Bryan Fuller’s Ultra Chic Toaster Tank.

Words: Paul d’Orléans  Photos: Matt Jones

I breezed right past Bryan Fuller’s latest custom at the Handbuilt Show last April. With my third ‘Vintagent’ cocktail in hand (nice touch, Revival), and a loud party slowly gyrating through the hall, the BMW R75/5 ‘toaster tank’ café racer, in its quiet black and silver livery, was hidden amidst a sea of ‘look at me’ customs. A thoughtful (sober) friend took my elbow, whispering ‘you need to see this bike’, and while the party roared, my head quieted, taking in Fuller’s gorgeous subtleties. It’s as discreet as is possible for a radically lightened, classically shaped café racer, mostly due to the minimalist paint and non-bling finish – even the originally chrome ‘toaster’ panels on the tank have been swapped for aluminum. The back end is cleaned up with a monoshock, but otherwise, the architecture is standard, including the stock, vintage drums up front. With the heavy /5 mufflers swapped for a pair of 1960s-style trumpets, and classic bump-stop racing seat, this bike says ‘built in 1970’, except nobody built them this well 45 years ago. Nor as slim – the café seat of BMW’s 1973 R90S is twice the width of Fuller’s, which highlights the design freedom custom builders enjoy, which factories just can’t match, a point reinforced in a conversation with Edgar Heinrichs (BMW’s head of design) last week, when asked if BMW could make a ‘simple’ motorcycle again. ‘With a 5-liter airbox and 7-liter exhaust required by law – no.’ So, dig your free-breathing, noisy mofo vintage customs, baby, while you can.

Fuller’s abbreviated BMW deletes the instruments and turn signals, and blacks out the engine cases, but retains a pair of alloy fenders, by gum; a righteous bulwark against the silly trend for a full-spray Custom riding experience in anything but SoCal weather. Fuller kept the standard airbox, which means he intended it to be ridden longer than a photo shoot, a point he proved by offering me the bike for the Quail Ride, after my ’28 Sunbeam racer split its soldered-up fuel tank. He knew I’d spank her, so reminded me the BMW’s lucky new owner would be waiting at the far end of my 110-mile test through the twisting, bumpy roads of California’s central coast range. There’s no kicker, the bike fires easily on the button, and the gearing is standard, which means the potential for higher speed offered by a light-spinning motor is traded for quick acceleration. She rockets off the line with a satisfying basso burble from those near-empty pipes, and winds up beautifully if the throttle is kept open hard. The Quail Ride has a full CHP escort, which clocks along at the speed limit, but 100 bikes stretches across a mile, with hot laps around Laguna Seca the apex. Let’s just say Fuller’s BMW feels good at the ton, wherever that happened, and flattens out like a cat at speed, after arching its back when taking off from rest. The monoshock was rock hard until a Fox Shock pal dialed down the preload, after which the ride was less plank, more ‘70s Italian.

After the relatively smooth prelude through the Salinas valley, the Ride turns back towards the coast, snaking through the lonely canyons of Carmel Valley Road. The spectacular Spring landscape and righteous twisties are offset by California’s bugbear – deferred road maintenance. Hammering a vintage café racer through here means little Dieter really does fly, the /5 aviating frequently, with a waggle of yaw but no drama. More dramatic was hard braking for decreasing radius, off-camber corners, which revealed the limits of that front drum, and the shaft-drive rear end to cope with bump-braking and the front fork fully compressed. An amazing combo of hopping, chirping, and bucking resulted in one corner – ok, don’t do that. Mind you, no vintage bike would have done better, and a rigid-rear custom would have been skittering horizontally in identical conditions (don’t ask how I know), so we’ve found the limits of a BMW chassis designed in 1968. On smooth corners, the bike was a blast, with quick acceleration accompanied by a charmingly obnoxious exhaust note, and very predictable handling from the double-loop tube frame, inspired by the Norton Featherbed.

Paul d’Orléans aboard the Bavarian Café [Stacie B. London]
Bryan Fuller’s simple, delicately detailed BMW café racer should be an inspiration for anyone walking this path. The stainless steel brackets holding the fenders are truly elegant, and match both scale and curvature of the white pinstriping on the tank, seat, and engine cases. Cheeky details include the seat’s integral taillight, and the fuel cap, inspired by a Grolsch beer bottle – study it, and wonder why nobody’s done it before. A hundred such understated design decisions adds up to an incredibly tasteful motorcycle, built by a true professional at the top of his game.

This article originally appeared in Cycle World magazine.  Check out Paul d’Orléans’ writing for CW here, or better yet, subscribe to the most popular motorcycle magazine in the world!

Exploring country roads on the Quail Ride with the Fuller Custom Moto Bavarian Café [Paul d’Orléans]

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