in. Hindsight is a wonderful thing; unfortunately, I was so excited to get into the build, all hindsight went out the window along with half the panels on the bike. Before anything else, I should have got a key cut to get access to the battery and fuses, fuel tank, and finally, turn on the ignition. This is pretty much the theme throughout the build so far. I do things and then go 'oops, I should have done that first because now I’m making extra work for myself'.
If I had to categorise the style of bike I’m attempting, yes attempting, to build, I would say brat tracker. There is something seriously mean about their look. They’re badass!
Having washed the bike (the water running down the driveway was horrendously dark) and removed the top box, side panels and seat, I could finally get access to some of the more intricate parts. The battery was completely flat, and I already knew I wanted to relocate it, so that, along with the airbox, came out. From this alone, I must have shed close to 20kg. As I was converting it to a single-seat, there was no need for the pillion footrests, so they were next. My goodness, they were heavy!
Time for the wiring loom to come out. As I inspected it, I discovered it had already been tampered with. Now, I’m by no means an expert, but the person who did the work should probably steer clear of doing such work again. To ensure I knew where every bolt, wire connection (the list goes) went, I created a new folder on my phone and snapped everything which looked important.
The Black Widow headers and downpipe to replace the horrendously ugly and heavy OEM exhaust
The rear loop and integrated brake light and indicators
Black RFY shocks to replace the silver stock rear shocks
As I would be changing the lights to LEDs, the relay needed updating, which was a nice and simple task.
My dad has amassed quite the collection of tools over the years, which helped at times, but I was also missing some bits that most people would consider essential. There were months where half my pay-cheque would be going on tools and goodies for the garage. Put it this way; I’ll be more prepared when the time comes to start my second build.
I’ve always liked rear loops on bikes, so that was the next step. As much as I wanted to make my own, I found one online for a good price with a slot milled out for an LED strip which acted as the brake light and indicators. It definitely looked the part. Having taken an angle-grinder to the sub-frame, I could go about welding the rear loop into place. Regrettably, this was yet another machine I lacked in my arsenal, so I ended up using JB weld, which did the trick.
It's still an incomplete project, but so far what I have learned is:
Planning is everything
Don't rush into things
Wiring is a laborious task
Wiring diagrams aren't as horrendous as I thought they would be
Never give up