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Nick & True Grit
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moto-kultüre special feature

“Nick & True Grit.” Article published in Moto-Kulture Magazine - March 2022 Edition

Grit & Determination

True Grit …

… And the power of the human spirit

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very part of a city has a feel, a vibe, or a certain tone. For instance, entertainment districts look dull and empty during the day but they come alive with the electricity of human activity and emotion at night. Financial districts are cold and orderly - with their minimalist courtyards, steel and glass towers and people in suits briskly moving from one place to another. Then there’s the retail and residential regions each with their own avour as well. Then there’s the waterfront and recreational parks, that ebb and ow with the seasons. But the part of the city that is often the most interesting, and the one that I’m drawn to, are the industrial areas.

The transportation hubs, the transfer stations, the acres of warehousing and service companies that stake their claim with small, modest signs - that indicate their presence with little more than a name. The economy pulses in these gra ti-marked buildings. The roads are rutted by the constant, punishing weight of heavy trucks as they clatter along, and the curbs are black with tire scrub. Planes roar overhead and nearby freeways make for an ever-present hum. It’s here that people make their livelihoods. Risking a great deal to bring an idea or a dream to life. This is where the proverbial rubber meets the road, teeth are gnashed and nerves are frayed as the economy churns o the sweat and creativity of every working soul. This is where you nd grit. No surprise then that this was the kind of neighbourhood, near Toronto’s international airport, where I would eventually meet Nicolas and his dad, Vito.

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Grit & Determination

But I need to back up rst …

Anyone in our business will tell you that we see a lot of bikes. I mean, a lot. New, old, good, bad, pristine, worn out, as common and ordinary as vanilla or, sometimes, as rare as hen’s teeth. So I’m rarely ‘looking’ for anything in particular and most, I’m sorry to say, just don’t stand out. I’m sure you love your Honda-this, Triumph-that or Harley-whatever, but I’ve seen plenty just like it. Towards the end of a ride, on one of those dwindling warm Sunday afternoons in early September, I stopped for a co ee. Lined up along the curb was a sizeable number of bikes - which is always nice to see. At rst glance, there were the usual assortment of machines. I didn’t pay any of them much attention, as none were particularly interesting or out of the ordinary.

Eventually, co ee in hand, I went walking down the line of bikes. What is always interesting are the individual details that people often add to bikes. A Harley with impressive custom paint here, cool pin-striping on a Triumph bobber there. A gorgeous bone stock 1972 Kawasaki Z1 got my attention for a while (I always love them). But then a white-rimmed café with a bright blue tank, frame and seat pan stopped me in my tracks. So many bikes, mine included, stick to such a narrow range of colours (black, white, red and grey mostly) that the bright blue paint really grabbed me. The white rims too though they’re a devil to keep clean - almost disappear when they’re spinning along on the highway.

Given the tank, engine and mono-shock con guration, it was clear that this bike started life as a Yamaha Virago. While the Virago makes for an excellent base for a café build, they aren’t as easy a platform to start with as, say, a at frame Honda CB. The trouble is that the carburetors draw air through the frame, which makes that pod- lter look so hard to achieve. The downward slope of the tank requires a signi cant amount of work to get its back end up. Then the rear seat frame needs to change, as otherwise the line from the bottom edge of the tank along the bottom of seat pan won’t be right. Then there’s the front end to contend with - as the stance there needs to drop too. Having built a few cafés myself these aren’t easy problems to solve. As I took in the builder’s solutions to these problems, it was evident that all those issues had been expertly addressed. This was a very clean, well conceived and beautifully built Virago café.

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Grit & Determination

Currently my own winter project is to address the less than attractive solution for the shift linkage on one of my bikes. When looking at the cafés or scramblers that others have built, I spend a good deal of time searching for inspiration as to how they resolved their own shifting bugaboo. Now I have to say that this Virago’s rear-sets were gorgeous. Constructed of all stainless-steel rods welded into a lattice that disappeared beautifully into the bike’s overall aesthetic. What stood out though was a small piston that seemed to be electronically actuated. I thought it could be a quick-shifter, but I wasn’t quite sure.

Right about this time, Nicolas had seen me ogling his bike and wandered over to say hello. We exchanged pleasantries and I complimented him on his build. He’s a friendly chap, dressed as most of us are when we ride. The standard blue jeans, boots, jacket and the like, but I didn’t pay particular attention to his fashion choices. I wanted to know about this unusual shift-lever set up.

Nicolas explained that it was a quick shifter - normally used on drag bikes - but adapted here and that it wasn’t easy. He needed to get the settings just right so that the piston moved the lever just far enough to swap gears in the transmission. It also cuts the spark so going up is easy, but he still needs to use the clutch when shifting down. Certainly, that was impressive I thought. But that’s a pile of work in order to adapt a street bike - So much so that I had to ask him why. Then Nicolas smiled and pointed down at his left leg.

Now, I’m not one for caring about what people are wearing, but sometimes I really should pay more attention. Nicolas’ pant leg was rolled up, just above where his ankle would have been, revealing instead a titanium shaft. His foot and socket were made of carbon bre. I paused. One divine expletive later from me and Nicolas grinned widely. He gave a small shrug and explained, in a rather a matter-of-fact manner, that it was the only way he can ride. I was momentarily at a loss for words.

