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Ducati 900SS ‘Typhoon’ – Old Empire Motorcycles


Posted on December 4, 2014 by Andrew in Bobber, Classic, Video. 57 comments

‘英’ is the Japanese Kanji character for ‘great.’ It also happens to be the character that the Japanese use for ‘England’. See, when Japan first properly met the British, the poms were in the midst of creating the modern world with their fancy Industrial Revolution. And for a country that had closed itself off to the outside world for over two centuries, Japan-san was clearly impressed. To Japanese eyes, British steam trains were technology from 200 years in the future; similar to you or I seeing a motorcycle from 2214. So what better name than ‘Great’ for a country that could do that? Kind of how we feel when we see the latest creation from dear ol’ Blighty. Introducing Old Empire Motorcycles’s latest revolution, ‘Typhoon’.

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Here’s OEM’s Alec Sharp. “Old Empire Motorcycles is myself and Rafe Pugh. I deal specifically with the design and creation of our Imperial (or ‘without compromise’) builds, as it’s an opportunity to make exactly what I feel I need to without any cut corners. The creation of our other concept builds and our branding all come from both of us, plus a few other very dedicated British designers; craftspeople who we have the pleasure of working with.” Rafe’s talents lie in being able to create a story around a build and then realise the imagery and clothing to match, not to mention being the main man behind all of the leatherwork and saddles. “It’s been a bloody good combination for us so far,” notes Alec.

The bike was built over a period of 18 months or so. Alec just added or made bits as and when he felt the need to, trying not to force the design or mindlessly stick to a self-imposed deadline. “I have found that for me, this is the best way of going about building and designing something that is a little special.”

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“One thing to note, and I know it will come up with your readers, is that it has been ridden extensively and although it’s not exactly a European tourer, everything comes to hand beautifully and everything holds you snugly in place. It’s one of those machines that you only really feel comfortable on at speed, tucked in, feet up on the go-faster pegs and laid down over the tank. On that subject, it’s still insanely fast, loud and handles surprising well considering the addition of the girder front forks.”

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“I want these builds to go back to why I enjoy building custom motorcycles. We have been going for 3 years now and we have built numerous bikes; some we released and other we haven’t. Still, the most enjoyable motorcycle I have built to date was the Pup; the idea of building short series of them didn’t pan out, but the process of being able to take my time and piece together the build bit by bit was by far the most enjoyable aspect of the build.” And in case you’re wondering, yes, it’s already sold.

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The fact that Alec was not constrained by time meant that he could really sit and think about the whole process. “I guess you could say we ended up with some kind of modern day board tracker, but ultimately I just wanted to build whatever most suited the lines of the original motorcycle. As with everything, there are little bits I would have done different in hindsight, but overall the result is something that I’m really pleased with.” It has given Alec plenty of pointers as to how he wants to refine and push a few more ideas he’s touched on here with the next Imperial Build. “We’re calling it the Comet,” he says, proudly.

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“As with all of our other builds, we have drawn inspiration from specific styles, but the with the Typhoon we have built what we felt we wanted or needed to build based around the specific donor – in this case a ‘95 Ducati 900ss. It is what we feel is the perfect showcase of the very best aesthetics from the original motorcycle mixed with carefully engineered handmade components to produce a vehicle that goes back the fundamentals of two-wheeled travel.”

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Naturally, the boys started with a ‘95 Ducati 900ss. From there, they added some custom girder forks, and a custom speedo and tacho set-up. Then came the custom brass headlight, the 21’’ front wheel quad leading shoe drum brake and single leading shoe drum. Next came custom bars, a bevel gear throttle, twin Amal GP3 carbs and a custom stainless exhaust system.

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The home stretch saw them fab up a set of handmade rear sets, some leather grips, a custom twin tanks with knee pads, fuel lines, a braided wiring loom, a pull-type starter and a handmade headlight shroud.

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And as an extra special treat, here’s the teaser video the boys put together to launch their creation. Chalk up another one for Old Empire, and one more for the British empire, too. Enjoy.

[Photos by Richard Stow. Model – Tijana Tamboric]








  • James

    Great details on this build and its something completely different to what you see these days and it definitely pushes boundaries beyond most builders reach. And its a Ducati.. thats an amazing donor for such a bike. Usually you see these bikes never leave the drawing board so its great that these boys are affluent enough to get this sort of bike built. Look forward to seeing more photos creep up on the internet of this not to mention some sounds to go with the look. However the paint lets it down massively and that effect has been done to death and seems to be a running budget theme on their bikes which is a shame but it kind of suits the bike but so would a nice paint job. Great looking bits and bobs and general layout, forks etc and a real eye treat in general!

