This Saturday I took a trip across the river and through the Blackwall tunnel into deepest Kent with Bonnie Barry & Scrambler Ben to visit the Spirit of the Seventies workshop and meet Tim Rogers - one half of the talented duo that are building some stunning, timeless custom bikes in the UK.

The boys compare pocket sizes while Barry’s Bonnie doubles as a handbag holder

They’ve had a lot of great press recently, and it’s well deserved, as their design and vision is matched by the their quality of parts and build, and their background in riding proper bikes on track means they don’t compromise when it comes to performance and handling. These bikes are not all show and no go.

Spirit 1 - 1976 z750

The first couple of Spirit bikes were based on Kawasaki's z750 and Yamaha's XS750 (bored out to 850) which also make popular donors for street customs from the likes of Wrench Monkees and Roland Sands, but Tim & Kev's take on these bikes are beautiful and original. I specially like their ubercool paint schemes.

Spirit 2 - 1979 xs750 ...eighteen, nineteen, twenty, coming, ready or not!

Their third outing is a street tracker based on a 78 Yamaha XS 650, and this bike is one of the prettiest of them all (although I'm a clip-ons kinda guy).

Spirit 3 - 1979 xs 650

What's more, it was built on-spec and is available to buy. ... I thought Ben was going to get his wallet out on the spot after a test ride that left him grinning from ear to ear. Ben's heavily modified and blacked-out Triumph Scrambler is lovely, but this kickstart (optional), flickable beauty suited him just a little too well.

(...g'wan Ben, you know you wanna).

It was after this meeting of minds and metal that I realised something I'd been fretting over. ...I realised that my Superduke has to go.

The Superduke R is a stunning bike (Kev also had one) and they are a rush to ride and own. KTM held on to a pure motorcyling ethos that I've admired for years, and I've owned a few. The SM950 and standard Superduke are two of the best. They practically reinvented the streetbike class and definitely invented the hypermoto. They have also stood out from the crowd, hanging on to the principle of Ready To Race, and keeping away from electronic rider aids and me-too models for longer than most manufacturers...

But sadly, they are having to change to stay competitive and to adhere to ever-stricter EU regs on noise & emissions. On top of that, thanks to the era of health & safety without responsibilty, (and riders who can't ride), ABS and Traction Control are here to stay on big bikes, and are firmly knocking on KTM's door.

Robin was very upset that Batman had bought a single seater

…but why should this iconic bike leave my garage? Well, I’m just not riding it any more. KTMs make superb all-season bikes with their bullet-proof dirtbike-based finishes and fastenings, but the R version of the Superduke is just too lairy, and compared to my other trellis-framed European litre-twin, it’s fucking hard work to ride. The FI has been smoothed out with a Power Commander and MotoHooligan Airbox, but it’s still an arse to ride through town, and instead of playing it’s part as my everyday practical bike with attitude, it’s taken a surprise back seat to my pretty Sport Classic. My Ducati summer play-thing has evolved simultaneously into my custom-lite special AND my practical day to day ride. But most of all the big, badass, Batbike of a KTM suddenly looks dated. A new 1200 will be out soon, but the journos stopped talking about the SD in group tests two years ago, and although it’s still an amazing machine, it’s set in it’s era, …and in many ways stands for what annoys me about biking now, …It’s approaching it’s bloody sell-by date. So, if I liberate the Superduke into the hands of a new admirer, and liberate the cash that’s been sitting on non-rolling wheels for too long, what do I replace it with? …A really sensible winter bike? Another KTM 950 Supermoto, or perhaps a Husky 510SMR fitted with race wets for winter? …Both are very appealing… But then Tim at Spirit sent me some photos… (bastard) First-up, he commented that the mid-nineties Dukes have a pretty flat frame, and could make good donors for a cafe racer, …and then he ruined me with this… This was made worse when I googled Union bikes, and saw it’s sister bike…
I suddenly and desperately want a bike like this in my life. I posted this bike on the Ducati forum and one smart arse (correctly) pointed out that I already have one of these bikes. The Sport Classic is the defining retro Ducati cafe racer. Practical, with decent handling and performance, and timeless looks... But the Union 900's combination of braced box-section swingarm, monoshock rear, solid wheels and 70s style half fairing results in a fantastic mix of old and new that I really love. Bonnie Barry also owns a mid nineties Ducati 900ss FE, so I've seen one in the flesh, and it's a great base bike for something like this. I'm in two minds. One part of me says; let my modern retro (the Sport Classic) continue to evolve, but also serve as my practical year round day-to-day bike. Apart from my fear of the UK's uber-corrosive road salt and it's effect on my engine finish, it's perfectly capable of playing that role, even if I make it very pretty and keep customising it. This would allow me to use the ca$h to help me pick up an old 900ss and then get Tim & Kev at Spirit to customise it for me, with our take on what the guys at Union have done. But am I crazy? Another route would be to take my lovely Duc SC and add a fairing... It's probably going to annoy me - after all that effort simplifying the clocks, indies and headlamp, ... I'd have to build some kind of frontal subframe and then retro-fit a fixed half fairing and headlamp... or I could consider getting the OEM parts from a Duc SportClassic 1000S or Paul Smart, which already have a very similar fairing... but I prefer the Union one - I think it's from Glass From The Past in the US. It's blunt nose is even prettier than the Paul Smart.

This bike needs Y-Spoke wheels, reverse-cone end-cans, and to lose that ugly hugger... But otherwise, she's a peach. I have no idea what I will do next. The cost comes into it. Logic doesn't play a part. I know that with plan A I could end up with two bikes that are almost identical, one with and one without a fairing. I know that instead I should add a fairing to my Duc and buy myself a 950 SMR for winter... But I really don't care what the smart thing to do is. Biking is now officially my pointless passion and I will do whatever makes me the most happy.

The faux retro Duc shows off his 18o rear rube while the real 70's retros talk block treads and carb jetting...