Dirty Dick’s Motos Kawasaki W650 Desert Sled 2 [Builder Interview]

“I have been chopping and changing things since I was old enough to hold a screwdriver,” explains Rick Hannah, owner and founder of Dirty Dick’s Motos in London. “Growing up with Lego and Meccano likely had a large influence, but I come from a very long line of engineers, so it’s in the blood.”

“I lived in what was then an undeveloped neighborhood in Johannesburg, South Africa. It so had many dirt bikes blasting around the place,” Hannah remembers. “I was probably about three years old when I had a plastic motorcycle to ride around on!”

Dirty Dick's Motos Desert Sled 2: Custom Motorcycle

Eventually, his mother bought him a 1998 Suzuki DS80 dirt bike for his 10th birthday. “The world changed,” Hanna states. “I was no longer confined to the yard. I could travel the world! The world as I knew it was about 10 square miles of bush around the house, but it was life-changing at age 10. Honestly, the greatest thing I’d ever owned—even used to ride it to school, aged 18.”

“Lawless, loud, and fast. South Africa in the ’80s was a petrol head’s dream. The racing series were all about winning, and the streets were the same,” Hannah continues. “Local car manufacturers built insane cars for homologation, stuffing V6 engines into tiny Alfa Romeos, squeezing 3.3-liter straight-6 BMW engines into a 3 series, even Ford stuffed a Mustang V8 into a Sierra. Everything was sanctioned, and everything was about winning on Saturday. The ’80s, for me, smelt like tarmac and petrol. Every day while riding my BMX, I would see Suzuki Katanas, CBX1000s, and Z1000s tearing up the streets. Being a petrol-head was inevitable.”

Migrating to London, Hannah made his living outside of custom motorcycles. However, that didn’t prevent him from chasing the dream after honing his craft. Hannah started his customizing career on a 1997 Ducati Monster 750. The process was simple: “Once you start to figure out how things work, it’s only a moment before you start to figure out how they could be improved.”

Dirty Dick's Motos Desert Sled 2: Custom Kawasaki

Eventually, he founded Dirty Dick’s Motos. “It’s easy to build bikes when it’s for a friend or a cousin. You can take your time, knowing you’ll be paid in beer, and there’s no rush. It was always a ‘best efforts’ exercise, though, which I grew tired of. It was just time to stop building and modifying bikes as favors and start doing it with real effort.”

“I wanted to build with as close to zero compromise as possible and free reign in the process,” Hannah states. “I wanted to start building from scratch—ground-up builds with a fully realized design to work towards.”

“The name is just a play on me always being covered in motorcycle filth,” Hannah says, answering a frequently asked question. “Filthy Rick’s Motos doesn’t have quite the same ring to it. That, and if you leave the apostrophe out of the name, it becomes rather amusing!”

Dirty Dick's Motos Desert Sled 2: Kawasaki W650

Not unusual among custom motorcycle builders, Hannah has a deep appreciation for motorcycles from several eras, as he explained to us.

“For me, I like to pick a motorcycle from each decade as a favorite. It’s too difficult to narrow it down otherwise. From the ’60s, I think it would be impossible not the pick out the Honda CB750. Clean lines, fast as can be for the time, and timelessly pretty. The ’70s things get a little more difficult, but I would have to choose the 1979 Honda CBX1000. The noise, that Ferrari V12 sound, the engine as wide as a block of flats, the insane torque, and the abominable handling! A masterpiece in no-budget-design and looks pretty good even today.”

“The ’80s were a strange time, but not without interest. For me, it’s the 1986 Suzuki GSX-R750R. Short, squat, garish colors, and ridiculously fast. The Katana gets an honorable mention. For the ’90s, it can only be the Tamburini Ducatis. Very little has come close to the original 916 design in terms of pure beauty. I know the Honda fanboys will decry the use of NR750 design snippets, but there really is no comparison. I have a Ducati 748R with Senna bodywork in my garage that I sometimes just sit and stare at.”

Dirty Dick's Motos Desert Sled 2 For Sale

Hannah is unapologetic about his inspiration. “The past,” he says. “Everything has been done before in some form or another. Life is all about taking something good and making it better. I think the expression is something along the lines of, ‘It’s not where you take things from, it’s where you take them to that matters.’ So, I draw ideas from the past and try to bring them into the present, improving on form and function as I go. This makes me sound old! The truth is that I prefer the simplicity of the past, when the form of something was half the point of its existence—when a product wasn’t designed by accountants. Form must always follow function, but the two can coincide in a beautiful thing if done right.”

Dirty Dick’s Motos Kawasaki W650 Desert Sled 2 is a sequel to his highest-profile build to date, a beautiful blue W650 Desert Sled nicknamed Minty.

