Customising classic bikes is a contentious issue. On one side there’s the chrome buffing brigade who’ll bemoan the use of an incorrect type of zinc passivated coating for carburettor idle screws and then there are those who don’t give a shit. Some folk will take an angle grinder to absolutely anything on the basis that it’s an inanimate object carrying zero nostalgic value outside that stored in the owner’s head. Then there are those somewhere in the middle ground, those who appreciate history but are keen to add their own chapter to a bike’s story.
Ricardo Santos from Elemental Rides in Porto, Portugal is one such dweller of the middle ground and as such the perfect candidate to inject creativity and vigour into a sad old relic from Britain’s engineering glory days.
His story is a familiar one. A man destined to express his mechanical passion through customising motorcycles whilst holding down a normal day job to pay one’s way through life. Rick’s finger is closer to the pulse than some, he’s been a cycle mechanic for many years and acquired the skills and tools needed to bring his imagination to life. His workshop is meagre though and he tries to carry out all of the work himself, which has delayed this project somewhat. That and fatherhood taking precedent over bike building.
This 1961 Norton Dominator 88 is Rick’s second build and as you can see, he’s not messing around. Inspired by the Domiracers produced by the Norton Works Team, ‘Baryta’ is an homage to race bikes from a purer era. Rick sums up the project saying “The main concept behind this build was to create the ultimate Domi(street)racer. Retaining the sixties components and technological rusticity, this bike has been completely rethought to achieve modern standards of reliability and performance. I wanted a modern look, with maximum respect for the technology available 50 or so years ago.”
The Norton 88 was the first to trial the Reynolds made Featherbed frame and therefore makes for a fabulous cafe racer donor. Being wonderfully curvaceous with plenty of room around the powerplant, the Featherbed is not only iconic in its design but perfectly proportioned for modern day customising. It takes a particularly hamfisted person to make a complete horlicks café-ing one of these. To highlight this further Rick smoothed away any rogue tabs and prepped the tubes for many coats of gleaming white paint.
The brazed Reynolds tubing literally frames that gorgeous 500cc twin like a work of art hanging in a gallery. The engine itself was stripped completely and rebuilt using quality components, with a degree of tuning of course. It would be rude not to unleash a few extra horses whilst the thing laid naked on the bench. Rather than a peaky race spec Rick opted for a fast road state of tune, trading a smidge of peak power for torque, drivability and importantly, reliability. Baryta starts first kick and runs sweetly on a new electronic ignition system. And those megaphones, they must sound fantastic. If ever there was a noise to sum up an era it’s a Brit twin blaring through a pair of these, especially mounted high-up at near ear level.
A full rewire is always a must on bikes of this age and Rick took his time here, hiding as much as possible. Lighting is LED throughout to reduce draw on the system allowing for the use of a tiny lithium battery. A keyless ignition negates the need for a clunky switch to spoil the view of the fabulous drilled yokes.
To wipe away the years and gain a distinctly contempary finish Rick liberally covered the Norton with black paint and powder coat. The engine, carbs, wheels, drum brakes, fork legs and exhaust all look meaner in their new, less shiny coating accented by polished inspection covers.
About the only task not credited to Rick’s handiwork was the ribbed leather seat. This was outsourced to a friend but his choice of colour is commendable. Dark green against aluminium, I’ve come over all giddy looking through my retro, rose-tinted racing goggles.
Perhaps my favourite part of this build though is the oil tank, mounted in side the tail. These old wet sumped engines usually sport a rather unsporting vessel crammed in above the gearbox and behind the carbs. Exactly the spot that new wave custom fans want to see fresh air. The addition of an external filler completes the racy presence, lining up with the Monza cap on the fuel tank. The aluminium work is wonderfully formed yet finished with a few flaws remaining to indicate the handmade nature of the build. Against the low sheen black everywhere else the raw metal looks perfect.
The tail, seat pan and fuel tank are joined to form a single, flowing unibody. Rick called in a favour from another friend to ensure leak free ally welding but I can’t knock him for that. Oil leaking over the back wheel and fuel sloshing onto your own back wheels, neither something you’d want to experience as a rider.
If you hadn’t gathered already, Rick is a dedicated chap. He’s now ditched the day job and has embarked on bike building full-time. Luckily for us he allowed himself a short break to drive all the way over from Portugal with his mate Nuno Capello to Bike Shed London 2016, along with Baryta and Nuno’s stunning Ducati Pantah. Both bikes didn’t just hold their own against the cream of the European custom scene, they caused a stir. All weekend people were telling me to go and check out the Portuguese guys in the end room. I didn’t need to, Rick had arrived early and I allowed myself a long 5 minutes to sit and soak in his creation. Easily one of my favourite bikes of the show.
If you’re as smitten as me, you could be in luck. Rick needs to fund the next build and sadly, for him at least, the love affair with Baryta is over and the bike is for sale. Get in touch Web | Facebook | Instagram