In April 2015, Los Angeles-based custom bike builder Samuel Kao had a discussion with James Chen. In one of their initially chats, Chen talked about the first motorcycle he saw when he was young that stuck with him more than 20 years later: the futuristic 1993 Yamaha GTS1000 designed by James Parker that sold poorly.

Samuel Kao
“Inspiration for the air intakes was an anime called Gundam that I watched when I was a kid. The method of making the front vents were the same as the side vents, which was also very labor-intensive. Because this is a four-cylinder engine the shape is wide, so it was difficult to design a muscular shape that didn’t look chubby when viewed at different angles. It was also a challenge to translate the design from 2-D to 3-D. The end result allowed enough air intake and exhaust from the motorcycle while completing the aesthetic.”Johnson Yang

The most noticeable part of it was the RADD (Rationally Advanced Design Development) front suspension designed by Parker and the frame to handle it. Unfortunately, it was so ahead of its time, people didn’t understand the value, and its pizazz didn’t last. It sold in the US for two years and elsewhere for only seven.

“It was a shame the concept didn’t survive,” Kao said. “Chen told me he wished he could give this motorcycle a reconfiguration in line with the 21st century, so a new generation of riders could open their imagination the same way it did for him 25 years ago.

“With that idea, he described his vision for the motorcycle and we went through a couple sketches,” Kao added. “Sketch after sketch our passions raised to the point that we decided to make this dream into reality. Working with the lines of the motorcycle it was decided that the overall design of Project Rhodium Omega would be pentagonal. No matter the seat, air intake, or different viewing angles, each panel has influence from the pentagon. Why name it Rhodium Omega? Rhodium is a metallic element that is rare, highly resistant to corrosion, and extremely reflective. We chose this element to express the feeling of this ultra-futuristic design. Omega is actually the name of the frame of the motorcycle which resembles the omega symbol at profile view.”

The project took JSK Moto two-and-a-half years to build. For Kao, it was the most time, sweat, and frustration in his build history. I asked him to walk me through the design process.

The Beginning
The Yamaha GTS1000 was originally designed as a touring motorcycle and weighed 604 pounds. The steering was very upright and did not fit the ultra-futuristic design we wanted, so we redesigned it. This first task was to figure out how low could we go that still allowed us to put back important components and reduce weight.

JSK Moto Project Rhodium Omega
“We spread the work to many specialized craftsmen, and unexpected events happened. For example, we spent $8,000 to make a mold, which was damaged when shipped to another specialist for the fiberglass panels. This was one of the main reasons why this project took so long to complete. The master fabricator from One Hand Made Metal Fabrication helped sort the issue. He thought of creative ways to fix our body panels; some became metal and some fiberglass. Also, he helped us execute the design for the pop-up hood that allows access to the fuel cap. Our trusted friend Jeffrey Chan from Air Runner Kustom Paint was our go-to painter once again.”Johnson Yang

Rod Cage And Frame
After we got the concept down on paper, we constructed a skeleton wire frame to better assess how much things can be simplified and how we were going to fit the internals.

Tank And Radiator
Due to the new frame, we created a custom fuel tank. We also created a custom radiator to fit the new dimensions to hold the same amount of radiator fluid per the original design.

ECU And Electricals
In 1993, we found there was neither an ECU made exclusively for motorcycles, nor an ABS controller. They are big and covered with rubber for protection from the elements. To try to save space within the motorcycle, we left out the ABS controller, plus shortened and simplified the wiring. We also installed a modern gasoline filter with similar density as the original but three times smaller. We naturally changed the battery with RCE's super-compact yet stable and high-quality products.

silicon fiberglass mold
“The body panels where sculpted in clay. It took three months to get the shape right. In that time, many people asked, ‘Why not use 3-D printing?’ I like to see the shape being formed one to one. If I didn’t like how it looked, it was easier and more economical to add or take away clay then reprinting each time with a 3-D printer. The cheapest we could find for 3-D printing was $500, and that’s for a fist-size object; imagine the cost of a gas tank! Josh Gronitz completed the final touches of my sculpture and made the silicon fiberglass mold.”Johnson Yang

Speedometer
To achieve the ultra-futuristic style, we used a costly but versatile racing-rated AiM full-color dashboard. This allowed us to freely change color and add sensors to meet various needs. Before purchasing the speedometer, we first took the dimensions to create the mounting brackets, and understand the positioning.

Side Vents
Every design must consider functionality. In addition to the front air intake, the radiator also needed vents to dissipate heat. The side vents may appear even from outside but in fact the inside was cut unevenly to not interfere with other components. To make the vents fit, we started with paper templates to make sure the dimensions were correct. Then we created a vector file to have the pieces laser cut and ready to assemble. The whole process took us about five days to complete.

Intake
In addition to the air intakes on both sides of the motorcycle, there is a hidden air intake grille behind the speedometer to help the engine breathe more.

Rhodium Omega
“Because we were building a rideable motorcycle, we needed to reverse engineer in a way to mount pieces back together. We started with cardboard cutouts to get the shape we wanted, determined the mounting points, then transferred the references to metal. Because we used clay to shape the body panels, holes were drilled on the plate so the clay could stick. This was a very labor-intensive process but necessary no make this bike functional but within our budget.”Johnson Yang

Seat Base
The original design was a simple flat rectangular shape that we thought was too boring. Thankfully we worked together to create a more organic design from my sketches.

Rendering Design Concept
Good rendering helps to communicate the design concept to third parties and gives customers an idea how it will look before it's built. Edison Liao helped with the rendering during his summer and winter break from design school in Detroit, Michigan.

Boxhead front
“The headlights are always very important for any vehicle. As you notice from past JSK builds, we spent some time perfecting it. We had at least 16 different sketches for the headlights. Some were easy to source, and some were fully custom but too expensive to make. The final decision was to purchase available lights that fit the design and then we found a specialist to help us customize the wiring and circuitry to make the lights work for our build.”Johnson Yang

Upholstery
Kingsman Seat's Sara Dai handcrafted the leather seat. Their expertise in seat making and hand-dyed leather always raises the level of quality in our builds.

Shocks
There were no shocks that we could find that fit our needs for the GTS. Gears Racing developed the custom front and rear shocks that fit our design needs.

Specifications

Make: Yamaha
Model: GTS1000
Year: 1993
Components: AiM (dash)
Paint: Air Runner Kustom
Exhaust: Akrapovič
Brakes/Master Cylinder: Beringer
Shocks: Gears Racing
Seat: Kingsman Seat
Radiator: Liansen
Tires: Pirelli
Lithium Battery: RCE
Builder: JSK Moto