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EL BASTARDO | Bike Tests | Custom Cool

Take a look at your bike; now imagine taking an angle grinder to it. Imagine the man hours of development that made your bike what it is, and then imagine rubbing them all out in a shower of sparks and blistering tubular steel. You’ve reached the point of no return. You’re now committed to the build, and you’ve only got yourself to blame if it all goes tits-up. This is what two blokes from Ol’ Blighty, who now call Sydney home, were faced with.

“The two of us have had fun, messed around with bikes and changed things over the years,” says Shed-X co-owner Neil Cunningham in his Edinburgh-cum-Sydney accent. “But we’d never cut a frame. That was a pivotal moment when we thought, ‘Christ, we better get the grinder out.’ It was daunting. You either eBay all the bits or you get building. We’d never done a total ground-up build before.”

The result is a Ducati ST2 unlike any other, and the before and after pics are staggering. The El Bastardo, as this first Shed-X model has been christened, is a tribute to minimalist cool, a rolling tilt of the hat to the days of McQueen and Bonnevilles and Johnny Cash and, importantly, two-valve air-cooled Ducatis – the very heritage of the Italian sultans of style.

Bike nuts from when Cash was king, Cunningham and good mate Jim Lowe weren’t happy with what was available in the modern Ducati range. Both have had myriad bikes over the years, ranging from Yamaha R6s to GSX-Rs and Ducati Monsters – not to mention the delectable factory 1994 Ducati 955 Corsa of Giancarlo Falappa that’s still in Neil’s possession – but the same-same feel of the modern range of not just Ducati but almost every other manufacturer today left the duo a little cold.

“The Bastardo just came about from boredom; I was bored with what’s on offer,” Neil says.

“The idea for the bike came from watching Bikeexif.com, which is incredibly addictive,” Jim starts, who has spent the last 28 years of his life as a spray painter after moving to Sydney from Hertfordshire, UK. “I saw the Radical Ducati 9½. It was a red frame with white bodywork and I thought, ‘That is it – that’s the modern day café racer. That’s the 650 Bonnie of today.’”

Radical Ducati is a Spanish company run out of Madrid by a guy called Pepo, a guy who needs no water-cooling and breathes only through two valves. So with the 9½ burned into the collective sub-conscious of Shed-X, the duo set about finding a donor bike.

The timing was perfect. Sydney was going through something of a customising craze over the past five or so years, not least in part thanks to the cafe racer explosion idea of selling motorcycle culture to guys and girls that would otherwise have nothing to do with bikes – genius. But building a wheezy 400cc single-cylinder from 30 years ago for guys to compare mocktails and short shorts with in Surry Hills didn’t appease Shed-X. The bike had to have road presence. It had to be a real rider’s bike. It had to have that clutch rattle. And its name had to be menacing. With the moniker El Bastardo you’d think they were creating a Columbian drug lord who organised cockfights for fun.

“The main thing with a build like this is the donor bike needs to be cheap,” Jim says. “So we hunted around for a Ducati ST2. The ST2 is somewhere right now where it’s just an old bike. Take the old airhead BMWs – they’re old enough to be a cool retro build. The ST2 isn’t old enough for that, but it’s not new, either. It’s just an old bike. And they’re cheap as chips because they’re ugly and no one wants them.

“They’re all ridden by some bloke called Nigel who is happy if he’s done 23,000km of highway touring with his wife,” Neil quips. “The advantages of that for us are two-fold; the bike is not stressed – and the ST2 has a strong bottom end anyway – and due to the nature of the owners if there’s ever a problem, it’s straight back to the dealer or whatever to sort it. It’s a perfect bike for us.”

A trip to Frasers Motorcycles in Newcastle and $7000 later, the boys had their ST2. Then came the question of courage. “We spent time thinking about what to do and plucking up the courage to do it,” Jim says. “I rode it for three weeks; the clutch was completely knackered, but apart from that it was good.”

Next came the strip show. The red ST2, in all its fatness and ugliness, was ridded of all unnecessary bodywork and taken down to the bare chassis. The engine came out, the wheels were turfed, forks and swingarm were junked, as were the pistons, clutch, lights, tank and brakes – and here’s where Radical came in. Jim and Neil picked up a tank, seat, subframe and muffler from Spain, and went nuts in the Moto Gadget catalogue buying the dash, switches, and
M Unit control module.

