Motorcycle Classics


Words: Phillip Tooth, Potos: Josh Withers

Josh Withers always loved the Toaster tanks and who doesn’t love the café look? So check out this R 60/5 special that he built to rip around the downtown streets of Los Angeles

Based in LA, Josh Withers is a photographer who specializes in advertising shoots for everything from the automotive industry to dog food. Being creative with a camera and using Photoshop to modify his images can be satisfying but he missed working with his hands. “I have a passion for vintage cars, motorcycles and surfboards,” says Josh, who commutes to work on a 1977 R 100 S. What he really needed was a project bike.

“I’ve always liked the look of the Toaster tank BMWs,” says Josh. “So when I heard of a 1973 R 60/5 for sale in Santa Fe, New Mexico I thought that it would be a nice reminder of the four years I spent there.” The fact that the Toaster was described as ‘runs well’ and was only $500 probably helped clinch the deal.

The /5 was shipped to his studio in LA but Josh soon realized that you don’t get much for $500 these days. “It barely ran. I tried to ride home on it, keeping off the main roads, but it died about five blocks from my house and I had to push it the rest of the way.” It didn’t take him long to work out that the Toaster needed a lot of work to sort it out. “The carbs were a mess and there were too many odd parts on the bike. I found Lucas electric components and bits of wire holding things together – the sort of bodge that would make any BMW purist cringe. My new toy needed a thorough check through, and before I knew it I had it down to the bare frame.”

That bare frame became an empty canvas where Josh could let his creative juices flow. “My other BMW is more on the stock side, so I decided that I would build a Toaster café racer. That was four years ago. I didn’t think it was going to take me quite as long as it did!”
Josh describes the 60/5 engine as a complete mess so he parked it under the workbench and bought a motor from a 1979 R 100 CS. “It was more powerful than I needed for a town bike, but when a BMW guru in San Francisco by the name of Dave Gardner offered to guide me through a complete strip down and rebuild I decided to go for it,” he says. Although the CS had been converted to twin plug heads, he decided to set it up with single plug ignition and adjust the ignition timing to suit. “I wanted to get a good feel for the single plugs before I eventually convert to the dual plugs. That way I’ll have a solid foundation to gauge the difference.”

The flywheel was lightened, and Nikasil barrels and new pistons fitted. Josh originally wanted to keep the four speed gear with kick start, but soon realised that the kick lever would interfere with the rearset linkage. Instead he used a five speed transmission from a 1975 /6 that somebody had given him as a spare for his daily ride. “Fortunately the 1971-84 airheads have many interchangeable parts,” points out Josh. Professional help didn’t run as far was cleaning the engine case. “I used my own elbow grease.” The aluminum timing and valve covers were cleaned with a baking soda solution before polishing, then spraying with a heat-dispersion clear coat to finish off the job. I particularly like that the starter cover on top of the crankcase says BMW in aluminum, which only the 1979 engines have. Earlier engines had the model designation as well, while later models used a black plastic trim.”

The 40mm Bings were bead blasted, and Josh ditched the bulky airbox cover to trim some fat and mounted K&N filters straight to the carbs. “I have a friend in New Jersey who works as a machinist for Coke-a-Cola,” says Josh. “I would send him templates and he would bend and fabricate stainless steel sheet to make a cover for where the airbox used to live. That’s how I got the license plate and tail light bracket made as well.”

The old Toaster used the longer swingarm, but Josh converted it with a short swingarm to give a more aggressive look better suited to a café racer. New fork springs came from Progressive, while a pair of Koni Dial-A-Ride shocks look after the back end. Italian rear-set pegs were adapted with an Omar rear set linkage. But then the project almost came to a very unhappy end. Josh sent parts for powder coating but the shop vanished over a weekend. “Crazy huh?” says Josh. “Turns out it was a shady guy trying to avoid his rent and he pulled out all the stops to move a powdercoat booth over night. It took me months to track down my missing components.”

The original BMW fenders were too bulky for the café racer look, so he trimmed a few inches of fibreglass off the front guard and “tons” off the rear. Because of his work in advertising he knew a couple of companies who prepare cars for photo shoots. “Those guys painted the fenders and tank for me,” says Josh. That’s probably why the Toaster café racer looks pretty as a picture. Other neat touches are the drilled alloy triple clamp, the clubman handlebars and the custom white speedometer.
Josh chose a Corbin seat and had it made with blue piping to match the paintwork. Both the tail light and turn signals use neat LED lights. The Toaster café racer was finished off with stainless pipes and Norton Commando Peashooter silencers. “The bike hardly sounds like a BMW anymore,” laughs Josh. “It has some serious throat to it.”

But Josh wasn’t too impressed with the first trip on his freshly built café racer. “The first 75 miles on the bike was the worst ride of my life. Turns out, because I assembled the forks a couple of years before I fitted them to the headstock, they got stuck in their extended position. In my eagerness to ride the bike I really didn’t notice how stiff the front end was. Then I took it down the highway to do a little engine break-in and I thought my kidneys were going to explode. A friend suggested something was wrong with the forks and sure enough they were seized solid. I took them apart, loosened them up.” Everything has worked smoothly for the last 600 miles.

“Every time I get on this bike and hear the roar from behind as I tear down the street gives me the liberating feeling of what riding a motorcycle is all about. Heads turn when people hear the sound of those Peashooters and I’m always getting compliments about the café look. Just the other day I passed a guy on the freeway, only to have him speed up to me, honk his horn and give the thumbs up. It is definitely an attention grabber.”

Josh is not finished yet. The final drive is geared too low for a good snap off the line, so he might change that. And the bike could use a better front brake someday – a twin leading shoe Fontana or Grimeca would look cool. “When funds allow I want to replace the wheel rims and add chrome spokes and tweak the rear sets as well,” adds Josh. But for now he’s going to enjoy the ride.