I got into customising bikes, not because I was artistically or mechanically motivated, but because the bikes the manufacturers were producing just didn’t excite me. They all had ugly compromises to price, quality, performance and the environment. I was permanently glued to forums and website catalogue shops, improving my ride-of-the-moment in any way I could, and this is what led me to the extremes of the custom scene, where bolt-on pipes and tail tidies gave way to chopping, welding, machining and rebuilding.
Back in 2011 it was the Ducati Sport Classic that persuaded me away from the ever more angular bike sports bike designs into timeless retro-styling, but what also struck me about that particular bike was that there wasn’t much work to do to make the bike match up to my own design and performance expectations. For years it was the only modern (ish) manufactured bike I wanted. I ended up owning three models. A Biposto, the Paul Smart and now a modified GT1000 (more on that soon). If you wanted to match evergreen design with performance on a modern bike, there simply weren’t any other options – which is why all the models in the Sport Classic range are now so super-expensive second-hand.
Fast forward to October 2015 and Triumph cheekily launched their new Thruxton R in metallic silver livery, with an optional dolphin-nosed bikini fairing, 2-into-2 race pipes and single seat cowl that was more than nod to Ducati’s Paul Smart version of the Sport Classic. As an owner of a rare PS1000 I got the chance to make a direct side-by-side comparison. Even before I got to test ride the Thruxton R, the first headline that popped into my head was; “Out-Smarted”. Triumph had certainly nailed the look. Test rides in Portugal in the spring of 2016 confirmed what we all hoped. The bike worked. In fact it REALLY worked. We were sold. Ok. Let’s be honest. I was sold, and I wanted one.
Selling the kids wasn’t really an option, and with the amount of whisky I consume I didn’t want to spare a kidney on eBay either, so I formed a plan to work with Triumph on a Bike Shed collaboration build that would pick-up where we left off with 2015’s Down & Out Customs’ T100 project, which had also been supported by the team at Hinckley.
Firstly, I fancied the standard Thruxton rather than the R. I do like beefy upside down forks and radial Brembo stoppers can’t be faulted, but I wasn’t a big fan of the anodized gold Showa forks and the Öhlins yellow springs, simply because it’s a bit of a “look, my bike has performance parts” cliché – plus, insiders at the factory had already mentioned that the RWU-forked standard bike actually worked just as well on normal roads, and probably better in the city, while it was exactly the same engine and performance, and I don’t mind using two fingers instead of one on the brake lever.
Triumph agreed – but they were keen to launch the bike build with a really modest level of work, not even a chop’n’loop. They wanted enough tweaks to inspire potential new owners do go one step beyond Triumph’s own inspiration kits and catalogue parts, but to a level that could be achieved in someone’s garage while keeping the complete integrity of the donor bike. The challenge really was – How little could to be done to this factory bike to make to make it as desirable as anything out there, at almost any price.
Underneath all this, my personal brief was to take on two of the best-looking manufactured bikes of recent times – the Ducati Sport Classic and the Norton Dominator – and see how little could to be done to the already stunning Thruxton to out-do the looks of both those bikes, as the performance was already proven.
My first stop was Adobe’s Photoshop and some library shots of the standard bike. The rules were simple: Back to basics, stripped-down looks, minimal mods, and mostly using parts from the Triumph catalogue, colours from the Triumph paint shop and maybe a few cheeky parts from other Triumph models in the new range. It was also to be a work-in-progress build. Triumph would get the ball rolling, fitting some of their inspiration parts, plus bits I wanted to raid from other models and they’d sort the paint. After that, it was down to me to find and add new bits, to keep the story going – and reflect the life of a bike that any owner would want to keep upgrading and improving over time – as many of us already do.
The first pass of this mini-build is very modest. Firstly, we sorted out anything that was too big or sticking out too far, pulling everything in to the centre of the bike – starting at the front. I wanted to give the bike a hunkered down look, with a bit more café. The clip-ons needed to be lower, so we went down two levels from the standard bike’s setup to the clip-ons from the kit that is required fitment to match the optional fairing. With the bars about 4 inches lower and more steeply angled I also wanted to pull the clocks down and visually bring the headlight closer to the forks, so the headlight was switched to a simpler bucket and lens from the Street Twin – without the new-fangled LED running lights – and we machined-out the headlamp bracket cross-brace and powerdercoated that and the headlamp rim black. The clocks were also angled down a few degrees from standard, maybe not best for avoiding reflections, but it does look neater and more compact. The yellow lens is just something I like personally. It takes me back to travelling in Europe in the 70s & 80s, when we had to paint our lenses yellow – but in London it also makes a bike stand-out at night amongst all the pairs of car headlights. (This one is painted, but I normally use a thick film called Lamin-X.)
