When Honda wants a “concept bike” built, or a “project bike” or whatever you want to call them, it doesn’t Google “custom motorcycle builders” and commence dialing from the hip. Oh, no. Even when it’s going through a rough patch, Honda has a certain standard to uphold. In fact, holding that standard up may be even more important when everything else is down, including sales, morale, exciting new products… That’s the time when the movers and shakers at Big Red fire up the Bat Light and shine it into the night sky, only it’s not the Caped Crusader they’re summoning, it’s the Cobra Engineering Special Projects Division. Along with Ken Boyko, that division more or less consists of one Denny Berg and the support staff that has the good sense to stand back and leave him the hell alone to get on with it in his Palm Springs shop/Bat Cave.
When the Cobra crew rode ’round to CWHQ, Cobra CEO Boyko was on the custom Tracker, PR guy Camron Bussard rode the concept Scrambler and Berg was on a like-new 30-year-old Yamaha SR500 he picked up for $600, bone-stock save for a swell vintage Lockhart luggage rack DB found in his rafters. No tattoos, no big hair, no piercings, no attitude. Berg lets his work do the talking, though he’s a pretty good talker, too.The reason for the visit was the bike Honda should’ve built when it built the new Shadow RS last year. Sure, the 2011 model has optional red/white/blue paint, but it falls well short of the Bubba Shobert/Ricky Graham flat-track replica-looking thing you’re eyeing here, complete with 19-inch wheels, dirt-track tires, a pair of projector-beam headlights semi-concealed in a front numberplate and a big K&N air filter sticking out of the right side—mated to the RS’s fuel-injection unit via a hunk of washing-machine hose. Motorcycles took Berg off the farm, but they’ll never take the farm out of him. Anyway, the hose looks like a factory Honda installation. So does everything else on the bike. Farmers, turns out, are clever.
Shadow RS V-Twin looks the business, but its 745cc insides are bone stock. Pipes are hand-fabbed and ceramic coated while that great big K&N air-filter is connected to the EFI throttle body by a…washing-machine hose! Looks factory, though.
“The guys at M3 Racing in Minnesota [who restored the Bubba race bike that resides in the Barber Museum] had the molds for the original RS750 race seat and gave me the paint codes to the original colors,” says Berg, who entrusted Lead Sleds Customs in Orange, California, with applying the patriotic paint. “I fabbed up the front numberplate/headlight, radiator air dam and catch tank, foot controls and all the other custom parts. I used as many stock parts as possible, modifying them if necessary.”
One example of that is the stock fuel pump. It needed to go somewhere to make room for the one-off hand-built exhaust. Previously, that pump was tucked somewhere out of sight; now, it’s attached to the right side of the frame, where it looks like some sort of high-tech dry-sump oiling system. (Why no steel-braided lines, Berg?) Jettisoning things was also key, including the chromed plastic valve covers, footpeg brackets, etc. All the little things take time: faux magnesium paint on the engine covers, turned lower fork legs wearing genuine HRC plastic fork-tube protectors, bead-blasted controls and reservoirs…
With the new M3 tailsection molded and painted, it was a simple matter (for Berg) to bend up a new subframe to hold it. “I used the stock gas tank but removed the welded seam and added a flush-mount gas cap to make it look like a fiberglass racing tank.” Gee, Denny, what kind of advanced metalworking technique do you use to remove that hideous gas tank seam, anyway? Bondo! The seam’s not really removed so much as “filled.” Either way, it no longer exists.
The genuine Bubba Shobert article used a single-shock rear end, hence the radical framectomy. Berg went with a custom-made Progressive Suspension shock bolted to the stock swingarm, modified, braced and painted just the right shade of red. Nineteen-inch Sun rims wearing Dunlop flat-track rubber are laced to lightened stock hubs, with the stock brake up front (also lightened) instead of the authentic no-brake-at-all. The back end of the bike is raised 1.5 inches and the front dropped an inch to steepen the head angle, with Drag Specialties Flat Track bars proffering the grips in just the right spot.
The most time-consuming part of the build would be those two glass-packed, ceramic-coated handmade exhaust pipes, which emit just enough decibels to let you know you’re riding something special—without drawing too much attention to the fact that, sadly, even after all these years, nobody really makes any performance parts for the Shadow’s 745cc V-Twin (though Cobra’s own Fi2000R controller tunes the FI to work with the K&N intake and custom exhaust). So, while you might look like you’re fixing to roost the Springfield Mile, you’re really better equipped to hit the Springfield Mall. But it’s the thought that counts, and you’ll look damn good backin’ ’er into the parking lot.
Scrambling the RS
Cobra’s Concept 2 show another path.
The obvious concept here is pulling of heartstrings, Honda-nostalgia-style. Never mind that the 305 Scrambler that this latter-day concept owes its style to was a parallel-Twin and the Shadow RS is a Vee. Builder Denny Berg describes the process of “scrambling” the RS: “The original 305 Scrambler was pretty small and tidy, so I tucked in the rear shocks and sidecovers 1.5 inches on both sides to slim it down a bit, and added longer skirts on the rear to give the seat a Sixties look. The round Honda wing badges and kneepads on the tank rekindle memories of the old 305 fuel tank. I welded a set of classic Scrambler up-pipes, complete with custom heat shields, to give it a 305 look, but they’re on the right side of this bike (and tuned to make the V-Twin sound more like a 180-degree parallel one). The silver-finished engine, classic air cleaner and cross-head case screws continue the period theme. I found an original early Honda taillight assembly at a local bike graveyard, and bent up a rear grab rail behind the seat. I welded a cross brace to the stock 1-inch bars, and used the stock controls with vintage Gran Turismo grips. I used a reproduction early headlight and made some 305 replica light mounts. Certain parts on the original 305 Scrambler were iconic, like the pipes, of course, and the tank, headlight mounts, seat and fork boots. And that early Honda red/silver paint job really makes it all come together for me!” —John Burns