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  • John in Pollock

    Its obvious that OEM can swing a wrench, but man… Just stop… Over reaching is over rated.

  • Matt

    That is utterly gorgeous, and I love the fact that it was made with a high performance engine instead of some big thumper. I struggle to believe the SVA or MOT man would look at it favourably though.

  • Aaron Richard

    would of liked to seen the bike actually running and being driven more in this music video…great looking ride though.

    • Richard Gozinya

      Why? This bike’s not built to be ridden.

  • Gerald

    boy I really liked the look of this bike …. but you lost me when I clicked on the video, how sad. I can’t help thinking you are a bunch of narcissistic asses, a flare!!, really, you jack asses probably oiled up before shooting the “ride” sequence, your handsome profiles and outdated welding goggle face shots…uhhg I think I threw up in my mouth, wasn’t it supposed to be about the bike?

    • If you’s stopped to think a moment before posting, you may have realised that it was a teaser video. The whole idea WASN’T to show the bike. Get it?

      • guest

        No. I guess I dont get it either. Is is some kind of hipster thing? Whats the point of a motorcycle video that doesn’t really show the motorcycle?

        • Blake Proudfoot

          The same as a trailer that doesn’t show what a movie is about. The same video was released a while ago as a “preview” of the bike. Showed enough to give an idea of the shape. Now we get to see the whole thing. I didn’t care for the video but also didn’t find the concept too difficult to grasp.

          • Exactly.

          • guest

            You’re an idiot. I would complain about a movie preview that didn’t show what the movie was about. That’s the whole point of watching it. That video is just a waste of time.

          • Pipeburnlover

            Put a muzzle on it Pipeburn or find a job where you don’t have to deal with the public. I love your page by the way so just chill out and let public have their view, after all you are enjoying the great interaction and hits on your website..

        • CBIWhite

          I’ve never understood the constant ragging on ‘hipsters’. Are you upset that a new subculture is interested in bikes? That they’re muscling in on your territory, building bikes the way they like without keeping your conservative interests in mind? A group of mainly young people happen to like things like firestones, pipe wrap and deviating from historical norms, they enjoy it, and you can’t stand that people are having fun or exploring the art of motorcycles in a way you don’t understand.

          I bet you go to modern art galleries walking around saying ‘I could do that!’ and ‘yeah but who even likes this stuff?’.

          What’s the point of making custom motorcycles if you can’t expand the artform? Every other artform is moving into multimedia. You need to catch up.

      • T

        That video is kind of like a fat chick showing you some leg from across the room, you didn’t want any before it and you really dont want any more now.

        • AntiSpinDoctor

          Yeah but it made you look. Depending on your state, sometimes that’s enough for her to get lucky. Just saying…

  • AWLongmeyer

    My…that WAS dramatic, wasn’t it?
    Sparks flying in a shop so dark you’d cut both hands off, mega-serious squint-eyed blokes staring off into the foreboding future, obviously having NO fun at all. Ancient ceremony of the “flare dance around the bike”. Perfect positioning of the bandana in the chicks pocket.
    Some very nice details on an overall interesting build but cut the hipster BS and just show the bike.

    • See above.

      • AWLongmeyer

        I’m well aware of what a teaser is (or should be) and, without regret, say that this fell far short of the mark.
        It diminishes the apparent build quality of the machine and creativity of the builder.
        The teaser is derivative and insults the viewer with contrived and misapplied sonorities and Old Empire would be better served by (nod to ZZ) letting the machine do the talking.

  • Paul

    I love these video’s. These guys can put there artistic talents into the bikes (and what a bike!), then hop on the Apple and whip up a dramatic introduction video to the bike. F$ck Gerald… he just pissy that he can’t do what you guys can. What an ass.

    PS… add into the video a clip of it firing up, a burnout, or of the babe riding it. Would love to hear it.

  • T CP

    Seriously man. Beautiful bike but quit with the stupid videos already. It’s not supposed to be about showcasing yourselves, it’s supposed to be about the BIKE!

  • Bultaco Metralla

    Simply stunning design and execution. A refreshing minimalist approach combining old board racer with cafe. Love the skinny wheels, the girder fork and the 4ls brake.

  • Jeffrey Wallis Bell-Zekas

    too bad Vincent motors are so rare, cos this bike with a Brit vee twin would be brilliant- though a Ducati engine is certainly quite lovely.

