Something old, something new

A fondness for rat bikes and rat rods inspires one man to turn an old Gold Wing into a new “old ratty” machine.

 

Since its birth in the mid-1970s, the Gold Wing has been the go-to for comfortable long range cruising. With thousands of custom aftermarket parts and performance bolt-ons available, it’s hard to find two bikes exactly the same. But what really makes your bike stand out from the rest? Let me tell you what I think.

I have always been fascinated by the evolution of the “custom” motorcycle. Long fork choppers, fat tires, and big horsepower are popular trends I’ve dreamed about. But when it came time to build my own I wanted something different: something that stood out in a crowd, something that requires you to have to look at it for a few minutes before moving on to the next bike. So how do you make a Gold Wing stand out in a crowd, you may ask? Well ….

To be honest, when I first started looking for a donor bike to customize, the Gold Wing wasn’t one of my first choices. However, I found that the low center of gravity of the flat four engine was a great choice for a design I had in mind. Two years later I was able to find a stripped-down 1982 GL1100 Aspencade with no plastics. Perfect for what I was looking to do. To make the Wing stand out from the others I needed to change the stance. It needed to be “low,” “long,” and “mean”! Yet I still wanted to retain the comfort for which the Gold Wing is known. I decided to build the bike in Rat Rod style. By doing this I was able to reuse as many parts from the original bike, such as the luggage racks, handlebars and floorboards and use a few parts I had lying around. Not only does it give the bike specific character but also keeps the build cost down.

I built a frame jig on my workbench to hold the bike straight. You can’t have a crooked frame. I started with the rear of the bike. I stretched the frame 13 1/4 inches and built a “reverse hung rear leaf spring” suspension. The leaf hangs from the underside of the frame and attaches to the swing arm on either side. Because the stock swingarm was retained I needed to lengthen the original driveshaft and add proper U-joints to eliminate binding. I was able to purchase another Gold Wing driveshaft and with some light machining of the “input” side of the rest driveshaft, it fit into the “output” side of the second driveshaft. A steady bearing was added to the shaft to keep everything running straight.

As I moved forward I focused on engine maintenance and care. New timing belts, spark plugs and valve adjustments were made. Being that I removed the original gas tank from beneath the seat of the Wing, I needed a new one. With limited real estate to mount a new tank, I used a small 2.5-gallon air tank that was placed in front of the radiator. As you can imagine, the bike does not have much fuel range.

Then came the front suspension! I selected a springer-style air shock design I had seen over the years on other custom bikes. Because I was building the suspension from scratch I needed to reverse engineer the calculations for proper “rake and trail” for conventional springer suspensions. Tire dimensions, steering post angle, triple-tree offset, ride height and many more factors had to be considered to maintain a safe and functioning steering system. With help from my local machine shop, I was able to get the new springer parts water jetted and machined to my specifications. I then welded everything together. Even with adjustable air suspension, the bike still sits very low (4 inches off the ground at most). You have to pick the road you ride wisely and with a wheelbase of 82 inches, it has a turning radius of a semi! All things considered, it still rides smoother than my 2009 Suzuki S83!

For custom touches, I fabricated an intake manifold to connect the functional Hypercharger that sticks out of the top of the original tank. A new dashboard with gauges, starter switch and air control were added to the original center dash. Custom switch pods inside the handlebars eliminate bulkiness. The original floorboards were kept. I was able to get custom “Wingin It” templates made for visual effect. In combination with the floorboards, I have added a highway bar/signal light bracket built of four connecting rods from a Chevy motor. For color, the frame was sandblasted and treated with muriatic acid and hydrogen peroxide to create an instant Rat Rod rust look. The original seat was tossed and my father’s hockey goalie pad from the 1970s was used in a now-much-lower mounting location. Because of the intense restructuring of the frame and rear suspension, the fender was ditched and an old motorcycle tire with custom bracketry was used in its place. An antique flashlight with a custom LED bulb was mounted for rear brake/tail lighting. A vintage ginger ale bottle is now the bike’s coolant overflow reservoir.

Upon seeing the bike for the first time, people really don’t know how to explain what they see. I often get asked if it is fast! I think it reminds people of the custom drag bikes you see at the strip. The bike, by design, however, was not built for speed. The suicide shift makes it a bit of a handful to shift in a hurry. However, being over 100 pounds lighter than the original Aspencade, it can get to where you want to be in no time.

