The combination of a popular online auction site and generous amounts of alcohol sounds to be a recipe for disaster, as no doubt many can testify as they shrug off a hangover and check their Internet history, bank balance and matrimonial relations.
But for Gavin Clarke, a rig mechanic from Lincolnshire, it signalled the start of an 11-month project which would culminate in him winning what is arguably the country’s biggest and best motorcycle contest – Built in Britain with Carole Nash.
Little did he know that a boozy night in front of the PC would lead to a date at Motorcycle Live with race ace Jonathan Rea who would present him with a prize package worth over £2,350 – plus the glory that comes with having your winning CX500 displayed for over 100,000 fellow bikers to admire, and being featured in the hardy biking evergreen that is the Carole Nash calendar.
“A Sunday night, a bottle of wine and eBay – fatal!” recalls Gavin with a smile. “I woke up in the morning thinking ‘did I buy something last night? Oh b******s! Then, after a 320-mile round trip to Chelmsford and £112.29 lighter, I had the bike for my next project.”
Alcohol-induced though the purchase was, it wasn’t entirely unplanned; Gavin having previously been inspired by Wrenchmonkees CX and a feature in MotorCycle News. “I wanted for a while to build something similar to the Wrenchmonkees bike and later saw this ‘MCN ten best and worst things about bikes’. One was single-sided swing arms and another underseat exhausts which were described something like ‘a beautifully designed bike and then they give it a bum-hole!’
“Well, I thought we’d see about that!”
It was the challenge inadvertently thrown down by MCN that laid the foundations for the distinctive pipe and seat combo on his reinvented Honda. “I wanted more than just an exhaust sticking out of the rear end, an aggressive look to the seat unit to complement it so I gave it the eyes.”
Returning to the Internet he also found that despite checking out loads of CXs, none had been customised with a single-sided swing arm. If you want a bike to stand out, give it a unique feature. “I originally looked at the BMW GS1200 for a swing arm as I needed a shaft drive bike but even looking on eBay they were way out of my price range. Then a mate of mine pointed out that the Honda NTV Deauville has a shaft drive.”
He neglected, though, to mention the NTV’s output shaft was on the wrong side; presenting Gavin with something of a challenge. “The arm had to be flipped from the left to right, creating an issue with the suspension. I didn’t want to alter the original arm and weaken it so I came up with the idea of using the pull type shock from a Buell Lightning. Next there was the alignment to sort which meant widening the frame by 25mm on the drive shaft side to get the rear wheel centralised and, then, because it didn’t look right from the rear, I had to widen the other side to match. Finally I had to offset the engine by 6mm to correct the drive shaft alignment.”
Phew. Having been shafted, as it were, what is about the work he’s done on the ’79 Honda of which he’s most proud? There’s no hesitation: “The seat unit. I did some drawings of what I wanted and then realised I had to make it! That was when I decided to treat myself to an English wheel and learn how to use it. I don’t think I did a bad job for my first attempt,” he notes wryly.
Given the quality of the work it’s safe to presume that Gavin’s an experienced engineer right? Not so, although he admits he’s been “tinkering with spanners” for much of his life, and has his dad John to thank for his non-professional engineering nous. “He was a toolmaker by trade and as a boy I used to watch him turn metal on a lathe and build things. Even today I still call him to ask if can give me an idea how to do something, such as I had an issue with the drive shaft.”
What’s certainly impressive is that Gavin can take credit for all the work in creating this extraordinary bike – barring covering the seat for which Lou at Domestic and Auto Re-Upholstery take the honours – which was done in his own small home workshop. “I did everything by researching others’ expertise on the web and then making my own uneducated decisions. I was lucky, though, to have moral support from my wife Christy.” Behind every great man…
So now, at the third time of entering, he’s now triumphed in the contest, the winner of which, remember, is voted for by the great British biking public. That must feel pretty good? Oh yes. “Winning Built in Britain is the pinnacle of my bike building career. I now know what the contest is all about. It’s not just a paint job or bolting on new stuff, it’s about creating something totally different from the norm. Winning is a real ego boost and I hope it will lead to some commissions because I’ve always fancied turning my passion into a business.”
Given that dream, having his bike and the skills that went into making it showcased at the UK’s biggest motorcycle show must feel pretty special? “Amazing. I’d like to thank Carole Nash for enabling me to display the CX at the NEC. To think of tens of thousands of people looking at my bike just blows me away, I just wish I could hear all their comments!”
Presumably the prize – a grand in cash and a 15-drawer Sealey APCOMBOBBTK58 Topchest and Rollcab combi with a 147 piece toolkit worth over £1,350 – is pretty welcome. Any thoughts on how he might make use? “I’m looking to buy a Mandel bender as for my next project I need to make a frame and exhausts.” Oh, and in case you’re wondering, that casual mention of his next project refers to nothing too taxing. Just a, you know, FZR500 V8!