The RD Kustom & Design SR1 is a motorcycle with a story behind it. A story that includes a shock cancer diagnosis, a long fight against the disease with chemotherapy, and ultimately the decision to embark on a project to develop one of the most impressive American motorcycles in recent memory.
The SR1 took the father and son team of Michel and Jimmy Messina countless hours of design, prototyping, and machining. The end result has been a motorcycle that has been published in stories around the world and won itself a shelf of trophies.
Fast Facts – The RD Kustom & Design SR1
- When Jimmy Messina was forced to give up his regular job as a mechanical engineer because of a cancer diagnosis and the chemo-therapy treatment for it he decided to create a custom motorcycle, and a business that he could do at home in the family garage.
- Jimmy’s father, Michel, came alongside his son and so the custom motorcycle became a rather special father and son project.
- Jimmy and Michel started out with the modest plan to use a Buell V-twin engine and shoehorn it into a Voxan tubular aluminium frame. But that became an increasingly less attractive plan and so they decided that Jimmy would design the bike from scratch around the Buell V-twin.
- The bike was completed and won the “Best of Show” at the AMD 2022 European Bike Show.
The Incredible Story Of The RD Kustom & Design SR1
There is something instinctive in human nature that leads us to want to create things that are unique. For many that instinct is suppressed by the pressures of the world that try to push each one of us into a mould to re-shape us to become money oriented human production units – living for the primary purpose to get money so we can live in the world.
But life lived like that is not soul satisfying and leads to a daily ritual that becomes a drudgery to be endured instead of the liberated and creative life we were created to live.
Sometimes it takes a shock, a jolt that disrupts our willingness to accept continuing in the routine we have become accustomed to, to enable us to seek an alternative for our life, an alternative that brings us into a sense of urgency to achieve something we have dreamed of, but a dream we may have put aside, but which at that point of epiphany becomes a dream we decide to bring to reality.
So it was for Jimmy Messina who was working as an engineer, a job that was brought to an unexpected end in 2019 when he was diagnosed with lung cancer. The chemotherapy required to combat the cancer forced Jimmy to give up his regular job – the chemo side-effects can be quite debilitating and often make it impossible for a person to continue their regular career.
Jimmy’s father Michel was fully supportive and between them father and son determined to embark on a custom motorcycle project – in a case of “have garage – will build” Jimmy and Michel got working together to design something that would be an expression of Jimmy’s idea of what a perfect motorcycle would be, and then to make the dream bike a reality.
When Jimmy and Michel began their custom motorcycle design their ideas were limited to what they considered “realistic”. The initial plan was to take a 1,203 cc V-twin Buell S1 Lightning engine and transplant it into a Voxan tubular aluminium alloy frame.
Jimmy and Michel are great fans of Harley-Davidson motorcycles and engines, and so the Buell V-twin was a natural first choice. In fact both Jimmy and Michel ride Harleys as their regular bikes and to keep life interesting they favour driving hot-rods rather than using ordinary modern cars to get around in.
As their thinking expanded however that initial idea was progressively transformed by possibility thinking, and the idea of using a Voxan frame was dismissed in favour of designing and constructing a completely new chassis which would be designed as a perfect fit for the Buell 101 hp V-twin.
Jimmy and Michel’s new design would incorporate some off-the-shelf production components, components that would fit the bill for this new creation, components that Jimmy and Michel could see that they were not going to improve on.
Jimmy is a mechanical engineer and a race mechanic, and both father and son are keen riders with significant practical experience: so they were and are a well qualified team to undertake this new project.
The design process began with taking a photogrammetric scan of the V-twin engine using a humble mobile phone. From that Jimmy accurised the scan and from there began using computer assisted drawing to build the design.
Its not really until you try to move from design to real metal that the difficulties emerge and the problem solving requires a great deal of trial and error to get things just right.
Jimmy and Michel had the computer, software and expertise to not only do their design but also to 3D print models of the component parts to try them, find what was lacking, and re-model them, to ultimately get to the final article, which would then be machined.
The complex shape of the under-seat which had to house the battery and core electrical components could only be made on a 5-axis CNC machine but they were able to find someone to do that for them.
The aluminium alloy chosen for many components was AL6061 which is hard and difficult to polish to final finish. Likewise the aluminium fuel tank was a technical challenge, but again, Jimmy and Michel were able to find craftsmen with the expertise and experience to do that work to perfection.
The various parts of the motorcycle were finished in Cerakote done by Swan of Joker Labs, hand controls by CCC in the United States, frame tube bending was done by Gregg’s Customs as was the swing arm.
The father and son team completed the project, fully satisfied with an impeccable result, the thing created in Jimmy’s mind brought to life in aluminium alloy and steel.
Jimmy and Michel poured all this effort into the bike, in part, to give Jimmy the foundation of a business to be called RD Kustom & Design (i.e. “Ride Different Kustom & Design”) that he could run despite the health issues he has had to face, and overcome.
They took the completed RD Kustom & Design SR1 to the American Motorcycle Dealer (AMD) 2022 European Bike Show and won Best of Show in a field of seventy competitors. He was also invited to the 2023 AMD World Championship.
Jimmy is still dealing with health issues but has begun on an even more ambitious custom motorcycle for which he will build the engine as a part of the complete bike.
Technical Specifications: The RD Kustom & Design SR1
Jimmy’s design for the RD Kustom & Design SR1 uses an aluminium alloy front block that secures to the top of the front cylinder of the engine forming the neck of the chassis. This block also acts as the air-intake and directs air up into the airbox which is in the front part of the fuel tank.
There is also a rear block which is attached to the rear of the V-twin engine and which serves to house the oil tank, and acts as the shock absorber mount point and swing-arm pivot point.
The chassis uses a twin-tube frame made from 7075 aluminium alloy tubes with mounting plates welded to each end. The front is secured by a set of CNC machined triple trees while the rear is a single sided swing-arm and the rear suspension assembly.
The front brake and suspension are pure Ducati 1198 with twin Brembo brakes and a Marchesini 17 inch wheel. At the rear is a Marchesani wheel and Brembo brake setup riding on the single-sided swing-arm.
The rear shock-absorber system is based on the design of the underslung, reverse-oriented mono-shock of the Buell bike, but with an EMC custom made shock absorber with a linkage system designed by Jimmy.
The RD Kustom & Design SR1 is rich with custom designed and bespoke parts including the fuel tank assembly, rear body and seat into which Jimmy made a home for the battery and Motogadget M.Unit electronics controller.
The end result is a bike with a nicely stiff frame and an exciting power to weight ratio to make it both exciting and enjoyable to ride. It is truly a statement of the best that Jimmy and Michel could infuse into it, and it is clearly a superb result, as evidenced by the AMD “Best of Show” award.
If you’d like to see more from Jimmy and keep up to date with his new projects, you can follow him on Instagram here.
Picture Credits: All pictures courtesy Jimmy and Michel Messina.
Jon Branch has written countless official automobile Buying Guides for eBay Motors over the years, he’s also written for Hagerty, he’s a long time contributor to Silodrome and the official SSAA Magazine, and he’s the founder and senior editor of Revivaler.
Jon has done radio, television, magazine, and newspaper interviews on various issues, and has traveled extensively, having lived in Britain, Australia, China, and Hong Kong. The fastest thing he’s ever driven was a Bolwell Nagari, the slowest was a Caterpillar D9, and the most challenging was a 1950’s MAN semi-trailer with unexpected brake failure.