Teamwork at RomeStant, Creator of SpecialK Artisan BMWs

Teamwork at RomeStant, Creator of SpecialK Artisan BMWs

Teamwork at RomeStant, Creator of SpecialK Artisan BMWsAt first, the BMW was a curiosity,” Larry Romestant — creator of the SpecialK series of Artisan custom BMWs — tells us, “because the good ones were way too much money.”

A transfer from Ft. Hood to Germany by Uncle Sam’s Army changed all that. “ As i learned more about them with the exposure in Der Vaterland, I grew to appreciate the simple elegance of the engineering and exceptional build quality.”

As is so often the case, interesting personalities spur our imaginations.

“I worked with a few friends in a little ancient schlachterei (slaughterhouse) turned into a garage, and one of the guys was Stephan, and he owned an R75/5. Once each year, he would holiday in the south of France and ride his Beemer there and back. To that end, he religiously and methodically disassembled the bike two days before the ride, cleaned, adjusted and tuned up everything, and then reassembled it and took off,” Romestant says.

“I watched in amazement how, in less time than it took to have a hearty Rippchen mit Kraut and a few Henninger beers in the local Gasthaus, he would take the thing completely apart, including the motor, transmission, and final drive with only a few tools and an oxyacetylene torch. In one day he would dis- assemble, lay out the various bits on a clean white sheet, fettle with everything and have it back together by the next morning.

“I was fascinated at the wonderful simplicity of the design. Later, before he left he let me ride it. I owned a Honda 750 K7 at the time, so it seemed logical that I was capable of riding the BMW. First impressions? Yuck. Tall, heavy, annoying torque roll, didn’t stop well, tall, tall, and tall. Though the engineering fascinated me, I was less than impressed with the ride. Did I mention it was tall?

“It would be 10 years before I would get on another R75, and then I became a believer.” Make that a true believer.

RomeStant BMW ShopIn the meantime, he rescued a 1957 R25/3 basket case from a Frankfurt dumpster and got it working well enough to brave the Autobahn for a 90-kilometer trip to Heidelberg. A happenstance towing of a stranded Harley-Davidson up A5 on the return trip landed Romestant some notoriety in the local paper, and the reliability of the R25 stuck with him.

Years later, Uncle Sam returns to the story in a surprising form. “One day while loafing around in my townhouse garage, the mail carrier stopped by to chat,” Romestant recalls.

“She said she noticed the BMWs in my garage and wanted to let me know she had one in her garage as well. It had been parked for more than three years on a battery tender and would not start. She could not remember what model it was, but if I wanted it she would give me a great deal. It seems it had survived a minor tremor. A utility shelf had fallen on it and the insurance claim covered the damage and I could have it for a few hundred dollars. That was my first K75, and it was hideous to look at.

“My fascination began after I got the bike running and rode it for the first time. What a ride! It was reasonably fast with gobs of torque and smooth as silk,” he says. With that, the seeds of the SpecialK bikes were planted.

Along the way, Larry had also collected a wife, Carol, who has become his partner in both life and motorcycling, as if they can be separated. “When Larry took me for my first ride, he did everything he could to make sure I was comfortable and safe,” Carol remembers. “I didn’t have any gear at all, so he gave me one of his jackets, a helmet and I think he told me to wear boots and jeans — not ideal, but it was better than propping me up on the back in a halter top and shorts.”

Permanent riding gear for Carol arrived at an unexpected moment. “Right after the wedding, when we arrived at the hotel, he told me he had a surprise waiting for me in the room,” she recounts. “Of course, knowing Larry, I’m expecting champagne, roses, jewelry, lingerie. So, he carries me over the threshold and he tells me to close my eyes. Then he leads me over to the bed and tells me open my eyes. The anticipation is killing me. There, beautifully displayed on the bed, is my very own full suit of riding gear — jacket, overpants, gloves, helmet, the works!”

Carol adds a bit of advice for the ladies: “Don’t pretend to love it and then, after the wedding, decide you’re not interested. Can you believe some gals fake it?”

Eventually, Carol decided to move from pillion to the front. “I felt like I needed something that would push me out of my safety zone — something that would scare the heck out of me!” she says. “I think we all need that at certain times in our life. However, I never dreamed that I would love it as much as I do.”

RomeStant SpecialK BMWLarry built a K75 for Carol, which he lovingly called The Beauty, as a counterpoint to his K100/K1200 hybrid, The Beast. Eventually, The Beauty gave way to The Bomb (a nickname given to Carol by Larry), the K75S-based sport-touring bike that Carol now rides.

Not a passively supportive bystander, Carol is a partner in RomeStant Engineering and Design (RED)—“something like the Lamaze coach” in her words — and aids in the creation of the bikes, including hers.

“Carol’s input into all SpecialKs is significant,” Larry says. “Carol chose the colors of her bike. It was a choice between Dover White, and ElfenBein (Elephant Ivory) — two iconic BMW colors used for many years. When she decided on the Ivory, that was it—an iconic SpecialK was born. Blending the Navy Blue seat with the Ivory was genius, the colors are so perfect together.”

Although Larry describes the SpecialKs as “truly unisex,” Carol’s bike does speak to the more compact female form. “The Bomb is lowered to fit Carol — the seat height is 27 inches and is suitable for both the male and female inseam-challenged. Seat- ing position, shape, and comfort level and ergonomics overall are also challenges.

“For example, the footpegs are spring-loaded and fold back during aggressive cornering. But when stationary, with your feet planted flat on the ground, the ankles are directly in line with the pegs. This forces the rider to either move their feet fore or aft of the pegs, compromising stability and resulting in a very uncomfortable stance—not steady at all.

