I was chatting to Ross 'Shed recently about big-name custom builders from a few years ago who have lately receded into the background. I said that I missed them, and I wondered where they’d gone. Pragmatically as ever, Ross simply said: “I think the rest of the world just caught up. Anyone in a shed can strip a BMW and put a Yamaha tank on it, and there’s so much resource available these days that potential customers can do more of the work themselves – or at least ask someone closer to home to copy the formula.” It was like a thunderbolt to my mind, because yes, of course, he was right. For a builder to get attention these days and cut-through an increasingly overcrowded online marketplace they've got to be doing something different to everyone else, or face blending into the background. This is why people like El Solitario are so good at getting attention for what they do, because few others can – or are willing – to do anything like they are. El Solitario are about as bold and loud as it gets. Of course not everyone wants to be as wild as David Boras and his crew, so on the other end of the line you’ve got small-scale builders creating stand-out by focussing on detail, detail, detail. So step forward North London lone wolf outfit Lions Den Motorcycles, because here your details are wonderful… Even the donor bike itself is a neat detail with a cute story, starting off life as a rare Honda CB350/4, imported from the States in OK condition and brought to Lions Den by the customer. The commission itself is another detail: the customer’s only real requirement was that it needed two seats. The rest was up to LD frontman Daniel Thomas to just figure out what he wanted to do and go do it with a completely free rein. Of the things that Daniel did, there’s about a million, but the first to catch my attention were the mini-indicators. Look at them! There’s a set built into the rear of the frame with machined brass housings, and the front pair are machined from solid brass too, then fitted into stainless steel tube and wrapped around the headlight.
There’s more machined solid brass for the taillight housing, and a brass knob underneath the seat to control the mechanism which releases the saddle itself – this took Daniel a whole day of fiddling just to get a satisfying enough clunk when pushed back down into place.
The new loom is powered by an Anti-Gravity battery, there’s a fabricated box to house it, creating a slimline look under the seat, with various clever relays controlling the momentary push buttons – including a Motogadget setup for the indicators. Note also the sublime Lions Den own-brand switches on the handlebars and under the seat – these two are the starter- and kill-switches. The footpegs, these are Dan's handiwork too.
There’s more brass here and there: handmade clips to secure the front brake pipe and speedo cable: the pipe having been cut and shaped from cupro nickel. There’s a HEL braided cable fitted up front, the calliper rebuilt with new pistons and seals, and a brass pin fabricated for the petrol cap.
So those details are plenty, but I’ve not even talked about the exhaust system yet, crafted over several intense days while Daniel worked out intricate pie-cuts to keep the whole thing as tight to the frame as possible – particularly where the side-stand comes up on the nearside.
Now the pipe looks like a straight-through affair, but it’s actually got removable baffles, and Daniel’s love of symmetry shines through in the 4-into-4 layout that ends with staggered round pipes. The bracketry – naturally as you’ve come to expect – were all made by hand to secure the pipes to the rear peg hangers. The carbs have been vapour-blasted and re-jetted, the electronic ignition and high-power coils fitted provide a decent spark and reliability.
So what about the only stipulation of the commission, that it needed to carry two people? Well the frame’s been chopped to fit the new seat – foam-shaped for as much comfort as possible while still retaining a low profile – and longer shocks fitted to lift the rear up, taking account of the pilot and pillion.
And finally, the paintwork’s been taken care of by Greg at Black Shuck Kustom – gloss black with gold pearl pin-striping. And here there’s another detail, only this time it’s a hidden one: the black has a dusting of the gold in it, so that when the light catches it just-so, all sorts of colours shine through. This effect has also been repeated across the headlight and switch housing.
That’s a lot to take in, so submerse yourself in the images… and remember, that moving into 2017 it’s this sort of attention to detail that’s going to set Lions Den and other like-minded souls apart from the crowd. But don't just take my word for it, the Lions Den build queue proves that this is the kind of craftsmanship that clients yearn for.
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Images by Autohouse London