If you don’t know this Gold Yamaha, you are not a baby boomer, and good for you. Or maybe you know it because you know your custom motorcycle history and the man behind it, John Reed, who built it in 1982!… Am I supposed to give you the latest news? Yes. But also to show you some great examples of customization done several decades ago. And I would not have thought of featuring it in my Blog if John didn’t bug me (nicely) during my Labor Day weekend asking me over and over if I knew a good and reliable gold plater able to give this precious Digger motorcycle a new fresh coat of gold plating.
But first, for those who don’t know him, who is John Reed? Born in England, formed as a tool maker, member of the UK Rockers movement and an avid racer on Triumph, Norton & BSA Cafe Racers (even an ETY Vincent sidecar), logically he ends up opening his own shop named “Uncle Bunts” where he makes and sells his own parts and frames. It’s when he got the call that all young builders want to receive. A Custom Yamaha order from Paul Butler at Yamaha MV Amsterdam, with more bucks to do it than John would ever thought he would receive from a client wishing to buy his skills.
Thinking that some of today’s top builders are crazy? Well, John was crazy well before most of us. On this Gold Yamaha, he made almost everything with his hands and a couple of ld machines . Engine is an integral part of the frame and on it he turned every piece of tube. From making the wheels started as huge pieces of aluminum block that he turned on a big old “Smith & Grace” lathe then screwing the final alu designs on regular steel rims. To the Springer front end built from scratch out of stainless steel. To the wild swingarm bended and shaped out of mild steel. To the gas tank massaged out of 18th thick 6061 aluminum and the fenders formed from flat alloy sheet on an English Wheel, from the front brake disc out of stainless steel and fitted into the wheel centerline so braking didn’t affect handling! To eccentric bushes to adjust belt tension, to machining hydraulics inside the handlebars, to a fabricated pull lever throttle, etc, etc, etc. John tells me that the exhaust was a huge pain…Only the exhaust? Remember, we are in 1982! The bike traveled to California where it won the prestigious Oakland Radical Class Best Of Show.
Back to John. Because of his sharp professional skills perfected while designing, fabricating and assembling this timeless Gold Digger masterpiece, he was hired by Custom Chrome where he became the California headquarters based in-house parts full time designer during 20 years until he retired in 2004. Did I say retire? Read part of an email he just sent me: “I gathered during years parts for projects I wanted to do when I retire. There are so many things I desperately want to do. I just realized I will never finish them all, but I am trying. I work all the time. If I have a project that is really important to me I get totally involved in it. I continue to work 7 days a week until it’s finished and I sleep about 4hrs in 24. I cant be bothered to stop even to eat properly. I lose all my body fat and have to drink that crap that body builders use. If I hurt myself I don’t feel it until I stop working. One time I hobbled around all day because my foot was hurting very bad and I didn’t have time to check it out until my wife brought me a cocktail at 5pm. She asked what was wrong with my foot. I took my boot off and found out I had been walking around for about 4 hours with 5 x 7/16 nuts in it…”
John Reed is still a very talented Custom Builder, a true passionate, with racing injuries and aging unable to slow him, As all people who know him will tell you, you guessed it, John is also a very colorful character. All Custom Builders are … Conclusion. Youngsters, do you own thing but respect your older brothers. Just remember what they built…and the path they opened for you. While writing this I am wondering how such a custom bike would rank in today’s big bike shows. what do you think? (Love you John, but for relaxation, instead of arguing with you about everything, including the real meaning of a Digger Motorcycle, I prefer to have a glass of wine with your French wife.) By the way, at time of this writing John is still looking for an excellent gold plater. Forward some good names. Thanks.(last picture: German cop testing Reed’s machine)