Japo's Gilera 124
By James McCombe - 04 Apr 15
A Supercharged, watercooled, in line four cylinder mounted across a tubular chassis with unorthadox suspension, all wrapped up in outlandish styling. I'm not describing the new Kawasaki H2 here, but rather the Gilera 500. From 1939; there's nothing new under the sun, as they say. With the proliferation of low capacity models and more recent scooters bought on by it's Piaggio group acquisition, it's easy to forget just what a force in racing Gilera was back in the post war years. 6 big-bike championships in 8 years during the 1950s, before bowing out under a gentleman's agreement with Moto Guzzi and Mondial, leaving MV Agusta to dominate. This 1970 124 5v is effectively the last of the line before Piaggio stepped in to help; and before small capacity 2-strokes took over from their complicated 4-stroke siblings. You just know, looking at the barrel and fins that the engine design has racing heritage running through it's oil galleries; it just looks right. So two years ago, when 25 year old graphic designer Japo saw it sitting at the back of his Father's barn, as it had done so for 3 decades, he made the case for it to be passed down. When his birthday came around, I imagine there was child-like bouncing and smiles all round as the Gilera finally came into his possession. Japo gave himself a simple brief: "Good looking lines and proportions; a low budget; built by my own two hands; don't waste time on jewellery details and most importantly have fun and learn" As with many small capacity Italian bikes, the components are quality items. Ceriani forks and shocks, a Dello'Orto carb and a 5-speed gearbox; these tiddlers weren't the poor relations of bigger bikes like other nations churned out. Having had the desire to build his own cafe racer style machine for many years, it was the perfect base to start with. Despite having little experience in fabrication, this was to be a thorough nut and bolt build. The rear of the bike was extensively altered, a new cantilever mono-shock suspension linkage replaces the original worn twin shocks. Taking time to study and understand the effects of the setup, Japo rose to the challenge and found a functional solution that works with lines of the bike, utilising a scooter shock to good effect. With the bike intended for a singular set of buttocks, the subframe was shortened and brackets were added for the new seat unit and battery box. Layed up in fibreglass by Japo, the homemade seat unit's shape was refined until the lines were 'just so'. The cam-tail styled hump complimenting the tank's rounded-box looks. But it's the paint that ties the bike together. The two tone colourway was laid down by Japo and then pinstriped, the grey and red giving a very period race-bike look. Crowned with a logo which at first glance looks like an original brand, his nickname is the giveaway; a great touch. The built in rear mudguard keeps the electrics dry and a simple plate holder and ovoid rear light complete the back of the bike. The other major components received complete rebuilds; forks, engine and wheels were all stripped and overhauled where necessary. The engine was in good stead internally and with no need for paint or powder, a scrub down and a light polish did the job before being bolted back in the frame The airbox removal and inlet trumpet was something Japo's Father had done years before and was quite rightly left as is. Beyond this, it was finishing touches, small details like the custom lathed footrests which add charm to the completed build. With a new, simplified loom, the bike kicked into life and the Gilera was back on the road, where it belongs. Rightly proud of his achievement, the bike looks far more than a simple shed build. Finished in just 6 months Japo did everything he could on the bike, calling on experts only for welding and machining where required. On the road, he says the Gilera is a little slow but an absolute hoot to ride, thanks to the shortened gearing. The looks, heritage and engineering combine to create a bike that has a timeless feel and induces cockle-warming. Thanks for sharing Japo.