By his estimate it took about sixty hours of work, and numerous iterations, to set the linkage up correctly so that it would work as intended. 


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Grit & Determination

Grit & Determination

Eventually Nicolas replaced the Moto Guzzi with another V7. He nished it with the necessary modi cations and was riding again. I was already impressed. Nicolas went on to say that this Virago café was a father-son project and that they had since built a couple of others. Now I was very intrigued and I had to nd out more. If the Virago before me was anything to go by, I wouldn’t be disappointed. We exchanged contact details and arranged to meet at their shop in a couple of days.

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In 2018, Nick was riding his Moto Guzzi V7 through an intersection when he was hit by a car that was turning left. That collision cost him his leg just below the knee. At the time, work had already started on this Virago and so he was delayed by nearly two years as physiotherapy, prosthetic leg ttings and rehab occupied much of his time. In the background though, he continued to build the Virago. Understandable really as it was a welcome distraction.

As it happens, Nicolas and his dad Vito’s shop is in just the sort of industrial neighbourhood that I’m fond of. I discovered that they design and manufacture stainless-steel products for a variety of industries. The lucky upside of this is, of course, that they have at their disposal all manner of specialized fabrication tools for after-hours tinkering. Upon walking up the ramp into their shop, there were no fewer than ve running, road-ready motorcycles and one new project underway on the lift. There was also vintage MGB with a Miata engine swap and a couple of mini-trail bikes. If there ever was a perfect place to start building a custom motorcycle, I’d just found it.

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Grit & Determination

Vito and Nicolas are as friendly and unassuming about their skills as you could expect. They have a long relationship with, and a passion for, motorcycles. Starting, like so many of us do, with small trail and dirt bikes, they eventually moved on to larger street bikes. Vito’s original Virago was sitting there and, over the years, had been sold twice only to later be re-acquired. The nal time he got it back, Vito completely restored that Virago to its original speci cations and will now never let it go. Vito explained that It was this restoration project that got him and Nicolas interested in custom-building their own bikes. Their rst attempt was the blue Virago café I had seen.

I have to say I was a little taken aback when I heard that the Virago café was their “ rst attempt”. I’ve seen many home built cafés, scramblers, bobbers and many are just “okay”. Given that Nicolas and Vito were able to take advantage of their design and engineering training; have access to lathes; water jet tables; and stainless-steel fabrication experience; they’ve been able to make good things happen right away. All kidding aside, it was a long two-year process to build their Virago. But they say that they learned a lot and have applied that to the other builds they’ve since tackled.

In addition to the Virago, Vito built himself a Yamaha Maxim 850 Scrambler. It’s an equally stunning build, complete with stainless-steel headers and other parts made in house. He swapped out the Maxim’s tank in favour of a Titan 500’s and, I agree, that was a wise choice to get the all-important aggressive edges. Vito and Nicolas are candid about the challenges and obstacles that they’ve encountered, enabling them to successfully overcome them in each of their builds too.

While father and son developed new skills throughout their builds, they also encountered challenges that were beyond their expertise. Naturally they reached out to the ever-helpful motorcycle community to see them through. It should come as no surprise that the wiring - that bedevilling thing - presented the biggest roadblock. We had quite the laugh as we compared notes about the endless grounds and seemingly redundant circuit loops that are part-and-parcel of old motorcycle wiring. For Nicolas and Vito, enter Noy Vercuba to the rescue. He not only helped both sort out their wiring issues, but was kind enough to teach them a thing or two about simplifying the convoluted circuitry of their projects. (You can nd Vercuba’s website here: https://veracuba.ca/)

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Now they’re back working together on yet another project and it looks to be very interesting. We’ll keep you abreast as it goes.

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While the Maxim 850 was being built by Vito, Nicolas was hard at work on his Yamaha 360. It’s a ne little ripper - maybe a little loud, but that’s just how Nicolas wants it. The way they describe it, this was a bit of a ‘build o ’ between father and son. The rules were simple. Whoever’s bike was nished, licensed and on the road rst bought the other a case of beer. The way they tell it, a fair bit of ribbing and egging-on ensued (which is completely necessary). Nicolas won that round, on account of the wiring gremlins that were to be found in Vito’s Maxim, but it was all in good fun.

They love their bikes, restored one, and caught the bug to do a custom build. Nicolas underwent a life altering accident, recovered, faced and adapted to his new reality, nished the build, kept riding and then started more projects. For anyone, this is a heart-warming story of family, motorcycles and the community that results. But for anyone who has come o their bike, been hurt and found the courage to get back on again, Nicolas’ grit and determination is inspirational.

It really is worth pausing to acknowledge just how much attitude counts when the going gets tough. That’s worth remembering whenever we all next encounter some unexpected adversity. Sure, it may not seem fair and, yes, it may be a little more work now, but that’s no reason to throw in the towel and give up. With the support and love of whomever we call family, and a shift in perspective, you’ll nd that life on a bike is pretty damn good.

Toronto SuperShow 2022: On a nal note, both Nick and Vito have entered three of their bikes in the 2022 competition at the North American SuperShow in Toronto. Both of them did really well and their expertise was widely praised by the judges. In fact, all three bikes nished in the top 10 and two of them were in the top 3.

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Vito and Nicolas tell their story in such a matter of fact manner, its as if they were describing the weather last week. ‘It was what it was’.

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