The art of building custom motorcycles is often a dance between creativity and commerce. Building the ultimate motorcycle is a Pyrrhic victory if it goes unridden and unappreciated.
To circumvent that problem, the builder can simply build for himself. As his own client, he can satisfy his every desire; he can create a flawless jewel, without the need to compromise on even a single facet.
Tim Robel of Tim Robel Concepts cut his teeth as a machinist and welder in the Air Force Reserves, and parlayed those skills into a 25-year career as a renowned builder of exotic off-road competition and concept vehicles.
His spin-off businesses-Area 51 FabWorks, Armored Up, and Bushido Motorsports-have a common theme: If you can dream it, we can build it.
That brings us to his very personal work-the Tim Robel Concepts Yamaha R1 Bushido. Taking its name from the highly disciplined samurai code of conduct that combines militaristic swordsmanship and religious philosophy, the R1 is entwined with its builder’s heart.
"I wanted something," Robel explains, "that showed my Air Force experience, martial arts and weapons experience-something a warrior would ride. I wanted to build something like the Stealth Fighter F-117 that reflected a hard-core image. I have always liked steetfighters, but this is not the purest form of that type. So, I call it a fighter."
Indeed, as Robel lives in the shadow of Southern California’s San Bernardino mountain range, he wanted more than a show bike. He wanted something to ride.
"The first thing I wanted to do was make sure it’s a fully functional motorcycle that I could ride on a daily basis," he says. "I wanted to run the canyons and still go underneath someone in a corner, even with a 300 on it. I didn’t want a drag bike. I didn’t want a bike you can’t turn. With the 300 rear and 21 front, it’s one of the easiest bikes to steer in a corner."
Yes, you read right. Robel has done what the tradition-bound would consider unthinkable. He has shod a track-ready Yamaha YZF-R1 with a 300mm rear Avon tire and installed a 21-inch wheel up front. Not only is his thinking outside of the box, so is its performance.
"It’s super-predictable, so you can ride it on the edge. I can pass underneath guys on turns, just like on my supermoto, even against knee draggers," Robel quietly and matter-of-factly boasts. "The bike is so planted that it works really, really well. The geometry is all there and correct. A beginner could get on the bike and ride it."
"I was going to do a 240 front and 330 rear so it would have a wide front end," Robel says. "But, I couldn’t get a 21/240, so I went with the standard 21 to make the measured height of the tires the same and keep the geometry the same."
Having done the math, he built the Bushido and tested the results.
"I don’t know how it would work with clip-ons," Robel allows, "but with the Renthal bars and risers, I have the needed leverage and the 300 Avon slows the fall into turns. It’s all about carving the radius on the tires. I don’t know if Avon profiles the 21 to work with the 300 rear, but that’s exactly what it does. I can see the front tire when I ride, and I can see the heat in the tire. It gets glossier. It really sticks. It falls into the corner and allows you to set it up really nice."
Not only is the rear tire wide, but the Bushido is also stretched, though not excessively.
"The eight-over swingarm is the shortest available that uses the jackshaft," according to Robel. "I’m sure you lose a little bit through the jackshaft through parasitic drag, but I went down one tooth on the front sprocket and up five in the rear, so it feels like I gained horsepower. It feels like a 200 horsepower bike. I can shift it through 1st, 2nd and 3rd gears in a wheelie."
As a custom motorcycle, the Bushido also excels as a work of dark art. Black dominates, though Robel carefully mixed glossy with satin to give it depth.
"I try to bring out the ego and soul of the motorcycle in the finishing of the bike. I wanted a non-gaudy package that was classy," Robel says. "You can ride it in a three-piece suit and park it next to a Ferrari. People are very intrigued."
True to its calling of a riding machine, "function always comes before form," according to Robel, citing the unique side scoops that also serve as functional cold air ducts.
"I have a vision of what I want, but it has to function first, then have a theme to it."
Robel discovered that theme in his own work.
"Out of the shop we build a bunch of Mad Max or Batman-inspired vehicles," he explains. "Riding allows us to be someone we’re not in a car-a superhero in a helmet and gear. You’re riding a machine that gives you huge powers-200 mph, stops on a dime. When building, I create something that matches the vision of who I’m building for, and this bike is exactly what I wanted. It’s my vision."
Tim Robel Concepts Yamaha R1 Bushido | Motorcycle Specs
Graves Motorsports Titanium Header, TRC midpipe, and
Tailgunner Rotary Cannon
(shortened four inches)
Power Commander 3
TRC w/ dimple-die
+8" over stock
Performance Machine Stealth Factor
Front: Avon 21-inch
Rear: Avon 300mm
arced engine cage
Rearsets, footpegs, shifter, kickstand:
Tim Robel Concepts