The world of vintage and classic bikes is a whole different game, you either get it and love it or simply don’t understand why people bother. From the engine to the riding experience, everything about these machines is mechanical in the purest form, with oil leaks and hands on maintenance just part of the game. But when you’re an engineer by qualification and a Weapons Systems Officer by trade, then going back to the basics is a nice change of pace and breaking down on the side of the road comes with far less consequences than mucking up in your day job. For Zac Wilson of Red Barn Custom Cycles, vintage bikes are his escape and this hand-built 1970 Triumph TR6R is his latest creation.
“Being in the military, it’s difficult to find time and space for creativity and expression, thus, building motorcycles has always been my remedy,” Zac tells us. And he’s not just in the military, as a WSO in the US Navy, he’s the guy in the aft seat of an F/A-18 Super Hornet, taking control of the aircraft’s incredible technology. So, while, he might have one of the coolest jobs on the planet and regularly sits in a machine capable of ridiculous speeds, it’s not like you get to crack out the socket set and give the old girl a tune, or pick the colour scheme she wears.
When he’s working on bikes, that all changes, Zac can call the shots and it’s a passion he shares with his girlfriend, who knows a thing or two about being a badass herself, as a WSO in the German Air Force. “While we don’t see each other often when we do, we share a love for flying, wrenching, and riding on vintage machines.” But before they could ride the TR6R that he’d picked up, first there was a hell of a lot of work to do to get it into shape. A tough and capable machine, the Triumph Twin was still winning desert races by 1970, but Zac had other ideas for his British bike.
So, having taught himself to weld, the first step was fabrication and a full chassis conversion to change the bike to a hardtail. This really gives the Triumph the vintage vibe, and that old school bobber look, with the new metal added behind the centre post and then the whole frame repainted in black. The next part to piece together was the custom fabricated battery box with leather cover and straps. The form and function of the piece show a distinctly handcrafted quality, you can almost imagine a flyboy of years gone by having fashioned the same in a hanger, a Mustang or Spitfire off to the side.
That look extends to the seat, the drop style bolted securely to the frame, with a hand shaped base that has then been wrapped in classic black leather. Below, the beautiful and curvaceous lines of the oil tank remind you that this is a 50-year-old machine, and the last of its kind before Triumph switched the model to the oil-in-frame setup. Over the backbone sits the fuel tank, the defining visual feature of the bike that is utterly British in its shape and style. The paint keeps the classic vibe, a single solid colour, broken up by hand-painted graphics in that traditional bobber style.
There will be no fenders here, and so the vintage tail light and the old school big Bates headlight finish out the look with an aesthetic that dates back to the Second World War. With the rear suspension gone, the handling components could be from the flying ’40s too, with that look exaggerated thanks to the now exposed springs on the forks and the leather wrapped uppers. The hubs have been restored to perfection, the front drum looking a million dollars before the relaced wheels were wrapped up in the kind of knobbies that most bikes wore back then.
By the time the late 60s had arrived, the Triumph engines were slowly getting upped in compression, delivering superior horsepower thanks to improved fuel. Zac opened his up and gave it a completely new rebuild, with a small overbore of 0.06, and a piston to suit, connected to the factory improved connecting rods. The Amal carb sports a rebuild and is fed fresh air via a super neat air cleaner cover and high flow filter element. The gases then escape out of a drag pipe style setup, with the pair of pipes welded up from 1 3/4in tubes.
What is even more evident on the engine is just how much effort has been applied with metal polish and paint to bring it up to as-new standard. From the fins to the cases and the big covers, these old British motors are a work of art and too often don’t get the high fuss finish that they deserve, but clearly Zac cut no corners in making sure his parallel twin shines.
Much of the final assembly was done with his girlfriend by his side, and high-tech military talk makes way for old-school touches, with the bars, grips and speedo all the best from a bygone age. The finished British bobber is a beauty, “It’s very mechanical, and very raw,” and keeps Zac grounded when he’s not hurtling through the skies.