Steve Culp's Street Fighting S1000RR: Thoroughly Modern Mayhem

In the world of custom built motorcycles, a "Streetfighter" falls into the category somewhere between aggressive and "look at me once more, and I'll cut you."

Not for the timid or weak of heart, Streetfighters exude speed, testosterone and swagger even while standing still. When Shreveport motorcycle builder Steve Culp first saw the BMW S1000RR sport bike, he knew its lineage and its claims of performance made it a perfect candidate for this most unusual category.

 Though Streetfighters come from the world of cafe racing and were made popular by European riders, the movement was very much inspired by the inexpensive and fast-for-their time Japanese bikes. In fact, at most of the bigger bike shows Streetfighters are almost exclusively of Japanese lineage. Culp believed the big, bad BMW could set the Streetfighting world on its ear and plans to debut his German goliath at Daytona Bike Week's Rat Hole and Boardwalk custom bike shows in early March. Culp himself is no stranger to Streetfighter swagger. The bike builder is a former air show pilot who regularly aimed straight at the ground at speeds exceeding 200mph, pulling up at the last minute and barrel-rolling his aircraft into the blue skies above.

Prior to flying and building airplanes of his own design, he was a race car driver for Mazda, Hyundai and Dodge during a rough and ready time in which he who could most intimidate his opponents, won.

It did not hurt that Culp was an extremely accomplished driver who could also repair the cars he broke while (mostly successfully) intimidating the other teams.

For Culp to be building a Streetfighter, then, seems only natural. The story of how it came to be a BMW is not. Steve has long loved vintage bikes---Harleys, BSAs, Indians, Japanese bikes and especially BMWs. He has owned nine antique BMW bikes and his current rider is a 1974 R-90.

 He admires not only their lines but their performance, and he regularly takes his 30-year-old bikes on cross-country treks that most would consider tackling only on a cruiser. A member of a Shreveport, Louisiana BMW motorcycle club, Steve knew about BMW's plans to debut a sport bike to compete with the hugely successful Suzuki Hayabusa, and he had heard the specs. The S1000RR wasn't only a liter bike, it was going to have the highest power-to-weight ratio in its class. It wasn't only going to be agile, it was going to have electronics components that included traction control, race ABS and a gearshift option that allowed full throttle upshifts without using the clutch. In other words, it was going to be a certified Bavarian bad ass.

In Culp's mind, the S1000-double R had Streetfighter written all over it. Believe it or not, one of the reasons behind the Streetfighter decision was practicality. Since Culp passed his 20s some years ago, he has found the crouched position of most sport bikes to be supremely uncomfortable.

He wanted a bike that would go fast, be agile but not cripple him to ride. As he tore the newly-purchased S1000RR down to its frame, he looked for a way to lower the seat by three inches to make it a more comfortable ride.

Though the superfast sport hottie has a thoroughly modern look, Culp saw its heritage and envisoned a way to bring the two together that would be instantly recognizable to any fan of vintage BMWs.

The black color and double white pinstripe harkens to the 1920s and 30s. Culp added diamond dust to the paint so that the bike glitters like a new dime.

The solo saddle is consistent with the vintage BMW look, but the tractor seat with fringe and inlaid BMW-blue stones gives it a retro funky feel that becomes completely modern.

Other vintage-look touches include the front and back fenders, fender braces, headlights, handlebars, bar end turn signals, megaphone exhaust, taillight frame, and a taillight off an early 20's Buick.

Culp built by hand the fairings, the tank cover, the mount for the instrument cluster, the seatmount for the subframe. The grab bar behind the seat is a 1930s Indian rear fender guard and exists for more than esthetics. "Everyone who rides an S1000RR tends to wheelie it," says Culp. "The grab bar is to keep them on the seat." So much about this street-fighting S1000RR is custom that it is often easier to say what is not: the wheels and tires, frame, engine. Period.

"I've taken the bike down to its essentials," says Culp. "This is basically what a chopper is supposed to be. I peeled all the plastic off and let it tell me what it needed to be." Culp has let bikes talk to him before and has walked away with the awards for his efforts. This is the next step up.

