The Bird goes Naked!
For the chosen few, life is definitely not about what they have but more about what they do with what they have. And Vikrant Singh is certainly one of those ‘chosen few’. Not content being a mere consumer of motorcycling; he began a journey of metamorphosing his already amazing machine into something beyond that. That of converting his all black and menacing Honda CBR1100XX Blackbird into a naked street fighter! And what began as a vision turned into a 3 year long battle of converting ideas into physical form, something which needed all his passion, skills, a big chunk of resources and invaluable support from his family, friends and the customfighters.com community to complete.
Even for a man who was not new to automobile styling and detailing, the Blackbird did turn out to be quite a challenge. Motorcycles are inherently densely packaged and any little change has repercussions along a number of tangents. It needs not just sound technical knowledge but innovative thinking of the highest order to actually bring about changes that truly reflect the original idea. Vikrant made some striking changes to the shape and profile of the bike which, when finished, can barely be recognized as the fully wrapped up Blackbird it took birth as in Japan more than a decade ago. The whole stance has changed; the headlamp has evolved dramatically in form and function, the seat looks magically suspended and the exhaust a sinuous venom spitting serpent! Some radical technical changes like shifting the oil cooler behind the exhaust bend-pipes require loads of technical confidence and rationale. And those crazy touches like the steel-mesh round tea sieve that forms the cover for the tail lamp or those loony twisted mounting brackets for the RVM’s.
Work on your bike and you’ll realize that ‘life’ is within touching distance if you want to reach out. Though it entails dirty hands, chaffed fingers, a couple of cuts or abrasions and a temporarily painful back. Even if you do some bit of very basic work on your bike, something as mundane as oiling the drive chain and then take her out for a spin, you’ll feel the new found smoothness that comes from a well lubricated chain. We the ordinary can thus barely imagine the sense of satisfaction and achievement Vikrant would be feeling seeing the result of 3 years of effort. In this story we get up close both with the man who made his vision come true as also the machine and the process of how he went about doing it.
Before we start our conversation with Vikrant here are a couple of lines he wanted to say up first:
“This build is inspired by my wife Renuka (my passenger for 50000 kms on the bike before I put a spanner to it, lifted me when I truly needed to, put up with my distracted state through 3 years of this build) and dedicated to my brother Varun’s spirit who is somehow more passionate about my work than myself. Lastly, this work is a tribute to John Smith.”
“This work came together at and with the priceless community/ brotherhood of customfighters.com”
“The build is fully reversible, I can restore it to stock form, if and when I choose to”
xBhp: Tell us about yourself.
Vikrant Singh: I am a banker by profession. Mad about vehicles from a very early age. The first signs showed up on me when I overhauled a Lambretta in the 7th standard. Moving on, during college I cut up an RD 350 into a low lying chopper. From there on I ended up in banking… in the opposite direction. That’s probably one reason why my passion did not dilute.
xBhp: Which was your first two wheeler?
Vikrant Singh: The first two wheeler was the same Lambretta I just mentioned. The RX100 came to me in college and from there I moved to the RD350 very quickly in four months. For my birthday I swapped the 1994 RX 100 for a 1984 RD350. I bought it in ’94. It was 10 years old then. It’s still around, parked cozy under the shed.
xBhp: Your first big bike?
Vikrant Singh: My first big bike was this and still is!
xBhp: What do you like the best in the Blackbird?
Vikrant Singh: The Blackbird, the ‘Busa and the 14R are categorised as hypersports tourers. That’s really where it is. Each time you start her up you visit that character, the hypersports tourer character. That feel is diluted in a street bike. The Blackbird particularly, since this motorcycle came with dual shaft balancers, it was one of the first bikes to give you that refinement in technology, how it delivers those horses so smoothly is what amazes me even today. Despite not being the king of top speeds, there is a lot more to this bike than the 315 kmph.
xBhp: So we assume you mean that the engine is the best part of the bike?
Vikrant Singh: Yes, the engine and the handling.
xBhp: The looks of the Blackbird have had people divided, so what do you say about the looks?
Vikrant Singh: I spent a decade on this bike, from 2004 till 2014 before I decided to go this route. Yes you are right. Now, this is not the best looking bike and as time passed, it seemed heavier and heavier. Technology was shrinking the motorcycles. This bike was growing bigger in my head. The Bird has exactly what I need even 13 years down the line. I was looking for a mix and my belief was you can find something within this motorcycle that is a blend of the nimbleness of a litre bike with the pleasure and authority of a hypersports tourer.
xBhp: Why did you choose to lose everything and go for a naked bike look?
