Torque is one of those feelings that you first experience as a child, hopefully. The first time a grownup takes you out in a sports car and you get pinned back in the seat under hard acceleration, it’s addictive. Adolescence brings with it the fallacy that power is the mighty altar to worship yet it’s torque that turns up to the party first and puts smiles on faces.
Polaris knew this when they set up Victory Motorcycles nearly two decades ago and decided that the old adage of ‘There’s no replacement for displacement’ would be hold true in their product line up of big-bore v-twins. This 1650cc Victory Hammer by Norfolk young guns Old Empire Motorcycles is a transatlantic blend of modern brawn and nostalgia. And in the patinated dark tan corner, weighing in at 650lbs, all the way from Dickinson County, Iowa; The Glaadiaatooooorr.
The customer for this commission wanted a bike capable of eating up continental miles in comfort, perhaps on something that would have enough torque to spin planet earth beneath him rather than use speed to reach a destination. Being a Brit, Alec Sharp, founder of OEM, likes an underdog so decided against the tried and tested Harley-Davidson platform and opted for the Victory.
“The Gladiator was actually our first commission based on a concept drawing by the very talented artist Martin Squires. We have found in previous experiences that a build can develop in a couple of different ways. Sometimes everything falls into place naturally as the build progress and without wanting to sound overly arty, the bike kind of builds itself. However there are other times our bikes take a little more deep thought in making sure everything comes together correctly, especially when based upon a predetermined concept. It’s one thing drawing something in pencil and something else entirely making it work!”
Having removed the equivalent weight of normal motorcycle in plastics, pipework and cast wheels Alec and Rafe set about adding the OEM stamp of practical retrogression. For a more balanced look the super-wide rear wheel sizing was altered courtesy of an 80 spoke dual flanged rim with a hub machined by Harrison Billet to adapt to the standard pulley and incorporates a floating disc. Real world practicality with aggressive looks is achieved with Pirelli’s Scorpion dual sport rubber.
Up front sees a matching 80-spoker between the beefy forks, but it wasn’t as plain sailing as it looks explains Alec, “We re-engineered the internals to drop it an inch to get a nose-down stance. Although this sounds simple, an unbelievable amount of work is required to make the forks function properly yet sit lower. The top yoke was removed and a billet replacement with integral warning lights and two aluminium housings were machined to fit the custom made Smiths-OEM chrono speedo and tacho.”
The swept back bars seemingly disappear behind the clocks, leaving a clear view of the dash, and give a relaxed riding position suitable for pounding the miles in comfort.
Making modern machinery look simple is no easy feat as Alec goes on to tell us “The original subframe was removed so we had a fresh start at a new bolt-on section that needed to tie in cleverly to accomplish the simple lines of the concept, but retain a wide enough seat for all-day comfort. An added complexity was the twin spar frame design, with two top tubes splaying out from the head stock (imagine a Ducati trellis type layout) meaning that following our visual designs we would want to drop the tank nice and low to get that curvaceous line, reducing the fuel capacity from around 17 litres to around 4…. What a ball ache.”
“We had already committed to making The Gladiator as per Martin’s sketches so we spent an enormous amount of time fabricating an underseat fuel tank and relocated the fuel pump there too, and on the other side we made an electrics box. So what you are looking at in terms of the leather panniers on the side is actually a fuel tank on the left and the leccy box on the right. Mind you they are still useable panniers too as the brief was the customer needed the ability to carry a bottle of wine and map, we made it so he can carry double just in case.”
There’s a low fuel sender within the pump which alerts the rider, by way of an LED, that the big old girl’s thirst needs quenching.
The original tank was narrowed and gutted and a new inner fabricated with balance pipes, a tap, internal breather and billet filler caps. There are also tie points along the underside so a tank bag can be used if needed. Greg from Black Shuck has nailed the mottled effect seen on previous OEM builds and the Gladiator’s armour was treated to a mean smokey silver and black version. The Cerakoted engine casings with brass detailing further testament to Alec’s fastidious attention to the most minor of details.
Fellow detail fanatic Will from London Vehicle Wiring was lured up from the smoke to make sense of the professor’s madness and ensure the electricity not only stayed in the panniers but would stand the test of time once the owner and bike had migrated far away from OEM’s HQ. With a Power Commander installed the 1650 cubic centimetres of American muscle can be tuned to suit the more open filters and lightly baffled stainless exhausts. It must sound beastly.
“We’ve learnt a considerable amount since those initial drawings and its amazing to think that we have finally managed to create something rideable and useable from those early sketches.”
As ever, Alec & Rafe try to utilise the skills of local businesses and craftspeople to achieve their goal of building truly individual motorcycles. It must be working as the Gladiator’s owner has set off, roaring across Europe, and there are other builds in the pipeline to be featured here soon.
Photography by Vaughan Treyvellen