It can be a serious business joining a motorcycle club, especially one that’s secretive and doesn’t reveal too many details about its activities. You’re new to town, but word has already reached the street that you’re to be respected. So, a delivery is made, and you find yourself in possession of a patched-up leather jacket, and a note with where to meet your new crew, ‘come alone, hands high, and join us on the joker run’. Problem is you don’t have a ride and truth be told; two-wheels are a new fascination. But you have a vague recollection of seeing a Honda Joker before, that must be it, and so you drop one off to Espresso Motorcycles, where Gianluca, with a slightly confused look on his face, tells you he’ll hook you up.

Ok, ok, so this isn’t the hog of a newly patched member, but everything about this build and bike is about having fun and not taking yourself too seriously, and that is something we can absolutely get behind! This crazy little scooter started life as a Honda Shadow 50, known as the Joker in many markets, and was brought to Espresso Motorcycles in an absolutely terrible state. But, never fear, in his Milan-based workshop, Gianluca Giardina has been known to work miracles and with the owner all in on a fun and crazy design brief, this was going to be a hoot.

“The donor scooter found by the customer was really a wreck, there is no component that has not been revised, it was abandoned with all the fairings broken and oxidation everywhere… It had been sitting in a cellar for 20 years,” Gianluca tells us of the late ’90s two-stroke scooter. So, work commenced at the front end, and making a little bike look tough starts by dropping it to the ground. To achieve this, lowered springs are installed with a custom connecting rod required to make it all work, this is because there are no actual oil dampers, just short stroke springs.

The rear has undergone a complete overhaul to get everything working as it should having seized up, and then it too is lowered, to achieve a drop of 7cm front and rear. This meant that the centre stand was all but useless, and only taking up precious weight it was cut off and thrown to the wolves. The kick-start lever was then cleverly reconfigured to work as a new side stand and the scoots functionality was well on its way. But, to turn that new suspension required a statement, and nothing says that like a huge set of 18-inch ape hangers!

All blacked out on the 7/8th risers, the Joker is instantly transformed into something of the likes we’ve never seen before and I absolutely love it. But getting back to that function, they don’t exactly make a conversion kit to get it all to work, so Gianluca picked his way through some spare parts. He came up with cables and master cylinders from a Honda Shadow 600 and a Burgman 400. To place further emphasis on the big bars, the large round headlight was ditched, and in its place goes a small LED light bar.

The bodywork plays a huge role in giving the bike that mini Harley vibe and thankfully the conversion was made easier with variants of the Joker having come with retro-inspired styling. With the panels and fenders on, it was then completely covered in a stunning coat of Matte Daytona Grey from the Audi catalogue. Now came the spectacular graphics, these are laid down “by Aryk Old Paint, with the caricature of himself, trying to play and be ironic at the same time on the Harley world and in general on the custom style.”

The job is absolutely brilliant, fun, and yet done to an exceptional standard, with the addition of classic red pinstripes. To further help the outrageous styling, the seat was given a new shot of foam and then upholstered in gorgeous genuine leather with a bold diamond stitch. There is plenty of lighting for those nighttime rides too, with LED triple functions from Rizoma at the rear and tiny, but powerful eagle eye LEDs in the front.

Still not impressed? Well, this bad boy now rocks a big block 70cc engine from Malossi performance and their slick shifting transmission to match. If you haven’t seen these things race, they can pull power wheelies! To finalise the fat and low look, the tyres have been swapped out for a set of 3.50 R10s and the underside customised to avoid any fouling.

My first impression when I saw this bike was simple, “I f@#king love it!” and my appreciation of Gianluca’s work has only grown as I’ve poured over the pictures and details. Two-wheels give us freedom, but they also should give us a shed load of fun, and this Hot Rod Joker does that daily for its owner who takes it everywhere with a massive smile.

[ Espresso Motorcycle ]