Past Present Wild Custom Gold Yamaha.

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)

Zipper's

23 Responses to “Past Present Wild Custom Gold Yamaha.”


  1. 1 arcadian Sep 8th, 2010 at 9:08 am

    I met John when he was ‘Uncle Bunt’ at his workshop in the late 70s.
    I still have the Magazine ‘Superbike’ a british publication with a full feature on his yam creation, mindblowing then and stil is.
    There was a picture of a German Policeman trying out the yamaha on a autobann! in a BSH Magazine tribute to John last year? Amazing.
    What a craftsman – and should be up there with Ness on a custom builders wall of fame.

  2. 2 Dave Blevins Sep 8th, 2010 at 10:36 am

    Beautiful work indeed!
    As for platers, Nu-Chrome in Fall River, Mass is a plater I have used in the past (I have only used them for chrome) that plates in gold, nickel, silver, chrome, copper, etc. I have been to their facility and seen first hand their attention to detail and it is really nice. They do parts for classic cars and bikes, boats, lighting, just all kinds of stuff. Perhaps they can help.
    Note: they cost a lot, and they will be late, but they do good work. In fact, if you click my name above, the motorcycle you see is a chrome job done for me by Nu-Chrome a few years ago, the finish is still as good as new!

  3. 3 krugger Sep 8th, 2010 at 11:33 am

    No gold platers in Belgium,sorry…

    But i post on it because i have always been a big fan of John’s work!

    Very talented ,technical, custom culture, clever and….. racing !

  4. 4 paul Sep 8th, 2010 at 11:45 am
  5. 5 Brenda Fox Sep 8th, 2010 at 6:25 pm

    ReedMan Rocks!

  6. 6 Neo Dutch Sep 8th, 2010 at 7:27 pm

    Lets not forget the amazing engraving from the master Don Blocksidge. He’s still working hard in the UK.

  7. 7 baddad Sep 9th, 2010 at 4:56 am

    Great bike, great story. 🙂

  8. 8 Steve the producer Johann Sep 9th, 2010 at 11:58 am

    Wow, what a bike and so many inovations that are taken for granted today. So many not so hidden jewels in the building world who need to have more press time, John is one of them.

    Thnaks Cyril for your article.

  9. 9 tattooeddmike Sep 9th, 2010 at 1:14 pm

    I can remember the first bike that I had seen in a magizine that John built, a 4-speed shovelhead that was detailed to the max! I think it was “Supercycle Magazine”, one of my favorite reads at the time…. and then I did’t hear anything about John for the longest time, then I heard or probally read that he had came to the States to work for CCI… Although I had not seen or heard about this man work for quite some time I was suprised when I had seen some parts he designed …. again (way cool)! I was again suprised to hear about John later on through this Cyril’s blog here… I’ve always thought John’s work was way ahead of it’s time, but more, his work it the work of an artist! ( to put it mildly). Thanks once again Cyril for the enlightment, and for showing this artistic piece of work from Mr John Reed.

  10. 10 cwglide Sep 9th, 2010 at 1:30 pm

    I like John Reeds approach to custom design, his customs are ridable. He also takes manufacturability in consideration where required. The man is brilliant, and he doesnt pull any punches and tells you like it is. I have always had great respect for John and his work.

  11. 11 martin Sep 9th, 2010 at 2:59 pm

    What a great work of art!

  12. 12 Bigal Sep 9th, 2010 at 4:06 pm

    As Fine and unique with the Engineering af ANYTHING Built today. I will bet that he didn’t farm out hardly any of the Work. I will bet you that Arlen Ness wasn’t even in the League of John Reed, back then, Guaranteed.

  13. 13 thelma Sep 9th, 2010 at 9:16 pm

    I was fortunate to attend Michael Lichter’s ” External Combustion ” photo exhibit at The Buffalo Chip in Sturgis this year. When I looked at all the custom bike builder’s motorcycles,I felt that a number of bikes had touches of 70’s and 80’s styles to them. After seeing John Reed’s custom Yamaha, ” Digger”,I was right, they did!

  14. 14 The Voice Sep 10th, 2010 at 12:53 am

    Thelma, you’re absolutely right. Some of the bikes in Lichter’s exhibition “Eternal Cumbustion” were very reminiscent of the old days and John Reed’s fantastic art. I saw some beautiful engraving and I think I remember some plating too. I know, 1982 isn’t the old days. I’ve admired Reed’s work for a long time.

  15. 15 maroco Sep 10th, 2010 at 9:50 am

    Belive that certains thing in life are eternal, like this bike exemple if at the time the bike are amazing at our time even more, like ancient artefacts etc.
    Top bike.

  16. 16 john reed Sep 10th, 2010 at 6:09 pm

    “I have Nothing but Respect for his Talent and his outragouse creations whether its a project on Motorcycles or non related to motorcycles his Creativeness is second to None.The man is very giftted and I am Proud to call him a Friend .

    PS. His wife Jenne we Pray for her Sanity with John. She is an Angel sent to try to keep him in line
    with the norm of things.”

    TJ.(Nightmare) VP. Ghost Mountain Riders MC 1%er. Lompico Ca.

  17. 17 stainless steel coil Sep 11th, 2010 at 9:52 am

    Cool bike. You know what I have a friend that has a bike just like that one but it is not that cool. I have never seen a bike like that in my entire life. The design is so cool. But I guess it’s is too expensive.

  18. 18 Kiwished Sep 11th, 2010 at 8:00 pm

    I’m Still in love with Reedy’s Roadrunner Triumph, Simply Perfect.

  19. 19 clayman Sep 13th, 2010 at 8:17 am

    If you only new the real John Reed ! I have for over 35 years, Talent is his midle name, Inovative his passion, Cutting edge, the place he lives.

    To understand John you have to be a workaholic, have ADD, no social life except bike and car shows, no time for BS, No time for those who say ” Cant be done ‘

  20. 20 Lisa Oct 26th, 2010 at 12:50 pm

    It is nice to read your comments relating to John Reed and his love of bikes, skills and passion and his unique work.

    Love from Lisa (step niece)

  21. 21 Blue Dec 3rd, 2010 at 11:33 am

    This bike is responsible for what I do for a living now. It was the first custom motorcycle I really took notice of, and it was a pleasure to eventually be able to write about it, and even more of a pleasure (hmm, not sure that’s the right word!!) to call John Reed a very dear friend.

    A few years ago, John gave me the keys to his workshop and I got the chance to spend a bit of time with the gold Yamaha, to be in the rare position of having it all to myself for a while. I burst into tears when I saw it.

  22. 22 Mort Dec 14th, 2010 at 8:53 pm

    I first saw the Gold Yam in Superbike magazine when I was a teenager. I still have the magazine. I then saw it at a show (I think it was Manchester Belle vue) It was and still is an amazing creation. John you are a superb talent.

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