In this episode I’ll be showing you how I converted a motorized mountain bike into a lovely old-school motorcycle!
Some years ago I bought a mountain bike fitted with a 2-stroke gasoline engine. I intended to ride it around essentially for the fun of it. The best part of this thing was that I didn’t need a license to ride it – nor did it need to be registered. It’s essentially still a bicycle – it still has pedals and can be (with some effort) ridden exactly like a mountain bike, unpowered.
I had an accident with my Mazda in later the same year, in August 2014 – and had some difficulties with the insurance. I was left not having enough to buy a decent second-hand car with the payout, and found myself a little stuck for transport. Having nothing else to use, I used this bike to commute to work… and then this state of affairs dragged on… and on… for over a year. I became a familiar sight riding my bike on that route, wearing an old leather jacket and my trademark black leather-covered German helmet and flying goggles! (I warned you, I have a strange sense of humor!) An old codger I used to work with, who has since retired, used to teasingly call my bike a “snot-separator”! I can’t say he was wrong – and anyone who rides a bike with an open face helmet in the cold could agree!
Then in October 2015, on the way to work, a car came too close to me and essentially forced me off the road! I was doing about 55 kph at the time down Walmer Boulevard, and landed on a concrete island, skidding sideways along it. Fortunately I came to rest just before a concrete lamp post! I wasn’t too badly injured fortunately, and in spite of a few scrapes and bruises, after sorting myself out and taking stock, I was able to continue on my way to work. However, were it not for the helmet I was wearing, I would’ve been killed – the hole in the helmet where it struck the edge of the pavement testifies to that! Anyway, since I was still stuck without other wheeled transport at the time, I had no choice but to continue using the bike I’d originally bought for pleasure, to carry me around, come rain, wind or sunshine.
After hearing about my misfortune, an elderly aunt of mine – the one who owned Dolly and who’d jokingly promised to leave her to me in her Will many years before – called me and asked me if I still wanted the Beetle. She naturally felt sorry for me. She felt too old to drive any longer, and her daughter did her shopping for her, and decided to pass her prized 1962 bug on to me while she was still alive. I said “Yes! Of Course!” and she told me to come over and fetch it right away! Which I did – and the rest as they say is history!
I had safer more reliable transport again, and the bike stood for a while after that. I think I was understandably tired of putting my life at huge risk every day, driving the bike in PE traffic – to say nothing of the taxis! We had some cold winters and I ended up putting it in storage for a while. I would ride it again for pleasure one day, I resolved.
It ended up standing for a few years… until it was just an eyesore and just another item that took up space and got in the way! I covered it under a bike cover, not that it helped in all the other departments! Finally, I considered selling it. And then decided it was time to do so. Back in March this year, I got the bike out and got it running again because it’s easier to sell a vehicle that’s running rather than one you know last ran six years ago… But the moment I felt it take off under me, surging forward, I decided against selling it! I’ve grown to accept that I tend to sabotage myself that way! It was way too much fun to part with!
Instead, I decided to update its look a bit, and keep and enjoy it! After all… why not? Why shouldn’t I keep it?
Although I don’t have a bike license, I have driven a couple of bikes in my time (I once had a 275 cc Yamaha off-road bike of my own) and I rather fancied making the bike look like those old-fashioned original motorcycles (which actually were motorized bicycles – even having pedals!) – and decided to see how I could make it happen!
I started by removing everything I felt that detracted from the look of the bike as I wanted it. The frame was already painted gloss black, which was fine by me – but it was covered with yucky yellow mobile phone network branding stickers (Why? I’d got it from a gadgets shop, not a mobile service provider!) So, off with the horrid yellow factory stickers! Off with the cheesy black plastic Honda fairing I’d fitted after purchasing the bike!
I decided I liked the vintage/bobber/cafe’ racer look instead! Don’t laugh too hard 😉 Yes, I know it’s based on a mountain bike frame, and yes, I haven’t forgotten it’s still a bicycle, as my biker-snob wife keeps reminding me! ha ha.
I procured a pair of new chrome steel mudguards and a chrome headlight pod from Second Gear in Mount Croix, and polished up the black paint on everything else. I had to modify the front mudguard a little so that it would fit between the narrower front fork of my bike, which has built-in shock absorbers. I made brackets to hold it in place, and also had to trim away at one edge so that the brake caliper could operate without the mudguard obstructing it. There were also two flanges on either side that would serve no purpose on this bike – and only made the unit look far more modern than I intended! So off with those, very carefully!
