"When we were making our last film on the Mazda MX5 in the sunshine of Umbria, both Matt and I commented that we’d be looking back to this particularly picturesque postcard perfection and remembering how lucky we were with "
Old Empire Motorcycles: The Osprey
a functional custom from the English flatlands...
There’s something fitting about Old Empire as a brand name.
An atmosphere of Edwardian elegance take holds as you make your way across the fens and edge into Suffolk. You take a series of meandering lanes into the hedgerows and flatlands around Diss. St Mary’s church, 900 years old and counting, seems buried into the earth just opposite the turnoff to Hall Farm and Old Empire’s ‘House of Assembly’. Just across the way Alec Sharp and Rafe Pugh have been directing the creation of some of the most original and interesting custom motorcycles out there. There’s something about the area, the broodiness of the lowering sky and the timelessness it evokes that chimes perfectly with the aesthetic.
The Osprey, the bike featured here, is the first Old Empire brand collaboration – with fellow independent British clothing company ODFU – and is an elegantly straightforward re-imagining of a 1980 Suzuki GN 400. The bike is understated and very useable – quite a contrast to the otherworldly creations and concepts for which Old Empire have become known. The donor bike’s laid back, quasi chopper stance has of course been ditched completely in favour of a much more aggressive, caff-ish stance that was achieved by lowering the front end significantly.
The rear suspension set up is standard but the tank’s tunnel was also reworked heavily so that it sits far lower and further forward. The bike runs its original running gear, both 18’’ wheels wrapped in Dunlop KTT – which are textured enough to add a rugged utility to the bike’s presence, but remain functional road-runners. There are custom sets of wrap around bars along with an integral headlight mount and shroud which surrounds the electronic speedo. Custom warning housings were also made which set into the machined yokes. The original front guard was also trimmed down to aesthetically pleasing dimensions and the rear portion of the frame was cut and looped over and a rear cowling made with integrated rear light and LED indicators.
Under the custom seat the new Shorai lithium battery sits along with the new electrical harness. The 400 single was given a simple spruce up, re-scotching the cases and blacking the barrel and head. A stripped and vapour-blasted carburettor with K&N air filter helps breathing, along with a custom heat-wrapped exhaust. We’re particularly impressed with the leatherwork on that custom seat – as well as the dual tool rolls which are completely removable – the pair working beautifully with those hand-died leather grip wraps.
The New Wave of custom bike culture continues apace – and though companies like Old Empire continue to push the boundaries of the possible – creating more and more impressive, fabulous creations, sometimes it’s the simple things done well that define a truly usable bespoke bike.
The Osprey, we think, does the job perfectly – and demonstrates the company’s ability to build perfectly to purpose.
Pics: Michael Fordham/Influx
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