As you can imagine, the bike draws a lot of attention. The unique stance and suspension design set it apart from other bikes. I have been lucky to get inspiration and knowledge from local builders and fabricators. In fact, my local college has one of the most unique university programs available. Though my bike and I aren’t products of the program, community custom enthusiasts such as myself are promoting it.

Lakeland College’s Street Rod Technologies Program teaches restoration and customization skills to a new generation. The eight-month certificate program includes vehicle design, frame building, metal shaping, custom paint jobs and more. Students work on their own vehicle or bike project in a brand new, fully specialized lab in Lloydminster, Alberta. For more about the SRT program call 800-661-6490 or visit www. lakelandcollege.ca/SRT.

 

BUILD DETAILS

original to wing

  • frame
  • engine
  • triple trees
  • floorboards
  • tank shell
  • rear swing arm
  • rear wheel

built from scratch

  • front suspension
  • frame drop section

add-ons

  • Monroe air shocks
  • front 23″ wheel from old Honda dirt bike
  • front signal housing are Chevy connecting rods from a local engine rebuilding shop
  • seat is father’s hockey goalie pad from 1970s
  • beach bar handlebars from online
  • rear fender is a carved-out rear tire from a 1988 Suzukii Intruder 750
  • Kurykan hypercharger originally from a Sportster
  • vintage flashlight tail and brake light combo with rear signal light housings made from sockets
  • coolant reservoir is a vintage glass bottle and trouble light cage
  • 2.5 gal air tank is now used as fuel tank custom intake tube
  • H2s bump test gas tank is now used as the air tank for the air suspension
  • bike length now 9 feet

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THE BUILDER

By Anita Stienstra

Kevin Sand grew up on a farm in Canada. Like many farm boys, he learned to ride a dirt bike when young and acquired a multitude of skills out of necessity, one of those being the repair and service of machinery. At 15 years of age, he found summer employment working on cars and motorcycles. He’s been working in Alberta as a DC electronics and vehicle accessories installation technician for 13 years.

Sand was inspired to build his custom Gold Wing when he visited Sturgis in 2007. “I saw two rat bikes at Sturgis. They were drawing lots of attention. Guys were looking past the $70,000 Harleys to look at this $5,000 piece of art. I started dreaming from then on. With lots of research, I found the frame design and low center of gravity of the Gold Wing engine was a good choice for a bike with such a low seat height. After a few years of searching for a Gold Wing that was fit to customize, I was finally able to pick one up.” That he did from someone who lived only 80 kilometers from his home. The naked Wing with 40,000 kilometers on the odometer had previously been stripped down. As Sand adds, “It was a perfect candidate for a custom.”

The customization began afterhours at his workplace in 2016. Sand had modified his Suzuki and restored a 1969 Pontiac Firebird, but not to the extent of the work on this bike. Over a 15-month period, Sand spent approximately five months transforming the bike. There was some time away from the project. Completion came in the spring of 2017. “I have 250 hours of build time into the bike. However, I have probably 100-plus hours in research and design and looking for parts that worked with the design,” explains Sand. His father Edwin helped a few days and Sand reached out to a local machine shop to water jet and machine some of the suspension and frame support parts.

While this type of customization is not for everyone, Sand describes why he’s attracted to it. “Rat rods are about the details. Building something from junk or something that would otherwise be useless has always intrigued me. It is also more cost effective. However, there is a fine line of what looks good and not good. You can really mess the overall look with the wrong parts. Lots of time and trial and error has to be put into making it look right, which is the part I enjoy.” Sand and his fiancée, Beatriz, named the motorcycle Public Affair. And what a public spectacle it has become. The bike won first place in the Blueberry Festival car show in St. Walburg, Saskatchewan; first place in Resurrection Moto Show in Edmonton, Alberta; second place in his class in the Just-Kruzin Car Show in Lloydminster, Alberta; and top 10 overall at a car show in Macklin, Saskatchewan.

If owning an award-winning motorcycle isn’t enough, Sand’s stable also includes a 2009 Black Suzuki S83 custom bobber, 2007 Red Honda Spirit 750 and a 1996 Red Kawasaki ZX-6R Street Fighter. On top of that, he has three projects in the works: a 1982 Yamaha SX400 he’s making into a cafe racer/tracker/ brat in black for Beatriz, a 1991 Subaru Sambar truck he plans to do an electric conversion rat rod that looks like a miniature cab-over semi, and a 1986 Blue Honda GL1200 he wants to make more of a bagger, mixed as he says “between street glide and heritage classic.” No doubt these will be winners too.

 

 


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