Engineered to Ride: KTM Café Racer

Photography: Luke Ray

I first met Nigel Petrie after I invited him to display his ’08 KTM Café Racer at the 2012 Oil Stained Brain exhibition in Melbourne. I’d already featured his bike on my Return of the Café Racers blog earlier in the year and had it on my list of “must have” bikes for the show. After seeing it in the flesh at OSB all that was left was to see it in action and when the opportunity to source bikes for TANK came up, I knew I would get my chance.

Nigel’s a fitter and turner for Ford but in his spare time he builds and races drift cars. He’s got about 5 of them including one he’s been building for the past couple of years, from the engine up (frame and all!). He’s a pretty resourceful guy, with an incredible amount of skill, a killer home workshop and his own brand name - “Engineered to Slide”.

Nigel purchased his KTM 250 EXC-F brand new in 2008 with the only intention being to ride it off road. “The fondest memories of my childhood consist heavily of riding BMX and Motocross, I have always loved the engineering, simplicity and overall design of motocross bikes.” After a few years of running the KTM in it’s stock form Nigel’s attention turned to the Japanese custom bike scene. “My taste started shifting to the more classic style of Japanese single cylinder Café Racers. I got a feeling I couldn't shake, I needed to build something and I needed to do it quickly. I kept thinking that my KTM was the perfect bike, it ticked all the boxes, it just needed a fairly severe make over”. With that the wheels were set in motion (no pun intended) and the KTM Café Racer project began.

Nigel stripped the bike down leaving just the motor and frame. He would be replacing all of its bodywork with his own design, revising the suspension and wheels for road use and adding an exhaust system that wouldn’t get him arrested. He designed a tank, tail section, seat and battery mount that could be attached to the bike without any modifications to the frame. Nigel then constructed these out of sheet metal, hand forming and welding the pieces himself in his workshop. “From there I fitted lower springs in the forks, lowered the rear shock, lowered the sub frame and made up a muffler. The wheels from my Supermoto fit straight on to the bike and to finish off the Café Racer look I bolted some Ducati clip-ons to the fat KTM forks. Up front I mounted a big chrome, classically style headlight and finished the build off with a mesh filter on the sweet sounding FCR carb”.

When I contacted Nigel about the feature we had a clear idea of what we wanted from the shoot. “What do you think about wheelies and some off road action with flying dirt?” Nigel’s response - “I’d be stoked with that!” and a date was set. The original plan was to fit knobby tires back on the bike so we could get some rooster tails happening but with the current suspension set up they weren’t going to work. So with road tires in place, we made our way out to an unsealed road south of Geelong in Victoria’s southwest. As soon as we hit the gravel Nigel overtook our car with the rear wheel of the KTM clocking up way more RPM’s than the front. As he rocketed down the road, bike partially sideways I knew we were going to have some fun.

After shooting a series of stationary shots it was time to get some action shots. Despite the road tires not grabbing enough to throw up masses of dirt Nigel was determined to get us a good shot. He belted up and down the road in front of us in controlled open throttle, power slides before moving on to a series of tight, consistent donuts (not an easy feat on loose dirt with road tyres!). The KTM’s 250cc single loving every minute and although the dirt didn’t fly quite as high as we’d imagined we were all smiling ear to ear. Next came the wheelie. We needed a sealed surface so we headed to another secluded back road and, on cue, Nigel effortlessly popped half a dozen or so mono’s for our camera, it was pretty clear he’d spent a lot of time “getting to know his bike”.

Nigel happily admits that the build sounds a lot easier than it actually was. Being the modest guy that he is I’m not so sure. All up it only took him 3 weeks from start to finish. What’s next for Nigel? “I am currently in the planning stages to build another KTM from ground up with a hand made chassis, hand made alloy tank and tail and a thumping 530cc motor.”

Geoff Baldwin