Every project should contain a certain element of fun, but some are all about fun. That happens to be the case this week in the garage, as I tackled building up a mini-bike with my friend Kyle (a different Kyle). He travels to events at racetracks regularly and wanted a vehicle for riding around easily and quickly but without breaking the bank. We searched for bargain pit bike,s but the cash outlay for a Honda CRF50, Yamaha TTR90, or other centrifugal-clutch thumper just didn’t make sense to us. So we decided to build something to fit the bill.
That meant going old school and picking up a mini bike frame to build our own machine. He elected to buy a brand-new frame, but there are any number of used mini bikes for sale if that is more your speed. With no suspension, the large loop frame is a blank canvas for creating an extension of your personality. The actual assembly goes quickly, as the wheels just bolt right in along with the Kawasaki 3-hp engine we got from a friend, who found it on the side of the road.
The seat is where we chose to focus our energy and produce something custom. The base was trimmed from a scrap chunk of plywood, and then we shaped the foam to the profile we wanted with a serrated bread knife. The key to working with foam like this is to not compress the foam while cutting it. If you do, it will make for odd and jagged edges that will show through a thin material.
With the foam shaped, the time came to make a template. Upholstery work is one of those jobs in which even if you wanted to build by measurements, doing so is incredibly tough. We stretched a cheap cotton fabric over the foam and taped it in place, then marked where we wanted our seams to be and cut the template apart on those lines. Using chalk to transfer the pattern to the final material ensured no ink would damage the fabric.
Then, off to the sewing machine. It’s a skill that take a bit of practice, but the learning curve is both approachable and affordable. Used sewing machines pop up for sale online quite regularly, and just about any home machine can do at least some automotive upholstery projects. Trim work is also safe and chemical-free, so it can be a really fun project to do with the grandkids.
The end result is less than perfection, but it look pretty good. I’ll probably take another shot at it during the long Michigan winter that is starting to set in. No matter, it was only a few dollars in fabric and the challenge is perfect for a Sunday afternoon with a cup of coffee. I can’t say that about all the projects on my winter to-do list and if you want to see what those projects might be, subscribe to the Hagerty YouTube channel to stay up to date with the latest Hagerty video projects.