Sketch based upon can wheel side and photo

Here it is the #16 PBR racer, complete with rolling wheels, rear suspension, and movable steering. The motorcycle is designed as a cafe racer with large v-twin engine, short clip on handlebars, and exposed frame (see image below). Every piece was made from 16 oz. Pabst Blue Ribbon cans and superglue, with the exception of the frame, which required a bit of super structure provided by cardboard layers from the case.

485Designs custom Yamaha Virago xv920

The design process for this project involved far more iteration than I initially anticipated, the material was less than cooperative when trying to build some of the complex shapes/ bends needed thus many part re-designs were needed. As the team graphic was quite linear this design definitely diverged from that plan and required many failed prototypes before the final pieces were built. In creating a new graphic representation of the design process there would be far more interconnections and loops as well as dead ends leading to re-designs. After completing this project I believe a second model would have a much more linear design process as more time would be spent in the initial design phase as the material is better understood.

This design started with the image above, a custom built Yamaha Virago xv920 by 485Designs (Denver) which to me is the epitome of cafe racer motorcycles. That image combined with the memory of tin can models I had seen as a boy in hobby shops (see earlier blog post) led to the want to pursue this project.

From the picture I sketched a stripped down drawing (see below) based on the can end size which allowed me to identify major components that needed to be assembled into a final product. The list of components in order of creation: motor/trans, exhaust, frame, wheels, front triple tree, rear end, tank, headlight, and lastly the seat.

As I began building the engine I quickly realized the material was going to resist any complex curves meaning each piece would have to be built as if it were paper. Discovering this I began modeling parts from paper then tracing the parts to the aluminum skin which saved a ton of time and material. Using paper allowed for a sort of rapid prototyping that was especially helpful when building the frame.

Many of the prototypes failed causing dead ends, take the frame for example, as a main structural component it needed to be rigid and straight, however each time I assembled the curved pieces warping would occur, thus despite my want to build the model from aluminum and glue alone, I decided to use a cardboard super structure.

Paper template for frame

Using the above template I created a cardboard superstructure which was wrapped in an aluminum skin giving a solid mounting surface for the other components.

I had originally planned for the model to mimic the sketch as closely as possible and have working working front and rear suspension, steering, and rolling wheels. At one point I had considered adding led’s for lights and a drive mechanism to propel the model, however due to time constraints and the want to mimic other can models I had seen it seemed more appropriate to build a well built attractive model rather than a toy.

All you need to build a can model

The final product ended up being a bit larger than the original sketch and more resembles an earlier style cafe racer with dual rear suspension arms rather than the single pivot design of the sketch.  The design for the front suspension continuously failed and to avoid adding more non-can parts (internal springs) was swapped for a ridged setup. I would have liked to add more detail to the engine/trans as well as to the wheels (spokes or cutouts) and found a way to work out the front suspension.

Ready to Rumble!

Artistically I think the model is a success, it conveys the ideas/imagery I was going for, and conveys my love of blue collar mechanics and beer. However the finish is a little rougher than I would have liked, superglue tends to travel unnoticed until it’s too late leaving fingerprints on exterior surfaces, as well binds so quickly adjustment is impossible leading to crooked/kinked components. In future attempts I would trade the glue for welds, and add details using wire, paint, and plastics to create a more realistic model.

I know a great bar that would proudly display this model (ZZ) and do intend to build a far superior PBR racer in the future.

Image source:

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29 Comments. Leave new

  • Kenzy O
    Kenzy O'neill
    February 6, 2016 3:22 pm

    The suspension is amazing, well done. I like that you used only PBR cans for the project.

  • The bike looks really good. I liked hearing about your design evolution and how you figured out how to attach everything. It was crazy to hear that your bike actually is able to move with proper suspension or tires.

  • Very cool! I’m impressed with how well you formed the bike parts into all of those shapes. Its also impressive that you got it so that it is dynamic without any of the fragile cans breaking or scratching! Have you thought about anything else you want to make out of cans?

  • That rear linkage is ridiculously cool. I can totally believe that it took you multiple tries per component. I tried doing a can thing first and found it too frustrating. Good on you for persevering.

  • Ashley Zimmerer
    Ashley Zimmerer
    February 3, 2016 9:40 pm

    Just looking at the picture, I would never have guessed everything moves. Your dedication is intense. I don’t think I would have had the patience to make all the parts several times over.

  • Brandon Boiko
    Brandon Boiko
    February 3, 2016 9:26 pm

    Really creative. The base of the cans work well for the wheels. Its impressive how you managed to make the model have moving parts. Do you think you could make cars out of the cans?

