Established shops have the pick of the crop when it comes to donor bikes for projects. But when you’re a first-time builder, choosing a suitable platform to cut your teeth on can be daunting.
Ideally, you want something affordable, reliable and easy to work with. The Honda Dominator NX650 is the perfect candidate—which is why Marco di Marcello picked it for his first build.
Based in Rome, Marco juggles his time as a photographer, physiotherapist and athletics trainer. When he has a spare moment, he restores vintage Vespas. Then a chance meeting with the crew from Deus Ex Machina really got his gears turning.
“I was in Lombok, Indonesia, for a holiday,” says Marco. “A friend of mine took me to this wonderful beach called ‘Desert Point,’ a well known surf spot.”
“When we arrived, we discovered that Deus were busy with a photo shoot there. I admired their bikes and talked with the boys. That was the moment when the idea for this project was born.”
Marco began deliberating over which bike to start with, and how he’d customize it. The goal was to find something fun but cheap—so any rookie errors wouldn’t be too costly.
“After internet research, I realized that the Honda Dominator NX650 was a good starting point—I saw beautiful examples from guys like me and various pro garages. As we say in Italy, ‘spend little, with maximum performance’.”
Marco sourced a 1989 kick-start model in limited edition gold. It was the perfect donor. So he quickly enlisted the help of a friend with a little Honda experience, and spent the following year and a half transforming it.
Starting with the tail, Marco axed the original subframe and built his own. He then sent off the whole frame for sand blasting and powder coating. Up top he’s fitted a custom-made brown leather seat, upholstered by a local leather artisan.
Thanks to some rewiring—and the removal of the air box—the area under the seat is now clear, and the bike runs off a small Lithium-ion battery hidden in the seat unit.
Marco commissioned a local exhaust fabricator to build the new exhaust system, with two-into-one headers ending in an aluminum muffler (with a removable dB-killer).
The Dominator’s forks were stripped, shortened and repainted, and a new Wilbers shock fitted at the rear. There are aluminum fenders at both ends, sanded down by hand for a matte finish.
Wisely, Marco kept the stock bash plate. He also dropped the engine, cleaned it up, and refinished it with touches of black.
The Honda Dominator came from the factory with a 21F/17R wheel combination, but Marco wanted a more balanced look. So he’s installed a set of 19F/18R Excel rims, laced to refurbished hubs and wrapped in Shinko trail tires.
The cockpit is clean. The ignition’s been relocated, and a smaller speedo fitted. The bars are from Renthal, kitted with a set of natural colored grips from Beston. There’s also a Bates-style headlight, a smaller taillight and turn signals, and a new oil filler cap with a built-in thermometer.
The fuel tank comes from a Honda CG125—a popular style for Dominator builds. Marco sent his off to CRIArt in Formello (near Rome) to finish in a sublime blue metal flake and grey pastel scheme. A couple of other items were in the batch too: like the brake calipers, which have been painted brown to echo the seat and grips.
The styling cues on this Dominator might seem familiar, but the end result is top drawer: a slick, well-proportioned beach scrambler that we’d ride any day.
Photos by Marco di Marcello | Instagram