Alec & Rafe at Old Empire Motorcycles continue to put their Best of British stamp on the new wave café racer custom scene with their modern-retro styling cues and a young, fresh “why not?” attitude to bike building. This latest build is their seventh, and picks up on their more recent journey from Enfield Bobbers into re-imagining middleweight Japanese bikes into a British Brat style, with shades of El Solitario mixed-up with WWII Bomber-command. It’s cool, unique and it works.
The Bulldog is built around a 1998 Yamaha Virago xv535. This was not a cool bike when it came out, but thanks to the vision of builders like Classified Moto & Doc’s chops the lowly XV engine has been allowed to shine through beyond the plastic Easy-Rider styling. Alec & Rafe had this bike lying around the workshop for a while and just couldn’t look at it any longer, so out came the cutting disc.
The guys have pretty strong views about the inherent potential of a bike and feel that many older Jap bikes really suit a stocky Brat-style stance, so they wanted this look for the 535. They fitted a set of upside-down forks up-front and re-laced the wheels to 16inch rims to accommodate a set of fat Avon SM Mk2 tyres. The rear shocks are actually dummy USD units designed to complement the look of the front end.
The foot controls were left in the original set-up as they looked fine and the riding position worked well, but the tank had to go, so it was swapped for an old Japanese sportsbike tank that the guys have now forgotten the origins of (looks like a GPz550?). The internals were scooped out and it was made into a simple shell. Velocity stacks were mounted onto turrets in the backbone airbox while the exhaust is made in 2.5 inch stainless steel. The Tacho and Speedo were provided by Koso and the rear light is LED.
Stylistically, the bike is all about mesh and leather, with a custom mesh cowl wrapping the twin headlamps above and below, and twin meshed indents in the dummy tank. The beige/gold in the mesh matches the upside down fork stanchions and continues on to the beige indents in the tank. The black leather side panels masquerade as mini side-bags, complementing the hand-tooled leather in the grips and footpegs, along with the diamond-stitched seat, made by GB Upholstery.
The paintwork was taken care of by Black Shuck Customs in matt silver, while all the aluminium was given a scotch finish, leaving the whole bike in three subtle tones; matt silver bodywork & metalwork, the beige gold of the mesh and suspension, and black leather. It’s all very classy.
They’ve named the bike “Bulldog” after the Bristol Bulldog, a Royal Air Force single seat biplane fighter designed in the 1920s. Suits you, sir. …The guys tell us; “She runs like a dream and goes like the clappers now she breaths more easily. The ride is firm, but she handles surprisingly well considering the tyres.”
The best thing about this bike is that it’s recognisably the work of Old Empire Motorcycles, which is no mean feat. Balancing originality & creativity with practical desireability is an artform, and almost certainly testament to the way Alec & Rafe work. They now render all their builds with the aid of custom motorcycle artist Martin Squires rather than using CAD. It lends an organic element to an otherwise engineering-driven process, but still provides a very clear design canvas that the guys can build to.
Next up for the guys are some customer-driven commissions, so we look forward to seeing how they turn out. Meanwhile you can see more from Alec & Rafe at Old Empire Motorcycles here on their Bike Shed OEM pages, or on their own Website.