Youngsters Prefer Under 1000 CC Retro Styled Custom Motorcycles

merlin0merlin1merlin2 merlin3Are urban motorcycles, factory or custom, with a number of cc’s under 1000 the new rage among youngsters, both male and female? Waiting for the Harley Street 750 to debut in the US before this second quarter of 2014 ends, many young builders around the world have no difficulty in finding clients going the bespoke route with used low cc machines, usually Japanese or British, not destined to be tarmac rippers but to become their basic way of transportation while at the same time having fun on 2 wheels.

merlin4merlin5In his website at Old Empire Motorcycles, Raphael Pugh claims British pride, but this doesn’t prevent him to work on all types of machines of different nationalities. The reason being that he is among the very few builders I know who is continuously proposing an online series of drawings of bikes he likes and would like to build. The visitor to his website picks one of the sketches, answers a few questions, and if the donor bike is compatible with the chosen design, Pugh will customize it, whatever the factory brand. See this web page at

merlin6merlin7The “Merlin” is first attempt at a custom parallel Twin and the first Kawasaki W650 They have worked on. The shop was approached by a customer based in Amsterdam after he saw a few of their previous builds. After a few back and forth by phone (Skype) and email Pugh had a good idea on where he wanted to go with this new creation. Although much of the project stance and basic components were listed in the web concepts page, complete freedom was left to the shop to turn this Kawasaki W650 in a very unique retro custom.

merlin10merlin12bismerlin8bismerlin9

In 1999, Kawasaki claimed that the W650 was intended to recall its own W1 Twin of the late 1960’s itself derived from the BSA A7. But there was a lot of similarities with the Triumph Bonneville (gas tank and badges, cigar-shaped mufflers, drum rear brake, knee pads and rubber fork gaiters…) May be the reason why Raphael (Rafe) Pugh decided to opt for a style that I will qualify – if possible – as Cafe-Brat with some Street Fighter attitude. For this purpose the front was dropped using a set of Ducati USD forks. Although the stock rims are both 18’’, a wider front wheel was installed to accommodate the same size Coker tires, front and rear. To achieve a more acute angle of attack back end was raised an 1’’ or so using a set of custom Hagon shocks.

Cyril-HuzeFabrication wise, Merlin may look slightly modified, but of course it’s just appearance. The minimal cowling was hand fabricated and incorporates a slim LED rear light. The original gas tank retains its front mounts but was raised in the rear to get that top line running nicely from the yoke down the tank into the seat and off to the rear cowling.

merlinbisMaking a custom seat pan which acts as the electrics box cover and installing some handmade gussets front and back to keep everything flowing was critical in keeping the bike in proportion. A welded-in skirt hides the ugly box section top tube and leather scallops have been inserted in the recessed parts of the gas tank.

For economy, Pugh managed to keep all the controls stock but with the addition of some hand dyed leather wraps. Front lighting comes in the form of a big Bates headlight and tiny LED turn indicators were mounted as discreetly as possible. An oem type speedo with speeds in kilometer per hour was created by a company called Smiths and integrated into the top triple tree.

Engine appearance was improved via a soda blasting cleaning, a high temperature painting of the heads in satin black with polished fins and of the crankcases in satin silver. Exhaust system were hand made from tubular bends with the 2 pipes and tig-welded together and wrapped. Paint job is dark green with gold pinstriping. .

42 Responses to “Youngsters Prefer Under 1000 CC Retro Styled Custom Motorcycles”


  1. 1 Sharkey Apr 21st, 2014 at 8:06 am

    Very nice custom job, but little more than a “cool” urban toy…it will perform well in it’s environment

  2. 2 Greeko Apr 21st, 2014 at 8:18 am

    Pretty girl. Prettier when riding…

  3. 3 Apr 21st, 2014 at 8:28 am

    I’m proud to have been watching Old Empire Motorcycles’ build since the beginning and Alec and Rafe are doing some stunning work.

  4. 4 takehikes Apr 21st, 2014 at 8:44 am

    I’ve thought for a long time that under 1k cc’s is prime territory. Much like the big ass reat tires and baggers and such we got carried away with cc’s too. No need. What is probably the most versatile bike ever built? Honda CB750. I’m looking to move down to under 1k.