Finally, it was the angle grinder’s turn. “After we hacked off the back end there was no turning back,” Jim says. “In the end we designed the subframe ourselves from the footpegs back. We bought one of Pepo’s subframes but when we went to see Greg Maher from Racers Edge [the same Greg Maher who runs Beau Beaton in ASBK] he thought, ‘Hey, we can do this better and neater.’ And when you look at it, there’s nothing between the back wheel and the seat, just a gap – it gives it a light, airy look.”

Now it was time to get some rolling chassis parts. A bit of internet searching for this stuff is a must, and in no time the boys had the front-end off a Ducati Monster S4R from Bexley in Sydney, comprising a trick set of Öhlins forks and Monobloc Brembo brakes and radial master-cylinder. The Monster influence then switches to the swingarm, shock, wheels and rear brakes – all S2R parts. Easy.

The pistons are now 11.5:1 high-compression slugs, the clutch a Ducati Performance slipper and the flywheel was sent to Jenny Craig for some lightening.

At this point it all seems pretty straight forward. Buy a heap of parts, hack the back of the bike off, weld it, paint it, bolt it back together with said parts, and Bob’s your mum’s brother, right? Wrong.

“We went nuts on the electrics; that was the painful bit,” Neil says. Wayne McDonald from Tuneboy Engine Management Systems was tasked with getting the German Moto Gadget equipment going and making it communicate with the newly-acquired Ducati 996 ECU. Plus there was the super-cool ignition that sits below the seat and is activated by swiping the key fob on the bum pad of the seat.

“We didn’t realise the size of what we asked him to do. It was a big job,” Neil says. “He was plugging a 996 ECU into the ST2 wiring harness, so he had to re-flash it and give it a custom map from the ground up.”

“And you couldn’t flash it with anything else,” Jim explains. “He wanted to flash it off a Monster 1000, but it wouldn’t let him do it because that doesn’t have a radiator.

“Then he had to work out the Moto Gadget M Unit system and wire all that up. The wiring harness was huge.

“The original ECU is a big breadbox of a thing and it just has an eprom chip, and all you can do is replace the chip. The tiny 5AM ECU thing that’s on nearly everything Ducati-wise these days [i.e 996 onwards] you can program any which way. So we’re thinking, ‘Great! We’ll get tonnes of power out of it, do this and that,’ but we didn’t know enough about what we were asking Wayne to do. It made it a difficult job. You’ve got the M Unit, the ignition, the swipe, and the difficult ECU. Then we had to keep buying stuff because we needed the plugs that go into the ECU so we had to buy a 999 wiring harness; there was crap everywhere!”

“It was not necessary, really,” Neil admits. “For what the bike does, which is cruise around on the street, the rider’s just better to keep the stock ECU and ST2 wiring harness, which is what we’ve done on the red-framed bike which we’re building now. Plus it saves them a heap of cash, around $6-7K in the cost of the build. So it’s good for the customer and no headaches for us.”

Indeed, people really don’t care about electronics on a bike that’s not supposed to have any. Not once when I rode the bike did anyone ask about the trick Moto Gadget M Unit, or the dash or even the svelte blinker switches. People liked the swipe ignition unit, but 95 percent of the comments – including the bike coppers who stopped for photos – focussed around how the El Bastardo looked.

“That’s the main thing,” Jim says. “It’s been a massive learning curve because as we’re finding out people go, ‘Oh my god – what is it?” I say, ‘It’s an ST2,’ and they call bullshit. So it’s all about the look. You can’t say, ‘I’d just like to point out the extensive rewiring we’ve done.’ People don’t care, they want the looks.”

Part of the look is the beautiful 2-1 stainless steel exhaust system snaking down the right side of El Bastardo that matches to the Spark muffler. Luckily for the boys, this was a simple job thanks to a guy who also shared the skeletal vision of Shed-X. Riders of YZ450F’s will know this name. “Jason Barrett from Barrett Exhausts really got the idea of what we wanted, something with tiny steps and welds. He said straight away, ‘I know exactly what you mean; like the Roland Sands Desmosedici.’ He really got it.”

Painting was always going to be the easy part. With Jim as a full-time painter the job was done, and once the boys had assembled the final machine and done some initial testing, the keys were handed to AMCN…