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A Bike for a champ

How an old KX500 was turned into a Hotwheels replica for world champ Jamie Dobb


When it comes to building special, Evo-class bikes for some very special riders, Doc Wob Imports have been there and done it. Over the last six years the list of names who have been treated to a very special bike is very impressive and Dave Thorpe, Jean-Michel Bayle, Jeff Ward, Ron Lechien, Ryan Hughes, John Dowd, Elliot Banks-Brown, Trampas Parker and Shaun Kalos, to name a few.

But after a stressful 2015, I told anyone who would listen I was done building special bikes for a while. It would be hard to better what we had done in the past, not to mention the work and money involved in building the vintage bikes to the spec required for these legends.

The economic climate means our regular work is hard and the ever-growing business is taking more and more managing. Add to that is the stress in having virtually no time with a rider to try the bikes before racing. One day on the eve of the is the first time these guys have seen the bike and we’re trying to iron out any problems at the same time as set up the suspension and jetting. For events like the Farleigh Castle Vets Nations, the few laps allowed on Saturday morning for practice makes for a stressful weekend indeed. Especially when you consider these bikes were not that reliable when they were new and certainly not now, no matter how much work you put into one.

But I can’t help myself – I’m an enthusiast at the end of the day. So I got a phone call asking if I could build a bike for AMA Supercross champ Jeff Emig, would I be interested I’ve been friends with Jeff for 18 years so it was a hard one to turn down. He’s a class act and will always put in maximum effort and be the consummate professional in the process. So of course I’d be happy to build a bike for him. Of course he would be on a KX500 – his usual ride for his Nations appearances later in his career. After the bike was made ready for Jeff to ride, he signed a contract to be an ambassador for Husqvarna meaning he couldn’t ride it. These things happen.

Then came the second call, this time from former world champ Jamie Dobb. So when he asked if we could build a second KX500 as he would be riding the event with his close friend Emig, I couldn’t say no. I know Jamie is a professional but he has put a little weight on since his glory years and I know he had issues with his hands and having the strength to hold on can be an issue for him. Nevertheless, it would be an honour to supply a special bike for an old friend and let’s be honest, one of the coolest guys in the industry.

While on the phone discussing what he would like and need, we agreed it’d be cool to replicate his 1993 Pro Circuit/ Hotwheels Kawasaki. This was the first year he rode the American series full time, and incidentally it was also my first year as a mechanic in the States and his bikes from that year are nothing short of iconic.

The bike in itself was a lot of work as always, but trying to make it look remotely like his 1993 Pro Circuit bike was going to prove to be a mission. The team never ran a 500, so there was never any graphics made or the plastics in the correct livery which makes it a tall order. The only bonus is the fact as there is nothing to compare it to for some of the eagle-eyed to pick a fault. Believe me, there’s always someone who could do it better apparently!

The bike started off as American import bought from James Painton He brings in all kinds of bikes from the States and it’s not worth the stress to source one from there when a drive to Oxford gets the same and result. That’s a distinctly average 25-year-old KX500 with little or no redeeming features. We chose one which hadn’t been painted or restored and the cases and frame were unrepaired so it was a good starting point for a full restoration.

First job is to of course strip it down to every last part. Really, everything has to come apart. We start with the frame and get them paint-strippered rather than blasted to remove the old paint as this shows any cracks or problems with the frame itself. These old 500s were prone to cracking around the top subframe and shock mounting area so it’s sent directly to our fabricator Nick Clarke at Altech services. He gave the frame a good once-over and also fabricated and added the lugs for the Works Connection skid plate. The hooks which come with the skid plate are OK, but I prefer to get them welded on.

Getting the frame painted isn’t as easy as you would think. We usually powder coat them but even though every powdercoater in the business will tell you they have Kawasaki green, believe me they don’t. We got the frame painted by Russ Hennessy at Hennessy Motorsport, who specialises in restoring classic race cars so he is more anal about colour matches than most! We had a few options on the green required but we went with one which he couldn’t mix himself due to some fluorescent pigment. Of course when we got the frame back it was better than new. It’s the only place to start on a build.