Vikrant Singh: The compromise when you knock those fairings off is straight line speeds. In our conditions, I could forego about 20-25 kmph on the top end and get something that is nimble and more usable. Something that has a lighter character.
xBhp: With this streetfighter look, one thing that we wanted to know is why didn’t you go for a wider rear tyre?
There is a lot of hesitation from good custom builders in our country approaching superbikes. The single reason is that if you alter the handling characteristics of a performance/ hyper sports bike you can compromise the rider in the first bend. So compromising the handling of this bike is like you are taking away the boots of a footballer. You can do a lot with Harleys and Bullets, you can extend swingarms and put wider tyres and the transformation is not dramatically adverse.
I understood the endless ability of a sports bike with years of riding, plenty aggressive riding with my friend Gaurav Gill who pushed my limits riding together through the early years. Acceleration is always easy. Anyone of us can open the throttle. But you also got to stop that bike, you have to take it into a corner, and open the throttle on the exit. That behaviour of the motorcycle was precious. So I went beyond cosmetics to lighten up the bike. 225kg was the original dry weight of the bike, its shred about 36-38kgs. The moment you move from a 180 to a 190 profile or a 300, its a significant compromise in my view. It stiffens up the bike’s ability to handle.
Like they say, “Happiness is not around the corner, happiness is the corner”
xBhp: Let’s talk about the components you have used on the bike.
Vikrant Singh: Hand building the product has its own place. My effort initially was to hand build a headlight. So I started with a projector and created its own body, but somehow it didn’t make the cut for me. I moved from there and picked up a KTM dome and enabled it with a BMW 5 series projector. The Blackbird was originally known for boasting a great headlight, extremely efficient lighting. This was an upgrade from there. I retained the original parking paraphernalia of the KTM dome.
The console was a big battle. This will take you to the front end of the vehicle. When I started the project I had six months in mind, it took me three years. When you touch upon one thing it leads you to another and you cannot say I will back off from doing more. Somewhere midway into the build I decided to give it a modern day suspension. The ’07 GSX-RR front clip was my suspension of choice, which is the only year the Gixxer 1000 came with a 28mm offset. The offset is what influences the trail of the bike and changes its entire handling characteristics. World over, all Blackbird conversions of the front end are done by using the front clip of the ‘Busa. Similar bikes, similar character, owners never have had to r&d much, slap it in, there is just one changeover bearing and that’s it. I decided to go this alternate route because I had a different belief. These are lazy, the ‘Busa and the ‘Bird, because these are hypertourers. With this reduced offset the bike found a quicker tendency into the corners while retaining its hypersports authority at high speeds, without even needing a damper.
Console: I started with a Koso cluster gauge unit, which is a much larger unit, it was fitting perfectly on the top tree of the Blackbird. When I moved the suspension over, the GSXR top clamp is a much more compact setup. Therefore, I had to go even more compact. From where the Blackbird’s original cluster was around a foot long, it boiled down to about 4 inches. This is the Motogadget Motoscope Pro, it’s amongst the finest gadgets available for custom work. It works out to over 850-900 dollars with Breakout Box B by the time it gets here.
The heavy OEM exhaust system of the Blackbird is ridiculous. Yes its built with due consideration to pollution and decibel control norms, I went for a 4 into 1 system. The four bend pipes are from Yoshimura, which uses the finest steel. It’s in ultra thin gauge. My effort was to design something that was compact. It took me about a month to create the exhaust system. I ended up creating a 3 way system that traps sound right off the collector. On most standard superbikes there is a thin pipe leading into the end can. I eliminated that pipe and decided to create the exhaust unit right from the collector. It’s trapping the sound in 3 phases, controlling about 85% of the stock sound in half the oe exhaust’s volume.
xBhp: Any changes to the swingarm?
Vikrant Singh: No. I have retained the stock swingarm. I had initial thoughts of using a single sided swingarm. Now again I was sceptic about that. I want to do it for the aesthetics of it but it’s a fine balance because a single sided swingarm actually ends up heavier than a two sided swingarm. I will think about it but this mod makes me hesitate.
xBhp: The Brakes?
The brakes came with the front clip, the radial brakes came as an added bonus. So it’s changed the braking of the bike. I have de-linked the CBS system. If you are riding aggressive, it’s not great. The CBS was built for easy running, for tourer running, it doesn’t work if you really want to get a feel of the brakes. And yes like you say, it is easier to do burnouts! Also in gravel, with CBS, there is a possibility to lock your front. Its happened to me.
