Japanese motorcycle culture is something I will never get sick of. The passion each builder puts into a bike is unparalleled even by the best of the west. The founder of Ask Motorcycles is the definition of a prideful Japanese builder, so when he undertook a new challenge in form of a Buell XB it is no surprise that it came out an absolute stunner.
The Buell XB was an ill-fated project brought to the world by Eric Buell in conjunction with Harley-Davidson. Basically, Eric designed the chassis and Harley supplied the engine. The finished products were welcomed with mixed reviews thanks to Eric’s unique styling and Harley’s sometimes underwhelming engines. It was one of those motorcycles that you either loved or loved to hate. Unfortunately for the Buell name, the hate would win and the company would fold several years into its run.
The bikes weren’t all bad, but they never quite checked all the boxes that the sport bike guys were looking for at the time. The XB came in a variety of different engine sizes, all being shared with the famous Harley-Davidson Sportster. So the engine was kind of blah. Luckily styling and engineering were Eric Buell’s biggest claim to fame. Everything about the XB series was radical and different. The frame was hollow allowing it to store fuel instead of a traditional gas tank. The swingarm also worked double duty with the inclusion of an internal oil tank. This kept the mass centralized, supposedly aiding in handling. The brakes on the XB are called perimeter brakes, where the disc is mounted to the rim instead of the hub. These look great but are not much for ultimate performance. Combine all these things and you definitely end up with a unique bike, but unique isn’t always better.
So the Buell was kind of a flop. A shame really, because sometimes this industry needs someone like Eric Buell to stir the pot. Thankfully his legacy can now live on through another avenue, a beautiful custom from Ask Motorcycles. This Buell started life as a customer’s bike but shortly turned into much more for Ask Motorcycles owner Rad Yamamoto. Rad took the Buell as an entirely new challenge, making it his personal mission to turn it into a show stopping cafe racer for the upcoming Mooneyes Car and Motorcycle Show.
With a new target in his sights, Rad got to work on the Buell. Ask Motorcycles is more accustom to creating masterpieces out of smaller displacement motorcycles. Yet here he is working on a Harley turned sport(ish) bike. Rad decided to leave the chassis to its own devices, instead focusing almost all of his attention to the bodywork. Where a stock Buell XB is a naked streetfighter style motorcycle, Rad envisioned full fairings with beautiful flowing lines. Rad also wanted to push himself and his modest shop to the furthest extent he could, electing to mold the bodywork entirely from aluminum.
There is a point here that I would really like to drive home: If you have never worked with sheet metal before this idea of a full aluminum body may not sound like much of anything, but this craft is not for the faint of heart. Learning to form metal can take years of experience and thousands of dollars in tools. While Rad Yamamoto has proven his experience through the years it is the fact that he only used a hand hammer and auto hammer to form this entire bike is madness. Now Rad did give himself a leg up by enlisting the help of fellow metal former Christian of Sosa Metalworks. Christian actually stayed at his home for two weeks to help assist Rad on this build. That’s pure dedication from both parties.
Rad is rarely one to complain. When asked about what issues he encountered, he mentioned briefly having some creative differences with the bike’s owner. He then mentioned the bike’s frame saying, “The shape of the Buell’s frame also tormented me till the end! I finally found harmony when I positioned the body panels as close to the engine as possible. It’s a concern that is probably common to everyone who customizes Buells. This also lead to concerns about heat collecting under the fairing so I had to equip the fairing with functional air scoops on both sides of the bike.”
All those air scoops that Rad mentioned are much more than just functional pieces. Each vent is strategically placed for functionality yet the way they are formed into the body they become much more than that, they become art. Every contour of the body is complex yet it is all so fluid it becomes deceivingly simple. All of these curves offer phenomenal balance to the angular frame. I love the way Ask Motorcycles tucked the turn signals under the front fairing and the rear LED under the tail section. The diffuser fins under the tail section combined with the unique license plate fill up space that is usually left barren by other cafe builders, adding even more to Rad’s unique styling.
The few modifications the Buell needed came in the form of a hidden VFR oil cooler, a Nitron mono rear shock and upgraded brakes from Beringer. To change the riding position Rad fit the XB now called KANNA with a pair of Aella rear set foot pegs and clip on handlebars. This gave KANNA the riding position needed to match the new cafe racer styling. The sweeping windscreen gives way to the perfect cafe racer cockpit which Rad finish with a carbon fiber dash housing a full MotoGadget MotoScope Pro digital LED screen for all the necessary riding metrics.
If the masterful hand formed body wasn’t enough to make KANNA stand out then surely the contrasting color will. Rad wanted to make KANNA subtly pop so he had the wheels and rearsets powdercoated in a gorgeous copper. I love that he only chose to do those components and nothing more, keeping it small yet rich in contrast.
Well, I think I have made it clear enough how much I enjoy looking at this handcrafted beauty. Thankfully I am not alone. Ask Motorcycles entered KANNA into the 2016 Mooneyes show in Japan, and came out with the trophy for ‘Best Cafe Racer’ an award they created just for this motorcycle. While the show is used to dishing out trophies they are not used to seeing many cafe racers, and apparently none of this caliber. As if that exclusive trophy wasn’t enough the guest judge, Jeff Decker, picked KANNA as his overall pick for the show. Solidifying KANNA as one of the best bikes to come out of Ask Motorcycles; and in my opinion, one of very best cafe racers to come out of Japan. Never thought I would say that about a Buell, that’s for sure.