Motorcycles have played an important role in the life of war veterans since the very beginning of the custom culture and many of the greatest builders and trend-setters have seen action. For anyone who hasn’t seen the horrors of war it’s impossible to imagine the process of re-integrating back into society but clearly the therapeutic nature of the build, the creative outlet to express and the freedom of the ride play an important role. For Ryan Gist after serving a decade in the Army and returning from Iraq to a corporate job he needed something else, a food for the soul, bike building and has instantly shown a natural flair! It was while riding the fire-roads of Washington State that an encounter with a blasting banged up airhead inspired Ryan’s love for BMW’s and this sleek 1970 R60/5 Scrambler is the result of his desire to create a rapid go-anywhere machine with the look to match.


That brief sight of a hard charging BMW had a huge influence on Ryan, “I saw him for about 30 seconds and then he was gone in a cloud of dust. I got home from the ride, sold my KLR…, I wanted something that could do what that guy was doing but was clean, polished and light as hell.” But first he’d have to find an airhead of his own and his search took him to a Seattle backyard where this R60/5 had been out in the rain having been parked up for the final time in the early ’90s. Sure there was a mouse nest in the air cleaner and Seattle is a terrible place to leave a bike outside but the plugs were still in and the engine still full of oil, so even with plenty of hard graft ahead Ryan knew he had a viable candidate for his build. With the bike back home it was time to strip it down to a bare frame, clean off all the crap it had collected sitting for 20 odd years and start planning out the build.


With the bare frame in front of him the first task for Ryan was to clean it up, de-tab it for an ultra-clean look and customise it for the Scrambler design. The first part of the frame to get the treatment was the long rear subframe with a new shortened piece fabricated that incorporates a rear hoop for a neat tail finish. Wanting a different look the standard headlight and its brackets didn’t survive the makeover with a single mount piece fabricated and grilled out that encloses the new light with a rugged twist on an old dirt bike design. The final part of fabrication on the frame was the need for new tank mounts as Ryan planned on using a CB750 tank. But the Honda tank didn’t last and new mounts were needed for what was to come, a Yamaha RD400 tank that is significantly smaller than the BMW and Honda units which not only looks brilliant but helps in the serious weight saving Ryan was chasing.


With the frame out for powder coat in black, Ryan got on with fabricating a set of custom fenders that would keep the mud off him and still match the minimalist feel of the BMW. The front fender is attaching using the BMW mounting points on the forks with a simple brace while the rear is hung from Ryan’s own custom subframe. There the seat calls home with a handmade base in true Scrambler style that was then sent out for covering in black leather by Larson Upholstery in Seattle. The company also took care of covering the one off tank pads in matching leather that now call the knee dents of the RD tank home. The tank itself was stripped of its old green and yellow paint scheme, brushed and then finished out in clear coat, with a chrome filler cap on top it’s all business and just the look for a vintage inspired ride.

The torque filled 599cc Boxer lump powers the beast but as good as it is in stock form Ryan wanted something to rival the R series that had previously shown his KLR a clean pair of heels. The casings along with all the cast parts on the bike were bead blasted before Ryan gave the airheads a complete top end rebuild. Supplying extra fuel and air over the stock Bing units is a pair of round slide Mikuni VM26 carbs that wear pod filters. For the exhaust Ryan wanted to fabricate his own and came up with a custom 2 into 1 arrangement that he mocked up in steel before making the final system out of 304 stainless. The lightweight exhaust is finished off with a small SuperTrapp muffler that sheds plenty of pounds over the bulky stock items. But this bike is now insanely light and you don’t get there without taking drastic measures which in this case includes removing the electric starter.

Under the starter cover is now the beginning point of a very complex wiring system that not only helps in the desperate attempt to save weight but results in an absurdly clean look. “My goal was a completely modern electronic, ignition and charging system and a complete absence of wires between the engine and the top tube – only throttle cables and fuel lines.” Under the top cover is an Antigravity 8 cell battery that weighs just 700grams and the coils have also been hidden too. Bringing the electrics into the 21st century is an EME charging system and for superior spark a Dynatek electric ignition system that also improves reliability. While the brains of the whole unit are the big dollar Motogadget M-unit and M-button to further simplify things; you don’t expect to see this level of technology in such a utilitarian machine but Ryan has made it work flawlessly.


What is even more impressive is that he wanted to stay as true to as much of the vintage BMW look that had inspired him in the first place and tracked down some NOS switches. Making these work with the advanced Motogadget equipment is no easy task and I can only imagine the number of F bombs dropped in the process of getting it fully functional. The wiring for the switches is routed through the Biltwell bars that feature Cole Foster grips and finish out with Motogadget turn signals in the ends. Helping to keep the front end clean is a single custom fabricated mirror and bracket with original levers that give no hint as to the level of technology running right past them. The final piece of the invisible wiring was to fit a tiny Motogadget speedo and then place the Hella off-road headlight into its new home.


Now with more power and an insanely low weight the BMW needed a handling upgrade; the front telescopic forks are now home to a set of Wilbers progressive springs while out back the ever popular Hagon shocks get the job of controlling the shaft drive enclosing swingarm. The stock blasted wheels have been rebuilt with quality Buchannan spokes before being wrapped in chunky TKC 80 tyres which “are super fun to ride on a smaller displacement bike even on the road.” Of course there are plenty of knockers of big knobby rubber but don’t forget this bat outta hell rough road muncher is ridden by an Iraq vet who could hardly be phased by haters. “The bike is now less than 240 LBS wet and hauls ass, I’ve put over 350 miles on it so far.” So now when he needs a break from the office Ryan can show the dirt bike brigade his dust on an ultra-clean airhead vintage scrambler built with his own hands; and you better believe there are more bikes to come from a man whose found solace in the endless search for custom bike nirvana.

[Ranger Moto: Instagram | Photos by Jenny Linquist]