Project: Bluebird

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Have you ever noticed how people build themselves into their work? An excellent attitude, or a passionate outlook, or an ultimate goal, can create the difference between a quality product and something you wouldn’t touch with a cheap spanner set. A fine example of this sort of zest for quality can be found in today’s feature bike, a Triumph Bonneville powered custom built by Farley and Ace customs in Pittston, Pennsylvania. A quarter of a century after selling his beloved Triumph T100C, Peter ‘Ace Hooligan’ Ouellette decided that as part of the expectation of a midlife crisis he would purchase another motorcycle. It didn’t take long for the modification bug to bite, and Peter was looking for ways to improve the stock standard machine. After numerous attempts at buying parts for his factory café racer, Ace Hooligan decided that he would be better off attempting to make some parts himself. With a history as a custom bicycle frame builder, Pete was already well on his way in being able to modify his mid life crisis purchase. But not even he knew how far this project would take him.

Initially just looking for a fairing for the big twin, Ace found that he could not buy a complete fairing off the shelf that would fit straight away. In Ace’s words: ‘Anyone who wanted to add body work, had to buy the shell from one manufacturer, the windscreen from another, purchase the hardware, then make all the brackets to fit the bike; a daunting (and expensive) task’. Spurred on by this, a set of fairing molds were produced, along with hardware for model-specific fairing systems. It was out of this need for complete one stop fairing kits that the establishment of Farley and Ace appeared, and they haven’t looked back since. The first product of the custom accessory house was a complete fairing kit for a Hinckley Triumph Bonneville, leading onto more model specific parts, then custom work on friends & customers bikes.

All the while, Ace was still getting used to his Thruxton, a far cry from the T100C he had parted with twenty five years before. ‘An easy to ride, decent chassis, with a moderate amount of power from it’s under utilized, over built motor that could be easily modified to unleash much more performance’. The idea of a lighter more able chassis, powered by a modified Bonneville motor started to build in Ace’s mind. Back in the 80s when Ace was producing bicycles, he used Reynolds 531 and 753 tubing extensively in his creations. An enquiry found that Reynolds were producing a motorcycle specific tubing named 631, and it was decided: ‘I was going to build a chassis, my own dreambike and a rolling advertisement for my capabilities. The result: Project Bluebird’.

The design for Project Bluebird carried over some concepts from Ace’s days of engineering bicycles. One of these is the concept of proper fit to the rider, as it isn’t possible to ride well if uncomfortable. Even more relevant to the build is the importance of two wheel geometry, how to manipulate steering angles, wheelbase, weight balance, ride height, etc, to get the desired handling characteristics. From the start the bike was engineered to cover many different areas of performance, putting the idea of stability at speed up against that of quick handling, being able to weigh up the design to be able to cater for both strength and lightness. Inspired by early chassis builders such as Seeley and Harris, a rough layout was penciled up on a drawing board. Frame componentry such as the bearing housings, steering tube, swing arm clamp were the first items fabricated for the build. While cutting and bending the Reynolds 631 tubing, Ace found that the tubing was not overly lending itself to being bent. In order to avoid this issue, a total chassis redesign took place and tubing was utilized in straight lengths wherever possible. Now the build could begin properly. ‘Fabrication started at the heart of the chassis as I saw it: the swinging arm pivot, and grew organically from there, to the front and the rear’.

Using his expansive knowledge on chassis fabrication, Ace knew the frame could not be produced in one shot and maintain alignment. Progressively welding the joints, steel was allowed to cool before moving onto the next section. Small fixtures were produced to mount sub assemblies during the chassis build process. The majority of the frame was produced by assembling it with the motor and wheels, aligning the required componentry, tack welding the fixture, disassembling the motor and wheels, and starting the process all over again. This is definitely the area of specialist bike building, and not conducive to mass production levels.

The level of thought put into the design is matched by the level of worksmanship put into the chassis. With the frame solid and straight, the chainline within 1mm of specs and overall alignment within 0.3 degrees, it was time to move to the next phase. Bracketry was produced to mount auxiliary components for the cooling and electrical systems. Controls were fabricated and welded into place, the frame was then shipped off to the powdercoater. While the frame was gone, Ace set to work producing the seat framework. To avoid having to heat treat the structure after fabrication, the all aluminium frame was produced using structural epoxy joints. Once this was done, a mold was produced for the custom seat and taillight cover, the remaining fairings were adapted from Farley and Ace’s mold stock. The fuel tank was the final item to be produced while waiting for the frame to return. Fabricated from scratch in steel sheet, it was covered in foam, shaped and layered with carbon fibre to give it’s final shape. The amount of
inhouse manufacturing that happened during the build is beyond thought, yet there was still more to come.

