IT TAKES A lot of faith to hand your custom motorcycle project over to someone else—and then give them free rein over it. But if you find the right person to work with, the results can be spectacular. That’s the story behind this custom BMW R75/5, which turned out so great that we awarded it our ‘Best of Show’ pick at this year’s Handbuilt Show.
It belongs to Helmut Siepmann, a product designer based near Toronto, Canada. The donor bike, a 1971 BMW R75/5, was a true barn find, complete with rust, perished upholstery, and missing parts. Helmut planned to revive it and turn it into a café racer.
Needing help with the hard parts, Helmut called on his friend, Johnny Lorette, a retired tool and die maker. “Johnny works on exciting custom car and bike projects out of the best equipped two-car garage north of the US border, under the label of 1755 Customs,” Helmut tells us. “There’s no website and no phone number—but there certainly is a waiting list.”
“He got excited and offered to help, but it soon ended up with him simply taking the project over completely. Johnny said, ‘There’ll be no café racer, just leave it to me.’ So that’s what I did—with no regrets.”
Johnny’s idea was to modernize some aspects of the BMW R75/5, while also grafting on some features that predate the 1970s boxer. Key features of the stock bike, like its drum brakes, shaft drive, and iconic headlamp, were all kept as a nod to its origins. “Nothing was off the table,” adds Helmut.
Johnny went deep on this bobber; so deep, that the work took two and a half years and 1,400 man-hours to complete. “There was never a rush or sense of urgency, and everything was executed with precision and focused planning. If there was something that was not quite right, we did it again.”
Keeping with this ethos, Helmut sent the drivetrain off to Air Support BMW for a factory-spec overhaul. The engine came back with rebored cylinders, Mahle pistons, overhauled heads with new guides, valves, and springs, and new seals, rings, and bearings. The transmission and drive shaft were refurbished too, and the clutch is all-new.
Gone are the OEM Bing carburetors. Instead, 3D-printed intake manifolds connect the heads to a twin Weber carb, fed by Uni foam filters. Since the carb sits much further back, the throttle cable now pulls on a custom-made linkage to actuate it.
Moving to the electronics, Johnny installed a new Bosch unit, along with an aftermarket regulator/rectifier and a Motogadget mo.unit controller. The ignition was upgraded to a new one from Euro MotoElectrics. But it’s how the electronics are packaged that’s impressive.
Johnny fabricated a split fuel tank for the BMW; the left carries fuel, while the right covers the electronics. Underneath it, a 3D-printed box hosts every last component, including the battery, with obsessive levels of tidiness. Aluminum tubes carry the relevant wires to the engine, eliminating the mess of wires that normally occupies this space on old airheads.
Running between the two halves of the tank is a CNC-machined structure that Helmut has dubbed ‘The Fish.’ It not only acts as a support for the tank halves and the seat, but it’s also a structural member of the chassis. And it hides the wiring that runs to the taillights, which are embedded under the tail end of the saddle.
The seat itself sits on a hand-hammered aluminum base, with a special mechanism to pop the upholstered portion off when you need to access the taillight’s wiring or bulbs. “It’s not a coincidence that it somewhat resembles a bicycle seat,” Helmut adds. “Johnny is well known for his contribution to downhill and cross-country racing bicycles, that he designed and constructed for Ruthless Cycles.”
Further back, a generous rear fender hugs the back wheel, mounted on a custom-made support that complements the design of the ‘Fish.’ Neither the fender brace nor the seat mount show any visible fasteners, giving the whole rear end a surreal, bobbed vibe.
Needless to say, achieving this look also meant ditching the OEM shocks. Johnny mounted a pair of pull-type shocks in their stead, hiding them under the engine. He then braced the swingarm to compensate for the new load angle.
The front suspension was swapped out for a springer front end, with several notable modifications. Johnny shortened the springs to make the forks more compact at the handlebar area, then fabricated headlight and fender mounts to keep everything tidy. The BMW’s steering head also needed a significant rework to accommodate the springer setup.
The original headlight sits up top, retrofitted with a GPS-enabled speedo from Legendary Motorcycles. The cockpit also wears a set of handbuilt direct-mount bars, fitted with modern switches, and Motogadget bar-end turn signals and mirrors. The little wiring that is exposed is wrapped in cloth conduit, with colors that match the subtle brass accents that are sprinkled throughout the build.
Even the wheels sport a long list of mods. At a glance, they’re classic 18” Boranni rims, wrapped in Firestone rubber. But the front hub features a custom brake cooling scoop and venting ports with 3D-printed covers.
Both wheels also run with custom axles, bearings, and spacers. The front wheel needed those mods to work with the springer fork, but the rear end was simply done to match the front in diameter. The rear hub assembly actually still uses the original BMW axle internally, with hidden wires that run to the light on the custom license plate bracket.
Rounding out the spec sheet is a custom exhaust system, mounted as close to the frame as possible. Johnny tucked it in so tight, in fact, that he had to create cavities in the back of each muffler to make room for the engine mounting bolts. A CNC-machined aluminum badge adorns each end can.
Complete with a tasteful color scheme, Helmut’s custom BMW R75/5 is flawless. It’s been a minute since we saw it in person, but we’re still struggling to get it out of our heads.
Images by Mark Luciani