Some of us a boring old farts. Fact. As the custom scene evolves some of the stalwarts and long standing bikers out there are getting boring and moany. They seem to have forgotten what it was like to be young, to be a rebel, to break the rules, do stupid things, to experiment and to be creative. Luckily not all of us are grumpy old farts who want to define (and police) some unspoken set of rules that box people in to pointless custom categories. At the forefront of the ‘Up Yours’ Generation are the rather polite, but free-thinking, Old Empire Motorcycles who build bikes the way they want to. If you don’t get it, tough shit and move on (our words, not theirs).
Their latest build is the very British “Merlin”. It’s clear that some kind of magic was involved as this bike looks like no other, yet it’s also timeless and seems somehow familiar. The base of the build is a now fairly unrecognizable W650 which has been redfined as a ‘gentleman’s cafebrat’ and was built for a customer in Amsterdam.
“After to-ing and fro-ing with emails and Skype we had a good idea on where we wanted to go within the build. It’s nice dealing with people who genuinely love our styling and trust us implicitly when designing and deciding where to go, although much was sent over using our build idea sheet it was left to us to ultimately come up with a design to take the W650 somewhere we felt it hadn’t been before.”
The first thing to sort was the stance, which was lowered at the front by using a set of Ducati USD forks. The blunt end was raised an 1’’ or so using a set of custom Hagon shocks to get a more acute angle of attack. Although the stock rims were both already 18’’ the guys installed a wider front to accommodate the same size Coker tyres front and back for a proper brat look.
“There was a great deal of design and workshop time invested in getting that minimal rear cowling just right so the lines flow perfectly and the little led rear light sunk in just right.”
The reason we’re impressed is because builds like this are all about the details. The original tank retains its front mounts but Alec & Rafe raised the back to get the top line running from the yoke down the tank into the seat and off the rear cowling. The custom seat pan acts as the electrics box cover and handmade gussets also help keep everything flowing and in proportion. The tank has indents which have been fitted with leather scallops while the bottom of the tank has a welded in skirt hiding the ugly box section top tube.
“We managed to keep all the controls stock but with the addition of some hand dyed leather wrap and some scotching. Front lighting comes in the form of a big bates headlight and peak, and the customer asked for mini led indicators which we mounted as discreetly as possible. We also decided to work with our friends at Smiths again to make up an OEM Grey faced kph speedo which looks mighty fine integrated into the custom top yoke.”
The engine was in a real state cosmetically, so it was sent off to be blasted by MP Sodablasting, but the aluminium was so badly tarnished the crankcases had to be painted in high temp satin silver. The barrels we painted satin black before the fins were polished back to the metal. The casings were fine scotched, and the carbs were rebuilt and fitted with custom air filters. It must have been a pain to sort but the end result is very pleasing to the eye.
The exhausts were hand made from tubular bends TIG welded together before being heat wrapped, for practical rather than cosmetic reasons. A stainless guard may still be required to protect the rider’s leg. “Mini baffles take the edge of what is a fantastic sounding engine.”
Old Empire are also very picky about all their finishes. The frame and swingarm were powdercoated satin black, while all the plating was chromed before being scotched for a satin/brush final finish, and then there was the paint. “The paintwork deserves special attention and it has to be seen to be properly appreciated. Greg from Black Shuck Kustoms went about lead loading the tank where it needed it, then removing the powder coat from the relevant panel work on the frame to leave a bare metal brushed finish, and then after that it’s a bit of a mystery how he achieved the fantastic dark green smokey bare metal high gloss finish with gold pin striping, but whatever, it suits the bike down to the ground and has to be seen to be believed.”
We really like this build, and can’t wait to see it in the flesh at the BSMC III Exhibition in London this May 24th & 25th. Alec & Rafe are also very pleased with their handiwork. “This may be one of the finest builds we deem to be an OEM bike in terms of aesthetics and functionality. Bike by bike we like to think we are improving continually.”
Thanks go to Black Shuck Kustoms, MP Blasting, Audrey Upholstery, Mark Bunning and Demeanour customs. You can see more builds from Old Empire Motorcycles in the flesh at the BSMC Event, or check them online on their Bike Shed OEM pages, or on their Website plus you can see how they work up their concepts Here.
For those of you who prefer lists to narrative, here’s the spec again.
2001 KAWASAKI W650
HEAVILY MODIFED FRAME
DUCATI USD FRONT END
DUCATI BRAKE CALIPER/DISC
DUCATI TRIPLE TREES/ MODIFIED TOP YOKE
COKER 18’’ TYRES FRONT AND BACK
CUSTOM OEM LEATHER BATTERY SATCHEL
ORIGINAL CONTROL UNITS
HEAVILY MODIFIED TANK W/LEATHER PANELS
CUSTOM SEAT WITH/TRIPLE DIAMOND STITCHING
NEW LENGTHENED SHOCKS
WARNING LED LIGHTS
SMITHS/OEM GREY FACED SPEEDO
DUCATI CLIP ONS
CUSTOM ELECTRICS BOX
CUSTOM WIRING LOOM
SCOTHED ALLUMINIUM RIMS/HUBS
FULLY REBUILT WHEELS WITH S/S SPOKES
PAINTED AND SCOTHED AND FULLY SERIVCED ENGINE
CUSTOM TWIN EXHAUST W/ MINI BAFFLES
BATES HEADLIGHT W/PEAK
LED INDICATORS FRONT AND BACK
BROOKS CUSTOM DYED GRIP WRAP