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Shane Balkowitsch’s 1971 BMW R75 Cafe Restoration Project

Shane Balkowitsch knew a thing or two about restoring old Germans to new glory.  He’d recently restored a 1965 Porsche 356, and decided that he wanted a bike as a companion piece to the car.  He’d been watching Cafe Racer on Velocity and fell in love with the modded style. The medical supply distributor from North Dakota had a vision, and now he needed a way to fulfill it.  First, he chose the brand.

“Why a BMW?  It only made sense to do another German vehicle, they’re both air-cooled and with similar opposing cylinder set-ups,” explains Shane.  With the model in mind, Shane then needed a partner in crime.  A search through magazines and the internet brought him to Josh Withers’ restored 1973 BMW Cafe Racer.  Josh had designed and built the bike himself, turning a ’73 BMW R60/5 into a café racer with a ’79 R100 engine.  Shane thought it was the perfect model for what he wanted – a foundation that he could then expand on. Shane was based out of North Dakota, and Josh was in Southern California, but the distance didn’t matter to Shane. He called Josh, and two strangers were suddenly on the path to restoration.

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Josh is a commercial photographer and designer by trade. An artist for work, he often needs a different outlet when he comes home. He’d always tinkered with cars, and once he purchased his first motorcycle, the possibilities were obvious.  “A mechanic in San Francisco talked me into my first BMW restore, and I’ve done three in the past 10 years, loving every minute of it.

“They’re well built, with readily available parts,” says Josh. “Plus, the ‘toaster tank’ style was frowned up in the 1970s, but now it’s got classic charm. They have a short wheelbase and are great for the small, nimble cafe racer conversion.”

Josh’s experience was invaluable to fulfilling Shane’s vision, and Shane’s input and enthusiasm was essential to creating the unique creation that emerged from the partnership.  The first thing they did was to source two bikes – one for the foundation, the second to break down for parts.

“When I do a custom, I make sure my starting point is a bike that has no other future other than a complete resurrection back from the dead. Between 2004 and 2010 I restored my blue bike and cafe parts were hard to come by. When I started Shane's bike in 2011, I was amazed at the amount of aftermarket cafe parts available for BMWs.”

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While Josh’s original custom had been the inspiration, neither he nor Shane wanted an exact replica. In addition to the different paint, there were other subtle touches to set the two bikes apart, including the bars. ”I didn't want both bikes to be identical so I bought drag bars that have the same reach as my clubman bars, found a different seat solution, different air box/starter cover.  Shane's bike is more streamlined and has rounded edges.”

After stripping the Beemer down to its skivvies, they started to dress her back up.  Some welding and reinforcement of the frame was necessary, and then it was time to put her back together, an homage to the cafe racer with a few modern touches. The suspension uses Race Tech Gold Valve Emulators in the front to give the bike a modern response on the road.  Rear suspension has YSS shocks with fine tuning capabilities. Rear sets have been added to the rear frame of the bike in which has been reinforced and cleaned up. The carbs came from a mid ‘80's BMW R80 GS with independent floats.

They also lightened the starter, installed a Dyna Electronic Ignition, and a Siebenrock 20% horsepower upgrade piston/cylinder kit. A new Shorai battery was tucked under the seat, and the British 6V turn signal was converted into a 12V tail light. Akront wide shoulder rims were installed, and the custom exhaust was coated with Jet Hot.

All of these things, and more, contribute to the performance of the bike, but there are a few stand-outs. “The mufflers are from a 1937 BMW R12 and are flipped upside down. It was Shane's idea to use something older and non-stock, so I did some research and found the pipes in Poland.  We coated them with Jet Hot so they would stay silver,” explains Josh.

The body of the bike was equally important. Josh mocked up the body, and all of the components were powder-coated. The original speedo was restored, and the engine rebuilt by Dave Gardner from Recommended Service.  Finally, the bike was painted to match Shane’s Porsche, using the exact factory colors.

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The bike build was a creative outlet for both Josh and Shane, but they found something else along the way – a deep friendship.  “Having been able to drive the bike with Josh was epic and I could not be happier with the bike, but even more so I am happy with the friendship I have found in a complete stranger who was 2000 miles away from me and agreed to make me a bike and agreed over our first phone call together,” said Shane.

For a step by step walk-through of the restoration, check out Shane’s page:
http://sharoncol.balkowitsch.com/bmw.htm

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Photos courtesy of:  Josh Withers, Shane Balkowitsch, Josh Sanseri, Kevin Vu & Lauren Devon



 




 

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