  5. 5 Apr 21st, 2014 at 9:16 am

    I also think youngsters love company under 50.

    The Kawasaki W 650 really is a very good looking motor.It looks half Manx Norton and half BSA A65.
    I can live with the detailing to death, but not the vintage tires.

    What hipsters now call “stance” is what sport riders used to call “handling”.
    One is for looks, the other for performance.

    This bike is pretty good all round.

  6. 6 Zyon Apr 21st, 2014 at 9:18 am

    I don’t think it has that much to do with the actual displacement. The days of the $50,000 ground up choppers are limited as most of the folks that can afford such bikes have moved on to the next fad. Don’t get me wrong, those bikes will still be built and will still sell but not at the numbers that they used to. This is evident by the amount of bankruptcies that we’ve seen in the motorcycle industry.

    I’ve been seeing a lot of the smaller (i.e handful of builds a year) chop shops having great success taking older metric and American bikes, tearing them down and making killer bobbers, cafe and choppers out of them like in the heyday of the late 60’s and 70’s. Everything always comes back around and this is one trend I don’t mind seeing.

    I think the small displacement comes from the fact that metric bikes are very hot right now with chop shops and obviously, they tend to have slightly smaller displacements. However, I have a 1988 Evo Sporty 1200 cc in my shop right now that I’m chopping and without hammering down a definitive plan yet, I’ve got buyers for it.

    The bigger the displacement, the more heat the engine produces and the less lifespan the engine has before rebuild. That 1,000 cc range gives you a 100,000 mile engine with enough pep to get you around the city. I’m just happy to see that the younger crowd is moving to vintage metric bikes and maybe away from plastic generic crotch rockets.

  7. 7 P. Hamilton. Apr 21st, 2014 at 9:24 am

    Problem is that this metric jap custom builds don’t support at all the American motorcycle industry. Just a little bit the builders of such bikes. It’s where the Harley Street 750 & 500 are a very intelligent move by Harley-Davidson. The MoCo is smarter than what you can think.

  8. 8 Chris Brookstone Apr 21st, 2014 at 9:32 am

    Agree with Zyon. The people at Ness, Baker, PM, Renegade wheels, etc…should worry because I see stagnation for them during quite a few years. They are not the parts that youngsters are going to have on their bikes. I would be an after-market vendor I would rush on designing custom parts for the HD Street. The big wheel bagger monstrosity is going to die, fortunately.

  9. 9 Hark Apr 21st, 2014 at 9:46 am

    wow…very cool bike…we see a lot of youngsters riding the back roads here in Lake County Florida on weekends…there is a lot of truth when it comes to Cyril’s headline about Youngsters perfering under 1000 cc bikes. I think that is why H-D has come out with a more resonable bike for young riders.

  10. 10 Apr 21st, 2014 at 9:48 am

    P. Hamilton “Problem is that this metric jap custom builds don’t support at all the American motorcycle industry”

    The vast bulk of the American motorcycle industry business in the seventies was based on selling pipes, seats, racks, fairings and every conceivable product to fit Japanese bikes. The profits made by many of those companies would have been in the millions. Like back when a million dollars was a hell of a lot of money.

    It might be that a lot of American-made bike based businesses should have looked and learnt, instead of laughing at the little Jap bikes over the years.

    Everything old is new again and the wheel turns. I guess.

    “You meet the nicest people on a Harley Street?” May well be.

  11. 11 BobS Apr 21st, 2014 at 9:59 am

    Every generation rebels, but this current generation of youth I believe is rebelling more than normal. They are rejecting the older generations’ lifestyle to a much greater degree. Used to be that the younger generation had their own haircut, their own clothing, and their own music. But they followed their parents politics, religion, got married and raised some new kids in the suburbs…This generation, embraces gay rights, rejects organized religion, buys loft condominiums downtown, and their phone and tablet are much more important, cooler, than any car. It’s cool to see them embracing motorcycles as a viable mode of transportation, but I don’t think they will be “growing into” the same lifestyle that their parents embraced.

  12. 12 Apr 21st, 2014 at 10:45 am

    BobS, The perplexing thing is the young’uns know that they are losers, but they are smart. But they refuse to look like or act like losers. It’s a weird deal that they have been dealt, that’s for sure.