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Once the frame had returned, it was time to assemble the bike and see how it would function on the road. The bearings were pressed into the head, forks and wheels mounted, the hand controls assembled on the handlebars. The foot controls were produced in the A & F workshop, along with the 2 into 1 exhaust system. Tank and seat fitment took place, the battery being repositioned under the seat. The wiring harness is based on a stock Triumph system, with much simplification and lengthening carried out to maintain a neat look. Keeping an eye on the instruments is easy, with an all in one instrument pod integrating the idiot lights, speedo and tacho. Flanking this is an air/fuel meter, start switch and on/off switch for the auxiliary fan mounted on the oil cooler.

From the beginning, this one off special was intended to have a 41mm FCR carburetor, inspired by Ace’s Triumph Tiger. A special intake manifold was produced just for this bike, with static tests guided by Gunson’s Colourtune and the air/fuel meter. After many hours of adjustments, needle & jet changes, more adjustments, Ace reached the point where he was happy with the setup. The bike’s first roadtest produced a great deal of information of what had been done well on the build, and what was left to be done. More carb adjustment, some suspension tweaking, and the chain interfering with the swinging arm were to be carried out. On the up side, the chassis tracked remarkably well, showing Ace the handling potential for the bike once it had the proper suspension setup: ‘the balance was spot on’.

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A target was set for the bike to be ready for the Connecticut Rockers’ Reunion, a 650 mile trial by fire to show the bike’s capabilities. With only a few weeks to make sure the new born creation was up to the task, more test rides took place. Taking a tentative approach to the test runs, Ace felt it important to ‘feel’ the ride as deeply as possible, in order to make the adjustments accordingly. The more the bike was ridden, the more it showed the benefit of the thought put into the chassis design. Ace found the chassis to be solid, with no torque through the whole structure, and with a comfortable riding position it seemed the whole package had been attained. The short stout geometry gets the bike in and out of corners at speed with less lean than the relaxed Bonneville frame. This doesn’t take away from the bikes high speed stability, and according to Ace runs easily from ‘around town’ speeds right through to speeds in excess of 120 miles per hour.

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The day of the big ride arrived. Mounting a luggage rack to ensure his baby is the perfect allrounder bike, Ace set off for with a group of friends for Connecticut. Their route comprised of four lane interstates right through to two lane secondary roads, with lots of turns and hills to allow the Triumph special to stretch it’s legs. Upon reaching the gathering the Bluebird managed to turn a few heads, and the trip home was a story in itself. Due to the different locations his mates were heading to, Ace did the return trip by himself. Over hills, down winding single lane roads, braving thunder and lightning, the Bluebird took it all in it’s stride, the bike being a joy to ride.

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Over the course of this winter, Ace is looking to run a couple of modifications on his freshly run in machine. The FCR single carb system is to be superceded by one comprising of two 38mm APT ‘Smartcarb’ single circuit units. This should be of assistance to the motor’s response and mileage over the single setup. The other modification to be made is to construct and mount a new swingarm, to rectify the problem of the chain rubbing without the need to run a chain tensioner.

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From an idea to build a decent one piece fairing to suit his Thruxton, through to the custom accessory house that exists today, Ace & Farley have come a long way. Building on skills learnt on pedal powered bikes, Ace has shown his skills in fabrication on many different materials, creating the perfect rolling advertisement for the business. And to think it all started with a midlife crisis.

Frame Geometry and Specifications

Head angle: 68 degrees loaded
Offset : 1.25 inches
Wheel Base: 55.5 inches
Seat height: 30 inches
Total weight wet: 405 lbs.

Wheels: BST Carbon 7 spoke
Front Tire: Avon Storm ST 2 Ultra AV 55 120/70ZR17
Rear Tire: Avon Storm ST 2 Ultra AV 56 180/55ZR17
Brakes: Tokiko four pot front, Brembo two pot rear, rear brake linked to front brake left, front brake right to hand control – ala Moto-Guzzi, Braking floating wavy rotors front, Braking wavy rear.

Many thanks to Ace Hooligan for his assistance and many build pics to post, you can find more of his work at http://www.farleyandace.com

Ace is always looking for bikes to customise, so shoot him an email on ace@farleyandace.com to discuss your options.

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