Grand National Replica – Serious Custom Cool
by Benjamin Goebel
Little Billy Hofmeister grew up in a motorcycle racing family. His dad owned Fairbault Harley-Davidson and Billy spent the weekends watching his dad compete in hare scrambles and hillclimbs. Billy tried these, but settled in at age 12 racing flat track. He liked flat track because he got more seat time. Over the years he got a lot more seat time and eventually became the 1974 Canadian National #1 champion. Even though he has continued to race on and off at the national and regional level, that yearning for seat time never left him. When he was done racing for the weekend on Sunday night, he didn’t really want to be done. He, like many others before and after, wanted to keep riding.
Fast-forward to 2004, unhappy with the factory offerings in the flat track category (H-D XR-1000 and now H-D XR-1200) and not satisfied with the road going performance of a real flat track bike, Bill started SHR Enterprises Inc. His goal was to create a very high quality replica flat track bike that still was true to the joy of the flat track experience, but to also make it safely streetable. With their first model, the Grand National (named after the Grand National Championship, the pinnacle of flat track competition) SHR Enterprises, Inc. became a motorcycle manufacturer. It is modeled after the iconic Harley-Davidson XR-750 flat track race bike.
This machine has dominated the flat track scene since the 1970’s. Unfortunately, the XR-750 is very expensive and temperamental, with spare parts being hard to get and astronomically expensive. Rather than re-inventing the wheel, Bill decided to assemble the machine with readily available, quality components, a practice not-at-all uncommon in the flat track world. The $24,605.00 Grand National is for all practical purposes, a hand-built custom motorcycle. The prospective, sport-minded buyer discusses personal preferences and custom options with Bill and then the machine is manufactured to spec. The machines are also built for compliance with the motor vehicle laws in the customers’ state. Items like blinkers, front fenders and horns are optional.
So if the front fender, blinkers and horn are optional, what is included? Nothing that isn’t absolutely essential to the task at hand, tearing up the road like a complete hooligan! Ponder this: a 380-lb bike with a 105hp motor. This power-to-weight-ratio is comparable to the current crop of sport bikes. Don’t be fooled, this is a very high-performance vehicle. You are pretty invisible to the motor. With so little weight to deal with, it accelerates like you don’t exist. Motive power is provided by a Buell Motor Company XB-1200S crate motor/transmission. In this stock configuration, it puts down 80-some bhp measured at the rear wheel. As an option, along with headwork and cams it can be punched out to 1400cc, putting out about 105bhp. The motor spins up quickly and freely, unlike the other motor company’s motor.
To start the bike, you pull the choke knob out, make damn sure it’s in neutral, reach down between the cylinders and turn and hold the hair trigger key like a car. If you make a mistake and start it in gear, with the clutch out, the high torque starter motor is gonna make the bike leap out from underneath you like a rocket. The gears come and go so quickly for a V-twin that you quickly come to appreciate the solid, precise, Buell transmission. The motor is barely muffled with a custom-bent, SuperTrapp XR-style dual exhaust. Hooliganistic behavior does NOT go unnoticed (for many blocks in all directions).
The frame has a lot to do with how this machine feels while in motion. To deal with the rigors of street riding and the extra weight of the Buell engine, the frame tubing wall thickness dimension was increased twice from the regular race bike dimension. The frame is made out of 4130 cro-molybdenum steel, and designed by renowned flat track frame makers C&J. SHR Ent. Inc. purchased the jig from C&J and offers the frame in a variety of finishes. Our test model had the upgraded chromed frame. It is also available with a nickel coated frame. These finishes add $1,500 to the price. The frame/swingarm are also available separately should you fancy building one of your own. The frame is a piece of functional art-very light and airy. There are many spots on the Grand National where you can see straight through to the other side. The top tube of the frame and the massive headstock gusset are sealed to contain the 2.5qts of oil that keep the motor happy.
Keeping it all from bouncing you into the weeds are a Penske multi-adjustable rear shock and a modified 2004 Yamaha R6 fork up front. The ride is very taut and controlled. The high-quality suspension components easily handle springing duties on the lightweight bike. The riding position is bolt upright with feet directly underneath you and arms spread wide. When in the saddle, hardly anything sticks up high enough to enter your field of vision, giving you certain crystallization of focus and intent. This is a very stout, compact machine. Kind of like a pit bull.
The lack of weight is sort of unbelievable if you are used to a heavier machine. Steering effort is very low due to the frame geometry and the wide handlebars, despite the fact that you roll on wide flat track tires. With the slightest application of steering input, the bike quickly starts to lean and the back of the bike wants to, no, absolutely begs, to come around and complete the turn crossed-up and rear wheel spinning in best flat tracker style. And like a flat tracker completing a corner, it reeeaaly wants you to hammer on the throttle. Hard. This is not just in some corners. This process happens every time you bank the bike over any amount from vertical!
While outwardly a very simple machine, by combination of very high quality components and good design, the limits of the envelope are extremely high. While I did not navigate any corners on the street crossed-up and steering on a spinning rear wheel, it is certainly possible. Bill did mention that if you time a rearward weight shift properly it will wheelie out of the corner too. Just as interestingly, it can be enjoyably dawdled around on the parkways forever.
The rest of the furniture is excised from billet and is of the highest quality. The wheels, brakes and controls are manufactured by Performance Machine. As tested, the machine was equipped with PM billet racing wheels. Hauling it down in the back is a powerful, 10-inch rear rotor. Instead of no front brake like a flat track race bike, The Grand National wears an 11.5-inch full-floating rotor. High-quality components and low weight made braking performance very exciting. Lever effort for both clutch and brake are, by street bike standards, a little high effort. The machine can be spec’ed with whatever PM has in the catalog. If the customer wishes to go with a traditional look, wire wheels from multiple companies are an option. Wheel size is optional also. The standard flat track wheel size is 19-inches. If the customer wants a wider variety of tire choices, 18-inch wheels offer many more choices of tread patterns and styles. Tires are supplied by the purchaser.
