Superleggera isn’t a term that even the most patriotic and loyal Moto Guzzi employee would have been able to use to describe even the racier versions of their old V11. It’s the character and charm at the heart of this heavy old Hector that appealed to many though, including Paul Milbourn. Paul has form when it comes to completely over engineering bikes. He’s the sort of chap I admire, eminently skilful with a distinct lack of self questioning.
Why take an old air-cooled lump of a bike and remake it out of titanium? There’s only one answer… because you can.
Although the plan was to build the ultimate lightweight Guzzi that’d hold its own at custom shows, Paul wanted a bike that’d handle properly when ridden hard. Polished show pony this isn’t. He had the epiphany to use titanium but it wasn’t long before the material’s contempt for craftspeople and engineers became obvious. Thankfully for us commitment and dedication won the battle. Heck, if BSA could build a Ti ‘crosser in 1965 then surely it was worth a go.
For those that don’t know, Titanium is a particularly awkward metal and above 400 degrees it reacts with nitrogen and oxygen in the atmosphere making welding the stuff impossible without a perfect argon shield. You can run a massive gas cup, purge the tubes with argon and even seal the job in a nuclear style chamber and operate the TiG torch through massive rubber gauntlets. The latter is how a lot of high-end pushbike frames are made but Paul’s workshop allowed only for the purge and surgically clean preparation method. Combined with weapons grade patience.
Starting from scratch the frame backbone was made using grade 5 Ti, with 6% aluminium and 4% vanadium in mix. The engine hangers, subframe and swingarm are CP3 grade 2 which is slightly easier to cold-form into bends and curves. The geometry is different to the stock bike too, with a 20mm reduction in wheelbase and steeper 25° head angle. Under that swooping bodywork is a complicated structure of bracing tubes to control the chassis flex and internally the backbone meets the headstock with internal fins for additional strength.
The bodywork itself was shaped, by Paul, in aluminium. But not that soft generic 1050 stuff that you’ll find on most custom bikes (if you can find a builder these days who knows the difference) but 5251 and NS5 which is twice as hard and a pig to work with but he’s produced some complex curves and super-neat lines.
I like his attitude to the finish too, it’s been rubbed down with Scotbrite pads and buffed with normal metal polish, saying “I didn’t want it too shiny and when it gets stone chips you just rub them with the Scotch pad”
Machining parts was equally arduous. Titanium is similar to work with as 316 stainless and he spent nearly as much time sharpening cutting heads and replacing tips as he did on the jobs themselves. His workshop isn’t some multimillion pound, 5 axis array of CNC tech but a humble garage containing a Colchester student lathe and a Bridgeport mill. Bushes, rearsets, collars and brackets are all from Paul’s fair hand – nothing was bought-in.
With all this extreme engineering Paul wasn’t about to powdercoat the stock mechanicals and kick the Guzzi off the bench. The motor has been rebuilt to the same exacting standards as the rest of the bike. The intakes are of course titanium, as are the meshed bellmouth filters. Not fixed to the Lectron flat-slide carbs by Jubilee Clip but a multi grub-screwed collar. And the soundtrack is provided by perfectly blued Ti headers and stubby upswept mufflers. The loom is minimal, light and so neat it’s pretty much invisible.
The frontend is an Öhlins setup from a Ducati 1098 but the radially mounted Brembos are gone, replaced by Harrison Billet six pot calipers. Out back the single sided 1098 rear wheel is mounted to a heavily modified hub, with machined splines to mate with the Guzzi’s 45° shaft drive. The thought of combining this with the rear brake setup makes my brain hurt.
To match the front Öhlins was also used to suspend the rear, a near infinitely adjustable TTX shock should keep Paul’s tinkering hands occupied trackside. If you don’t recognise the backdrop used in this photoshoot, it’s the infamous Goodwood Circuit in W. Sussex. A quick track with no run-off, you definitely want your suspension to be properly setup.
There’s a whole myriad of other components Paul has made for this bike but I’m not really doing them justice with a bunch of text. All of these images are available full screen if you click on them but even better than that – the Paul Milbourn Customs Moto Guzzi Titanium will be exhibited at Bike Shed London 2017 in just 3 weeks time. Come check it out and get the answers to your questions straight from the horse’s mouth.
I’m not sure if Paul has family but if he has please can one of his mates send a photo of Paul to the home address, from the look of this build he hasn’t been around much lately.
Oh, and you wanted to know how light didn’t you….. 155kgs…Wet!
To see the bike in the metal click here
Images by Drew Irvine