America has lots of things we don’t have here in the UK. Deserts for sledding in, canyons for carving, sun for soaking up and a man called Max Hazan. We can’t match the geographical splendour of a land across the pond but we do have two young lads called Rafe and Alec who are combining art and engineering to dramatic effect. Old Empire Motorcycles have upped their game with each project and now offer commission builds for those demanding something a little more unique.
In their words “The OEM Imperial Collection showcases the one or two motorcycles we are able to build annually ourselves without compromise to design. We do not build from a predetermined layout but let the design develop organically as the build progresses of which the end result is without compare”.
This is the first creation from the Imperial Collection. Typhoon started out life as a humble Ducati 900SS, a 1995 vintage, but only keen spotters will recognise the section of trellis frame and open clutch as a visual clue. Well, that and Ducati stamped on the engine casing. The rest is ingenuity through painstaking craftsmanship. To save repetitive use of words like bespoke, custom and handmade simply know that everything described is just that.
The girder front end is a thing of real beauty, if you like old stuff from a golden era of engineering. A central spring is controlled by two friction dampers, adjusted by way of brass wing nuts. That beats two clicks on a set of Öhlins any day. Board track-racer bars set the scene and leave the rider in no doubt that this steed is about hunkering down, and getting intimate with the whirring, clattering, thumping mechanicals below. Dragstrip-esque positioned pegs ensure feet and hands are on the same hymn sheet.
Atop the heavily modified trellis frame perches a pair of siamese fuel tanks and a seat unit so radical, it works. Position the saddle lower down and the whole bike would instantly look bobber-ish. Bum high, knees tucked in, arms outstretched, wrists under duress and neck crooked; I can already hear the groans from the Pan European and GS riders. If the riding position bugs you that much, then I think you miss the point of this motorcycle altogether.
A Motogadget Tiny wasn’t going to cut the mustard here so the boys had their own gauges made. With proper calibration, if something is going to do 110mph, then have that on the clock not 150. Triple digit speeds on this thing must be a real rush.
If you’re into classic bikes then you’ll understand the slight trouser bulge generated by seeing a huge drum brake and stumpy spokes. It sums up speed perfectly, despite a role in it’s reduction. Here a vented, quad leading shoe unit up front and twin shoe version at the back are responsible for retardation, with Avon’s Roadriders applying the forces to the Tarmac.
In this shot you can see the large, single coil spring controlling travel of the girder fork. I love engineering and machinery, perhaps a bit too much, and am glad that Rafe & Alec share the same disease. If they could build a time machine so that we can all go back to the days of bike racing at Brooklands then I’ll put down the deposit.
Moody arty shot of hot girl’s pins, nice. Even with the lights on it’s tricky to see where the wiring loom has been hidden, but just in case you catch a glimpse, it was made using good old fashioned braided cabling. Buckled-down, leather satchels under the seat house the battery, relays etc.
That exhaust is going to sound loud and dirty, hopefully with a pop of flame on overrun.
Moody sky, far away glance; she’s done this before. Front-on the wheelset looks thin and must demand concentration. A bike to be slightly afraid of, knowing it could bite, I’m all for that.
EFi certainly wasn’t going to make the bill, nor a pair of Mikunis, not nearly imperial enough. A brace of Amal GP3 carburettors feeds the 904cc L-twin proving, if proof were needed, that OEM really know their onions and have a nostalgic foot planted firmly in the rich heritage of British manufacturing. In fact, the guys strive to use local and British firms wherever possible and are steadfast in their belief that this nation offers some of the finest products and skills anywhere in the world.
Normal throttles can be cumbersome and dull to look at, let alone twist. So in this case a bevel geared mechanism sends the signal to the Amals to stoke-up the firebox.
What you see here is a vision, combined with 18 months of hard work, a tanker full of midnight oil and buckets of elbow grease. With this new Imperial Collection Rafe and Alec are pushing their own boundaries and those of the current custom scene, for that we salute them and wait patiently for the next instalment.
Photo Credits go to Jon Mortimer & Richard Stow.