“The pegs on the Bomb are lowered and moved forward to allow Carol to plant her feet more comfortably behind them. This is not a universal solution, and I am working on peg assemblies with proper degrees of freedom adjustment.

“The subtle differences are minimizing the mechanical features like fasteners and body panel protuberances by smoothing them over, using caps on the hex head bolts, and rounding the many sharp edges of the body work that define the K model. Use of color is critical — as the K is of such angular design, the proper use of color can subdue and soften the lines.”

The Bomb is not all about appearance, however. Carol waxes lyrically about the rideability of their creation. “I guess most people would say The Bomb is a cruiser; it’s certainly styled more that way. I think many would be very surprised at the handling. I certainly feel very sporty when I am going through the canyons. I can lean into the bike and feel like I’m part of the bike.”

Having a custom bike built for her clearly pleases Carol. “The best part is feeling like I’m riding on glass, it’s so smooth. It was made specifically for me, like a fine tailored suit. At this time in my life I know what I like and I want it to fit me — my body, my style, my experience. I don’t want something off the rack.”

The latest and most attention-grabbing SpecialK is the KAgusta, which was built to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Irv Seaver Motorcycles — a BMW dealership in Orange, Calif. In honor of the owner Evan Bell, it sports an alternative name — Bell Kaff.

Despite being built for the owner of a BMW dealer, the influence of the KAgusta is fully continental. Larry name-drops the 1974 MV Agusta America when describing the tank, while the seat recalls period Ducati SuperSports, and the handmade exhaust pipes were inspired by Magni. From the rear, you have an authentic Ducati 900SS taillight staring you in the face, and the frame is the same Imola Green found on the iconic Ducati 750 SS. British nods come from the Velocette-style adjustable shock mounts, as well as the Smith’s style gauge pods (with VDO digital gauges inside).

Larry RomestantGermany is well represented, of course, but in unexpected combinations. The frame is a modified K 1100 LT unit that works with the relatively modern modified 2004 K 1200 RS motor and six-speed transmission. The forks are from a K75S, and sport a period Tarozzi aluminum fork-brace.

The dizzying list of components used on the KAgusta certainly is diverse, and the way Larry combined them into a coherent whole is a testament to his lucid vision, one that he consolidated before starting.

“The project was mostly a finished project from the beginning, only early on it was going to have a mono lever setup with a rear disk brake,” he admits. “That changed after stepping back to examine the first mock-up. Having the front four-leading shoe drum married to a rear disc brake was incongruous and did not fit to my eye, so I decided to go with the rear drum and twin shock arrangement.”

Stumbling blocks abounded, as one would expect. Larry ran down the toughest hurdles he had to jump: “It was difficult to keep the lines clean and incorporate the reverse levers. This made using twin cables for the front brake actuation clumsy and not very appealing. Also, with the widened swingarm, there was no available drum hub, so that had to be engineered basically from a napkin sketch. Hanging the swingarm and using the six-speed gearbox in the trellis frame was also a real challenge. Emulating the gauges from a ’60s-era Triumph was a bit of a trick. The exhaust pipes are hand-formed and not easy to craft.”

An unexpected result of the KAgusta build was a chance meeting with Jay Leno at a local mall parking lot. Leno arrived on a Suzuki GT750, and the donor bike for the KAgusta’s front drum brake was the famed Water Buffalo. A friend suggested Larry show the bike to Leno.

“I stopped and revved the motor right next to him and he came up to me and started asking questions, calling for George, his chief mechanic to come and look at the bike,” Larry recalls. “We talked, the three of us, for a few minutes, and I rode off. About four days later I received a call from Jay’s producer inviting us to bring the bikes to Jay’s garage for an episode. Three weeks later, we were there being filmed and interviewed in The Bugatti Room at Jay Leno’s Garage.” The result can be seen in the “BMW Bell Kaff K Augusta” (sic) episode on the Jay Leno’s Garage YouTube channel.

“Ultimate MotorCycling was the first publication to write about our bikes with the article on the Beast in 2010, which put us on the map, so to speak,” Larry notes. “The exposure on Jay Leno’s Garage gave us instant credibility. It has made us more marketing
and promotion aware and compelled us to overhaul our website and create our logos and brand identity.”

RomeStant Engineering TeamworkFuture directions for RED include branching into women’s motorcycle apparel. “I researched what women have worn through the years for horseback riding, motorcycles, flying etc. I started a file of photographs,” Carol says. “Everywhere we go, I look at what the other women riders are wearing and I ask them questions, seeing what works, what doesn’t.

“Of course, safety and comfort is top priority, but if you have a beautiful custom bike, you don’t want your riding gear to be anything less. It had to be a consideration when we were going to be out there showing and riding the bikes for events. I’m not trying to say, ‘Hey, look at my jacket.’ It’s actually the opposite. It should be part of the bike design—that’s what I’m trying to do.

“Larry and I are a great team. He is a genius, without a doubt, but I like to think that it’s our partnership that makes it all work. We seem to be able to bring out the best in each other. I have always been an idea person, but ideas get lost if you don’t get them out of your head. You have to put shoes on those ideas.

“You have to walk it out—get them moving. That’s what I’ve learned by watching Larry. He sees it and brings it to life, and he challenges me to do the same. I love the creative process— that’s the joy. That’s what I love about building together.”

Photography by Don Williams

Story from Ultimate MotorCycling magazine; for subscription services, click here.

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