His cafe racers took Bike Week '10 by storm, but he wanted to compete head-on with the big boys in a category that attracts worldwide attention. "There are a lot of things on this bike that aren't normal," says Culp. "But a BMW Streetfighter isn't normal, either, so I think it works."

"When people see this bike, I want them to have to stand there a moment and clear their minds. It's not an S1000RR, it's not a vintage BMW, it's something new and totally unique. But unlike many custom bikes, this one is going to perform well and be comfortable to ride...and I can't wait to let it rip!"

To find out more about Steve's background and his marvelous machines, go to:

Tubac or Not Tubac? There Really Is No Question

One of the first things you have to understand about Steve and me is that our travel decisions are often made on the basis of flimsy facts and scant consideration. A comment from a friend that the 'fish sticks in Peterboro were the best ever' might send us packing for Peterboro. Such was the case with our latest dual sport adventure in southern Arizona. We have an affinity for the landscape and the people there as both are interesting to look at, make for wonderful stories and cut a wide swath of rough and ready.

A couple of years ago, we had a fabulous adventure in Bisbee, an old copper mining town in the mountains of southeast Arizona. We were tempted to return there, but decided to broaden both our horizons and our listing of southcentral trails, and settled instead on a town called Tubac. We were joined by Florida friend Howard of the south Louisiana "Ham" clan.

As is usual, a comment from a friend led us to this small village some 60 miles south of Tucson and 30 miles north of Nogales. Tubac was purported by said friend to be a charming place, an artistically-inclined village with a historical ambience. I had visions of a colorful, cool, fun and funky town tucked into the craggy foothills of the Santa Rita Mountains. Unfortunately, the only adjective it could muster was 'funky', and not in that 'good funky' sort of way.

 Lots to choose from!
 Over the years, Tubac has tried to reinvent itself as the "Santa Fe" of southern Arizona. Sadly, it resembles not so much Santa Fe as Bonnie and Clyde Trade Days, south of the border-style. Though staying in a truly cool place is always a plus, the (lack of) art and ambience was not the reason for our trip. Riding was, and there, we were not disappointed.

Tubac sits in the middle of the Sonoran Desert, a wild, rugged landscape filled with many things that can hurt you. Even the pretty flowers come with skin-snagging barbs and often it seemed the entire landscape wanted us dead. That should not be surprising. The name "Tubac" is an English/Hispanic bastardization of a Tohono O'odham tribal word which means, roughly, "rotten." Established in 1795 as a Spanish Presidio, Tubac was on the famed Camino Real, a trail that led from Mexico to the Spanish settlements in California. The rough lifestyle so common in most of the southwest was also present here.

One oft-remembered historical account is of California gambler and highwayman Jack Powers. Despite the literature of the day calling Powers a "gentlemen," Jack was a notorious highway robber and murderer, a bad man who met a violent end. He was murdered just south of Nogales in a fight over a woman, his body unceremoniously thrown into a pen of starving hogs. What little was left of Jack was buried just south of Tubac. It is stories such as these, and plenty of them, that no doubt makes the local Chamber of Commerce cringe.

Lawlessness is still an issue for the area near Tubac, and the southwest as a whole.

The desert trails south of the town skirt the Mexican border, and signs and your imagination provide ample warning of what might happen should you stumble onto a roving band of ill-tempered drug mules.

The U.S. is putting billions into the fight to secure these southwestern borders and evidence of that money is everywhere. Even on the most out-of-the-way and inaccessible trails we saw generally smiling and always diligent U.S. Border Patrol agents, a fact that made Steve, Howard and I very happy.

What are the chances that a Border Patrol vehicle should drive into our frame just as we snap a joke pic?

Don't ever depend on having the cavalry ride to your rescue, though. On our first trip to Arizona, Steve asked a border agent whether we should carry a gun on our backcountry excursions. The agent didn't hesitate. "I can never admit that I said this, but I would rather be judged by 12 than carried by six." We got his point.

There are several things you need to know about riding offroad in Arizona that have nothing to do with immigration. Something(s) on your bike will break.

You will often be lost and find yourself on trails that cannot support human life. Getting Greek food in the middle of southern Arizona is not always a good idea.

