BMW R80 custom

There are some bikes that are all show and no go, but this BMW reflects a different kind of ‘show’. It’s positively theatrical. Secreted amongst the mechanicals are an antique glass doorknob, a brass bicycle bell and a tiny cameo portrait—see images below—added by the owner, Vancouver-based artist and actor Justin Wright. His Beemer started life in 1987 as an R80/RT, and was customized by an engineer/machinist called Kurt Lang. “Kurt decided to use the bike as a custom platform,” says Justin, “and in his words, ‘To see what I could do with metal for a motorcycle’.” Kurt spent a winter building this BMW, and after a couple of months of riding, sold the bike to Justin. I don’t know how much money changed hands, but there are a lot of man-hours here. The tank, seat and engine top case are all polished, hand-made aluminum. The headlight, brake light and footpegs are also aluminum, and were hand turned on a lathe. The straight bars, controls and the entire exhaust are hand-crafted in stainless steel. And if you’re wondering why the engine looks a little unusual for an R80, it’s because the cylinder heads were replaced with those from a much earlier model BMW—for the rounded look—with the remaining fins rounded off. Despite the elegant little accessories, this BMW is intrinsically functional: “Everything not necessary has been removed,” says Justin. “The bike is basic and detailed with purpose in mind. I think of it as a futuristic motorcycle built by someone in the 1930s.” [Images by Jason Lang.]

UPDATE 25 July 2010 We’ve added two new images at the bottom of the photo gallery below to show the seat and exhaust more clearly. There’s also a basic YouTube video that reveals what the R80 sounds like when started up.


  • ian solley

    bit too rat bike for me but I like his style – will have my R80 custom out next year

  • Gozar

    I want to be there when he walks in to the local biker bar with that makeup on!

  • kidchampion

    I look at that last photo and I’m still glad I reside on the East Coast.

  • Vincent Le Fre

    Oh dear…

  • Mike Cecchini

    Tell me this is all a joke……. please.

  • Turgut

    Well, with the Henderson Custom, we have seen how a futuristic bike in the 1930’s looked like, right here on bikeexif, just three days ago.. And this one is nowhere near..

    However, I like that bikeexif shows contrasting bikes too, as they make it easier to appreciate what is really of value.

    Although, one thing is interesting to me, again, which is the brake levers. Are they really hydraulic? Where is the oil reservoir, is it positioned elsewhere?

  • michel

    I very much like the bike, it’s unique and and a definite headturner! I would have passed on some of the accessories, but to each his own.
    As for the last picture, not my style but any good photographer should have a chance to express his artistic side imo..

  • Kim of Copenhagen

    Turgut; some BMWs had the front brake reservoir placed beneath the fuel tank, with a regular cable going from the brake lever.

    Everybody else; ignore the guy’s makeup and look instead at the bike. Customized BMWs are few and far between, but this one is a gem.

  • Scott

    What/where did the headlight come from?

  • TM

    Turgut; Have a look at wrenchmonkee’s monkee #11 for a nice example of concealed/repositioned brake resevoir…keeps their nice clip-ons clean!

  • WRXr

    The interesting accessories are all well and good and the handcrafted stuff is nice: stainless is especially hard to work with…but where is the seat???

  • Ed’

    A great look, when someone is photographing you for their cool collection, but when you’ve just had that embarrassing missed gear, looking the wrong way, just woke up, low speed tumble into the road, that you will have one day, the last thing you want to be looking like is a clown picking up broken antiques.

  • Andrew

    I imagine walking into that room and having all my senses telling me I should leave immediately; the sight of the moth-eaten stuffed animals and water stained drop ceiling and a smell like the mildew funk of old grease and oil saturated dirt in a junkyard and then to see that clown sitting there and realize its a live person. I imagine a light scent of cloroform wafting up from the flask, “Wanna take a ride?” I bet the story would have it the cameo is of his long dead mother who is still desecating in a rocker in the attic. Geezus, if he was going for the creep factor, he underestimated it’s effect.

  • Laurent

    Frank Zappa would have loved it.

    So do I


  • Kevin Tweedy

    Dude stay away from children .. i think you have been the garage too long.

  • Rex Havoc

    Ha ha, brilliant. I love it, especially the unsual details.

    I was in a collectibles store on the weekend and spotted some beautiful antique Arabian earrings that I thought would be perfect to plug the ends of the clip ons instead of the cheap white nylon end plugs. They were silver and cost $130 so …..maybe not quite now thank you.

    Cool jacket.

  • Justin

    Hello bikeexif readers, thanks for the all the comments. For sure the bike won’t meet everyones taste in a motorcyle, I would not expect it to or want it to, but I do think that it is a damn fine bike. As for the theatrics of the shoot, it was for kicks, displayed the bike well and also told bit about the owner/rider, me. I do some theatre work, and have spent a few years in art training, I like the 70’s rock face paint and also Mexican wrestling masks, so…put em together = good times. I ride the bike sans face paint nearly everyday, and for me riding and learning about bikes is the reason I own the Beemer. I said the bike was for me a 1930’s vison of the future, makes sense to me; didn’t say it was the best, or the only one, but you can see it right? Is it just me?

