When I bought this 1981 Suzuki GS850 I was tempted to just polish it up, get it running well and sell. Most of the time though, I can’t leave well enough alone. After considerable contemplating I decided to make the bike a “Transformer.” Transforming from the stock bike to a bobber.
Bobber motorcycles are very popular, but to me, Bobbers are limiting. They’re cool, but limiting when it comes to riding for miles and many hours. What I wanted to do is create a bike that could go from stock to bobber with a bunch of variations in between and back to stock. When you buy a bike you pretty much get what you bought, cruiser, dual sport, café racer, bobber, crotch rocket…, but why not have a bike that can be changed to fit your need or mood.
When bike makers see this blog I’m sure they all will rush to make a Transformer bike.
Here is what I did to make the bike into the Transformer; First I wanted to make a bobber style seat that would offer some comfort and would easily be installed and removed using the bike’s current brackets. This modification was perhaps the most time consuming. Bobber seats are pretty minimal, but I wanted something that would offer some comfort and yet look minimal. I’ve seen bobber seats that were metal farm tractor seats and though they look cool, I don’t think you’d want to ride all day on one.
I chose to make the seat out of plastic from a plastic barrel. I did this for two reasons; One, I like working with plastic barrels and second, I felt that plastic would offer some flex when sitting on it for long periods. To get the style I wanted, I cut the seat from the bottom of the barrel, leaving a couple of inches of the side of the barrel attached at the back of the seal. This would give the seat a raised back edge so it would look like just a flat board seat and the back raised edge would give the seat some flex. I covered the seat with first a layer of firm rubber yoga mat, then 1.5 inches of memory foam and covered it with black leather looking vinyl. The final product looks pretty good and is pretty butt form fitting.
The original seat clips under two brackets at the front by the tank and lockded into another bracket at the back over the back fender. I wanted to use those same brackets for the new seat so I made a base for the seat, out of plastic.This gave me a base of attach the seat to.
To attach the new seat to the bike I wanted to make it attach just like the original seat. At the front of the plastic base I welded together a bracket similar to the one on the original seat and attached it to the front of the plastic base with screws.
The back latch was a little more complicated, but simple in nature. I made a slot in the seat base that would slip over the back metal bracket on the bike. So the plastic base would be secured down, I made a spring loaded latch, out of more plastic, a spring and small screw driver that I removed the handle from and bent the end so it would be easy to grab. This picture shows the base clipped to the bike’s bracket with the spring loaded screw driver. The other piece of plastic is the top piece, shown upside down, that holds the spring and screw driver in place.
To install the seat base on the bike you simply slip the front into the front bracket, pull back the spring loaded latch, slip the slotted base onto the back bracket, release the spring loaded screw driver and lock it in place. The seat is bolted to the base using two small bolts. To make sure the seat unit doesn’t flex too far down, I installed a 2” x 8” plastic pipe across the frame of the bike under the seat. The pipe keeps the seat off the battery and wiring and adds to the flexing and comfort of the seat.
With the new seat on, the bike was starting to take on a bobber appearance, but I felt like if the back was lowered a little it would look better. Some bobber builders remove the back shocks and replace them with metal pipes that are shorter than the shocks. This lowers the bike, but offers no suspension. They call this a “Hard-tail,” because it’s hard, no suspension. I call it a “butt buster” or “back breaker.” I wanted to keep the shocks so the bike could be ridden with more comfort. If you’ve read any of my past motorcycle blogs you know I’m all about a comfortable ride.
The tops of the springs are attached to a threaded post, one on each side of the back fender, that are welded to the bike’s frame. The shocks slip onto the posts and are secured with a nut. To lower the back and keep the shocks I added two more threaded posts, one on each side, but I moved them up on the frame 1.5” and back slightly. To add the new posts I drilled a hole through the bike’s tubular frame, one on each side. I bought two bolts that would fit through the tops of the springs, cut the heads off the bolts and slipped them through the holes. I then welded the bolts in place on both sides of the tubular frame. Because the shocks are still installed the bike is called a “Soft-tail.” I call it “Heavenly.”
