So, all this 1200cc Thruxton cafe racer needs now is 16-inch rims, fat tyres, and a set of handlebars…
Back at the end of 2015, when the Bike Shed first opened it’s doors in Shoreditch, I designed and commissioned a build with Down & Out Café Racers for a fat-tyred, slammed, brat-ish Roadster based on the air-cooled Triumph T100, with black and silver livery, brown seat and grips, along with the tidy bars, switches, lighting, noisy short pipes and clean instruments. It went down rather well.
Above - 2015's T100... Below - the Hoxton 2.0, both by Down & Out Cafe Racers.
At the time, there wasn’t really a fashion for fat-wheels on Bonnies, although Down & Out had established themselves at the go-to guys for modular, practical customs, and they were honing their skills on what went on to become a signature style for them, often building bikes shod with the much-maligned Coker Becks (which look similar Firestones), or a set of knobbly Continental TKC80s. They were “Marmite” builds that looked stunning, but did "add character” to the handling of those original machines – albeit offset by the massive weight-loss, high-quality parts and finish, and the fact that these were still practical, daily rides. It felt like the start of an era, as fat-tyred D&O Bonnies & R nineTs started rolling-in to the Bike Shed shows and on-site parking at our Shoreditch HQ.
A year or so later, I sold the bike – and I’ve been regretting it ever since. My excuse at the time was the weight and slightly compromised handling, but it was a mistake… That bike was a piece of me, and I felt it had been a metaphor for the whole of the evolving custom scene at the 'Shed. Unlike the rarefied air occupied by one-off mega-builds, it was a practical, relatively-affordable custom bike, with a signature style that even the naysayers had to agree looked the-bollocks. It drew the right kind of attention wherever it was ridden or parked, and so many variations followed from D&O and their imitators.
As my main ride, the bike was replaced a few times over, by a custom Ducati GT1000, a 1200 Thruxton café racer, (which evolved as an official café-custom project over time) and then a new Triumph Street Scrambler. All of them were far superior bikes to the old T100 when it came to handling and performance, but I still missed the spirit of that original Bike Shed bike. ...Then Triumph brought out the Bobber Black and the new Speedmaster.
Both the Bobber and feet-forward Speedmaster wore 16-inch rims, and having ridden the new Bobber on it’s original rims the year before, I knew that Stuart Wood and his development team at Hinckley didn’t like compromising on performance for the sake of looks, and I was looking forward to seeing how these two new 2017 machines handled on those wheels. A few months later I was in LA with Vikki, scoping-out premises for our new US venture, and Triumph kindly lent us a bright red & chrome Speedmaster, complete with leather soft-luggage. Vikki was deeply unimpressed with the looks, and I was disappointed it wasn’t a black one, but what a pleasant surprise it was to ride. Despite the feet-forward position, the bike handled and turned beautifully, possibly even better than the original Bobber I’d test ridden back at the launch. 16-inch rims and Avon Cobra tyres, in this set-up, worked pretty much like any other bike on a set of 17s, and this set me thinking. If I was ever to recreate that D&O T100, I’d use these rim sizes and those sticky round-profiled tyres. I parked the idea deep in my sub-conscious.
Back in the UK a few weeks later we ran our new event, the Café Racer Cup, at Lydden Hill in Kent. I rode my 1200 Thruxton and had a brilliant time, enjoying just how competent a bike like this was on a track day. As a project, it was successful - and complete. My Eureka moment came on the long ride home up the A2 in heavy traffic. Those low clip-ons made the Thruxton 1200 a pretty uncomfortable bike in traffic, which is where I ride 90% of the time, and I wished I’d been on my Street Scrambler for the journey, as I filtered - with difficulty - behind Vikki, who’d borrowed the Scrambler for the ride back. As my mind wandered, I realised that the Thruxton – AKA the Hoxton – spent most of it’s days languishing in Arch 3 on display at the Bike Shed, and despite the stunning engine and looks, I hardly ever rode the bike.
To be a better bike for my needs it needed handlebars, and while I was at it, how about an update on the looks, with tidy switchgear, etc … in fact, how about we sling a set of Bobber Black wheels on the bike? …Could I recreate a performance version of that old D&O T100? The Thruxton already boasted a pair of Öhlins Blackline rear shocks, and an adjustable Öhlins FSK Cartridge fork insert kit.
Could I create a proper hybrid machine that preserved the handling and performance of the brilliant modern liquid-cooled Thruxton but with those fat Brat/Roadster looks?
A few weeks later I’d enlisted the help of Ziggy Moto, who have been teasing us all on Instagram with photo-realistic images of custom bikes, interspersed with images of their real builds; so good we could hardly tell which was which. Along with some clumsy photoshop from yours-truly and a parts list, they put together some renders of how the bike would look with bars, and running 16s, which led to a chat with Shaun at Down & Out, and a pitch to Triumph to give us some “spare” wheels, and the concept for the Hoxton 2.0 was born.