If you jam a cactus needle into your shin bone, you will need pliers to get it out. I often thank my lucky stars that Steve is not only a skilled field mechanic, he is a former fire department paramedic, a crucial off-road twofer. But I digress.

Remember, in Arizona chickens ride for free!
The landscape within a couple hundred miles around Tubac is amazingly beautiful and breath-takingly diverse. The descriptions run the gamut of dry and desolate scrub to undulating grassland, gnarled trees giving way to hidden lakes, kilometers of fields abloom in flowers and butterflies.

Many beautiful miles can be logged on dirt and gravel ranch roads, and on a series of what the state calls "Primitive Roads" that criss-cross the region. But most of the true trails in the area seem to attract far more four-wheelers than motorcycles and can be poorly marked. Maps that show unfettered access to open trails are often out of date, leading riders into fences that have apparently been constructed by ranchers laying claim to public land. Another consideration is that Arizona is a 'free range' state so ranchers need only build fences if they desire. Stock can otherwise wander when and where it would like.

There were three particularly enjoyable sets of trails within easy ride of Tubac. Almost due west is the small town of Arivaca. To get there on pavement involves hanging a left on Arivaca Road off Interstate 19 at the Cow Palace, a place you will wish to return for their delicious breakfast skillet concoctions again and again.

Arivaca Road is roughly 20 miles of beautiful. The lightly-traveled road twists, turns and meanders in and out of washes, ravines and hills. To the north are the Cerro Colorado mountains, to the south, the Tumacacori range. Just before you leave Arivaca is a road called "Ruby," who may or may not have taken her love to town.

Ruby Road runs through miles of US Forest Service land with offshoot trails that lead you past played-out mines, to the Mexican border, and to dead ends in obscure places. Less obscure but still lightly traveled is Forest Road 61, a trail along the border that connects Nogales to Bisbee. This stretch of trail runs the gamut from grassland to scrub, from forest to mountain, from easy to uh-oh. Until you reach the last ten miles of the trail near the Coronado National Forest last-nasty-bathroom stop, you will believe that you are the only living souls in the world.

This area is so remote that even the airline contrails don't hang around for long. Understand, however, that you will at some point see a Border Patrol agent, who are all unfailingly courteous in giving motorcycles the right-of-way.

If single-track trail is more your style, bust it up to the Empire Ranch just north of the wine country of Sonoita. Empire Ranch sits in the middle of a 42,000-acre tract of land managed by the US Bureau of Land Management. Originally a working cattle ranch, the facility once encompassed over one MILLION acres, but much of the remaining acreage is open to motorcyclists. Considering that the federal government is not especially friendly to off-roading, this property could become off-limits at any time, so ride it while you can. The trails that travel the expanse of the ranch are well-maintained and not at all technical, which means a lot of easy, non-life-threatening fun. Had our tummies not been urging us on, we would have spent far more time at historic Empire Ranch.

As seen on a trailriding website. Foreshadowing?
Those were our three most enjoyable sets of trails, but there was a fourth...a trail so craggy and nasty that it actually ate Howard's bike...twice. Bull Springs Trail. BST is just north of Tubac and heads east/west across the hinterlands to Patagonia. To get to Bull Springs, you turn onto Elephant Head Road and travel until you are nearly out of options. There, you will see a trail head that looks especially dangerous, strewn with large, sharp rocks. If you are committed to your course of action, you will discover that the dangerous beginning  is only a tease---it gets far worse. After seeing the trail head, I opted to depart to the house with all my teeth intact and celebrate my lack of broken bones and lacerations.

Not long after, I got a call that Howard's rear tire had flatted, so I returned with the Ford rescue Raptor.

Howard wears a sad face while contemplating another tire purchase.
Perhaps this should have been taken as a sign, particularly as it had happened at a point in the trail where several burned-out cars had been left abandoned, but it was not.

Disappointed that they had been bested by the trail, Steve and Howard tried it again a few days later and had to administer even more field triage. A particurlarly entertaining spill ground a hole in the clutch cover of  Howard's KTM 530. Luckily, a field fix allowed the adventurers to continue. Bull Springs Road was not a happy place for Howard. Though Steve made it out intact, it is not a place he particularly wishes to return.

