Old Empire Motorcycles 'Tucano'
By Ross Sharp - 10 Oct 16
Old Empire Motorcycles aren't known for building grubby hooligan bikes, preferring to concentrate on the super clean profiles that can really only be achieved with a café racer style. Chief engineer Alec Sharp spends hours painstakingly re-tunnelling fuel tanks and drilling suspension shims to produce a slammed yet graceful silhouette. Handlebars are an awkward visual obtrusion which thankfully in clipon form can be discreetly tucked away. All well and good until a customer puts in a request for a distinguished dirt bike. Streamlined OCD would need to give way to plastic ugliness, or would it? As you can imagine the OEM inbox is filled with a constant stream of enquiries from far and wide so Alec and Rafe have integrated a degree of process before a bike even hits a bench. "All our commissioned bikes go through the same process beginning with a 5 point concept page which lays down the nitty gritty we need to know to get a good idea of what the customer wants. Basics like what and how often they intend to ride the finished bike, are they mechanically minded or do they wish to tinker with the carbs every now and then or do they just want to jump on it and ride - all questions which help us to deliver on a given brief. In this case we needed to create a motorcycle which was reliable, something that'd be a load of fun and could be hammered hard but also comfortably manage longer journeys. We settled on a 2013 Yamaha XT660X that was to look like a Brough Superior from a Mad Max movie." Choosing the X version of Yamaha's fabled XT brought the added bonus of being the 17 inch wheeled supermoto pretender but the plethora of stock plastic made Alec come over all queasy. Beneath though resides a nice old fashioned tubular cradle frame, ripe for modifying. The grinder went through a fair few discs on day one and the recycling bin was fit to bursting but OEM's first foray into off-roading began to take shape. The customer had specified the urge to hit a green lane or trail but wasn't planning on entering the Dakar so the front suspension travel could be compromised in favour of an aggressive stance. The rear shock remains standard with a degree of adjustability built-in which pitches the bike forward slightly, which should suit the sports bike riding owner more than a traditional sit-up-and-beg XT layout. The fork legs themselves have had all extraneous bracketry ground-off and smoothed before a wafer thin ceramic coating was applied. Continental TKX80 tyres offer the best combo of on-road grip with off-road confidence.
The XT's capacious plastic tank contained the fuel pump and sender unit which needed to be rehoused in a more aesthetically pleasing vessel. A Z400 tank had its underside chopped out and the essential gubbins grafted in. Despite there being zero chance of the owner ever looking underneath Alec was insistent on silicon bronze welding the mods in place, ever the perfectionist. Packaging was tight and a portion of the meagre fuel capacity has been hijacked but 100 mile range is still possible. When not lofting the front wheel at every opportunity that is. Local painters Blackshuck Kustom have perfected the distressed metal effect and despite this looking like raw steel waiting to rust it's actually layers of silver with a brushed finish.
Atop the reworked subframe is a saddle that looks as though it's been upcycled from a well aged chesterfield sofa but it did in fact start out life as virginal, untreated leather. Having a bit of a penchant for traditional materials Alec and Rafe have perfected hand dying hides to give the illusion of many generations of patina. Unobtrusive side pouches offer a modicum of tool storage but being such a bombproof and low mileage donor there should be little chance of breakdown so perhaps a hip flask and some picnic condiments could be stashed for more adventurous green lane excursions.
The burly single was relieved of its cumbersome airbox and high-level silencer, replaced with a simple cone filter and stainless, handmade exhausts. A balance pipe and short baffles provide enough back pressure for the twin-port head to breathe properly but to ensure smooth, cough-free tractability the XT was setup on the rollers at X-Bikes. Despite their rural location in deepest Norfolk OEM are blessed with an abundance of local talent to support their projects.
One person who isn't local though is Will Valentine from London Motorcycle Wiring who was drafted into run a miniaturised loom to not only the stock Yamaha components but to also incorporate OEMs own brand of switchgear and Motogadget M-blaze Pin indicators. A slimline battery box beneath the saddle houses a small Li-po battery and as much of the electrical guff as possible to leave an uncluttered a view of the mechanicals. The original seat latch allows quick access to the Power Commander and trickle charger lead.
These photos might suggest the OEM Tucano is a style piece built to nestle amongst a wealthy man's collection of two-wheeled exotica. Far, far from it. We've seen the video footage of the bike being thoroughly tested and ridden hard across rough terrain and it wasn't spared any right wrist action just because it's handsome. The owner wanted a stylish and practical tool for riotously rolling through town and tearing up the countryside at weekends. Having heard the Tucano running at the DGR ride in London a couple of weeks ago the hills will definitely be alive with the sound of thumping music.
Check out OEM's range of switchgear, grips, pegs and accessories here.
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Images by Will Chamberlin