When factories dip their toes into the world of custom building, it’s all too easy to smell a corporate stunt and dismiss the outcome as driven by research marketing and designed to drive ROI, but in this case Triumph have, well, triumphed, by challenging their own staff to contest an in-house build off – all on a voluntary basis and in their own time, and the results speak for themselves. There are no catalogue items lined-up to launch a range of accessories, and the boys at the factory have pulled no punches in rebuilding major components while throwing the EU regs out of the window with a pair of bikes that should have the pro custom builders out there checking their own levels of engineering ambition and creativity. Pulling off a factory custom build in the glaring public eye of social media with the most discerning and cynical audience imaginable meant just one thing: Knock our socks off – or die trying.
Triumph decided to pit their internal teams against each other in a build-off that started back in May, and the finished bikes were revealed at the Milan show this week. The only thing we can complain about is that it’s a competition so one team has to be declared the winner. To me, both bikes are stand-out custom builds, and I’d hate to have to split them and pronounce one better than the other… although I’ll be eating my words at the MCN show in two weeks time when I’ve been asked to help do exactly that. Ouch.
Each of the teams was given a new Bonneville to play with, but with so many posh parts available in the factory, plus more than a few skilled machinists and engineers, it was clear from the outset that these weren’t going to be cookie-cutter customs. The heat was on…
TFC1: The Bobber
A traditional bobber was out of the question for a team who count three Bonnie customs and a chopped V8 amongst their own personal vehicles. Their build was to be a single-sided, twin-tube hard-tail with a girder front end supported by twin Fox factory shocks with a remote bar-mounted adjustor. The rear-end features a seat supported by a third Fox unit and adjustable linkage, and also houses a Radianz LED light in two neat strips.
The cylinders have been reversed, turning the carbs and bellmouths to the front of the bike, allowing a super-clean exhaust to exit at the rear, while the engine internals were completely reworked. The engine remains fuel-injected, with all the electronic sensors that are required stuffed into one half of a split tank sourced from a ’69 Bonnie US Export. Start and kill buttons were added to the dummy half, which also contains a reduced loom and bespoke electronics board, along with a MotoGadget speedo and keyless ignition. The other side of the tank houses the fuel, the fuel injection pump and filters, and is finished with a pop-up fuel cap.
Astonishingly, the frame parts have been glued together (ok, “bonded”) with some hi-tech bespoke adhesive by ThreeBond, to allow a weld-free finish. We assume it’s all safe and proper! Four-pot brake calipers make sure the beast pulls up to a sharp stop and of course the wheels had to be wire-spoked.
TFC 2: The Scrambler
We see plenty of Triumph scramblers here on the Bike Shed, and some of them are stunners, so it’s all the more impressive how far this build stands out in such a densely-populated crowd. The team’s goal was to take on the genre with a build that was more than a simple nod to the old desert sleds and trackers that many of us aspire to. This build was going to be all about performance, handling and genuine off-road ability.
Before their donor Bonnie had even reached the bench the team had decided on their approach, which was to match the geometry and suspension travel of a modern competition motorcrosser, coupled with a properly uprated power plant. The exisiting steel frame was ditched in favour of a bespoke aluminium unit with light weight and aggressive geometry. It also served to hide all the throttle linkages and cables. The subframe was built from titanium, hand welded in-house before being finished with shot-blast and masked welds. …Trick enough for you yet?
The single-sided swingarm was pinched from a Speed Triple, which we can only assume is tucked away around the back, standing on a wooden block. It’s been inverted and modified – and it looks wicked. This setup required a mono-shock conversion, which benefits from a Nitron Racing System shock which is paired with a set of bespoke forks up front, and radial calipers don’t hurt either.
You’ll note the finish on the fuel tank, and by now will have realised that it’s unlikley to be 3M carbon-look wrap. Ace Fibreglass & Carbon assisted the team by producing a full carbon tank, plus battery tray and a few other bits of bodywork. The tank alone weighs less than a third of the original item, continuing the theme of weight-loss coupled with power-gain.
Those power gains come from a host of tweaks, including skimmed and ported heads, with large valves and Daytona throttle bodies, matched to a set of modified spun aluminium inlet trumpets. The team also engineered a one-off set of high-lift cams matching the Daytona profile. Although the bike hasn’t been dyno’d the team expect a full 25% increase in power.
Taking the grunt to the dirt are a pair of 17 inch Kineo wheels fitted with chunky treaded 180 rear and 130 front tyres, which is more supermoto than scrambler, but it should also provide flickable handling and great traction on the road – even on those Continental knobblies.
To sum it up, Triumph set themselves a potentially horrible challenge. The custom bike scene isn’t built around modern manufacturer’s bikes, and we all love to complain about the corporate vibe of the modern motorcycle marketing machine, but these two teams have put their heart and soul into two of the most authentic and original builds we’ve seen for a while, and they did it all under wraps and with minimal fanfare. Hats off to the teams, and to the business, for giving them free reign to do what few other manufacturers would dare to do in-house.
The tough part? Now you have to vote for your preferred build. If we were in charge, both would come equal first. Vote HERE. And if you come to the NEC in a couple of weeks time, you’ll see the bikes there.