Next was the motor. We stripped it back to bare cases and got them vapour blasted, the cylinder went off to be re-plated and of course we ordered new piston, rod kit, main bearings, gearbox bearings, clutch basket, clutch hub, clutch pressure plate, clutch springs, clutch plates, boyesen rad valve and ignition cover. The gearbox was largely good with only a few gears and one selector not being good enough to go again. So it was rebuilt using all new seals and gaskets. It’s a costly job but we can’t take any shortcuts in a project of this nature.

With the motor in the frame we moved our attention onto the swingarm and linkage. The swingarm gets paint-strippered as these were painted from the factory and it’s a bitch to get it all off. They used some kind of black etch primer which is ugly as hell. When it’s backit gets a full fluff and buff with the plastic brushes (available in our eBay shop kids!) to bring it back to the polished/brushed effect we all strive for. Of course there’s all new swingarm bearings, spacers, seals, chain adjuster bolts, chain guide and slipper are fitted. We had to get new axle blocks made and anodised.

The shock was stripped and then the bare body sent off to be hard anodised. Then it’s rebuilt with a new seal block, fresh shims and gas bladder. And the top bearing is new – after all we can’t have the rear wheel clunking up and down can we! We sourced the correct spring for Jamie’s weight and after stripping and blasting the linkage we replaced all the bearings, seals and spacers. The two dog bones got sent to be anodised the dark brown factory colour – after we pressed out the steel inserts, obviously.

The forks were not as easy. We got some factory 46mm upper tubes in a job lot of factory forks I bought so it seemed the right project to use them. So we started out with some 46mm cartridge KX forks from a 125 and stripped them back to their bare components. We put them together in a dry run and the caps were way smaller on the inner thread on the upper tubes. So this wasn’t going to be an easy fix, not at all.

Also the upper tubes ,though very trick as they had the one piece “bell bottom” where the seals and bushes sit, were a bigger diameter to the stock KX clamps. We tried all different combinations from the last 20 years from KX and KXF but nothing came close. We were really struggling so when I went on a shopping trip to Pro Circuit in California, I went through our options at first with Dan the general manager then Bones the suspension guru. We managed to get a set from the race team stash from a 2016 KXF450 which were made for the new triple air kit forks. The tubes were the right diameter but using these clamps threw up a series of issues. Firstly the bar mounts as Pro Circuit only offer an oversize option for their aftermarket clamps and that would look horrible on the finished bike. We needed the regular 5/8th diameter bars so we went through seemingly endless boxes trying different combinations. The closest we could get was a KX85 lower bar mount with a Honda CRF150 upper. They were all different colours so we had to get them dipped and the top clamp needed machining for the bolts to line up, but at least we had something to work to.

Next was getting the stem to fit with the steel frame so we had to make spacers to fit the 500 stem fit into the newer KXF clamps. The top steering bearing was nowhere near so we had to make a stainless spacer which was a heat fit into the frame to take the 1mm smaller bearing we sourced specifically for this job. This project was a total pain in the ass to say the least. Then lo and behold there was no steering stops. The forks would flop from side to side until they hit the tank so we went back to the now painted and half-assembled frame and had to fabricate, weld on, and of course re-paint the headstock to take the new adjustable stops. At this point I was wishing I hadn’t started with these forks!

Next was the fork caps which weren’t close to fitting in the fork tubes. We went to a specialist CNC lathe company who were prepared to work with us developing a spacer made from stainless which would thread into the top of the fork tube which would then accept the cap. The problem with the first few we made was the insert was too thin to be safe so we ended up cutting the cap down 1.5mm. That doesn’t sound much but it makes all the difference. We then re-cut the thread on the cap and made a new insert which was now thicker. It all worked out in the end but it was a costly and very time consuming in the end. We had spent longer making these fork tubes fit than we had on the rest of the build combined at this point!

