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Building a Bobber

Sunday, March 11, 2018   (4 Comments)
Posted by: Dave Arundel #194789

I have been riding motorcycles for more than 45 years. Triumphs, Nortons, BSAs, Ducatis, a Harley-Davidson and a lot of BMWs. R bikes, K bikes, Airheads and Oilheads. I have also been fortunate to live near one of the best BMW motorcycle mechanics and builders in the world, Charlie Johnson, and his step-brother, John "JB" Peterson. I live in Minnesota and unless there is snow or ice on the streets, I ride my trusty 2011 BMW R 1200 GS Triple Black each day on my commute around Lake Minnetonka to work.

No one will argue that motorcycles have become more and more complicated. I recently read a review in Cycle World of a new Japanese motorcycle where 75 percent of the review was a description of the intricacies of the various rider aids. Traction control, ABS, suspension presets, drive by wire, etc. What I didn't read was the reviewer's seat-of-the-pants experience of sitting on top of a 1000cc motorcycle with the wind in his face.

The most elegant piece of men's clothing you can wear is a tuxedo. It is also the simplest and usually a plain black coat and pants with thin lapels and a couple buttons. A simple white shirt and some kind of simple black tie. In many areas of life simple equates to elegance, and I wondered if that could apply to motorcycles as well.

Last fall I teamed up with Charlie and JB to build what I believe to be the tuxedo of motorcycles: a BMW Bobber. A minimal motorcycle and one that would appear to not even have enough parts to run. A minimum of frame, wiring, gauges, controls, lighting and anything else that didn't matter. What would it look like and how would it ride?

Charlie Johnson and JB Peterson work out of a small, but well-equipped shop in Deephaven, Minnesota. They do not advertise nor do they have a website. To find them you have to know someone who knows them, as their customers do the advertising. Yet even without advertising or a website, they stay busy 12 months a year servicing BMWs and creating BMW eye candy.

Charlie began his career at Karl's Cycle Shop in South Minneapolis doing a little of everything starting out as a mechanic and ending up as service manager. Before long, BMW NA hired him as a district sales manager, eventually making him a national technical manager for BMW North America.

At the time, BMW didn't have an overabundance of dealerships, nor were there many independent BMW shops. In 1992 JB was working at Karl's Cycle Shop doing a little of everything and when Charlie set up shop, JB joined him. Charlie is the engine guru; JB is the fabrication and service specialist.

Our donor bike was a 1983 R 80 ST. This gave us the advantage of a Monolever swing arm and made the left rear of the bike as naked as a newborn baby. From that point, everything that could be stripped from the bike was removed, and Charlie and JB would build a bike with as few parts as necessary that was not only great looking, but great to ride as well.

Charlie began the project by increasing the displacement of the stock 800cc motor to 1000cc by fitting the top end of a 1984 R 100 RS, which boosted the output from around 50 to around 70 horsepower. Charlie has a vast collection of BMW parts and chose CC Products valve covers from the 1970s to complete the look we wanted on the engine. Keeping the stock five-speed gearbox, the exhaust is a modified black ceramic coated Luftmeister 2-into-1 header with a reverse cone megaphone.

Both the rear hub and 18-inch wheel are stock, and to maintain a clean look, drum brakes were fit in the front and rear. The front wheel is a rear 18-inch rim from a Slash 6 and what just may be my favorite detail, the rear hubcap is modified from a Slash 5.

Tires are Firestone replicas from Coker tire which my wife hand painted white over the raised letters and logos.

While the electronics are stock the battery, an Anti-Gravity lithium-ion battery about the size of two decks of cards has been hidden under the gas tank. The seat is from La Rosa and mounted to a trailer leaf spring modified by JB using an adjustable mounting bracket under the gas tank. JB painted the bike using PPG's Concept Single Stage Black, which leaves a finish resembling looking into a pool of black ink. JB finished by adding silver pinstriping with tapered ends.

The reverse pull levers are copies of 1930s BMW levers and allowed us to hide all but the throttle cable inside the handlebars. The grips are by Bates.

There are too many little custom details to point out, but some of my favorites are:

  • The rear fender appearing to float about an inch over the rear wheel.
  • The Monza-style gas cap.
  • The custom "CJ 002" label signifying that this is Charlie's second Bobber build.
  • The tiny starter and horn buttons on the handlebars.

Riding the bike is a dream. Turn on the gas, pull up the chokes, hit the starter button and the motor fires right up. JB tuned the exhaust to a perfect deep staccato. Pull in the clutch, slip into first and run it up through the gears. The Bobber handles like a dream; if you think it, it does it. The suspension is supple, but not harsh and the seat is remarkably comfortable.

People often ask how I ride without a speedometer or tach. I tell them if you have ridden for over 45 years, you don't use those much anyways. You ride by ear knowing when to shift and you know within five miles per hour how fast you are going.

I wish I could tell you how much I spent to build the bike. The donor bike was $1,500, but if I told you what the total cost was my wife would know and I could be in hot water. Let's say it is around the cost of a new R Nine T. But I have a bike no one else in the world has.

I have never owned or ridden a bike that drew more attention and it's hard to not stare at. The workmanship is world class with every part new or rebuilt. To me, what catches your eye is what is not there. Simple + Elegant = Outrageous Fun!

Thank you Charlie and JB for building me a truly world class BMW Bobber! If you're interested in working with Charlie and JB to build your dream bike or simply for service on your BMW, feel free to call them at 952-449-0357.


George Dimion says...
Posted Tuesday, March 13, 2018
Beautiful bike. Like a beautiful women dressed in black....
Rod G. Walli says...
Posted Monday, March 12, 2018
Thanks for the post. Deephaven is not far from me. I will check to see if they will make my 750 into a one-of-a-kind. Also like the hint at what it may cost. I need both engie work and body detailing. Rod 43082
Dean H. LaForest says...
Posted Monday, March 12, 2018
Whoops, I posted in the wrong story in my first comment. I do know Charlie though. Many years ago he worked on my 1985 K100 RS. He always does great work. And his shop is very busy.
Dean H. LaForest says...
Posted Monday, March 12, 2018
Sounds like a wonderful time. I haven't forgotten some of those mountain passes. Scary! yet, soooo exhilarating! If your at this years rally maybe we will meet in the beer tent. Thanks for the memories. Dino

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