    • TJ Martin

      … oh brother … would it ever ! Best part is it’d fit in the Duc’s frame with minimal effort [ see Big Sid’s Vincati ] Jeeze ! And there are those new Irving/Vincent and Godet/Vincent alternatives available [ for a price ] Damn ! As much as I love this bike … a Vinny between the wheels would make it even better … especially seeing as where these guys are based !

      Hmmn … a Vincent variation on the theme perhaps ?

      Damn !

  • GuEsT

    What the hipster is actually even going on in that video?

  • Please don’t let their teaser video get in the way of comments about the build. They are bike builders, not film directors after all.

    • TJ Martin

      Apologies … your comment showed up after I posted mine

    • bobfalfa

      With respect, they paid someone to direct it, so they bear the responsibility
      Re the bike?
      Ducatis do nothing for me,Sorry about that

  • TJ Martin

    Jeeze ! Whats not to love ? The details are incredible . Just enough Shinya influence to catch my immediate attention …. Its NOT built around a Harley motor or a hard tail frame ..Its NOT yet another freaking Cafe or Scrambler .. and even more importantly … its NOT ‘ Brat ‘ or ‘ Donk ‘

    So yup … stick this one into the Top 10 2014 pile for certain .

    And errr … as to the video … Who cares about the video ? its all about the Bike … and only the bike as far as I’m concerned …. but err … yeah … it is a bit too much of a ‘ Hipster ‘ attempt at irony . Hipster ‘ irony never being in the slightest bit ironic .. it being a whole lot closer to uninformed pretense 😉

  • SteveSparshott

    Have I missed something really obvious, or have they binned the swingarm and made it into a rigid frame?

  • Bowds

    Cool sculpture!

  • Terry

    Amazing paint and boardtracker spirit. Finishing and details that are breathtaking.

  • Incredible Bike !!! Very good stuff !!

  • The third.

    The only thing I don’t like about this bike is the name. Sounds too predictable and typical.

    The rest is a masterpiece.

  • Zundap

    Great craftsmanship, although you need a guidance counselor at your shop. Give me the stock Ducati SS any time, and if it was a wreck or basket case I would have rebuilt it. Z

    • TJ Martin

      ” Stock is a can of beans on a shelf ”

      Words of wisdom from the late , great Big Sid Biberman .

      And anyway … just how many numbers matching restored Ducati SS’s do you think the world really needs ? I’d say there’s in reality way too many . Whereas incredibly done customs like this ? Heck .. there IS a need for more of these .. 😉

  • If you drew a line from RSD’s Track-Chief, through Hazan Motorworks ’65 Harley Ironhead, you would arrive here. I may not be able to envision myself on it, but Old Empire’s Typhoon most definitely makes me want to pull up the shop stool and just sit and stare at it over a double pour and a few cigarettes. And speaking of cigarettes, that model is a perfectly hot accouterment for this bike; so, thank you Andrew, for shortlisting those photos. The video? Well I too prefer a cold documentary; but Alistair Cooke really doesn’t fit here; so considering what was built, I give deference to the idea that the video’s choreography can be an equally artistic interpretation of the builder’s spirit just as the Typhoon itself is an artistic interpretation of the motorcycle’s spirit.

  • I really like this post. We get awesome perspective from the builders, good photos, a video, all awesome!
    Craftsmanship looks amazing! I’m not a fan of the actual design concept though. We all have our tastes i suppose.

  • Machin

    Reality check, anyone ? Is this motorcycle making or sculpture ?
    If it is a sculpture, then ok, like it or don’t. I don’t especially like it. Spectacular, but not beautiful.
    If this is a motorcycle, then this is rubbish. Seriously ? That engine on this rigid frame, these wheels, these brakes, this steering geometry … That”s just a waste of a good engine. Put a XT 500 mono in it, it will look better, and be more appropriate.

    • Bultaco Metralla

      Didn’t you read the fourth para? it begins :-

      “One thing to note, and I know it will come up with your readers, is that it has been ridden extensively”

      Reality check? Not everyone needs or wants rear suspension.

      In my time riding, I met people with high dollar inter urban megablasters who couldn’t keep up with a stock Royal Enfield and other people on a high mileage plastic maggot who could show a rear tyre to anyone.

      Back in that period after the pill and before herpes, I reported on a classic racing event for a radio station. I talked with guys who rode when rear suspension was unknown or a novelty. Many said they preferred hardtails. Their reasoning was that they are lighter and more rigid.

