The notion of building one’s own custom motorcycle is romantic—but not without its pitfalls. Some shed-builders run out of budget. Others struggle to create something truly unique, or lack the obsessiveness required for the tiny details.
But some home-brewed bikes stand head and shoulders above the rest, like this charming and well-crafted 1973 BMW R75/5. It belongs to Daniel McNeill, a sound engineer from Austin, Texas, who spent “two long years sweating it out” in a tiny shed in his back yard to complete it.
“It’s really not much of an R75/5 any more though,” says Daniel. “The gas tank is from an R100 (I think), the air box and engine top cover are from an R80, and the pistons and cylinders are from a R90S, bumping up the engine to 900cc.”
Most of those parts were sourced from Martindale Motorcycle Works which, according to Daniel, “is probably the best place in the United States to get used airhead parts.” There, he also found a set of original BMW ‘Euro’ bars and an ultra-rare Alphabet exhaust system—”it sounds and functions incredibly, dents and all!”
Daniel did just about all the work himself, with the exception of paint and powder coating, “and pressing in a couple of bearings (BMW tools are expensive!)” A new subframe and battery box were fabricated with the help of Austin locals, Revival Cycles, and the frame was de-tabbed. Daniel also re-wired the bike, and installed Mikuni flat-slide carbs and a Boyer electronic ignition system. The wheels were re-laced with stainless steel spokes, and as many nuts and bolts as possible swapped out for stainless replacements.
The engine, and a few other bits, went unpainted and untreated, leaving the old airhead with just the right measure of natural patina. Continuing that vintage theme are a number of tastefully recycled parts. For starters, the fenders were made from the spare tyre cover of a Model T, and the headlight is a flea market find, manufactured by a company called Perlux. “Apparently it’s an old stainless steel fog light from a school bus.”
What looks like a small sissy bar at first glance is actually a vintage Harley-Davidson auxiliary brake light. “The tail light was found at an old Harley shop here in Austin called Bud’s, they have a big lot in the back full of old wrecked bikes and other beat up parts, it’s pretty awesome.”
Both lights had to be modified to fit with custom mountings. Daniel shaped the seat pan out of a street sign, and upholstered it with brown leather taken from an old couch.
Pleased with how his project turned out, Daniel called on his neighbor—who happens to be a world-class BMX photographer—to shoot some photos. And I’m glad he did. His BMW is the perfect example of a shed-build gone right—cohesive and classy, with just enough quirkiness to keep things interesting.
Best of all, he’s now hooked: “After finishing the R75 I’ve realized that I really enjoy having a bike to work on and build. So even though I have a bike I’m really proud of, I’ve decided to sell it—to fund a new project.”
Photos by Devon Hutchins.