Most customs look nothing like a factory bike, with radical styling and, let’s face it, often dubious legality. But occasionally we see a machine that could have rolled straight off a production line.
This custom Sym Wolf looks it could have been a ‘retro’ made by a Japanese factory in the 1980s—with a similar vibe to bikes like the Honda GB500. But it’s the work of student Charlie Huang, who also gives us an interesting insight into Taiwanese custom culture.
Charlie lives in Taichung, but also spends time in California—where attends the renowned ArtCenter College of Design.
His bike is a 1994 Sym Wolf 125, which started life as a somewhat inelegant commuter tool. “It belonged to my uncle, until he passed it down to me in 2020,” Charlie tells us. “It had been my dream bike since I was a child, so I wanted to honor it—by enhancing it and bringing it back to life.” He started with a sketch.
Passing down motorcycles is common in Taiwan: young people often take on the bike used by a grandfather or father, and the Wolf has long been the most popular motorcycle in the country.
Customizing is less common though. “Due to a ban on large motorcycle imports in the late 60s, there was a big gap in our motorcycle culture,” Charlie explains. “This is why our custom bike culture started very late, and small-engine motorcycles are the main theme.”
Charlie’s goal was to not only rebuild the Wolf 125, but also enhance its styling and performance without resorting to the fat-tire, mini-bobber look that afflicts a lot of local customs.
“The biggest modifications here include a full engine and transmission rebuild. I upgraded the original four-speed transmission to a more efficient six-speed, and also increased the engine from 125 to 164 cc.”
To stay on the right side of the law, Charlie had to keep the powertrain cases, along with their stamped numbers. It helped that the Wolf 125 uses a development of the Honda CB/CG series powertrains, and some of the engine internals on this machine are now Honda CB125S parts.
The valves have also been enlarged and polished to accommodate the larger displacement, and a Keihin PE26 carb improves the fuel supply.
The transmission uses Chinese-made internals, and there’s a new high-spec FCC clutch plate too. For the exhaust pipe, Charlie sourced a handmade stainless steel header from a Taiwanese craftsman to create a beautiful curve, and added a SuperTrapp muffler.
Alongside is a modified swingarm that uses Kymco KTR parts, hooked up to a pair of adjustable RPM RR shocks. It’s not stretched: “A longer swingarm with big tires has a huge impact on small displacement motorcycles,” Charlie notes. “It makes the handling worse, and because of the small horsepower, large tires also reduce acceleration.”
The front fork is refurbished and shortened slightly to improve the stance. “Since there is no ideal triple tree on the market, I did 3D modeling and commissioned a CNC manufacturer to make a fully customized triple tree.”
For the tank, Charlie wanted to return the Wolf 125 to its perfect proportions, which came from the Honda CB125S. So he tracked down a CB100 K3 tank in Indonesia—which has the same outer shape as the CB125S—and changed the mounting points so that it would fit on the frame.
The wheels are Shanghai Unison vintage-style aluminum rims, in a F18/R17 set. The tires are Dunlop’s grippy TT900GP compound, in deliberately slim profiles to keep the handling crisp. Charlie’s kept the original rear drum brake, but chose Brembo calipers for the front—painted black to stay in tune with the color scheme.
The cafe racer-style tail was handmade by a Taiwanese sheet metal store, SanHe Garage, and Charlie had the subframe modified to accommodate a new rear fender.
The seat is upholstered with cowhide that Charlie dyed himself. A Taipei specialist helped with the shaping of the foam and the stitching.
Jeffrey Chang handled the sumptuous blue paint. “He’s a master painter in Taiwan, and has worked with many famous custom bike builders,” says Charlie. “The color of this bike was specially commissioned—it’s not an existing color in the market. I wanted a bright color that would contrast against the grey architecture of Taiwan.”
Virtually every smaller part on this Sym Wolf has been replaced or upgraded, right down to the lighting, the grips, and the speedo, which is a replica CB100 unit.
It’s an exercise in improving aesthetics without compromising performance, and it all hangs together beautifully.
Charlie’s goal was to show that smaller bikes don’t need to replicate the style of heavyweight machinery—and also to influence the local custom bike culture along the way. A laudable aim, and we hope he succeeds.
Charlie Huang Design Facebook Group | YouTube channel | Photography by Johnny Ho