None of the trails were forgiving to equipment or bodies, inattention or lack of skill. A hard impact with the ground punched a hole the valve cover in my R1200GS, creating an oil leak.Miles from civilization on inaccessible single track trail would have been a very bad place to be broken down. Luckily, field tools and an epoxy stick patched us up enough to allow us to travel to find more oil.

Another encounter with a wet cattle guard sent me and my GX450 careening into a cactus thicket, also with painful results. Off-roading, like flying, is terribly unforgiving of carelessness, incapacity or neglect. Body armor protected all of us to a large extent, and the cylinders and boxes on my 1200 GS likely prevented a leg injury in my hard tumble. All told, I would prefer repairing scuffed paint than growing more skin or being out of action while waiting for bones to knit.

All in all, though, the trip was another fabulous adventure filled with fun, interesting people, good food, beautiful sights, new experiences and great stories. Our bikes give us the opportunity to do many things and go many places that most people will never be able to experience. Truly, who could ask for more?

Additional Observations:

  • Yes, you can hurt yourself off-roading in Arizona, so do not go alone. Also make sure that you have first-aid for both yourself and your bike. An epoxy stick saved us twice. Next time we will also carry a quart of oil.
  • Never assume that there will be water, gas or a bathroom where you think they should be. Plan ahead.
  • Information on maps regarding trails may or may not be correct. Be prepared to backtrack.
  • There are many, many absolutely gorgeous paved roads in southern Arizona if off-roading does not appeal. However, you will be missing out on some true and exquisite beauty if you avoid all unimproved roads.
  • There is a nice BMW dealership in Tucson that will repair your bike while asking you, "You took it WHERE?"
  • Beware brakes and wet cattle guards. Those two things hate each other.

Two more Interesting Things That Don't Really Go Anywhere Else

During our time in Tubac, the desert was alive with locusts, thousands of them walking across roads and trails. We never figured out exactly what was happening with them but were heartened that no one used  the word 'Biblical" in any conversation.

Kitt Peak Observatory is on the Tohono O'odham Reservation about  40 miles west of Tucson and offers nightly observing programs. GO! It will be the best $48 you have ever spent. There are very few places open to the public at which you can reach up and touch Andromeda. Be one who does!

Andromeda as seen at Kitt Peak. Go on, touch it!

Cruising the Smokies With Drew

by Drew T. Newcomer
It has been over 11 years since I viewed the mountains and rode the twisties in Tennessee and North Carolina. So, several months ago I decided it might be nice to take a fall ride to this part of the country. It is not really all that far and I always try and take a ride when the weather starts to cooperate to some place different.

On the morning of October 2 I headed east on I-20 before the sun came up. North of Jackson I turned onto the Natchez Trace Parkway as daylight began to filter through the trees. Now, the “Trace” has a 50 mph speed limit but there is no commercial traffic and I was on the cruiser and wasn’t in a hurry. I enjoyed the scenic ride, with very little traffic in either direction. After a pleasant ride for 100 miles or so, I turned east on MS 41 to Amory, MS where I refueled (no gasoline on the Trace!) and continued east on US 278 to Cullman, AL. A few miles east of Cullman, I found AL 69, which is a nice country road, to my stopping point at Guntersville. I had ridden 450 miles and was ready to stop - the temperature had warmed considerably by that time. I found a Best Western that had a restaurant and bar so figured I couldn’t do much better than that. I checked in my room and watched LSU play Tennessee. I was very upset when LSU couldn’t manage the clock and when the snap went right by the quarterback and LSU lost, I disgustedly turned off the tv and went to the bar. Surprise, surprise!!! By the time I got to the bar LSU had somehow won the game. I walked in and saw the fans in the stadium cheering like crazy and had to ask the guy at the end of the bar, “just what the hell happened?” He filled me in on the “too many defensive players on the field” phenomena and we watched the replay about a dozen times. I had a nice meal of tuna with a good Riesling and rested very well.

