Building custom motorcycles is a changing profession these days. The lathe in the corner is oft replaced by a CAD workstation wired up to a 3D printer. The simple website has probably become a full-blown store selling custom parts, not just tees and caps printed up by a mate. And one of the partners in the operation is more likely to be a marketer than a mechanic.
But there’s still a place for the guy who works by himself, on an industrial estate in a small town. As long as he’s got skills—and Tom Simpson has them in abundance.
“Foundry is indeed a solo gig,” he tells us. “Just me here six days a week, trying to build the best bikes I can.”
‘Foundry’ is an apt name for his shop in West Sussex, England: Tom was a blacksmith before moving into bike building full time, around eight years ago. Which means he’s one of those increasingly rare folk who are supremely comfortable with casting and shaping raw metal.
This Moto Guzzi street tracker was commissioned after a client wanted to buy a V65 tracker Tom had just completed. But that bike had just been sold, so Tom had a dig around the back of his storeroom, and hauled out the remains of a ‘very scruffy’ 1996 1100 Sport—the last and fastest of the carbureted Guzzis.
“I purchased it years ago for its fuel tank, intending to turn it into a café racer for my own use,” Tom reveals. “Best laid plans and all that!”
After many coffees and sketches, Tom and his client agreed on a design direction and start date. “I won’t say how much longer than planned the build actually took,” he says wryly, “but there isn’t a single part on the bike that hasn’t been serviced, modified, fabricated, cast, painted or polished. The customer has been very patient!”
The starting point was a lightly modified Kawasaki H1 fuel tank with a Monza style fuel cap: clean and simple, and relatively easy to fit. Tom then removed the carbureted 90 hp pushrod V-twin and sent it to local specialist Nik at Moto Euro for stripping down.
Nik supplied a ‘dummy’ engine so Tom could work on the rest of the bike before he installed the finished engine. “I blasted the original engine and had it Cerakote painted at FreshLayers,” says Tom. “It then went back to Nik, who rebuilt it along with the gearbox and drive box.”
To get the higher-riding track stance, Tom installed Biltwell bars and lengthened the forks, modifying the stock yokes accordingly. There’s a custom-built One.Zero shock absorber from Quantum Racing Suspension and the original Marchesini alloy wheels have been restored and shod with Pirelli Scorpion Rally STR tires. The refurbished Brembo brakes are now plumbed into custom runs of HEL Performance Carbolook lines, both front and rear.
Tom’s rebuilt the rear frame, but this is no simple rear loop job—there’s a beautifully cast rear section with LEDs for lighting underneath, and a flushed-in seat upholstered by Trim Deluxe of Littlehampton on top.
The under-seat section doubles up as the exhaust muffler and exit, and is crafted from cast and fabricated aluminum plus stainless steel. “All of my casting is done with recycled material, and most of the parts I cast for this bike were originally small block Guzzi engine cases,” says Tom. “The exhaust exits through the vertical louvers and the red ‘lenses’ are recycled Honda taillights.” Ingenious.
The rear section will keep most of the spray off the rider, but there is no front fender on this bike. “That was a conscious design choice between us and the customer,” says Tom. “But the fork lugs have been left on—should we ever decide to add one. In the meantime, there is a fork brace which was not in place when the photography happened.”
When the engine returned from its rebuild, Tom treated it to a custom set of valve covers and installed the re-jetted Dell’Orto PHM40 carbs onto modified intake manifolds.
“The carbs sit slightly further back than standard, to allow adequate clearance for the exhaust. I made the manifolds using the lathe, mill, TIG welding and hand filing.”
Tom has also cast new air cleaner assemblies (with K&N filter elements) and built new stainless steel exhaust pipework complete with baffles, Lambda ports, cast side covers and Thermo-Tec heat shielding.
The electrical system is upgraded throughout, with a digital ignition system from Elektronik Sachse, Dyna coils and Taylor leads. A Magneti Marelli lithium battery is hiding under the transmission in a custom aluminum battery box.
A Bluetooth-enabled Motogadget mo.unit control box made the rewire easy, and there’s a matching mo.lock remote ignition unit. The discreet bar end indicators are from Kellermann, the switchgear is from Motone, and there’s an MMB digital speedo cradled in a custom cup. Right ahead is a retro-style 5¾ headlight in a cast aluminum housing.
Tom handles virtually everything in house normally, but he entrusted the paint for the Guzzi to Stuart Jago of S Jago Designs. “The custom Midnight Blue color is often mistaken for being black but when the light hits, the deep metallic, inky blue really shines,” says Tom. FreshLayers then ceramic coated the bodywork to keep it pristine.
So what’s it like to ride? The 1100 Sport is renowned for being one of those ‘ugly’ bikes that perform well, so it’s not surprising that Tom reckons it’s ‘great fun.’
“It sounds exciting but isn’t too loud,” he reports. “It’s surprisingly nimble after removing a significant amount of the chunky original body and frame. And no, it’s not at all like sitting on a toaster! The design allows for a significant amount of airflow over the engine and exhaust, as well as distance (and insulation) where the pipes exit.”
It’s a bike we’d love to try out, and amazing work from a traditional solo operator. If you’re in the south of England, pop along and pay Tom a visit—not least because he now has an espresso machine in the shop, in a small concession to changing times.