Inspired by a visit to one of our first shows back in 2013 Pip Davidson set about satisfying a burning desire to fettle and fix-up cheap motorcycles. Despite having turned out a host of excellent customs over the last five years, some of them show exhibits and magazine featured, Pip's feet remain firmly on the ground. He hasn't got a t-shirt range and isn't fussed about suave Instagram selfies - he's a regular guy with a normal day job at Heathrow airport who enjoys tinkering, and when done sells the bikes to fund the next project. Budgets are always tight (five grand tops) so you won't find one-off triple clamps and Motogadget-laden electrical systems but do expect good old fashioned hard work, and the occasional quirky feature.
Pip is good mates with engineer extraordinaire and builder of some of the most mental bikes on the planet, Alan Millyard
- so it's no surprise conformity isn't something in Pip's repertoire. He's also a Bike Shed show volunteer, so every year Pip rolls in his latest build to exhibit and then rolls up his sleeves to help our team graft. As you can tell, we like the builder as much as we like the bikes.
And this Ducafe Crème
is no different. Pip's projects usually start online and a bargain dictates the donor, rather than current trends. This super rare 1991 Jap import Ducati 400ss fitted the bill nicely. The dinky Desmo has was replaced by a beefier 900ss motor that's been fully serviced and repainted. Ramair foam filters look way better than the bulky airbox, and will add a lovely intake howl to the L-twin's iconic rumble.
The front end is from a Kawasaki ZXR400 which offered dual disc stopping power. But continuing the Heinz 57 vibe the 6-pot calipers were liberated from a Suzuki Hyabusa. Front and rear wheels are from a 749 donor, as is the swingarm and rear suspension. Altered ration gearing via a new Renthal chain and sprocket kit adds a dose of cost effective liveliness.
The centrepiece for Pip though is the lighter looking and more angular frame of the 400 versus its bigger brother. Sure, it'll flex a bit more and than the factory would have intended and keyboard jockeys will get their panties in a bunch, but this isn't a bike built for Shakey Byrne to flip-flop through the Craner Curves. The fibreglass tail and front fairing have been modified to match the lines of the exposed tubing. The elegant trellis frame was powder-coated cream and the bodywork sprayed. Pip's not into sewing machines so he had the brown leather seat pads upholstered to fit his templates.
The exhaust headers were modded to bark through a single Leo Vince silencer, originally from a 916. The cream theme continues with a high temp coating. eBay's bountiful listings yielded racier levers, rearsets and push button switchgear. The ignition and a bunch of wiring has been stripped out, including the indicators. An arm out and traditional Highway Code hand signals will suffice.
Tight budget and custom Ducati aren't words that often share the same sentence but Pip has stuck to his goal and achieved way more than the coat of paint and pipe-wrap one could expect at this price point. As with so many of us, it's the creative process and overcoming mechanical hurdles that provides the satisfaction and drive to toil away on cold, dark nights. That said the bike is being ridden and will be enjoyed prior to gracing Shed Row at our 10th show next May.
Check out Pip's previous work over on Pipeburn, especially the 1948 Monet & Goyon he brought to Bike Shed Paris 2016 and the Honda C90 for London 2018.
Images by Stephen Millyard