There is no time for fluff nor filler, this is a tale that starts with a Kiwi genius, stops in at one of the biggest failures by a major manufacturer in motorcycling history and ends happily with Italian custom bike builder extraordinaire, Giacomo Galbiati. Our Italian friend is the top dog at GDesign Custom Motorcycle in Como, Italy and has previously been a top ten bike of the year awardee. Always with an appreciation for American V-Twins, it was an encounter with an infamous Harley VR1000 that inspired this build. Starting with a 1999 Buell S1, this incredible endurance racer pulls together tales of triumph and tragedy to finish with a bold creation, known simply, as ‘Double Face’.
To set the scene, you have to go back thirty years, when New Zealand renaissance man John Britten brought his literally hand-built V1000 race machines to America and walked away with two positions on the podium at Daytona. Not only had he given it to the big Italian and Japanese manufacturers, but he’d also planted the seed in the minds of the big wigs at Harley Davidson that they too could be hugely successful with their own V-Twin racer. The bikes they built and the 50 ‘street-legal’ versions for homologation became known as the VR1000 and Harley were determined to take on the Superbike world with an all-American racer.
The likes of Buell, Roush, O’Brien, Tilley and other leading lights of American motorsport and design were brought to Milwaukee for the project, HD was adamant, that this would be a 100% US of A project, no overseas bolt-on bits. Excitement built with anticipation for the release of both the race and street versions across the automotive world. But the red flags were obvious when the homologated machines had to go to Poland to ‘pass’ emissions tests and Swedish suspension and Italian fuel injection was required to get the thing over the line. It wasn’t 100% American, it was never successful on the track and HD basically pretended the whole thing never happened.
But such monumental failures by big corporate companies often create a legend of their own, and when Giacomo “had the luck to see one of the 50 existing Harley-Davidson VR1000 models live, it was love at first sight and I was inspired to create something new,” he smiles. It was the iconic orange and black colour scheme that really did it for him and an S1 was quickly acquired to serve as the base. With VR1000 bodywork not exactly available at your local parts wrecker, a Benelli 500 race fairing was picked out, chopped up and the lines adapted for the Buell, to give it that half-faired look.
The S1 tank and tail are about as appealing as an old man in a G-string, so to help solve the problem, the gas tank has been covered in a fibreglass fuel tank shell that originally called a Ducati SuperSport 750 home. These rounded edges are not only more reminiscent of the curves of the VR but offer the rider much more comfort at the knees. The final piece of the puzzle is an old endurance racing tail unit, that sits on hand fabricated mounts. To capture a little slice of classic racer, the colour matching seat is joined by a set of tank pads, and the bike was really starting to take shape.
“To celebrate the story of Harley Davidson and Erik Buell, a visionary who saw a sporty attitude in the Harley twin-cylinder engine, I wanted to 3D print a badge that unites the logos of the two American manufacturers: the Harley brand and the Buell logo,” Giacomo explains. This ‘hybrid’ logo is placed on the tank, black on one side and orange on the other. Then with a new front fender selected, it was time for paint and the bike drips in the same orange and black colours of the original HD, only in a style that is completely from the GDesign imagination and extends across to the frame and fork lowers.
“The front part with double headlights reminds of night endurance races, together with the repositioning of the oil cooler under the fairing, a modification that improves the cooling of the engine.” That famous American lump has come in for a number of changes, with Giacomo improving the reliability, before adding a Dynojet Power Commander to assist with the tuning. That would come in handy with the new exhaust, here the Buell underslung item is ditched in favour of high mounted XR1200 inspired pipes that finish out of twin SuperTrapp mufflers. The air-cleaner, perforated heat shield and header wrap are all straight from that era of racing cool!
The braking was next on the list and with the S1 rocking one of the most bizarre-looking rotors ever seen, it was quickly tossed aside as Giacomo got to work crafting a trick new twin-disc setup, that utilises high quality Discacciati parts. For the rider’s enjoyment, a set of Tommaselli bars and grips take care of the controls and the stock Buell instrument cluster has been repositioned behind the custom screen on an all-new mount. The wheels are finished in a grey chrome effect and then much of the bike’s working components are proudly left on display, another race bike throwback.
The VR1000 will forever be a stain on HD’s reputation, but from the ashes of that debacle, GDesign’s ‘Double Face’ unleashes a passion to inspire a new generation and it can be seen on display at London’s Bike Shed from 27th to 29th May.