The cooling system is 40% smaller. Technology in the last 15 years in terms of cooling has become more efficient by 30-40%, so I decided to cut that volume down. When I am going naked I need a radiator which goes into the chest of the bike. The original radiator was mammoth. I had to compress it and was successful. Radiator flow rates are important. Simple to gauge the change in cooling. The fan should start later and turn off quicker. That’s a more efficient system. I’ve used the Yamaha XJ radiator with some steel hoses to blend into the bike’s design.
The seating system is what turned the character of the bike completely on its head.
The seat pan was created first. The sub frame followed, crafted in SS304. The frame was bent into the seat pan with heat & die. This part was extremely challenging.
Renuka is a part of my riding experience and her seating needed a place in the build. I designed a detachable passenger seating system that gets on and off with a turn of just 4 bolts.
A lot of the weight loss has come through the seating system, the exhaust system and the front clip.
xBhp: So the main question is why did you do it? Since your bike was practically off the road for three years.
Vikrant Singh: I thought I could create something radical. Something that nobody else has. Something that is not out of the factory. Something that you can’t go and buy off the shelf.
xBhp: This reflects your personality? Does this mean that you are a lean mean killing machine in real life as well?
Vikrant Singh: I am just restless and I cannot sit still.
xBhp: You must have done tremendous research. So can you give a few guidelines for people who want to pursue a similar course?
Vikrant Singh: Your love for the vehicle is paramount. I will not be able to give anybody commercial advice on this because my love for the Bird is what did it for me. That’s how you will begin your journey in that direction. There is no doubt, that there are hurdles, there is pain but persistence will get you there. It will only come if you love what you are doing. Given that, there are no limits. In our environment, sourcing is an issue. If you start with a plan in your head, I think everything in our country can be accomplished. I know that I can go further and further with this build. There is a misconception that it’s difficult to do it in our country. Everything is available and possible. Today you can create a bike in your shed.
One must be open to learning at all times. Right from college days, we hung out at a friend now ex prefessional rider Ashwani Rana’s workshop a lot. I learned plenty in those days. He runs a sincere setup in Gurgaon now..
xBhp: So if someone is doing some research on how to modify it, how should they proceed?
Vikrant Singh: It depends on the vehicle you decide to go the route with. If you see global platforms, a lot of Do It Yourself exists. There are a whole bundle of forums that will provide you first-hand information on what people are doing in their garages. There are forums where you start as a novice and there are world class custom builders there. The outside world is very accommodating. Customfighters.com is one such place. You can visually research and see literally what you want to create. You have that advantage today. There are plenty skilled people within India to learn from. Be resolute about what you wish to create and you will dial in a build of your dreams, everything you imagine for the bike can be accomplished in the eight feet where you park your bike at home.
Tools you have to buy. All tools are available here at Ajmeri Gate! If you want to machine your own parts. There are many CNC works in our country, though most of this build is hand made.
xBhp: So you are one of the few who have been playing around with superbikes?
Vikrant Singh: With superbikes yes. On the global forums that I have frequented in these three years, I was told that the Blackbird is not an easy bike as a naked to make look good. And the X11 is a good example of that. My belief was otherwise. And today once it’s done, the feedback I am getting from some Blackbird groups is very heartening, fellow members have mentioned several times that this is how the X11 should have been manufactured. It’s the best complement the build can get. Globally there is a lot of work done on superbikes, but yes domestically, I would say work is yet to start and take-off.
xBhp: Your favourite custom bike builder?
Vikrant Singh: Kaichiro Kurosu’s Cherry’s Comapy. His BMW R nine T project is my dearest.
xBhp: Besides the Blackbird, your favourite bike you would want to customise?
Vikrant Singh: I think I would go with the Hayabusa or maybe give an Intruder or a Harley a go.
xBhp: Anything that you would like to add?
Vikrant Singh: In these last three years, there was no measure of what I’ve made until I put it on the road. Only when it gave me feedback did I find love for these 3 years that I was building. Until you put her back up on tarmac, it’s all in theory and cosmetic. The feedback comes when the rubber goes back down . It is extremely satisfying. This can be done here right under my shed. I did not have a garage. I started with a grinder, which I knew nothing about. I didn’t even know which way it comes on and the recoil that snaps it back in your hand. The first time I used it, it actually flew off. So that’s where I started. What did make a difference is that I did not settle for average and there was no hesitation in starting over during various stages, for example the headlight unit, seating were re-designed twice, thrice over.