    Even moustaches, the defining hipster anti-establishment “accessory” is now past it’s use buy date. What next?

  13. 13 Jeff Diamond Apr 21st, 2014 at 11:21 am

    “New rage among youngsters” ? Yeah, since forever. And correct me if I’m wrong, but the Sportster is under 1000ccs. Side note: What cost for a customized 20-year old metric? Nice ad.

  14. 14 JohnJ Texas Apr 21st, 2014 at 12:06 pm

    How can Captain America in the NEW movie out run a tilt rotor aircraft on a Harley 750???
    I’ll always go for bigger displacement if I can get it…no matter what age I was.

  15. 15 Fritzz Apr 21st, 2014 at 1:40 pm

    The young ones are really turning out great! God bless them!

    Too bad these bikes are little more than bar hoppers without any storage space. I’ll guess they’ll have to learn to balance a box of beer or a bag of groceries on the gas tank like we did.

    Great looking bike and also looks rideable. Makes you want to go up streets the wrong way, pass cars by using the sidewalk or stranger’s front lawns, outrun the cops and all the other stupid crap we did as kids! Ahh to be young again!

  16. 16 Rodent Apr 21st, 2014 at 1:45 pm

    Some of the best bikes are under 400 pounds.

  17. 17 James just another Crazy Kiwi Apr 21st, 2014 at 3:13 pm

    When I was young I rode 650 British bikes and did reasonable miles.The biggest inhibitor was the reliability factor.
    These young uns don’t have to worry about blowing a tooth off 2nd gear or complete ignition failure.

    Used to be older people with more life experience and possibly money were cooler or had taste gathered and refined over their life time.

    Now they ride motorcycles that are 3-400kg tanks with a silly front wheel and garishly blinged. Then painted in loud colours that are at best bilious.
    Of course this is not true of most just a select number of egocentric pretentious folk.

    Allot of older guys over here are riding the NEW Bonnie ( Scrambler) and ride good distances, reliving their youth and having a ball. We however do not have the distances the USA has so the big bagger is not as necessary.
    I think the young people of today are great, usually they are much nicer to be around than the Rat Bags of yester year. They have much better understanding of many things today. Probably because of the net.
    Diversity is great.

  18. 18 Apr 21st, 2014 at 3:51 pm

    Many insurance companies have a huge price increase for policies on anything they consider a “sportbike” when you hit the 1000cc mark. Doesn’t matter that my ’94 CBR1000F is a brick compared to many new bikes with less displacement.

  19. 19 Apr 21st, 2014 at 4:08 pm

    It’s ok, and I love what they are doing …
    When i was young & on my first bike (a Suzuki 650) I swore I’d never have a windshield or bags on a “Granpaw” bike. Fast forward 15 yrs,
    I got my first Kawasaki Nomad 1500 I got the windshield AND the bags
    and with all the bikes I had since then I have not taken the Sheild / Faring or bags off ONCE!
    It goes “Full circle” and as these riders get older, they will discover, just like I did (and you guys too)
    that as we get older we like / need a little more “creature comforts” …
    The most important thing is Brit, Jap. Italian or U.S. they are RIDING !!!!

  20. 20 Apr 21st, 2014 at 7:17 pm

    JohnJ Texas, some of the fastest ever bikes on the road have been 250’s and 350’s .So fast you would probably not even know which way they went.

    Some of the best bikes to ride are very cheap and are between 500cc or 650cc. It that respect not much has changed since Indian Sport Scouts and the Triumph Bonneville rolled around. Except they are about ten times better.

  21. 21 Larry Lamonaco Apr 21st, 2014 at 8:11 pm

    TT, after reading our post to BobS i now realize you are a over achiever. We already knew you were liar,and a bell end now you can add Douche Bag to your list of accomplishments

  22. 22 Apr 21st, 2014 at 10:28 pm

    LL, well it seems I’ve become a triple threat on the billboard at the Carny.

    I keep entering a word into the keyboard, and it auto-corrects back to touché all the time. It’s a software error, I guess.

    ,TT the TT.

  23. 23 nicker Apr 21st, 2014 at 11:58 pm

    Blackmax has it spot on….