I left Guntersville on Sunday morning heading northeast on highway 79 which parallels Guntersville Lake. I continued northeast on US 72 north of Scottsboro and on into Tennessee. The plan was to avoid Chattanooga and I certainly did that. I got lost somehow (and this is with map and GPS!!!) and DID avoid Chattanooga. Somehow I ended up on TN 28 to Powell’s Crossroads where I headed north on 283 till I turned east on 111 that took me to US 27 which is where I was supposed to be anyway. 27 runs from southwest to northeast and I was headed in the right direction. All was not lost. My little detour proved to be quite scenic with plenty of twists and turns and ups and downs.

I headed east on TN 68 a few miles south of Ten Mile, TN. 68 took me to US 411 and Madisonville, TN. Clouds were starting to gather at this point and I was concerned that I might encounter some rain, which was not supposed to be part of this vacation. I continued north on 411 through Maryville and on into Sevierville. In Sevierville, I turned south on US 441 and headed to Pigeon Forge, where my rental cabin awaited. Problem was the rain started to come down and I had been given the wrong directions for my cabin. After riding into the mountains in the rain and finally getting someone on the phone I learned (my friend Nancy was in a rental car, having flown into Knoxville) that we were in the wrong place!! So, after extracting the proper location we were able to find where we were actually going to spend the next six nights. I was glad to stop. It had not been that long of a day, mileage wise, but riding into a high traffic area in the rain and trying to find something that was not there had tried my patience. We did manage to reach our destination safely, so I suppose I had nothing to complain or whine about.

We woke up to continued rain on Monday so Nancy and I utilized her rental car to explore the area. Same thing happened on Tuesday. Pigeon Forge/Gatlinburg is a very “touristy” area and traffic can be a nightmare. And, October is the most popular month.

While the area is nice, souvenir shops and go cart tracks were not what brought us here.

Sun dawned brilliantly on Wednesday morning. After breakfast and letting things warm up a little, it was time to ride. 321 took us south to Townsend, TN and Smoky Mountains National Park. Cades Cove is a historic area and we enjoyed the 11 mile loop that meanders through this historic place. From Cades Cove, TN 73 (very nice road for bikes!) took us back to 441 and Gatlinburg and on to Pigeon Forge.

Thursday woke up like Tuesday and it was time to head to another area of the park. 441 heads southeast to Newfound Gap and Clingman’s Dome, the highest point in Tennessee. We had dressed warmly and it was a good thing. Temperatures were very brisk at this elevation, but the ride and scenery did not disappoint.

After stopping several times and climbing to the observation tower (it is a half mile walk up a steep grade which warmed us up considerably!!) we continued southeast to Cherokee, NC. I had visited Cherokee over 40 years ago, but can’t say I remembered much about it. We visited the Cherokee Indian Museum and walked through town and noticed the economy was suffering as several “going out of business” signs were evident. We headed back over the mountain and enjoyed the view from a different perspective.

Friday, the sun was out and calling. The plan was to “do the Dragon.” We rode south to Townsend again and the Foothills Parkway. Fog did slow us down and hold us up. Foothills is like the Trace in that there is no commercial traffic and no services. It is a beautiful ride, though, and well worth the effort. When we arrived at the intersection on 129, time had escaped us and we turned north instead of south. We would have to slay the Dragon another time. North on 129 was most enjoyable. I had not been this route on my previous Smoky Mountain visit. It leisurely finds its way to Maryville where it turned back east to Townsend and 321 which took us back to our cabin.

Saturday it was time to head home and Nancy had to be at the Knoxville airport for an 8am flight. I waited for the sun to come up and rode back to Townsend and Maryville where 411 now headed in a southwest direction back to Madisonville and 68 which now would take me to I-75. In an effort to knock down some miles, it would be an interstate trip home from here. I rode 75 to Chattanooga then I-24 through town to I-59 to Birmingham. As much as I enjoy riding motorcycles I absolutely HATE riding them on the interstate through large metropolitan areas and I was very glad to get Chattanooga and Birmingham behind me. After about 430 miles I stopped in Meridian for the night and enjoyed watching LSU defeat Florida in Gainesville.

For those who have never visited and rode the Smoky Mountains I highly recommend it. However, be forewarned that the Pigeon Forge/Gatlinburg area is very busy at times and if your visit is to enjoy the great motorcycling in this area you may want to consider lodging in Townsend, or Tallassee TN, or even Cherokee, NC.