Like in most areas of your life, friends count. Aziz Rawat, my friend from childhood like many others always pushed me to do something with what he thought I was skilled at. Shringi Chopra, friend and neighbour who would never hesitate to show his consistent admiration for this work, Gaurav Gill, who exchanged thoughts and ideas with me through the build. Vaibhav Malik shared crucial ideas all along. Vikas Malhotra added value.. Several other friends. Amandeep Singh, a technically arrived friend who understands my custom language extended support when I needed it.
xBhp: Are you proud of yourself and do you think that you have achieved something out of this?
Vikrant Singh: It’s difficult to say I am not. I feel happy about what I have done. There is no doubt it will cause pain, it will cause compromise. And God forbid you are a married man, you’ll drag her into it and push her patience to the tip every now and then. Good for me, Renuka was always passionate about my obsession and she was riding bikes since college. On our honeymoon we rented the Honda 600 Fi, that’s when it changed for us, she rode that bike around too, we returned home and decided to buy the 600Fi’s mother, The Honda Blackbird.
After meeting Sunny, Vikrant had a few words to say about him:
“I met Sunny after over a decade. He’s been around far and wide. Behind his humble smile, I discovered his fierce ability to bring motorcycles to life. Was a heartening experience.”
A few pictures clicked by Vikrant during the build process:
A walk around video of Vikrant’s Airbender:
A quick summary of the build of the Custom Honda Blackbird:
3 way trap system with triple mufflers built in SS 304 controlling sound right off the collector, end can in 0.5 mm fine gauge brushed SS. Exit end of the end can built with a ceiling LED body. Copper & SS rings tie the system.
Bend pipes & Collector – 4 into 1 Yoshimura
Yamaha XJ Rad, 30% reduction in volume vs stock radiator, retained stock fan. Flipped inlet & outlet, thermostat sensor slot stolen from stock rad.
Replaced primary stock hoses with SS pipes aligned with manual bender.
Relocated oil cooler, resized stock cooler lines.
Hand made with aluminium cans & Suzuki Wagon-R intake hoses as a substitute to the OE intake to eliminate turbulence. Additional secondary inlets created on the rear of intake box.
Rider – Sub Frame Hand crafted in SS 304 solid rod, manually bent into the seat pan with heat & die.
Seat Pan hand made in fibre glass, Domyos foam wrapped in Napa hide.
SS frame rods
Passenger – Seat Pan in aluminium strengthened with ss support plate. Sub Frame in SS, foam & skin same as rider’s. Secured to rider frame & chassis, detachable on 6 bolts.
Suzuki GSXR 2007 forks, both yokes (with 28mm offset vs the Blackbird’s 32mm), front wheel, rotors & calipers, brake + clutch master cylinders with levers & grips.
Hand made fork protectors in aluminium
Handle bar clips modified to incorporate OE Blackbird switches.
Aftermarket front & rear brake reservoirs
Hand crafted a 100cc Honda fender, supported with aluminium brake lines.
Single Sided Rear Hugger
Hand made in 8mm aluminium, strengthened in 2 parts with ss. Hugger plate crafted in 1mm aluminium
2nd Rear Hugger, front of rear wheel hand made from a Yamaha FZ, adjustable support bracket in aluminium
Delinked Brakes, added Goodridge rear brake lines
Chassis partially masked in 2 mm rubber & wrapped flat black.
Hand made chain cover in SS 304.
Modified Motor Parts Crash Shrooms.
Extensive mod to wiring loom, relocated under intake box & under tank with Battery.
Head Light Unit
BMW 5 Series 2009 Hella E44 projector with Xenarc D1s lamp & its OE ballast.
Projector & lamp bedded into a KTM Duke’s Dome sealed with some transparency. Retained dome’s parking.
Gauge – Motogadget Motoscope Pro with Breakout Box B with added water temp sensor.
Tail Light – Toyota Highlander modified with a kitchen strainer.
Turn Signals – Ixeno Bastard Bar End Turn Signals, clips pierced to circuit, added adjustable turn signal relay.
Relocated Ignition Key, ignition coils, Ignition Control
Restored only –
Clutch/ Ignition/Drive sprocket & Alternator covers stripped and buffed.
Valve cover stripped, finished in brushed aluminium.
Restored exhaust collector & bend pipes, chassis & swing arm, foot pegs, hubs.
Rear wheel stripped & restored in brushed aluminium.
Tank cap in polished aluminium .
Rear Strut Spring, wrapped strut.
Bottom, rear & cylinder sections of engine.
Partially repainted chassis.
Rider seat pan under body.
Engine synchronized, dual shaft balancers adjusted