It also came with pre-fitted brackets to hold the old-style number plate vertically on top of the front of the mudguard! I decided to keep those as it would add to the look I wanted. I based the number plate on several searches I did on Pinterest and cut one from hardboard. After coating it with spray paint (antique ivory goes well with black and chrome) I sketched the name I’d chosen for my bike on both sides, and then Kay painted it on for me with black acrylic paint! A couple of extra coats of clear lacquer protect the sign writing. “Crazy Lady” sounds appropriate, don’t you think?
The rear mudguard was fitted almost completely unmodified. I only drilled a small hole to fit a mounting bracket near the front lip, and used existing holes in the side struts to attach it to the struts of the luggage carrier rack on either side. I still intend to fit an appropriate tail-lamp – but have yet to find one I think suitable! When I do, I’ll update this article to show you!
I left both of these mudguards chrome, although I was torn between leaving them as is and painting them black to match the rest of the frame – and to compliment the look!
The final deciding factor was safety – the chrome makes the bike more visible – and it also looks rather nice, so why not?
The frame holding the headlight pod to the handle bar came from a Vuka scooter I worked on some years ago for a friend. The light in the headlight comes from a self-contained battery-powered string of surprisingly bright blue LED fairy lights stuck inside the reflector (which I got at a local Chinese shop in Newton Park for about R40! Blue was all they had at the time!)
It’s surprisingly bright – although I have no intention of riding this thing at night, but it’s handy for the sake of visibility. I might still replace the blue unit with a clear white one, if I find one “in stock” of course.
I bought a gel-padded saddle cover for the saddle – which as it turned out was cheaper and easier than finding the right sort of looking saddle for a period recreation, and pretty much looks the part. It also made the stock saddle (with it’s yucky yellow and white branding stripes) blend in – and much more comfy!
I made a leather tool bag to mount up front to hold an assortment of small tools (saved myself around R500 there! See the article I shared about that earlier.)
I always thought the existing plastic air filter housing reminded me of a skull, and decided to find a plastic skull I could modify to make a cool cover for the air filter on the carburetor. I found a cheap Halloween skull for about R20 and made the cover you see in the photos!
I also still wasn’t quite happy with the look of the fuel tank – it looked a bit modern and small for the look I wanted. It’s only got a 2 liter capacity, which is fine for this bike – I mean, I would ride to work and back all week long on that 2 liters and refill on weekends… Finding a nice bike tank proved next to impossible, so I looked at what I could do instead – and made a dummy tank to fit over the original one.
I started with a cardboard template which I stuck together with tape just to get the dimensions and fit right… and then transferred these to flat sheet metal (cut from 750 gram coffee cans) and riveted the panels together. Once I was happy with the fit, I took it off again and sprayed it gloss black. A pair of chrome plastic skull stickers on the sides of the tank completed the look! Not bad for something made out of 4 old coffee cans, eh?
After that, I relocated the bike stand from the rear wheel axle mounting to beside the left pedal. This took a hell of a lot more modification than you may think, there were a lot of factors at play – the length of the leg versus the mounting position, in relation to the bike’s point of balance and how far over it will lean before falling over – and of course, what position the front wheel is in at the time! I’m happy to say I got that sorted out – with a lot of swearing, and so many trips between the front stoop where the bike is, and my workshop – I was in risk of getting back into shape!
My old helmet – the black leather-covered German one – was past it. The hole from the impact turned into cracks that spread right across it, so it’s quite useless, except maybe if I went back to playing paintball haha. Luckily I found another one going cheap on FB marketplace just like it, in brown – and without a hole or cracks!
Although the “look” of the bike isn’t quite finished yet, the bike is functional and I’ve already taken it out for a few nice cruises on weekends, just around the neighborhood of course – I’m not feeling ready to get killed by a taxi or madman in a Polo just yet!
Next, I plan to sort out the tail-light when I find a nice looking one. Also I want to install a pull-start for the motor so that I don’t have to pedal-start the bike anymore. After that, maybe a pair of modest saddlebags, perhaps from repurposed hand-bags.. but anyway, I’ll be sure to keep you updated on that!
These days, instead of being covered up, the bike stands open for any visitors to see – it’s a conversation piece, not something I wish I could hide away!
There you are then – if you’re not all-in for the expense and drama of owning a real “chopper”, “bobber” or “cafe racer”, you could just do something like this.
That’s all for this time – have a DIY week!
Pictures included – enjoy!
This website is about Christina Engela’s inspiring and innovative DIY projects. Follow Innovation DIY on Facebook.
To view her main website, visit Christina Engela – Author. To view Christina’s previous human rights advocacy work, visit Sour Grapes: The Fruit Of Ignorance. You can also visit Our Ghost Encounters, a website about the paranormal.
If you’d like to send Christina Engela a question about her life as a writer or transactivist, please send an email via the Contact form.
All material copyright © Christina Engela, 2021.