The hand-formed XR-750 Grand National aluminum gas tank holds 2.25 gallons. At highway speeds it gets approximately 55mpg. The tail section is locally produced out of heavy-duty fiberglass. The seat is initially pretty comfy, but quickly gets nasty. A new seat system is in the works. The bodywork can be painted any color scheme the customer likes, with traditional flat track paint schemes a popular choice.
Bill assures me that you could just disconnect the headlight and go win money at the national level on this bike. It is not off base or hyperbole to call this a race-replica. Sliding in the area between a flat track race bike and a streetable bike is what this bike does. It is eminently fun to ride and is constructed from top quality parts. It is beautiful in its simplicity and its ability to make you smile. Every turn.
by Bruce Mike
When I started working on MMM® this year, one of the things I was excited about was the opportunity to ride and review bikes. Over the years I’ve ridden and owned a lot of different motorcycles but never in my wildest dreams did I see myself on this bike.
I picked up this hand-built custom motorcycle from Bill Hofmeister at his home in Bloomington. Bill had just returned from getting the bike tuned by Jason at Fairbault Harley-Davidson. My co-reviewer Ben did a great job of giving you Bill’s qualifications for building this bike. The one thing I need to add is that Bill is a really nice guy who was as excited for me to ride his bike as I was. He’s pretty confident it’s the coolest custom out there. I have to agree with him.
When I think of custom bikes in the $25,000-$30,000 price range, depending on how you want it built, I think of twelve foot long choppers with fat rear tires, loud pipes, wild paint jobs and lots of chrome. While I think these bikes are interesting, there are a lot of them on the road. The Gand National Replica is it’s own category of custom.
I was three blocks from Bill’s house when I heard my first of many comments on the bike. I had stopped for fuel and a guy walked up to ask me about the bike. His uncle was a flat track racer and he was amazed to see a race bike out on the street. He spent some time inspecting and proclaimed as he walked away, “that is really cool”. As I was putting the gas cap back on someone else walked up and inquired as to “where one could get a bike like that?” I responded “just three blocks up the road”. His final statement, “that thing is f***ing awesome”.
I left the gas station and immediately jumped on the interstate. I reached highway speed pretty close to instantly. Our test bike was a prototype and didn’t have a speedometer so I set my speed with the cars around me. At 85hp and 380lbs, the bike was very quick and agile in heavy traffic. Even at highway speed, people were pausing and checking out the bike. It was a 25-mile ride to my house and the vibration felt through the seat caused my butt to go numb temporarily. The discomfort was minimal and they are retooling the seat.
I brought the bike home and decided to get some photos while I waited for Ben to come and pick it up. Photos don’t do this bike justice. The attention to detail and the care that went into making this bike a race replica, just can’t be captured with a camera. When I first saw this bike, it was at a bike show last winter. My preconceived thoughts of what riding this bike would be like didn’t even come close to the actual experience.
Ben returned the bike to me on an absolutely perfect day for riding. Temperature in the mid-seventies, lots of sunshine and no storms on the horizon. I took off with a friend and a camera and we headed for western Wisconsin. I wanted to get on some twisty back roads as soon as possible. While this bike goes straight just fine, it yearns to turn.
I’ve ridden my share of sport bikes, big and small, old and new, but none of them compared to this. The Grand National Replica is in a class by itself. Riding this bike was like having a constant adrenaline boost. It is a motor with wheels. It is built to race. It rumbles and vibrates and makes you feel alive. It is fun in it’s purest form. There are no wasted or unneccessary parts or accessories. It reminded me of my teenage years riding in hot rod cars built to go fast without worrying about power windows, air conditioning or any other luxuries that take away from the pure speed of the experience. The Grand National Replica has all the right high-quaity components to make it work. I never felt out of control and I knew I could never push it beyond it’s capabilities. It did convince me that I need to take some track classes and expand my skill set. I had a total of about seven hours of seat time on this bike. I wish I would have had ten times that amount. I just couldn’t get enough of it.
We found some twisty roads with very little traffic to take some photos. The upright riding position, knees and elbows bent with my hands wide on the bars, allowed me to gain speed and confidence with each pass through the turns. The bike definitely wanted more out of me than I could give it. When coming out of a turn it demanded throttle and I responded the best I could. I can only imagine what this bike could deliver for someone with serious skills.
I’m not a big chrome and pretty paint guy but this bike has all kinds of sexy going on. I can’t remember ever riding anything that got the kind of comments and looks that this got, the most common was just “WOW!” It’s hard to be missed when riding it. From the custom bent SuperTrapp exhaust, which is plenty loud to announce your arrival well before you get there, to the polished and chrome everything else, you won’t be sneaking up on anyone. Mr. Hofmeister has definitely created a motorcycle with outstanding performance that is truly a pleasure to ride and look at.
If you are considering taking the plunge and purchasing a high-end custom bike, check out the Grand National Replica. It doesn’t have an eight-foot springer front end or a two-foot wide rear tire but it does have arm-yanking power, solid construction and top-of-the-line components. It’s also backed by a strong motorcycle pedigree which includes 30 years of racing experience and relationships. Beyond all that it is built right here in Minnesota, by a Minnesotan.
Visit GrandNationalReplica.com for more photos and Bill’s contact information.