Dreamy: The BMW R80 that won ‘Best Paint’ at the Handbuilt Show

BMW R80 café racer by Eli Carver
Wandering between a sea of custom motorcycles at the Handbuilt Show in Austin, Texas last month, our Stateside team had the arduous task of picking the best bikes in three categories. When it was time to dish out the award for the best paint job, this psychedelic BMW R80 was an easy choice. The story only got better when we discovered that the guy who built it, Eli Carver, is color-blind.

Based in Wimberley, Texas—a village about an hour south-east of Austin—Eli got into wrenching on BMW boxers after building his first, and only, custom Honda CB550. “I’ve built a few custom airheads over the years,” he tells us, “and had the honor of having three of them featured in the Handbuilt Show. I’ve bought, refurbished, and sold a few airheads as well, and have really enjoyed learning how they are put together.”

BMW R80 café racer by Eli Carver
Eli bought the donor bike for this particular project, a 1987 BMW R80RT, for a whopping $50. It had been neglected for years, but he managed to get it back on the road with only a handful of new parts. Then he fabricated some brackets to fit a Dnepr sidecar, and road it like that for about a year, before stumbling upon a 1977 Ural sidecar rig with a blown motor.

“I sold the original sidecar, and used the R80RT engine to get the Ural back on the road,” he says. “I then found myself going through a divorce, and really wanted a project to get my head away from the family issues.”

BMW R80 café racer by Eli Carver
As if he needed any more motivation, Eli had also won the forks and brakes from a Kawasaki Ninja ZX-6R in an Instagram giveaway. They’d come with a BMW boxer steering stem already fitted to the lower triple, and were just begging for a bike to call home. Eli ordered a fairing that he’d been crushing on for years from Flat Racer in the UK, and got busy.

“I decided to build a true café racer using the forks and fairing,” he says. “I pulled the R80R chassis out and just start messing with it to see what happened.”

BMW R80 café racer by Eli Carver
Eli’s BMW literally wasn’t going anywhere without a new engine. So he traded a bunch of airhead parts that he’d amassed for a 1990 BMW R100GS engine. It needed a couple of critical repairs, but he whipped it into shape, and mated it to the R80 transmission and final drive.

The stock carbs and air box were refurbished, because, as Eli puts it, “the BMW engineers knew what they were doing when they designed that intake for that engine.” The exhaust system features blacked-out two-into-one headers, with a Scorpion muffler.

BMW R80 café racer by Eli Carver
Moving to the chassis, Eli installed the Kawasaki front end, then laced up a new Excel rim using parts from Cognito Moto. Like the motor, the rear wheel comes from a BMW R100GS; Eli modified it to fit the R80’s single-sided swingarm, and laced it with an offset to make sure the tire would have enough clearance. A Hyperpro shock props up the rear end.

A café racer-style tail unit sits further up, perched atop a custom subframe. Frankie Ynclan at Ballin’ Customz in San Antonio was responsible for the alluring contrast-stitched saddle.

BMW R80 café racer by Eli Carver
Eli installed the Flat Racer fairing up front, but had to modify it to accommodate the beefier shocks. Just behind it sits the BMW’s OEM fuel tank. Other than the frame, transmission and final drive, it’s the only original R80 part left on the build.

The R80’s stock front fender is technically still in use too, but Eli split it to make separate fenders for the front and rear. Each is mounted on its own bespoke bracketry. The battery box, exhaust hanger and license plate mounts are all one-offs.

BMW R80 café racer by Eli Carver
Complementing Eli’s handiwork is a smorgasbord of classy off-the-shelf parts. The headlight, turn signals and taillight are all LED units, and the bike’s been rewired with an Antigravity battery and a full set of Motogadget items. The cockpit wears new clip-ons, fitted with a Domino throttle and controls.

A single Koso gauge does duty behind the windscreen, with a custom kill switch sitting just below it. It’s labeled ‘Flight’ and ‘Ground,’ because it was borrowed from a 1940’s French airplane.

BMW R80 café racer by Eli Carver
And then there’s the award-winning livery. “I had seen a photo of an old Land Rover online that had a color scheme that I liked,” Eli tells us. “I had always built bikes with black frames, and had wanted to do a colored frame on this bike. I also wanted a ‘beachy’ vibe to the bike, just to force me out of my comfort zone a little.”

“I decided to alter the color scheme of the Land Rover a little bit and use the color palette of teal, orange, yellow, and jade green. Being colorblind, I had to find colors that I liked, but also looked good to everyone else.”

BMW R80 café racer by Eli Carver
Eli went back and forth with Jerry Leach at Leach Custom Cycles on the final paint scheme, before Jerry masterfully laid it down. “He suggested the ghosted pearl texture down the middle of the dash, tank, and seat cowl,” says Eli. “I was a little uncomfortable with it, because I had no idea what he really wanted to do.”

“But since I knew I was also already out of my comfort zone regarding colors, I gave him the go-ahead, because I trusted that we shared the same vision for the bike. When the paint was done and I went to pick up the pieces, I absolutely loved what he had done.”

BMW R80 café racer by Eli Carver
If you told us a month ago we’d be giving a bike with an orange frame an award for its paint job, we wouldn’t believe you. But there’s no denying that Eli’s BMW is a jaw-dropper, in the best sense.

And if you agree, we have good news: he’s selling it. Anyone have a riding suit to go with it?

Eli Carver Instagram | Images by Ana Valdez Carver

BMW R80 café racer by Eli Carver

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