Anti-Retro Custom Motorcycle Inspiration From China
Even today, the average Westerner sees the world as a dichotomy. In there eyes, The East and West still exist in that traditional separatist view. For the past several decades, China has led the world in manufacturing, and with that came further homogenization of our collective cultures.
Look at the Average American or European household—likely most of what you’re surrounded with was been manufactured in Asia. It’s odd then, with the cataclysmic political and economic shifts in the 20th and 21st centuries that we don’t see more custom motorcycles coming out of China. However, those days are changing.
Lau Hao is the owner and operator of the Beijing-based Mandrill Cafe & Garage. Since 2012, Hao and his dedicated staff have been producing exquisite custom builds, while the Mandrill Cafe provides a space where likeminded individuals can gather, party, and appreciate bikes.
In a few short years, Mandrill Garage has earned a reputation for elegant machines, and that shouldn’t come as a shock. Hao’s graphic design profession helps keep the lights on at the Mandrill compound.
Mandrill’s aptly named Dark Fighter is a perfect representation of why the West needs to take heed of what’s coming out of Beijing these days. Hao and his team went with a bold choice—a 2017 BMW R nineT—a bike that has been well regarded as one of the more aesthetically pleasing offerings since its introduction.
Mandrill quickly went to work to reshape its whole charm, giving it a darker aura.
“Now everybody is building café racers, scramblers and trackers,” Hao explains, “but the R NineT is a modern retro bike, I wanted to make it more modern. My inspiration is anti-retro.”
With that as his design principle’s driving force, Hao certainly took the road less traveled, and it’s safe to say that we’re glad he did.
Hao and his team went to work dismantling the retro R nineT, shaking loose all of the vintage flare from the German roadster. Arguably, the centerpiece of the Dark Fighter is the prominent headlight fixture, modeled after medieval armor. Its narrow eye-port allows a bright LED to shine through, giving the build an unmistakable foreboding posture.
Accompanying the medieval mask, as Hao refers to it, are two headlights affixed on either side of the bike. I’ve always been a sucker for fog-lights and this rightly satisfies that itch.
The next item on the agenda was the seating position. Hao wanted a svelte bobber-style seat, but the stock subframe would never accommodate that. By design, the subframe on the R nineT is removable for customization, and Hao took advantage of that.
Hao designed and CNC-machined a new subframe to make use of Mandrill Garage’s beautifully sculpted saddle. In doing so, Hao dramatically altered the overall look of the R nineT, tightening the retro bike up immensely.
Perhaps the most interesting addition to the seat is the LED taillight. Three vertical LEDs not only keep Johnny Law at bay, but also beef up the Dark Fighter’s menacing vibe.
Mandrill Garage’s work didn’t end there. Nearly every component was sent off to be powdercoated and anodized for a uniform gloss black finish.
While going through the process of removing various parts from the R nineT, the Mandrill team noticed several changes that needed to be made to the fuel tank, in order to keep it in line with their vision.
The stock aluminum fuel tank was reshaped, slimmed and the rear was smoothed out. Mounting brackets were also affixed to the tank, allowing for the number plates featuring the Olde English style “m” of the Mandrill logo and the number 90. Lastly, the BMW badges were popped out and in place were CNC-milled Mandrill badges.
The carbon fiber front and rear fenders fit wonderfully with Hao’s modern take on the R nineT. The elongated, blade-like rear fender is befitting of a build that draws inspiration from medieval armor.
Following that line of thought and elevating its air of intimation are the exposed K&N air filters. The finishing touch comes in the form of the handmade stainless steel exhaust featuring a slash-cut muffler.
During the reassembly, Hao and his team opted to move to a few higher-spec options throughout the bike. Left on the workshop floor was the original shock, and in its place a Gears Racing fully adjustable unit made on the island of Taiwan was installed. In addition to that, a Brembo RCS radial master cylinder was added for both the brake and clutch.
Mandrill Garage’s Dark Fighter is without a doubt a showpiece that should turn more than a few heads. Hao and his team have transformed a masterfully styled retro-roadster into something completely different. If this is a sign of things to come out of China, then the world is in for a treat.
From the latest digital issue of Ultimate Motorcycling, hosted on an industry-leading interactive app. Subscribe to the Ultimate Motorcycling app today.