For many, this year’s EICMA will be remembered for the unveiling of exciting new models such as the G 310 R roadster and the R nineT Scrambler, but there were two other BMW bikes that attracted equal amounts of attention, respect and awe from visitors to the international motorcycle exhibition. Making their European debut alongside their owners all the way from Japan were two BMW K 1600 GTL-based customs, for which the phrase ‘same but different’ hardly does them justice.
When the two bikes were unveiled in Japan, the custom world was taken aback. How could two finished motorcycles be so different from their starting point as a ‘donor’ K 1600 GTL six-cylinder luxury tourer – and also so completely different from each other? The photos of the bikes together were published across the world but to actually see them ‘in the metal’ reveals an even deeper appreciation of the talented artists behind them and the painstakingly detailed processes that have culminated in these unique custom specials.
For Keiji Kawakita’s “Juggernaut”, the sheer presence of this futuristic and foreboding, full-metal military-esque machine is simply poles apart from the dynamic, fully-dressed luxury tourer that it started life as. Packed with brass dials and gauges, hinged compartments, aluminium tubing and finished in a marauding matt grey finish that wouldn’t look out of place on a battleship, this masterpiece brings to mind the imagined internals of a submarine, or WW2 plane cockpit.
“I have to admit that I enjoy a challenge,” says Kawakita-san, “and this certainly was a challenge. When I got the bike to work on I took everything off so I could see the engine, frame and front fork – and then I just sat and looked at it for a week. I had no fixed plan – usually I like to make a drawing, but this time not. The finished bike is really good to ride though. The original is a heavyweight tourer but this is lightweight – maybe just 250kg while the original is nearer 400kg! There’s great power from the engine and it feels very fast. There was no communication between me and Kenji [Nagai] while we were working on the projects. The first time we saw each other’s bike was when they were finished and unveiled together. It was like ‘wow, so different’!”
Kenji Nagai’s also chuckles when he thinks back to the surprise between the two of them when they saw each other’s custom bike for the first time. “We’ve been good friends for a long time, but we didn’t talk about this project together – this time there were no conversations between us at all.”
And while the series production K 1600 GTL is barely recognisable in the “Juggernaut”, it is arguably even less so in Kenji’s “Ken’s Factory Special”, which only retains the engine and frame from the original bike and even did away with the Duolever front fork system retained on the Juggernaut but ditched in favour of raked-out, machined aluminium girder-type front forks. There is also a larger front wheel and bigger diameter rear tyre as well as a whole host of unique alloy parts such as the low seat, fuel tank cover, radiator surround, ‘bars and much more. While the finish is faultless, the customisation journey was anything but, according to Nagai-san.
“What a challenge, there were so many devices and electronics compared to what I am used to, such as ABS brakes, light controls, can-bus – it seemed more like a car to me! At first I wanted to make a bagger but it seemed too obvious so then I changed my mind. I wanted to make it longer than the stock bike and for it to be fast and sound right. In fact the sound from the exhaust is crazy loud. It feels enjoyable to ride but is actually kind of scary! I think I’ve shaved at least the weight of one person off this bike!”
One person who was delighted to see the two respected Japanese builders and their custom six-cylinder bikes at the EICMA show was Ola Stenegard, Head of BMW Motorrad Vehicle Design.
“These are both stunning bikes and it’s important that the world sees them. I know the work of both of these guys and you can see all their ‘trademarks’ in their work here, even though they’ve let their imagination run wild. We’ve had people coming to look at them side by side and we’ve had to tell them more than once that they are actually both from the same bike. If you showed either of these project bikes next to a standard K 1600 GTL I don’t think people would understand it – they are just too far away. It’s awesome that we keep doing these projects. When the Japanese BMW colleagues told me that they were giving two 1600s to Ken’s Factory and Hot Dock I knew that the results would be something out of the ordinary. These guys are more ‘old school’ in the scene and they wanted to show the young guns that they still have it – and they’ve certainly done that here. I couldn’t pick between them – both bikes are awesome.”
With the quality of work this high from the two Japanese world-class customisers, we’re hoping that bikes like this could also one day take pride of place in the BMW museum. They are certainly ‘game changers’ – just like all the R nineT projects that have gone before them – and judging by the extremely positive reaction at EICMA to the new R nineT Scrambler, this is a trend that is set to continue for the foreseeable future.