    Thanks to Jason Lang who shot the bike and was a stand up guy.

  • Joe Raines

    It’s pretty sad that everyone’s bashing this guy cause he wanted to do something different. I like the photos, sure the make-up is a bit much but at least this guy did something unique with the pics.

  • Mike Cecchini

    I think it’s you Justin…….. all you.

  • Kenny

    Is it just me, or are the front tires installed in the wrong direction?

  • w

    I hate it. I hate clowns.

  • SquidBird

    Wait, ” ‘Everything not necessary has been removed,’ ” did he really mean that? Even though that was the world’s biggest half truth, the bike is pretty cool. The headlight looks a bit too modern. Nice bike, it’s definitely a statement.

  • Justin

    Hi Mike, you built a great Ducati and are obviously very passionate about bikes, so am I. Not sure why you have decided to take issue with me and my machine but I will say that your right it is ‘just me’ as in, the bike is a part of the builders and now my thought as to what I want this bike to look like, just as you did for your Ducati. I respect your build and what choices you made, the same for any of the bikes on here. I often have personal differences with what they have done but the fact that they did it is enough to earn my respect. Maybe the choice to include the portrait shot was too odd for some people, oh well, whining about the decisions of someone else is silly and it is now obvious to me that anything when shared in a public arena like this is likely to be understood in surprising ways.

  • Chris

    Well said, Justin. Each to his own.

  • William Caruthers

    This bike is awesome. I love the stripped-down naked metal look, and the amount of love that went into this thing is obvious. I’d ride the hell out of it.

  • Anton

    The responses to this bike, be they positive or negative are still evoking strong emotions and that’s proof enough for me that this bike is truly art. If it was another cookie cutter café racer then there would be a nice picture and no comments. Cheers to something truly different!

  • PB

    great bmw custom, love the details, and really cool set up for the fotos!

    as for the comments, l am not surprised that a culture in esthetics or art is not in all of us, but sure didn´t expect that so many viewers lack of sense of humor…

  • D.

    ‘Everything not necessary has been removed,’ ”
    A seat is only necessary if you ride the bike more than walking distance, I guess.

  • Jim

    Count me as a bit partial the concept of the rat-bike aesthetic and this nails that. Stripped down rather than overwrought (the problem with most rat-bikes) Naked alloy rather than flat black paint, a judicious use of oddities, the brass bell and you have to love the door knob as dipstick handle, to give it character. And yes the face paint went out with Kiss

  • chesterton mcfeely

    I love it. It’s not my style but still love the creativity.
    America’s most collected living artist is Thomas Kinkade.
    That tells me all I need to know about the average person’s aesthetic tastes.

  • Mork

    Every time I see an R80 custom I perk up. (maybe because I have one) However, the problem I see with this one is the same that I see with any bobber style airhead. The moment the seat is lowered, one would think that addressing the location of the legs would be addressed, but with the cylinders where they are, you are stuck looking like a folded up stuffed monkey. I can not imagine rising this for more than five minutes.

    I bet this sounds really strange without the crossover and with those mufflers. – Justin, post up a picture of the rear end and a sound video.

  • LittleMonster

    I stop by this site every day and have seen many, many bikes on here that have given me ideas for my own dream-garage projects I’ll likely never have the chance to pursue, but I’ve rarely felt the need to comment. Not the biggest fan of Beemers, but some of the coolest customs I’ve seen are based on them. Something about the fact that they’re quirky, classic, but not revered in the same way that other old bikes are.

    Justin: very unusual choice to be photographed with your bike at all, let alone with such striking makeup. What’s disappointing to me is the ignorance evinced by the comments: the idea of men wearing makeup really seems to make “guys” pretty uncomfortable. I’m sure you don’t need my support to feel comfortable with your artistic decisions, but I felt the need to comment.

    Nice bike, nice photos.

  • Petter

    Absolutely cracking looking bike! I love every part of it except perhaps the headlight, looks a bit “billety” and I’m not very fond of that sort of stuff. Fork gaiters are always nice, function and style all in one. Well done!

  • coho

    “Everything not necessary has been removed” – so that’s a load-bearing cameo then? :)

    This is a slick bike Justin. Too many builders use the word ‘custom’ to mean a specific long low late ’60s/early ’70s style rather than to mean ‘not stock – unique’.
    This is possibly the least stock-looking BMW I’ve seen. I hope you ride it every day.

  • RobL

    Justin, that’s a great bike. Thematic, original, and it makes you happy. Others (myself included) appreciate it quite a bit also. Really digging the “futuristic motorcycle built by someone in the 1930s” concept, that’s the beginning and end of it’s description. That the builder intentionally modified older heads to work on a newer engine for the effect, love it.

    Any more pics? Would be great to get a good side view and action pic.

  • Mike Cecchini

    Ok……. I’ve had the day to think on all this and I feel I owe you an apology Justin. Now that I have read your comments on what you intended this motorcycle to represent (“1930′s vision of the future”).
    More to the point here…….and what I take of it now…. your bike is a art form statement…….and this I can live with.