      This is not ‘rubbish’, It is a fast, light motorcycle. But what is more relevant is that

      “and although it’s not exactly a European tourer, everything comes to hand beautifully and everything holds you snugly in place. It’s one of those machines that you only really feel comfortable on at speed, tucked in, feet up on the go-faster pegs and laid down over the tank. On that subject, it’s still insanely fast, loud and handles surprising well considering the addition of the girder front forks.”

  • MayDayMoto

    This looks like a death trap, and not in a good way. Good luck snapping the throttle, that seat will let you slide right off into the woodchipper of a (fenderless of course!) rear wheel. People who actually ride their motorcycles look at this and shake their heads, unlike the lifestyle oriented hipsters such as the one above who is so concerned with “advancing the artform”. So again, good luck with those Firestone tires and vintage helmets. The only thing you’ll be advancing is the line waiting for a new organ donor.

    • Cliff Overton

      Could have sworn it says ‘Avon’ on the tyres – which I think are supposed to be pretty good…

  • bobfalfa

    Can I just say two things,

    First I agree with all that criticise this bike, and two if it’s British and road legal , Where is the mudguards(fenders),chain guard and Number plate?
    Or Art for Art’s Sake?

  • Tanshanomi

    A 2-1/2 minute video, but only one 7-second, slo-mo shot of it moving? After all that build-up, I was really hoping to see somebody take it out on the highway and give that thing some stick!

  • Cliff Overton

    I just freakin love it. I don’t worry about the video I just want to study the bike. Fantastic extension of the trellis frame into a hard tail, beautiful detailing and highlighting, totally nailed the flat tracker look and used a Ducati in a new way. I am slowly building up to doing an all out radical custom one day – but I will be using a late model BMW as a donor, whatever I turn out in the end, it will be inspired by work like this.

  • Davidabl2

    Personally, i wonder if motorcycles will even be legal at all in 2214…
    Although it’s not something i stay up worrying about:-)

  • Davidabl2

    “‘英’ is the Japanese Kanji character for ‘great.’ Right. Another Kanji worth learning is 侘寂 the character for “wabi-sabi” see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wabi-sabi. Although the article doesn’t really go into it one aspect of “wabi-sabi” might be summarized as “less is more.”
    While there’s a lot to look at, study,and think about with this bike..there’s a Western saying, that like Eastern wisdom has some application here: “know to quit while you’re still ahead in the Game.’

  • Tony Gyepi-Garbrah

    This is refreshing. Well done.

  • RB

    Very cool bike! And video. Kinda makes me want to buy some skinny jeans just to irritate all the sad sack old farts naysaying around here. And I’m not talking about old by age here.

  • Every now and then a custom build pops up that gets me excited about motorcycles all over again. This one makes me look, then look again and then look closer. Isn’t that what a custom bike should do? Provoke interest? Besides being a work of art it also has good brakes and tires and, yes, it can be ridden – so what’s the problem? BTW, beautiful use of a lovely motor.

  • anonymous

    this is awesome! I love that they have the guts to make something this unique, I have a 77 supersport that I’m just dying to customize and they finally gave me the courage to do it, I’m planning on welding 3′ brass tubes to the tank so it looks like a porcupine but cut holes in them so it whistles when the wind blows, and the seat I’m going to build out of wicker, I hope when it’s done I’ll be able to get it on pipeburn

    • Bultaco Metralla

      But only if you cut and tune each pipe so that the whole ensemble whistles Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries” as you accelerate and don’t forget the pipewrap on the wickerwork.

  • cafe

    Great effort, lovely execution very attentive work and worthless to me. Why the whole seat with a chance to slide downslope to a wheel able to separate ones pelvic region is cool these days is a complete mystery to me. Also the visceral hate I feel for a seat looking like its part of the top line of the tank surprised me. So if you buy into “art is something that produces a reaction”, well congrats, you are an artist. Yet salmonella provokes a reation too I recall. Overly wrought, unridable arthouse work. Bring back practical, clean Functionality. I truly admire and respect the professional effort, the sheer discipline and willingness to pursue ones vision despite what some crab like me writes or will express but damn man, I just wanna ride something handbuilt and functional, …this..dunno, sure wouldnt want it I know that.

  • Andre’

    Amazing build! love the paint job!

  • Deej

    2nd place… Really? Over the entire year…

  • 48

    Is no one going to say how freakin beautiful this paint job is?

    • bobfalfa

      It appears not