Oddball Delight: a Finnish cafe racer Yamaha GTS1000

The telescopic forks have become the de facto solution for motorcycle front suspension, but most major manufacturers have dabbled in alternative designs at some point. Yamaha had the GTS1000 in the 90s – a sport tourer with a front swingarm setup that was vaguely similar to hub-centric steering.

The GTS1000 wasn’t a big seller when it launched, but these days it scores mega points for being rare and unusual. He’s also an unlikely donor to a cafe racer project. Luckily, that didn’t stop Aki Suokas from tearing up his own GTS to create this sharp blue machine.

Custom Yamaha GTS1000 cafe racer
Aki lives in Finland and has been riding since he was 10 years old. He credits his father not only for teaching him to ride, but also for sparking his interest in the technical side of motorcycles. So he’s been modifying his own bikes since he started stunt riding at 16.

Aki has a day job, but he devotes his free time to motorcycling and even racing in the Finnish winter ice racing series. Most of his builds are street fighters or racing bikes, but he’s recently developed an interest in cafe racers. So when he found a 1997 Yamaha GTS1000 in full touring trim, saddlebags included, his brain went wild.

Custom Yamaha GTS1000 cafe racer
“I love building bikes that aren’t just for show,” he says. “I still want to build a bike that you can ride.”

“From the start, it was clear that I wanted to build a cafe racer-style bike from this. Anyway, I had no idea what the bike would look like when it was ready. I had no vision. clear at first – or, more correctly, the only thing that was clear was that I wanted to install some kind of special wheels and a one-sided swingarm.

Custom Yamaha GTS1000 cafe racer
Top of Aki’s list was a redesign of the GTS1000’s already unique suspension. He wanted the front end to be lower, but changing the swingarm-centric system required some clever engineering workarounds. In the end, he had to ditch the OEM tie rod and replace it with a series of chromoly linkages and ball joints.

A modified Suzuki shock does the work up front, with the single-sided swingarm (and shock) from a Honda VFR800 installed in the rear.

Custom Yamaha GTS1000 cafe racer
Of particular interest are the wheels: they are 17-inch aftermarket parts, modified to fit the Yamaha. Aki wrapped the rear in a fat 200/50-17” Mitas tire, which would have been way too wide for the front.

His solution was to cut out the center of the front wheel and mate it to the outer rim of a Yamaha FZR1000. The two parts are bolted together via a special mounting ring, welded on the FZR side. The arrangement also retains the GTS1000’s six-piston front brake caliper.

Custom Yamaha GTS1000 cafe racer
Aki also ripped the frame off the bike, freeing it of all superfluous mounting points and removing the rear end. Then he fabricated a new subframe, rear shock mounts, fairing mounts for the front, and a new front fender and mounts.

As if that weren’t already enough, this GTS comes equipped with a plethora of bespoke body parts. Some of the bits are generic aftermarket items, but nothing has made its way onto the Yamaha without plenty of mods.

Custom Yamaha GTS1000 cafe racer
Up front is a modified cafe racer fascia, fitted with a 5 3/4” LED headlight. Out back, Aki tweaked an out-of-the-box rear section to match the bike, adding a slim seat pad and French-style Highsider LED taillight.

Sitting in between is a custom fuel tank layout that is so well executed it looks like it came from the factory. Aki started by cutting and closing the stock fuel tank to shrink it; it holds half the fuel it held before, but he has no plans to tour with the GTS. Then he opened up a 1984 Suzuki GSX1100 tank, which he stretched, widened and trimmed to match the frame, before installing it as a tank cover.

Custom Yamaha GTS1000 cafe racer
The rest of the build is a long list of well-regarded add-ons. Aki installed stainless steel braided brake hoses, a modified Yamaha YZF1000 Thunderace radiator and rear footpegs from a Suzuki Hayabusa. There’s also a Lighttech gas cap, Fehling brake bar set, Ermax LED indicators and a Motogadget speedometer.

The dual-outlet exhaust muffler is also from another bike, but it looks like it belongs here. It is a Kawasaki Z1000 and is mounted on a set of custom headers to store it under the bike.

Custom Yamaha GTS1000 cafe racer
All told, it’s an impressive redesign of an unlikely motorcycle. Remarkably, Aki did most of the work himself, outsourcing some of the specialist welding and machining work to friends. He also had help with the paint – Kuusaan Automaalaamo Oy pulled the blue bits, while Tmi Heikki Jarvenpaa did all the black coatings.

“Ultimately,” says Aki, “this bike was built with pure intuition, while working and living a supposedly ‘normal’ life.”

Custom Yamaha GTS1000 cafe racer
We never imagined that the weird GTS1000 would make a good cafe racer. Aki has not only proven that it can be done, it can be done well.

Aki Suokas Instagram | Images of Juho Vainonen

Custom Yamaha GTS1000 cafe racer

About Rachelle Roosevelt

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