Customs don’t come much more exclusive than this one-off commissioned by Triumph from UK-based Old Empire Motorcycles and built around the T120 Bonneville.
Called, simply, ‘Triumph’, it’s based on a standard T120 Black and the result is glorious. From the one-off, underslung, open pipes; hand-formed, leather sidepanels; 1960s tank; clean and uncluttered handlebars (there’s no switchgear, mirrors, indicators or even clocks) to the exquisite paint, everything about it reeks class and quality. And the idea is for it to inspire buyers to create their own specials - ideally around Triumph’s ever-expanding accessories range. As such you’ll be able to admire it on Triumph’s stand at Motorcycle Live at the NEC.
Alec Sharp, OEM’s founder, told MCN they had no specific brief but that the idea was to apply a “Steve McQueen, ISDT, On any Sunday type off-road style – but without compromising practicality too much.” So, although minimalist, it qualifies for a daytime MoT.
So it’s got: stock T120 Black wire wheels on Metzeler Sahara knobblies; re-finished Triumph calipers and discs with cleverly hidden master cylinder; one-off nose cowling; Renthal Fatbars with OEM’s own switchless levers; one-off tank remodelled from a 1960s T120 item with OEM’s machined, screw-in filler cap; standard T120 engine but with ‘OEM’ name plates and one-off, AC Cobra-inspired open twin stainless pipes; reconfigured injector bodies complete with bellmouths to replicate 1960s open carbs; hand-formed leather sidepanels and quilted leather saddle; customised, multi-adjustable Fox twin shocks; ‘chopped and looped’ rear subframe and more. Got all that? Phew!
But although, admittedly, conceived mostly for form rather than function and built primarily for show, not go, this wouldn’t be a First Ride and it couldn’t truly be considered a motorcycle if we didn’t see how it went – and boy, it does that impressively well, too.
On board OEM’s creation reminds of a slimmer Bonnie, thanks to the new tank and seat, yet one with a slight scrambler style, due to the Fatbars. Then with no switchgear and clocks, let alone mirrors and indicators, you’re briefly flummoxed (although I rode it with Alec’s iPhone clipped on which, via a Bluetooth-synched app OEM are developing, displays a ‘Smiths’ tacho and speedo – clever).
I needn’t have worried: turn the conventional ignition key (which is hidden behind the bars), reach down with your left hand to the brass knob mounted into the leather sidepanel and pull – and it instantly fires into a cacophony of open pipe noise. Yes, it’s a procedure that sounds a little Heath Robinson and, in truth, it is. But it is somehow charmingly brilliant.
And after that it’s surprisingly conventional. The T120 motor is as urgent as ever with its raw pleasure heightened by the vicious exhaust noise. The mostly-unchanged chassis is predictable and neutral, albeit with a slightly firmer ride (thanks to the Fox shocks and thinner saddle). The front brake is a touch dull (due to the remote master-cylinder being operated by a cable from the lever); yet even the knobbly tyres (and I’m more critical than most about ‘cosmetic’ tyres on the road) were up to the job. In short: I had a blast.
Engine Liquid-cooled, 8v, DOHC, 1200cc parallel twin
Power (claimed) 79bhp @ 6550rpm
Torque (claimed) 77ftlb @ 3100rpm
Capacity 10 litres (approx.)
Frame Tubular steel
Whether the noisy, off-road, minimalist, daytime-only style is to your taste or not, you can’t argue with the glorious execution and detailing. The pull-knob starter is genius, the brass and leather details exquisite.
Who are Old Empire Motorcycles?
Old Empire Motorcycles were founded by Alec Sharp and Rafe Pugh, about four years ago as a bespoke custom builder with the intention of creating a handful of one-off machines annually to the very highest standards.
Operating out of an impressive yet charmingly rustic workshop/office building in a converted barn in the glorious British countryside near Diss, Norfolk, its design themes, as its name suggests, are Great British automotive, aeronautic and maritime history. Think: Supermarine Spitfire, 1930s Bentleys, Brooks bicycle saddles, brown leather and hand-turned brass fittings with a dash of steam punk thrown in and you’ll start to get the idea. On top of that, the aim is to design and create as many of their components as possible in Britain – either on site or through an extensive network of craftsmen.
The resulting machines have so far have proved both unlike any other and impressively successful – enough to start earning commissions from the likes of Triumph. To date, around 15 bikes have been completed, ranging from the Royal Enfield-based ‘Pup’, to the Kawasaki W650-derived ‘Merlin’, to the Ducati SS-powered ‘Typhoon’ (and, yes, there is a deliberately British aircraft theme to the bikes’ names so the latter is more Hawker than Eurofighter). Most have been featured in magazines and on websites around the world; many have been award winners in their own right.
In addition to bikes (which, with prices starting at well over £20K are not within reach of everybody), OEM also create and sell, via their slick website, a range of not just clothing but also smaller, individual custom items, such as their leather grips and brass fuel caps which, starting at just over £100, are far more accessible to most.
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