Snipe by Old Empire Motorcycles

Old Empire Motorcycles have repeatedly proven that they put a lot of attention to their builds. As it turns out, Alec Sharp, founder and director of the British workshop, puts the same attention to his bike descriptions. Therefore, let’s leave the talk to the builder, after all he knows best:


Our last single thumper the OEM X ODFU Osprey based on a GN400 proved popular with the public and off the back of that particular build we had an enquiry concerning building something similar but unique to the customer also.

We decided as we have done with other builds to move towards a new donor motorcycle so we could focus on spending our time improving the aesthetics and upgrading the components rather than restoring worn, broken or just manky bits you usually find on an older donor.


The only real big (ish) air-cooled single that we could get new were the SR 400’s and we had experience working with an older SR 500, the Lightning, so we knew our way around it. We decided to immediately strip her of all non-essentials although keeping the running gear, that being wheels, forks and intake system intact.


To get ‘the stance’ the forks were shaved and lowered by an aggressive 3’’ which we have learned should not be done without modding the yokes! Our first set of 3D machined upper and lower yokes we created specifically for this project with an 1’’ offset upper and lower to keep the fork travel sensible and help us get that line. After looking around for suitable bars, we ended up in the position of not particular liking anything available so it was back to the post it notes and crayons to sketch up some suitable examples. Made in 3 parts, they are fully adjustable and the bars are screwed into position then locked off, the idea being to imitate the ‘sleeved’ and brazed bars of old. We think they look pretty good.


To set them off we couldn’t use any old switch gear either and again, after looking around and seeing some really nice functional and aesthetic pleasing pieces of engineering, none would suit. The idea behind this mk1 version is a blend of the old jap shaped switch gear which we always thought was quite shapely but the functionality of the mechanical switches inside made us shy away from them hence a mix of the push button setup alongside the shape of the retro Japanese switch gear. I’m all for minimalism, and if we can get away with no switches is the best option. However, if motorcycles are to be ridden then it’s come to our attention to make them as usable as we can, getting that age-old balance of form and function. All the electronics have been modified to run such a setup along with a latching kill switch relay.


At the back-end we run the smart-looking set of K-Tech bullet shocks usually used for big twins, however with a little tinkering and turning them upside down they seemed to compliment the front quite nicely!

Metal work wise our good friend Willy ( was enlisted to help as we were stacked out at that point, so some foam models were shaped for the front cowling and rear section, a tank was also begun although shortly after cutting the side profile we realised it almost exactly replicated the profile of the original tank but just moved forward and lower! So we took the original tank which we scalloped and moved to suit the lines then the foam models were taken and slowly wheeled, hammered and welded into aluminium versions. The front cowling we took inspiration from classic aviation and automobiles to recess a vinyl covered dash within and smoked visor on. The dash houses all the warning lights, mini speedo with warning lights and a tacho. The headlight is a simple small Bates. The rear cowling is made to be removed to reveal a small pillion seat under it and the seat design came from the idea that we wanted something very slim and to mount the battery monitor unit and charger in the vinyl covered panel sitting in the gap.


The fuel tank also benefited from all the internal being moved to fit properly as well as one of our custom-made fuel caps.

A simple aluminium cover hides the injection unsightly and the ignition switch has been relocated into another vinyl covered panel under the air box.

Frame modifications-wise, the only work done was to carefully remove the rear frame rails at a specific point, then model with foam the two frame extensions that integrate the rear Highsider LED lights within. These were then machined in aluminium a slotted into placed and pinned in. The effect, we think, is really minimal but you can see the lights a mile off!


Legalities were taken care of in the form of small Motogadget pin indicators mounted front and back alongside a rolled black and silver tin number plate mounted low and tight.

Tyres were changed to a more aggressive but still quite classic Dunlop K70’s.

A simple stainless exhaust was order of the day. Its short, it’s loud and it took quite some work to get the bike to perform and sound well with the right baffles, but we got there in the end!


All the unnecessary intake and exhaust gizmos and gadgets were duly removed and the ignition upgraded with a power commander. The air box was then drilled and intake ducting removed to free up space and improve airflow.

The air box and electrical covers were ditched and we then machined wooden formers I which to press and mould leather side panels to mimic side satchels along with leather retaining straps. We’re well known for our leather work and the snipe deserved some nice touches, our machined and laser cut leather grips and pegs, kickstarter and foam moulded knee pads all got attention as did the seat which is specially prepared and hand died to get just the right colour.


The final piece of the puzzle was the finishing: simple black satin cerakote from flying tiger coatings, satin bead blasting from Suffolk blast and a lovely drop of jaguar E-type grey with gold pinstriping and airbrushed shading from the talented hands of Black shuck kustom tied everything in perfectly!

Other little details include a machined finned brake caliper, custom Harrison floating brake disc, upgraded rear sprockets and chain, oil temperature filler cap, k-tech brake and clutch levers.


Special thanks to Willy for the extra help and to Chris from Xbikes who helped tune her up!

Also thanks to: Demeanour Customs, Flying Tiger Coatings, Suffolk Blast, Blackshuck Kustom, Harrison Performance, K Tech, London Motorcycle Wiring Co, XBikes, GB Upholstery, Cambrian Tyres, Number Plates 4u, So low choppers.


Here are links to Old Empire Motorcycles' WEBSITE and their FACEBOOK page.

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