Florida, like California, has a large motorcycle population thanks to the mostly year-round riding environment. This nearly perfect climate was reason enough for John Gatti to move from his hometown in nearby Baton Rouge, Louisiana, to South Florida. Drawn into the world of drag racing at the young age of 15, a lack of funds upon his arrival in Florida meant he had to learn to make his own performance parts. As his skills grew over the years, so did his goal of owning his own shop, one where he could design and build the one-off bikes spinning around in his imagination – a wild mix of vintage racing heritage melded with streetfighter personalities.
Fast forward to 2006 and we see Gatti taking over an existing business, Spider Racing, that today functions as a full-service shop focused on 1970s and ’80s bikes.
“We like doing anything off the wall, a true one-off and nothing ever duplicated,” says Gatti. “There’s no real traditional category or name for the kind of bikes we do. They’re not just a bobber, dragster, hillclimber, board track racer or café racer. They’re hybrids. And we can also build the bike exactly the way you want it, whatever the motor.”
Gatti’s pair of bikes below demonstrate the range of his interests and talents.
Kawi Café Hillclimber Dragster
John Gatti was an early fan of drag racing, and the bike seen here captures that excitement in a street-legal way. Based around a freshened up 1982 Kawasaki KZ750 twin-cylinder engine, the bike retains about 25% of the original frame so that legal registration isn’t a problem.
Otherwise the rest of the rigid-framed design was inspired by the old car-tire dragsters John used to race. Up front is an aftermarket Harley-Davidson style springer fork, while the wheels are also H-D. All the sheet metal, as well as the exhaust was made in Gatti’s shop. Says John, “When you make these oddball Japanese bikes there are no parts you can buy, so you do it yourself, and just try to keep it clean and simple.”
As far as the ride, John notes, “It’s a rigid with a springer, so it’s not a Gold Wing, but it’s still a pretty comfortable ride. In fact, it’s my regular ride and I often do 100 miles a day.”
Because the original starters were a bit weak, John relied on his drag racing experience by mounting two batteries, making 24 volts, to make sure there was sufficient cranking power to get things started. The 21-inch front wheel is fitted with an Avon Speedmaster. An 18-inch Bridgestone sits in the rear. The finish is satin blue. Added to the combination of silver frame and white wheels and cases, the painter called the bike “Super Hero.”
8 1/2 – Gone in a Fraction of a Second
Perhaps the most radical of the Spider bikes is one John calls 8 1/2. The motor came out of a 1973 Honda CB360 Twin with everything else hand crafted.
“That bike is more a sculpture than a rider,” says Gatti, “although it is functional and rideable. It was an exercise in fabrication. A friend was in the shop one night and asked me if I had ever done a single-sided frame for a bike (as opposed to the double-cradle frame like the blue Kawasaki earlier), so we started working on that bike with no real plan, and it grew as we went along.
“It ended up with the long wheelbase, hill-climb look,” Gatti continues, “so we added the 18-inch chunky Avon Enduro tires and let it go from there. If it looked cool we were going to do it. One of the pieces people like the most is the solid front end tucked in so close to the frame.”
Asked why he tagged it as 8 ½, Gatti explains, “It was the eighth bike I had built and since it was a single-sided construction, it was only half of a frame, so we came up with the name.”
Vintage floorboards were found for $5 at a swap meet. The hand-shifter is topped with a vintage crystal doorknob from his mom’s house in Louisiana built in 1920. The glass gas tank cap is something John sells and comes as a kit that will fit about any tank. A very long 1-into-2 carburetor manifold channels a single Mikuni into the twin cylinders. To prevent burning the valves, the very short pipes are fitted with staggered internal baffles that solve back-pressure issues.