Old Empire Triumph T120 tested
‘ Think the new T120 Bonneville is pretty special? Think again’
Customs don’t come much more exclusive than this one-off commissioned by Triumph from Uk-based Old Empire Motorcycles and built around the T120 Bonneville. Called, simply, ‘Triumph’, it’s based on a standard T120 Black and the result is glorious. From the one-off, underslung, open pipes; hand-formed, leather sidepanels; 1960s tank; clean and uncluttered handlebars (there’s no switchgear, mirrors, indicators or even clocks) to the exquisite paint, everything about it reeks class and quality. And the idea is for it to inspire buyers to create their own specials - ideally around Triumph’s ever-expanding accessories range. As such you’ll be able to admire it on Triumph’s stand at Motorcycle Live at the NEC.
Alec Sharp, OEM’S founder, told MCN they had no specific brief but that the idea was to apply a “Steve Mcqueen, ISDT, Onanysunday type off-road style – but without compromising practicality too much.” So, although minimalist, it qualifies for a daytime MOT.
So it’s got: stock T120 Black wire wheels on Metzeler Sahara knobblies; re-finished Triumph calipers and discs with cleverly hidden master cylinder; one-off nose cowling; Renthal Fatbars with OEM’S own switchless levers; oneoff tank remodelled from a 1960s T120 item with OEM’S machined, screw-in filler cap; standard T120 engine but with ‘OEM’ name plates and one-off, AC Cobra-inspired open twin stainless pipes; reconfigured injector bodies complete with bellmouths to replicate 1960s open carbs; hand-formed leather sidepanels and quilted leather saddle; customised, multi-adjustable Fox twin shocks; ‘chopped and looped’ rear subframe and more. Got all that? Phew!
But although, admittedly, conceived mostly for form rather than function and built primarily for show, not go, this wouldn’t be a First Ride and it couldn’t truly be considered a motorcycle if we didn’t see how it went – and boy, it does that impressively well, too.
On board OEM’S creation reminds of a slimmer Bonnie, thanks to the new tank and seat, yet one with a slight scrambler style, due to the Fatbars. Then with no switchgear and clocks, let alone mirrors and indicators, you’re briefly flummoxed (although I rode it with Alec’s iphone clipped on which, via a Bluetooth-synched app OEM are developing, displays a ‘Smiths’ tacho and speedo – clever).
I needn’t have worried: turn the conventional ignition key (which is hidden behind the bars), reach down with your left hand to the brass knob mounted into the leather sidepanel and pull – and it instantly fires into a cacophony of open pipe noise. Yes, it’s a procedure that sounds a little Heath Robinson and, in truth, it is. But it is somehow charmingly brilliant.
And after that it’s surprisingly conventional. The T120 motor is as urgent as ever with its raw pleasure heightened by the vicious exhaust noise. The mostly-unchanged chassis is predictable and neutral, albeit with a slightly firmer ride (thanks to the Fox shocks and thinner saddle). The front brake is a touch dull (due to the remote mastercylinder being operated by a cable from the lever); yet even the knobbly tyres (and I’m more critical than most about ‘cosmetic’ tyres on the road) were up to the job. In short: I had a blast.
‘It sounds a little Heath Robinson, but the OEM bike is also charmingly brilliant’
Very far from your normal Triumph but it’s been built for the guys from Hinckley and is intended to inspire owners