  • I like the looks and the finish of the motorcycle. I am very impressed with the dynamics, AWSOME. Wheels move, suspension, and handle bars move!!!!. It would be ideal to spray paint the tyers black. Otherwise this is an excellent finish and detail. Great work

  • Nicholas Flood
    Nicholas Flood
    February 3, 2016 5:55 pm

    I am a fan of the café racer style. I think the model turned out well. I think a kick stand would be really cool to have as well, if possible. Nice job!

  • Samantha Maierhofer
    Samantha Maierhofer
    February 3, 2016 3:45 pm

    Very cool looking. How sturdy of a build is it? Its really cool that you were able to get parts to spin/move! Are you worried about things breaking over time?

  • chris coffman
    chris coffman
    February 3, 2016 1:56 pm

    Incredible amount of effort put into this project and it came out great! I wish I could have seen it in more detail.

  • Thomas Brunsgaard
    Thomas Brunsgaard
    February 3, 2016 12:51 pm

    You did an awesome job with the detail. The flared seat, intricate frame, and bent handles make it really interesting. How did you begin to figure out the scaling and shapes for each piece? Really nice job!

  • Did not realize the entire piece can function by hand, that is sweet. This looks like the kind of art I would purchase from a professional artist.

  • Sreyas Krishnan
    Sreyas Krishnan
    February 3, 2016 12:50 pm

    This is my favorite one so far. The amount of detail is phenomenal. If you had made a video of the model being put together, it’d make for an excellent PBR commercial!

  • Beautiful Chachka – could make any mantel proud. It’d be great to see the paper mock-up. Did you walk away without slicing your hand?

  • Shawn Sprinkle
    Shawn Sprinkle
    February 3, 2016 12:47 pm

    That’s impressive that the bike has steering and rear suspension, must have taken you a long time to make all the parts precise.

  • David Holliman
    David Holliman
    February 3, 2016 12:47 pm

    Great work highlighting different parts of the can design at specific locations on the bike! I’m interested in learning more about your design for the front and back suspensions.

  • Jacob McCormick
    Jacob McCormick
    February 3, 2016 12:46 pm

    That’s an awesome piece of artwork, the level of detail is amazing.

  • Holy cow, it works too?! So cool. I dig the PBR look too- I’ve seen skis and snowboards with PBR logos on them, so that’s definitely an aesthetic in itself! That’ll be awesome on your shelf.

  • Wow. I a word… Detail. There is so much attention to detail in this project, it is astounding! I love the fact that the suspension works, the wheels turn, and steering works. Amazing.

  • Peter Brunsgaard
    Peter Brunsgaard
    February 3, 2016 12:45 pm

    I’m impressed! That’s really cool. Do you have a place in your house for it to sit? Getting the wheels and handlebars to turn was a nice touch.

  • Chip Bollendonk
    Chip Bollendonk
    February 3, 2016 12:45 pm

    I’m really impressed that you included moving parts in this model, it really ups the quality of the project. I think that the PBR labels add a neat aesthetic. Thumbs up.

  • Meridith Richter
    Meridith Richter
    February 3, 2016 12:45 pm

    It is very impressive that all the parts move and work – looks very finished as well. Nice job!

  • I impressed at the level of detail you added to the project. Would you like to paint it in the future, or keep with the beer can aesthetic? You have poured a lot of time into the project and I am exceptionally impressed.

  • sick model. I am in love with cafe racers and am looking to start my own build very soon. great idea and it turned out even better!

  • The bike came out really well! Using matching cans made it look like a themed bike design.

  • Gardner Nichols
    Gardner Nichols
    February 3, 2016 12:44 pm

    I really like your model! I loved looking at models like this as a kid. I really like the wheels and the fact that it moves is really cool. I’m impressed, nice job!

  • What kind of iterations did you go through with the design? Did it turn out how you wanted it do? I can’t imagine how annoying it must have been to work with all that aluminum.

  • Brittany Warly
    Brittany Warly
    February 3, 2016 12:44 pm

    This is amazing and impressive! From afar it doesn’t look like you recycled aluminum. It looks professional and turned out great. Awesome job on the detail and realistic look.

  • Rachel Grosskrueger
    Rachel Grosskrueger
    February 3, 2016 12:43 pm

    I love how you strategically placed each part of the cans on your bike. The wheels are amazing and really add a realistic element to your bike! Very well done and very good attention to detail!


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