    My problem is that I was looking at it a completely different way….. a way that my generation looks at modified motorcycles ……and this is much more of a “show me what you’ve learned as a craftsman” perspective.

    To me an art form is one thing and a modified craftsman’s motorcycle is another. Arlen Ness builds art forms…… Ducati builds motorcycles like the D16RR that can win world MotoGP Championships while looking like they were designed by Michelangelo (see ). In my world….. this is a HUGE diff.

    Art forms can be anything like Andy Warhol’s Campbell’s soup can vs Michelangelo “David”…….. but I think Warhol’s work is considered a joke by the serious art world….. and people stand with tears in their eyes when they see “David” because it is so real.

    You’ve choose an art form as has many others on EXIF. Sorry to have taken my world and applied it to yours.

    My best……… Mike

  • Jim Goodlett

    Images of such beauty and ferociousness should not be allowed in public…that said, uno mas por favor!

  • Jon-Lars

    Tell us again about the cylinder heads. What fins are ground off?

  • baddad

    To be honest I dont like BMW, but this is great bike and nice photos. Any more pics? Would be great to get a good side view. Thank you bikeexif

  • Buzz

    Hey Justin, I am glad you are enjoying your spot, alot of us would love to warrant a space on Bike EXIF for what we all feel are really great ideas. The make-up and dead animals creep me out, but I understand where you’re coming from. I also enjoyed some, but was creeped out by alot, of Dali’s stuff too. The bike does look like some of the “Hot Dock” style, bare essential, minimalism. But no, I don’t see antique vision of the future. There are too many disparate pieces, that frankly look like something more from “This Old House” more than “Antiques Roadshow”. This is just in response to your comments, NOT a slam. Maybe if you went with BMW Wire Spokes, and maybe, changed the rear end? I can’t say how, cause I know the paralever style would look about the same, and a hard tail would also look out of place. It really does have a Seventies vibe going on though, and since that was another part of the “Look” for you, and it works on the road, it doesn’t really matter what we think. Next time you are by a 30’s/40’s style industrial site, park the bike and see if it looks like it would be parked there in that time……If you can take some plan view shots and send them to Chris and maybe he’ll update us so we can see what you see. Cheers

  • Justin

    Mike, thanks for posting that response comment, it clarifies a lot and helped me to understand where you are coming from. I am not a ‘builder’ yet as many of the people that do have bikes featured on here, and I am sure that riles some people right there as I have been given space on a site they likely feel protective about. I would not claim to have the same set of skills as these people, however being a creative person that is into motorcycles I am learning slowly and have my own set of skills, in this machine I tried to bring what modest elements I could to its creation. The inclusion of a portrait of me with the bike I now see could be seen by others as some sort of bravado gesture, but for me the reason was- among the other reasons listed before- another way to engage with my passion for motocycles/design/art and approach to life. I am a person interested in details (hence the small bell, door knob etc.) and find satisfaction in putting certain elements like that together, including the taxidermy in the photos (Kulash Taxidermy here in Vancouver, run by Stacy, an interesting guy who still has an old Harley kicking around). The taxidermy besides being for me a good contrast to the bare metal of the bike was meant to be humorous, my understanding being that motorcycles are stereotypically known (at least in North America) as ‘death’ machines and whatever. Surrounding a bike with stuffed animals was a wink at that idea. So, the combined skills of the original builder Kurt Lang met with my drive to learn and add what I could to this bike, resulting in what you see, and for that I make no apology.
    I agree that bikes like the Ducati you linked to are amazing works of both functional and design based skill/art, and in some ways deserve a place more than say a bike like mine on a forum such as this, but I am also a person that believes there is value in something that is different from the familiar, small things can sometimes push someone like you to further define what you want to say with your own builds that then surprise/confound/inspire those that may not have the technical skills to pull it off.

    As a sub note, the wording of ‘everything not necessary has been removed’ should have been worded by me as ‘was’. I added some non essential bits for sure, but in the end they are in fact necessary to me for the bike I want.

    Long winded comment ending now.


  • Mat James

    Love the bike and the moustache. Salvador Dali would be smiling!
    I love it all. So artistic!

    Great job mate.

  • grimble

    I missed this beemer, I usually check the site daily. I love the eclectic nature of this bike, and the face paint on the owner is really fitting for the shoot and the style of the bike. I have an R65 that I am eventually going to work on, and this definitely gives me some ideas, though less in particular design elements but more in philosophy in how to approach the build- ie making it have a bit more personality than the typical cafe racer etc.

    I think the discussion between Justin and Mike was interesting, though I disagree that “real” artists would scoff at a Warhol – there are both the technical, skill based merits of a piece and the conceptual basis. I’m not a fan of Warhol but to say he lacks as an artist because you don’t like the concept or execution is a tough one to swallow. If a sculpture now made a David, conceptually everyone would go “so what”. Same with someone painting a series of soup cans. Anyways, motorcycles are a great fusion of art and engineering, so I’m happy to see this bike as well as the more sober examples.