‘It started out with me in a shed, a bench, and some tools,’ begins Old Empire Motorcycles‘ Alec Sharp when asked how Old Empire got started. Looking at the work they’ve produced since then you’d be forgiven if you thought they’d been going for the neck-end of a decade. Incredibly, that modest shed-bound starting point was but three years ago.
Since then he’s been joined by Rafe Pugh and, between them, they’ve formed one of the most distinctive custom motorcycle firms in a world seemingly awash with custom motorcycle firms. The low-slung black machine you can see at the top of the page, the Typhoon, is their latest creation and it epitomises their unique approach to bike customising. Ducati fans will recognise the motor and most of the frame as being from the Ducati 900SS, but just look at what they’ve done with it! The custom girder forks, the brass headlight, the four-leading-shoe front drum brake, a pair of Amal GP3 carburettors … The level of detail on these bikes is incredible. Seemingly not one fastener has been added without precise consideration.
‘We love trialling and testing things out,’ says Alec. ‘Custom bikes are what I love most because I have a complete free reign.’ It’s Old Empire’s revelling in this free reign that produces the machines you can see here, and they’re not cheap. ‘We have around 600 hours in the Typhoon, so as a rough guide a bike like this could be between £40,000 and 60,000.’ However, the people doing the spending in the custom bike market tend to know exactly what they’re looking at, and interest in Old Empire’s work is growing.
A glimpse at their work leading up to Typhoon shows just what a creative and diverse company this is, although at the start there was a danger of being known for one thing. ‘It was all Royal Enfields to begin with,’ Alec reveals. ‘The engines suited our style, but we soon branched out and are open to any platform now.’ Asked whether they have a preference of engine to work with, Alec replies ‘No. It’s not so important what it was – more what we’re going to do with it!’
It soon becomes clear from talking to Alec that Old Empire is determined to explore different styles and to mix and match genres and parts to come up with something unique. In fact, the word ‘style’ keeps cropping up. It’s little surprise then that Old Empire is looking to include the right clothing to go with their machines. ‘Private White VC, Doc Martens and so on. British-made, wherever possible,’ Alec explains.
So watch this space. If Old Empire can get to where they are now in such a short space of time, imagine where it’ll be in three more years …