It takes only a minute to explain the origins of the term “cafe’ racer” to someone, but “farmer’s racer”? Well, this could take a little more time.
Think classic Japanese bikes, traditional farming know-how and cutting edge urban farming techniques all colliding together in the mind and in the garage of one mild-mannered Swede.
Enter one Lars Gustavsson.
Lars had a thought in his head that he might like to ride motorcycles. That lead to another thought that he might acquire and restore an old bike and that would give him the opportunity to decide yay or nay on the motorcycle riding.
Understand that Lars is a farmer. Coming from a traditional farming family, he has taken the hands-on, fix it yourself with whatever you have at arm’s length approach and applied it to building his motorcycle.
Gustavsson was taken by the Japanese idea that quality can be simple (and no surprise he chose a '84 Yamaha SR400). He explains, “The idea that quality is not the same as expensive materials really appealed to me. These were bikes built to use. Less chrome and less expensive materials, but a lot more care taken to proportions and lines. They tell a story and they are designed by riders. In Sweden we have a saying we use when it’s better to do something yourself - ‘I’m my own best farm hand.’ I have used the knowledge I have as farmer and designer to build this bike with my own hands.”
The build started with cutting of all the unwanted frame details, removing the battery and mounting clip-ons. Then he made a new tank cap, throwing away the old chrome cover, showing all the hinges and threadings around the tank hole. He also changed from Gran Turismo handles to Triumph grips and throttle and added fitted Triumph foot pegs. The bates front light was having a battle with the speedometer cable. The only way to keep the front end as compact as possible was to drill holes for the cable and feed it through the light.
The style of the bike was gradually coming together. The cafe look was blended with original Swedish gravel hill racing machines from the 1940’s. The over-sized Firestone tires started to fit in with a new theme that was developing Lar's mind: a farmer's racer.
Now stripped down, it was time for more detail work. Rummaging through parts from the original bike, Lars found the plastic side panels and tried them on the frame once again. Since he had removed the battery and redone the electrical system, there was a lot of free space under the seat he felt needed attention. He could easily place the panels inside the frame tubes – 5 centimeters further in than the original position. This created a lot more streamlined look, and the panels flowed better with the original tank. The idea of covering up, rather than stripping down, brought new energy to the design.
And then a setback. In the autumn of 2011, bearing no oil temperature gauge, the engine ended up overheating. It took him a month to take it apart - mounting new valves, valve guides, piston and bore. A high compression piston from Wiseco was sent from Germany, and fitted by local engine trimmers.
Now back on the road, the compression rate began climbing with every ride. To celebrate this new bang in the motor he started to sketch on more fairings, cowls and covers to add more parts so that one could tell that this is a homemade, do-it-yourself bike.
He fought the urge to use wood on the bike, but in the end, could not resist. The package holder is made from rifle scope mounts and birch...just big enough for a pair of extra gloves or a drink.
In the end, Lars started safe, and ended with the unfamiliar. The goal was to create a bike that tells a story using the aesthetics and quality approach of the Japanese street customs while having a Swedish farmers origin. The bike gets washed every once and awhile, but scratches, worn off paint or even rust is a welcome sign of time and use. The big custom rebuild of the bike is done. From now on it’s all about caring and repairing and keeping the story going.
Check out Lars’ blog to learn more of his latest endeavors in urban farming.