Ryca: DIY customs, on a larger scale

Publish Date: 
Jun 27, 2012
By Dennis Johnson

What Ryca Motors does with a Suzuki Boulevard S40 is a little like alchemy. With one of the company’s CS-1 cafe racer conversion kits, the average enthusiast, wielding a mostly average set of tools, can take the middling 650cc cruiser and transform it into a piece of road-worthy eye candy that would fit in with customs of the highest pedigree.

It was a formula that company founders Ryan Rajewski and Casey Stevenson started cooking up about two years ago in an effort to build a custom bike around the motorcycle’s air-cooled single cylinder engine. Introduced in 1986 as the Suzuki Savage, and still in production today, it was an excellent low-cost platform for the backyard builder with a limited budget.

Ryca launched the DIY conversion kit in 2010, and it became an unexpected success. After a write-up in Cycle World magazine, the company was fielding about 50 orders a week. The Whittier, Calif.-based company has gone on to sell about 300 of the kits, and has received attention from mainstream media and even celeb-motorhead Jay Leno. The company has expanded its product offering to include kits for a two-seater street tracker, a bobber and a scrambler, all built on the S40 platform.

“The process of turning an S40 into a cafe racer gets the customer involved on a level that’s not available in most other motorcycle projects,” says Stevenson, an engineer by trade whose career brought him from NASA to Ryca’s small manufacturing space in an industrial park southeast of Los Angeles. “They can build something in their garage without needing expensive tools, save money and end up with a very unique bike that gets a lot of attention.”

“There was a huge hole in the market for inexpensive, good-looking bikes,” adds Rajewski, a mechanic and fabricator who, along with Stevenson, ran a custom bike shop before launching Ryca. “We knew the trend was steering toward the cafe thing after the chopper fad died. We had just enough foresight to jump on that opportunity.”

Some of that attention is from American Suzuki Motor Corp., which featured a Ryca cafe racer at its 2011 dealer meeting in Orlando, in its booth at the Progressive International Motorcycle Show Long Beach stop and at its display at this year’s Daytona Bike Week. Suzuki’s Aaron Quesada said in a Los Angeles Times story that the OEM is actively promoting Ryca’s products to its dealers as a way to increase sales.

Rajewski tells Dealernews that the conversion kits could help benefit any dealership, not just franchised Suzuki stores. Dealers can buy the kits at cost for $2,100 and use them to target trade-ins for the upgrade, with the finished cafe conversion often bringing in $3,000-$4,000 over what most preowned S40s bring in, he says.

A dealer locator on Ryca’s website lists six states in the U.S., plus Australia, Canada, France and Switzerland. Mark Davidson, owner of The Daily Rider, an independent shop in Burlington, Vt., says the conversion kits attract a great deal of buyer attention, and seem to appeal to customers who don’t want to mess around with something old or something British. “The appeal is that it’s a modern cafe racer,” he says. “You take a pretty affordable, single-cylinder, big lumpy cruiser, put on the Ryca kit, and you now have an awesome, street-scorcher cafe racer road bike. You’ve taken something run-of-the-mill, and made it awesome.”

The original idea — back when Stevenson was developing the prototype for what would become the CS-1 conversion kit — was to build a custom using the S40 motor in a one-off frame. However, after installing longer shocks and lowering the front forks of the Savage, it started to look like a standard motorcycle. At this point he decided to complete the bike using as many original parts as possible, and turn the project into a kit that could be reproduced without the need for welding or fabrication.

In the end, he says, the challenge was to have a finished product that looked like a production motorcycle. What they ended up with was a kit that is almost a direct bolt-on operation. There are a few parts that need to be sent to Ryca for modifications, but it’s mostly a DIY procedure.

The success of the CS-1 has led to the development of the next series of kits, including the 100-percent bolt-on bobber setup and the scrambler kit, which enables CS-1 customers to make a few select changes and get a different style bike.

Ryca’s Stevenson and Rajewski also have plans to launch their own complete model, essentially thrusting them into the role of small-batch OEM. According to the partners, a big chunk of the inquiries they get from around the globe are for completed bikes, with many coming from a demographic a little older than they expected when they started marketing the kits.

Overall, they seemed to have tapped into the DIY backyard builder ethos that’s long supplanted the blinged-out custom bike scene of yore, a movement that dovetails with the vintage bike resurgence in which older bikes of all marques and makes are hitting the streets again.

“I think we’re entering a new golden age of motorcycling, with more choices for the rider than ever imagined before, including electric bikes,” Stevenson says. “Hopefully dealers will recognize the demand for bikes that are simple, lightweight and affordable. And, judging from Ryca customers, that demand is not limited to beginning motorcyclists.”

This story originally appeared in the Dealernews July 2012 issue.