Below - Ziggymoto's original 3D render.
Like any bloke, I’m impatient, so proper office-work occasionally (!) gave way to ordering and borrowing parts, with parcels and packages marked-up for the D&O boys, while the Thruxton was shipped ooop-north. Within a mercifully-few short weeks the bike was built and ready. Blimey.
The bike came back to the Shed while I was away, so I could hardly wait to get back and find out whether I’d created a beauty or a beast – or maybe a bit of both. In the flesh I loved what I saw, but it wasn’t instant love at first sight. In the original livery – with a long silver tank, and orange punk-rock BSMC logo on the new side-panels, the bike looked a bit of a parts-bin build, and not quite as sleek or together as in the renders. It needed a more low-key colour-scheme, so I sourced a matte-black tank, and dug-out the original drilled-out Hoxton side-panels, and spent a morning swapping parts around, switching seats, messing with cowls and stickers, and by the end of a day where I should have been doing grown-up office work, the bike was ready to ride.
In all, the bike had a lot of new changes: To fit the fat LSL bars, the bike needed a new top yoke (from Fastec Racing) and risers, which was followed by a new headlight bucket and brackets. The top-end-tidy also included Motone micro-switches, with new Brembo levers and master cylinder setup, and all the wiring was hidden in the bars. The OEM clocks (which I like) were also lowered. A new shortie front fender now floats above the fat Avon Cobra front tyre, and bar-end indicators from Rizoma keep everything up-front super-clean all round. The ignition switch was also relocated to under the R/H side throttle body.
The donor Café Racer had already been de-catted with an X-Pipe from Free Spirits and used the OEM headers mated to a pair of American-spec Vance & Hines end-cans, which sounded good, but with all that metal, link pipes, hidden sensors, and double-skinned steel it still weighed a massive amount. The boys at D&O swapped this heavy setup for straight through, 2-into-2 stainless pipes with reverse cone end-cans, which sound stunning.
The rest of the bike remained largely as it was before, with the addition of a diamond-stitched upholstery on the OEM seat, as I love the switchable-seat setup and under-seat storage; perfect for a disc lock. I’d already fitted a New Rage Cycles LED rear light and tail tidy, while the Öhlins at the front and rear also stayed as they were, along with the gold DID chain (makes all bikes go faster) and after-market engine badges.
And the end result? …Well, the big news is the ride. What I had hoped was that I hadn’t ruined the Thruxton too much, but what I hadn’t expected was just how well the bike handled on those fat-looking tyres with a handlebar setup. I assumed I’d need a lot of time messing with the suspension settings (and they do need softening for London-road use) to make the bike work at all, but even as it is, the bike really works, with fantastic turn-in and it’s superb around town. The reduced weight really helps the bike fire off the line at speed, and even just pushing it around the venue, the weight-loss is hugely apparent. It feels like a Street Scrambler that’s taken a dose of steroids and spent two months in the gym training for a cage fight.
The other surprise, was not so much that the bike looks good (in my view, of course), but the fact that it looks so right. Dozens of Bike Shed customers and visitors seem to think it’s a new factory Triumph model. I haven’t just recreated the spirit of the original D&O T100 build, that became the signature bike of the Club, and of me, I’ve somehow managed to create a useful, fun, functioning daily-ride, with a fresh silhouette and style that moves the brat/roadster style into the late twenty-teens. As far as we know, no-one has tried 16-inch wheels and bars on the modern Thruxton 1200 (let us know if we’re wrong) but I have a feeling we won’t be the last.
Next up, I do want to make some suspension tweaks with help from Öhlins, and I may try to get the bike up to someone like Chris at X-Bikes to undo any damage to the torque curve we’ve made with our free breathing pipes – although I love the power delivery (power-to-weight is definitely up) and the snap, crackle, pop of the bike on the overrun. It’s almost the perfect soundtrack for a modern twin.
Big thanks to Triumph for supporting my silliness with a set of Bobber Black wheels, and Shaun & Carl at D&O for gritting their teeth while making them fit (when using their own wheels would have been easier) along with the whole speedy build, and those who supported them.
And you can see D&O's handiwork in the metal either at the Bike Shed most days (when I’m in) or at the NEC show on the Triumph stand, and again taking pride of place at the Bike Shed London 2019 show at Tobacco Dock at the end of May.
Enough typing. I’m off to rehearsals for the launch of the new Triumph 1200 Scrambler this week, so I’m riding my creation over to see the bosses down from Hinckley. …I wonder if they’ll approve?