Hannah obtained a non-running 20-year-old W650 to start the process of building a motorcycle that recalls the machines raced in the California deserts in the 1960s—desert sleds. Although most were British bikes, we have no doubt that a few Kawasaki W1s and W2s entered the fray.

Dirty Dick's Motos Desert Sled 2: Custom Kawasaki W650

After a complete teardown of the inert W650, Hannah began its rebirth. The frame was sandblasted, chopped, looped, and relieved of unnecessary brackets and the integrated luggage rack. The fuel tank also enjoyed the sandblasting treatment, only to be gloriously seam-welded to remove the stamped-in seams, and then custom painted.

“In the shade, the paint is a very traditional British green for motorcycles, dark and moody,” Hannah notes. “I felt this color was a bit of a risky move, as I usually prefer big, bold, and bright colors, but I think it worked out incredibly well. While it’s a deep green in the shade, barely highlighting the gold accents, as soon as the light hits it, the paint explodes with multi-layered gold flakes in the green. It really is something special.” A Motone Customs billet fuel tank cap conspicuously tops it off.

Moving into restomod territory, the suspension is updated to fully adjustable status via an Andreani cartridge kit for the braced fork and custom-length Hagon shocks bolted to a billet aluminum swingarm. Braking is enhanced by a Dirty Dick’s Motos brake kit that has a six-piston billet caliper grasping a floating EBC 320mm disc in the front via a steel-braided brake line, with a Kustom Tech master cylinder holding court. The rear drum is a notable contrast. Period-correct Akront-style Morad rims in a 19-/18-inch combination are shod with modern Continental TKC 80 rubber.

Dirty Dick's Motos Desert Sled 2 Restomod

Internal motor mods were restricted to fresh bearings and seals—remember, this is a W650, not a W1. Still, Hannah couldn’t resist cleaning up the wiring, adding an IgniTech ignition, and exposed K&N air filters. Higher tech is found in the Axel Joost Elektronik RFID token system to send signals to various devices. An Antigravity lithium battery powers it all lightly, while a analog-style Motogadget speedo keeps tabs on velocity.

The styling and finish on the Dirty Dick’s Motos Kawasaki W650 Desert Sled 2 is exquisite, wherever you look. Stainless steel takes a star turn in the downswept exhausts and headlight brackets, and that’s a Motodemic headlight. The front fender is steel and amorously hugs the Conti, with both fenders being aluminum alloy. The skid plate is drilled for weight-savings and aesthetics. The custom seat is finished in Alcantara and leather. Finally, a subtly brilliant touch is the brass kickstart pedal.

Dirty Dick's Motos Desert Sled 2 Handbuilt Custom Motorcycle

With the likely success of Desert Sled 2, Dirty Dick’s Motos will be getting expanded attention. As beautiful as Hannah’s builds are, building custom motorcycles is not yet his full-time job, and he describes himself as a “struggling builder.” We asked him to explain:

“I think anyone who has started out as a custom builder of anything can relate to struggling. The biggest struggle is not the quality of your work or parts or anything related to custom bike building. It’s two parts. The first is exposure in a sea of people with the same ambitions, and the second is differentiation.

“It’s very, very hard to get noticed, no matter how good you are when there are thousands of others in the same game. Unless you are on Instagram, posting 10 times a day, you just get lost in the sea of Influencers. When it comes to differentiation, with millions of café racers out there, what are you doing that will make people remember your name? That’s the hardest part—creating something different. I would mention that making a profit in this business is very hard. There is no way I could build the bikes I do without two other jobs to support me, but hard work and consistency will reap rewards in time.

“About two months ago, I went to a Lake Run—very small event, reminiscent of the old Cali chopper runs, but in England—about 100 people. I got chatting to a few people, and one of them, a business dev guy, read me the riot act. He recognized my bikes but not me, and knew nothing about me or what I do—just that he’d seen my bikes in magazines or online. Why was I so unknown with the bikes I’d built? What was I doing to advance the brand? Where was my line of merchandise? What events was I doing? And so on. I felt like a right plonker!

“I’m not very good at self-promotion, but I have started working on some decent merch. I am never going to be churning out 20 bikes a year. That’s not for me. I want everything I build to be as close to perfect as possible, and that isn’t going to happen with high volumes. I would like to get to the point where a customer can come to me, and we can work on a design, and I can turn out that bike within three months or so. Four bikes a year is a good maximum for me. In 10 years’ time, I would like to be in a position where customers come to me entirely based on my previous body of work, and I can stop pimping myself out on Instagram!”

Here’s to Rick Hannah spending more time building Dirty Dick’s Motos masterpieces and less time feeding the insatiable social media beast.

Photography by Michael Jersovs, MJ Studio

Dirty Dick’s Motos Kawasaki W650 Desert Sled 2 Photo Gallery