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‘80 Suzuki GN400 – Old Empire Motorcycles

Posted on April 2, 2015 by Andrew in Classic. 21 comments


Written by Martin Hodgson

It’s what makes the scene such a creative outlet; no two customs will ever look the same. It’s a philosophy two British companies share and they decided to pool their talents to create a one-off masterpiece. Old Empire Motorcycles is no stranger to Pipeburn, having built “Typhoon” last year’s number two selection in the Bike of the Year Awards and they’ve teamed up with ODFU, a clothing company that specialises in small run, hand drawn designs. The result is a 1980 Suzuki GN400 that leaves the commuter class behind and enters the world of custom classics.


With the build known as the “Osprey” the final look of the GN400 was incredibly important to both OEM and ODFU and their level of design creativity and craftsmanship meant that was never going to be a problem. One of the main visual flaws of the GN400 was quickly fixed with the decision to aggressively lower the front end. The triple trees were then modified to take a custom set of ‘wrap around’ bars along with integral headlight mount and OEM shroud. Custom warning housings were also made which set into the top tree.


The frame was thoroughly detabbed and cleaned up, while 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 sits a Shorai lithium battery snuggly sitting with the custom wiring harness. The stock front guard was also cut down to give a far more aesthetically pleasing look while still maintaining its functionality.


The flat black and hand died leather give the Osprey a look that harkens back to a time when you finished a hard day’s work with dirty calloused hands. The fuel tanks tunnel has been heavily reworked to sit both further forward and lower down for a sleeker look. It’s then been finished in a combination of flat black and a series of ODFU’s own hand drawn custom designs.


The leather work is simply exquisite with dual tool rolls acting as side covers and even the hardware they carry is vintage. The frame is notched perfectly for the belts and buckles, while the grips are also leather-bound fixed with neatly wrapped race wire. Then there is that seat, hand died leather, perfect stitching and shaping – it’s utilitarian in its beauty.


The 396cc donk was treated to a simple refresh, rescotching the cases, blacking the barrel and head and a pod breather take care of the look. While stripped and vapour blasted carburettor with K&N air filter and custom heat wrapped exhaust give a little extra pep and a much rortier sound.


An upgrade to the lightning circuit from 6V to 12V helps powers all the ancillaries, including the now yellow-lensed headlight and the stunning combined analogue/digital solo gauge.



Even the tyres, Dunlop KTT’s in an 18 inch size, fit the design brief and philosophy of both companies to a T. Their bold tread give the bike a purposeful feel, while they remain completely functional for all matter of road and weather conditions. And that is exactly what OEM and ODFU bring to the table; one-off designs with abundant creativity, executed brilliantly, but still built to be fully functional. It might be the first time they’ve collaborated, but the “Osprey” is proof that it’s a match made in custom creation heaven.


  • John Wanninger

    Yamaha?! Biggest typo ever?

  • John Wanninger

    I really do like this bike though. OEM is always on point.

  • Dan

    Yup. Should be Suzuki. Any info on how they did the 12v conversion?

  • toowheelsgood

    That’s one of the nicest looking seat/cowl set ups I’ve seen. Well done.

    • martin hodgson

      That’s exactly what I thought when I got the photos, absolutely beautiful job at integrating the frame (And it’s lines) into a functional cowl and then top it off with that beautiful leather work on the seat. OEM do those things that look simple, work amazingly well but require real creative excellence to come up with initially.

  • Maverick Venom

    I think you mean Suzuki gn400

  • Ryan McCurdy

    So as a fan of this sort of look on a motorcycle how do you even go about starting to find something like this for sale? I’d prefer not to wade through a million “custom” choppers in the process. Any suggestions?

    • Dave Coetzee

      I don’t think you’d find too many completed bikes similar to this for sale but I’d suggest you start by asking your friends/local café racer/custom club guys to help you to find one or a suitable donor bike, that you could get someone to convert for you.

  • Jack

    What’s up with the two inches of fork travel? It sure looks cool and the stance of the bike is rad, but I can’t help but think that the clunking of the forks bottoming out when going over any lump in the road would get annoying? Or are the springs super-extra stiff?

    • It’s a common misconception. Believe it or not, you can actually make forms shorter AND stiffer. Sure, it’s a harder ride, but it’s not like they bottom out over every bump…

      • just every other bump then, not good if you have false teeth

  • Dan

    Hey Andrew@Pipeburn would love to know more detail about the 12v conversion. Have an 81 GN and really struggling with figuring out the best way to go about it. Any help would be very appreciated.

  • Tmac

    Awesome looking bike, especially as their natural environment should be as a boat anchor. That tail section is an education in craft and build.

    Is that the standard tank?

  • Gordon Wolf

    Great sihlouette

  • Ste

    Hello, beautiful bike, i’ve got a 1981 DR400 S which is similar, can i have some info about the 6v to 12v conversion you made?
    Thanks, Stefano from Italy

  • ShS

    Da poco ne ho recuperata una, questa mi piace veramente, uno stile semplice ma originale, ottimo lavoro!