With the new bobber style seat and with the back lowered, the bike looked a little more bobberish, but not bobbered enough. Most bobbers have a raised gas tank. Some even have very small tanks that are almost head height. I decided the bike would look more “bobber” if the tank was raised up at the front. To accomplish this I again wanted to keep the original tank and attachment brackets. The front of the tank attaches to the bike with two slotted brackets on the under side of the tank that slip onto two “ears” attached to the bikes tubular frame. I raise the front of the tank by duplicating the two ears and welded them to a bracket that would straddle the bike’s tubular frame and slip onto the original “ears.” That worked and raises the front of the tank 2”.
The signal lights on the bike are very large and kind of ugly. The lights, one on each side of the front and one on each side of the back, are attached to the bike on short tubes that stick out from the bike. I thought about replacing them with smaller L.E.D. lights, but I’ve ridden with guys that have converted to smaller lights and I find them hard to see. It’s my opinion that when riding a motorcycle you don’t want any light on the bike that is hard to see. I scratched my head for a while and decided to keep the signal light, but droop them by cutting the base of the of the tubes, where they attach to the bike, at an angle so the lights sloped slightly down giving them a drooped look.
The stock tail light is huge. The light itself is large and square and the metal base that the light is attached to is kind of massive and not in keeping with the bobber simple look. I decided that when the bike is transformed into the bobber style, a round tail light with a small bracket would look better. You can buy many different sizes from your local automotive store. I chose one that I thought would be easy to see and look right for a bobber. (The white towel is to hide the license plate for whatever reason people do that.)
The handlebars that came with the bike may not have been stock. They were the style that raise up and swoop back and down. They were kind of funky looking and hurt my wrists after about five minutes of riding. I prefer something shorter and wider with only a sight pull back. The bars seemed useless to me so I cut them up and welded them back together in a more suitable style for my purpose. The result was handlebars that are more comfortable and better looking.
The thing about the bobber style is that most bobbers make you sit on a lowered bike with a flat seat and with the original foot shifter and brake in the original places. If you are taller, like me, this puts your knees in a very bent position. When I was younger that knee bent position wouldn’t have bothered me as much. Now that I’m older, lets say 40ish, bending my knees at such a squatted position is a deal killer. And knee killer. To remedy this uncomfortable riding position I made a forward shifter and forward brake mechanisms called forward controls. I wanted to keep the original shifter and foot brake lever in tact, so that the bike could be converted back to the original style. I did some shopping on Ebay and found replacements for a very reasonable price, like $36. for both with free shipping. I took the Ebay levers and cut them in-two, made brackets that attach to the frame in front of the motor, added pegs, rods, more brackets, etc… and I had forward controls that allowed me to stretch my legs forward, making the ride more comfortable.
With all these modifications the bike can be set up in about 36 different configurations. You can change the seat or not, keep the front fender, or not, change the break light, or not, use forward controls, or not… raise the tank, or not, lower the back, or not, well you get the idea.
The last step was to paint the bike. A lot of people like “blacked out” bikes. I like them, but I wanted to add some bright highlights. I chose orange to give the bike some snap, some pop, some eye catchiness. To black out the bike, I cleaned the motor and sprayed it and the exhaust with a heat resistant paint. The rest of bike I painted first with black spray on truck bed coating, added the orange highlights and then clear coated it. I’m sure everyone will have their own opinion about how the bike looks, but I’m pleased with the results.
This bike is my second winter project this year. The idea was to buy it, fix it, sell it and make a little cash. With this bike I made so many modifications that I told my wife that “I should hold onto it for a few months and ride it to make sure all the bugs are worked out and that it’s running right,” And that’s true, but this bike is a kick in the pants to ride and that’s true too.
There is a lot of parts to this project and each part could have been a blog in it’s self. If you decide to attempt any of these customization and need more information, please feel free to email me or leave your questions in the comments.
Anyway… for what it’s worth.