We thought we had it in the bag until we went to fit the front wheel, then we had to get a modern front wheel spindle machined down to take the older KX wheel and of course the spacers also had to be made from scratch. We spent over 40 hours on just this and I wished we hadn’t started at this point!

The wheels were a breeze compared to those fork tubes. We simply cut the old spokes and binned the tyres, tubes, rim locks, rims, discs, bearings and sprocket. We then blasted the bare him with walnut shells – yes, seriously – which brings them back to a lovely finish. We then rebuilt with all new parts including getting the factory 2.5in-wide rear Excel rim anodised gold and re-laced with oversized stainless spokes. We fitted all new bearings and seals, Renthal rear sprocket and a pair of Braking discs.

The carb had a full rebuild then the rads get refurbed and re-painted, and new louvres were safety wired on as these things like to drop off. We used all new cables and top-of-the-range RK chain and a set of Works Connection frame guards and the bike was starting to come together.

Of course we bought a new genuine Kawasaki kickstart and rear brake lever – after all you can’t have the jingle jangle when you fire it up! And we managed to get a billet Hammerhead gear lever from the first generation KXF250 to fit. Of course this was anodised and rebuilt. The brakes were stripped and all new seals, pads and hoses fitted, and the rear brake carrier anodised factory-style brown to match.

Next was the bodywork which was staring to be a big job. Of course were using an aluminium GMX tank, the same as the ones we helped develop which for the bike. To look right it needed to be painted white. The original 1993 KX125 we were trying to copy had a black tank with full coverage rad panels, but the 500 had separate rad panels which bolt to the tank so that wasn’t a luxury we had. We had to source a baby blue rear fender and sidepanels which I’m telling you simply do not exist! So we took a couple of sets of the XFun plastics we import and sent them across to my old mate Tom Fuller from Image Design Custom to get them painted the right colour. Painting the plastics is a very specialist job and tom used the same additive he uses own the helmet visors he paints to make sure the paint sticks as well as possible. This was always going to be a temporary job but I figured the paint would last longer than Jamie’s arms!

The graphics were another hurdle. We asked Frank from EvoMx to help us with them as he knows what it was supposed to look like. It wasn’t until he tried to get the Hotwheels logo onto the KX500 rad and tank we realised the issue. The 125 has a long sidepanel and the Hotwheels logo is quite wide and thin. To make it fit onto the open class bike it needed to be squished up to be way less wide and quite a lot fatter. We weren’t sure if it’d look OK or not but I think you’ll agree it looks stunning. We added couple of our Doc Wob logos to the original sponsors list but tried not to change the look at all.

The grippy seat cover was another bone of contention. Of course we used a new foam and Frank made the cover to match the graphics, though he wasn’t happy with the end result and wanted to change the cover. But I think he was being too anal about it. I have to admit I prefer the bike with the number 100s on but Jamie was number three for the event but I’m sure you agree – the bike looks the business.

The bike was finished with Renthal bars and grips, a Works Connection clutch lever and perch and of course an all-new Works Finish Pro Circuit pipe and silencer and a pair of new Dunlops. After all, we have to make it work as well as we can.

So after this work would I do it again? Of course! It helps promote my business and when we put the bike up on our Facebook page we get a crazy amount of hits and new likes.

Jamie was chuffed with the bike and he rode it well, especially considering he hadn’t ever ridden an open class bike in his career. The weather wasn’t the best on the weekend but we got through it with no dramas in the end.

The bike has now been sold. The money never covers the time and energy it cost to build but it shows what we as a team are capable of, I hope you agree!

THE BIKE THAT NEVER WAS!

The project started by making a bike for former Supercross champ Jeff Emig to race at the Vets Nations. It was clean, super trick and ready to go… then Emig signed to be an ambassador for Husky so couldn’t ride a green machine! So here’s an exclusive look at what Emig never got to race!

Original content from MotoHead Issue 2

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