No matter how new and shiny your bike, chances are, you’ve used duct tape and/or zip ties at one point or another. You may have also used improvised roadside fixes like temporarily replacing a broken lever with an Allen key just to get you home or to the garage, or relied on a piece of wire to hold a cracked exhaust together. During rally races, I’ve seen riders pulling off all kinds of crazy fixes; needs must. But what about sourcing or creating motorcycle parts out of scrap – if not for economical reasons, but rather, just for the hell of it?
During my first couple of years of riding South America, I never paid for tires. At the time, I rode a tiny Chinese bike which was so popular across the entire continent that most motorcycle mechanics in towns and cities had heaps of used tires sitting at their backyards. I’d ask if they had any used tires they didn’t need anymore – they usually did – and replace my worn-out tires with, well, slightly less worn ones. Perhaps not an ideal scenario, but being twentysomething and on an ever-dwindling budget, I managed to ride from Peru to Argentina to Colombia without spending anything on tires.
When I finally got my first “real” adventure bike – a Suzuki 650 – it already sported a windshield made out of a Walmart garbage can and a toolbox made from a plumbing pipe. While the credit for these genius solutions goes to @rtwpaul, not me, I have decided to carry on dumpster diving for motorcycle parts whenever I could; it’s not that I still can’t afford them, it’s that it has become a sort of a sport. My DR650 has seen three continents, two rally races, and multiple misadventures along the way; it’s a solid, indestructible pack mule that can take on an occasional race once in a while, but an eye-catching, glorious beauty it is not, never has been, and never will be. And so, recently chancing upon a piece of fiberglass somewhere on a beach in Andalucia, I figured it looked like a potential side panel (I finished the original one off on the gnarly terrain somewhere in the Dinaric Alps).
After some measuring and cutting, that’s exactly what it had become.
It does look like an unspeakable monstrosity, but function over form; and besides, this Frankenbike is way past the point of no return. Next up, it’ll be a rally tower made out of scrap, or perhaps some improvised crash bars as I’m gearing up for the next leg of the journey, wherever that may take me.
There is a pleasure in making things with your own hands, however questionable the outcome, and it’s sort of satisfying not to contribute to consumerism culture but rather repurpose things others have discarded. Most of all, I sometimes have my Remarque moments on the road: one of my favorite books is Three Comrades, a melancholy saga about three friends running an automobile repair shop in wartime Germany. In the book, Otto, the head mechanic and a former racer, owns “Karl”, a car that looks like a horrible, rusted-out piece of scrap yard garbage on the outside. Underneath the mangled, rusty exterior, however, runs a racing heart: Karl has a racing engine, and Otto sometimes entertains himself overtaking brand new Mercedes drivers on the German highways, leaving them questioning their sanity as a rusty, rattling old beetle sits on their tail for a while – no matter how much they speed up – then overtakes them effortlessly and leaves them behind coughing up fumes and sprinting off into the sunset.
My DR650 is a little like Karl – it has a solid custom suspension, a carb that bites, and indestructible wheel rims, but on the outside, it’s like a dual-sport bike got hopelessly drunk and had a baby with Mad Max’s ride. The look of disbelief on some riders’ faces seeing this rusty, cobbled-together cucaracha creep up on them during a rally or on the road is just pure entertainment. Petty? Perhaps, but life’s small pleasures are not to be ignored.
For better or worse, this DR650 just keeps on going, no matter what, and by doing these little scrapyard projects, I’m learning a thing or two about bike maintenance along the way (I can now locate my carb – hallelujah!). Esthetics is clearly not my strong suit, but beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and I hope the pack mule and I will cover thousands of miles more together. Held together by zip ties and wishful thinking – but adventuring on.
Have you ever repurposed found or used stuff for motorcycle parts, and what was the result? Share in the comments below!