    It does go “Full circle.”
    Typically starting out on lighter scooters, then ya go to the heavy ones as you start touring and realize that its the weight that helps isolate you from the pounding of the road. And when ya get older that heavy scooter becomes a pain around town.

    Think i’ll go back to an old Triumph as a daily ride.

    -nicker-

  24. 24 Mark Apr 22nd, 2014 at 6:08 am

    Youngsters? These are adults, more so than when we were their age. And when I was in my teens and twenties I despised the word YOUNGSTER, and still do. Old enough to vote and own guns. Not “youngsters.” Next gen of motorheads and we should bring them into the fold, not isolate them with such terms.

  25. 25 Chris Brookstone Apr 22nd, 2014 at 6:19 am

    Mark. Youngster is also used to describe a young adult. In the MC industry, youngsters is used to describe a generation much younger than what is, for example, the average age of a Harley buyer, now at 49 1/2 yo.

  26. 26 Apr 22nd, 2014 at 6:50 am

    The Bell/Ball end, is like the movie Ground Hog Day…same thing everyday… and it never ends….

    Only entertaining to himself, and has nothing of value to add to this blog even in the least. Maybe “Captain Obvious” should be the new namesake for the Super Douche.

    Steve Carr

  27. 27 Apr 22nd, 2014 at 9:06 am

    Douche Bag, Bell/Ball end, Captain Obvious, Super Douche? Hard decision to make as they all fit so darn well. Get the hint TT and f*%k off once and for all!

  28. 28 Larry Lamonaco Apr 22nd, 2014 at 9:32 am

    TT a triple threat, now he’s a comedian.

  29. 29 Pat Simmons Apr 22nd, 2014 at 10:52 am

    I love this bike. It ain’t just the young riders that like these bikes, this is a trend that is capturing the imagination of all ages. It’s bikes like this that make you wanna get out and ride!

  30. 30 Rob Apr 22nd, 2014 at 10:55 am

    That brake/ tail light is cool but useless….

  31. 31 BCinSoCal Apr 22nd, 2014 at 11:34 am

    Very nice job of repurposing bikes which would have remained sitting in the back of someone’s garage or in a scrap yard. Well done! Forgot over the years what an interesting looking engine that Kawasaki is.

  32. 32 Apr 22nd, 2014 at 2:32 pm

    @Steve Carr-No Fair! I called him Captain Obvious at least 2 months ago, even before the hotel.com ads came out 🙁 (pouting)

  33. 33 Larry Lamonaco Apr 22nd, 2014 at 7:32 pm

    I think Captain Oblivious fits him better

  34. 34 Dave Blevins Apr 22nd, 2014 at 8:29 pm

    Nice looking cycle.

  35. 35 Apr 23rd, 2014 at 5:15 am

    I am sorry, and did not realize he had been awarded a new title already, please let credit go where credit is due.

    Captain Obvious it shall be….

    Majority Rules, and it’s official

    The Super Douche, Ball/Bell end, TT, Lil TT, Know-it-All shall now for ever be know as…

    Captain Obvious

    Steve Carr

  36. 36 Wilhelm Apr 23rd, 2014 at 6:24 am

    Very nice machine!

  37. 37 Apr 23rd, 2014 at 7:33 am

    So it is written. ..

  38. 38 Fredp Apr 23rd, 2014 at 8:09 pm

    Who are we kidding? Every youngster would love 1000cc or more, but the insurance companies redline those engines sizes into $$$$ . Shoot, I’m over 55 and own a 748 cc Ducati that cost me 450 bucks a year and buying a Ducati 1098 would whack me 1200.00 a year. Perfect records don’t mean dittely. I can imagine why the you gets don’t even make an attempt.

  39. 39 Fredp Apr 23rd, 2014 at 10:52 pm

    …. Youngsters don’t even make an attempt. Whew that last sentence of mine got paralyzed finger typing.

  40. 40 Apr 27th, 2014 at 9:41 am

    And who can blame them? These bikes are gorgeous! I’d have a classic Norton Commando 750 over most bikes any day. (I’m <30, btw.)

  41. 41 Apr 28th, 2014 at 6:19 pm

    Did not mean to offend anyone
    I still get called “youngster” by a lot of my riding buddies that are over 60-65

  42. 42 Apr 28th, 2014 at 6:19 pm

    S. Carr rules !!!!!

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