Along with losing the big rear fender and large retro rear light cluster to reduce the bike’s visual mass, I’m also a big fan of black rims, as I like the way they blend into the tyres and help pull they eye back to the heart of the bike – the engine. For no particular reason I also swapped the chain to a gold X-ring, but that says more about my off-road/supermoto roots than anything else. We also blacked out the heel plates and the perforated cover that sits behind the injectors – to bring focus back to the brushed steel engine covers and shiny fins.
For several years it’s been THE thing to lose airboxes, add big filters and hide batteries and electrics, but with so much going on in this super-modern bike we knew that was not an easy option (and something Triumph didn’t want us to do) so I tried to give the sidepanels a bit more of a hot-rod look, with matte black finish and extra drilled/meshed holes – again something we used to do to all our supermotos back in the day – although then it was about airflow rather than just cosmetics. The Hoxton badge was intended as a bit of a joke – to take a poke at the hipster haters and referring to our location in Shoreditch, just opposite Hoxton Square – but despite being told it was a crap idea, it somehow slipped into the paint brief and on to the final bike. Now I really like it, but it does generate some polarised comments.
There was literally nothing to be done to improve on the tank and seat design, apart from a lick of paint on the tank – which is now a light metallic silver from the Tiger range, and the addition of an aftermarket seat cowl/cover which was also painted matt black. The bike was originally specced to have a tank strap (as per the R) but in the flesh I thought it was one heritage part too far, as it’s not really functional, so I took it off. I think the bike looks better without it, and it allows the stunningly sculptured tank to dominate.
Finally, the bike needed to be delivered with the race pipes. Not sure I really need to explain why! On the standard Thruxton these are chrome to match the chromed headers. They were also matched to chrome rocker covers, which are an aftermarket option. However, these are the first things I will change when we get to the next round of spannering.
The final tweaks were as low-level as it gets. A few badges from the recently launched Bobber, adjustable levers, and we fitted Triumph’s aftermarket indicators and a tail tidy. These are actually really good – well made, easy to fit and they really do look the part. Aftermarket parts makers will have their work cut out to compete.
The pics here are how the bike is now – a start-up build; waiting for the next round of tweaks, followed by much more in the next 12 – 24 months. I already have the next box of components to fit – Vance & Hines stainless steel headers and race cans with vapour blasted collars, a black bash plate (to hide the shiny cat). I’ve also got a set of Triumph’s own barrel-shaped grips and throttle tube, which I’ve previously discovered are much more than a cosmetic nod back to the 1970s. They actually provide better grip and an easier twist on the throttle.
Also on the list for the bike’s next public showing (well in time for our Tobacco Dock show in May) are Öhlins Blackline (i.e. no yellow spring) STX rear shocks and a set of high-end RWU43 forks, which are just waiting for new yokes from LSL to make a bolt-on fit. I might also change the OEM tyres to a set of totally unnecessary Dunlop Mutants. If you’ve ever used a set, you’ll know just how sticky these are and how good they look, with a race-wet tread-pattern.
After the May show I’m hoping to do floating front disc conversion and some alternative options for the indicators, and don’t tell Triumph (doh) but at some point I’d like to remove the cat. [Ross – The cat’s out of the bag now, Dutch].
The main point of this project is that it’s NOT a custom-bike story at all. It’s part of the new world order in biking: Manufacturers building standard bikes that look back to their design heritage as well as forwards to new technology, and high consumer expectations in performance and handling. Add-on some factory-designed custom parts and there’s little left to do for the talented choppers, welders and spannerists out there. However, what this new phenomenon will do is sort out the men from the boys in the build scene, as proper builds will demand more real work and fabrication to stand out from the factory-built, aftermarket crowd. D&O built a fantastic looking Thruxton hot-rod for last year’s show at Tobacco Dock, and we know of one or two more stunning custom Thruxtons that should be ready for Bike Shed London 2017.
…but for Bike Shed regulars and the die-hard customs builders out there, what do ‘custom-lite’ projects like this mean for the custom scene in general?
As a rider/owner, I’m chuffed to bits, because I can now have a unique bike much more easily and affordably than before, and if anything goes wrong it’s straight back to Jack Lilley’s, or whoever, for a warranty repair. But as a custom aficionado and supporter of the grass-roots scene, I don’t think the good custom bike builders will lose out. Bikes like this just make the custom scene more accessible and more acceptable.
Bikers that want a real custom ride will always go their own way and commission or build something more unique, but now, the riders who don’t have the cash for a custom build, or those who want a head-turning special that doesn’t void their warranty, can ride around on something more bespoke, more timeless, more desirable and generally better made.
MJ Studio popped in last week to test some new lighting gear, so it seemed fitting to offer up the Thruxton as a subject. Click images to view full size.