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The Mongrel: A ‘Rickman’ Triumph T120 cafe racer

A Triumph T120 homage to Rickman by Return Of The Cafe Racers
When Triumph pulled the wraps off the ‘new’ Bonneville back in 2016, they flew several journalists to London to attend the official launch. The event was critical for Triumph: the ‘old’ Bonneville had been in production for 15 years, and the future of the marque was at stake.

I wasn’t the only journalist who spent 36 hours travelling from Down Under. Australian Geoff Baldwin from Return Of The Cafe Racers was there too, and after seeing the new T120, decided he wanted to do a custom build.

A Triumph T120 homage to Rickman by Return Of The Cafe Racers
“The idea was to create a T120 that celebrated the bike’s history,” he says. “During the four-year product development of the new T120, the Bonneville celebrated its 55th anniversary—and that became my starting point.”

With a website called ‘Return of the Cafe Racers,’ Geoff obviously wasn’t going to build a chopper. But he needed another twist to make his custom T120 memorable.

A Triumph T120 homage to Rickman by Return Of The Cafe Racers
“I discovered the missing piece when I realized another company was also celebrating a milestone when the T120 was released. Fifty years previously, Rickman produced their first street-legal motorcycle.” And what engine was it powered by? A Triumph Bonneville engine, of course.

Brothers Derek and Don Rickman had become famous by shoehorning sporty engines into their specially made nickel-plated frames. The fiberglass bodywork was shapely, and Rickman bikes also outperformed many factory teams on the track—causing a few monocles to drop in the paddock.

A Triumph T120 homage to Rickman by Return Of The Cafe Racers
Back home in Melbourne, Geoff fired up Photoshop and drew a T120 Bonneville wearing replica Rickman bodywork and with a nickel-plated frame.

“Thanks to the classic look of the T120 engine it looked right at home beneath the retro bodywork. I then applied a color scheme of Emerald Green and gold, as a hat-tip to those anniversary dates. The next day I sent it off to Triumph, and everyone seemed to like it as much as I did. The project was finally underway.”

A Triumph T120 homage to Rickman by Return Of The Cafe Racers
The build began at a warehouse belonging to Triumph Australia. A brand new T120 Bonneville Black was torn down: “We opted for the Black, so that the nickel frame would really ‘pop’—and not compete with the polished engine cases of the standard model.”

Airtech Streamlining in California sent over a replica Rickman bodywork kit, with an Avon-style front cowl, a hollowed out fuel tank cover, and a ‘duck’s bum’ tail unit. Geoff also ordered a matching clear windscreen and nose cone from Gustafsson Plastics.

A Triumph T120 homage to Rickman by Return Of The Cafe Racers
“A few weeks later we had a pile of Bonneville bits laid out on the Triumph warehouse floor, and a fresh set of unpainted fiberglass panels.

The paint and fabrication specialist Karl Stehn of KDS Designs was called in to help. “We discussed the hurdles that would have to be overcome—like the fact that the replica Rickman bodywork was not made to fit a T120,” says Geoff. “I raised concerns about how we’d manage the fuel injection system: we couldn’t cut or modify the frame in any way. Luckily, none of this seemed to faze Karl.”

A Triumph T120 homage to Rickman by Return Of The Cafe Racers
In the KDS workshop just outside of Geelong, some 75 kilometers west of Melbourne, Karl got to work. He tackled the most challenging part of the project first: the fuel injection system.

But after chopping up a stock Bonneville fuel tank, it soon became clear that the fuel pump simply wouldn’t fit beneath the Rickman cover. An alternative solution was required. So Karl built a custom fuel cell using a pair of old fire extinguishers, which fit snugly beneath the fiberglass shell. After Triumph confirmed the correct specifications, Karl sourced a compact external fuel pump that would begin a new life beneath the tank cover.

A Triumph T120 homage to Rickman by Return Of The Cafe Racers
To fit the rest of the bodywork, Karl worked with Adam ‘Hammo’ Hammond to fabricate custom brackets for the headlight, fuel tank and tail.

“As a full-time traditional sign writer and custom painter, Karl had no problem recreating my Photoshop mockup,” says Geoff. “He mixed up a custom Emerald Green bursting with metal flake, and laid it down as the base color. Then he hand-laid the Triumph lettering and pinstripes in gold leaf, and finished it all off with hand-painted silver pinstripes.”

A Triumph T120 homage to Rickman by Return Of The Cafe Racers
For the upholstery, Karl’s mates at KJF Custom Trim stepped in and put together the tan leather seat. And back at Triumph’s HQ, Technical Manager Cliff Stovall prepared the T120 frame for plating.

Carroll Electroplating in Tullamarine applied the nickel to the frame, swingarm, mounting brackets and clamps, recreating the look of the iconic Rickman frames.

A Triumph T120 homage to Rickman by Return Of The Cafe Racers
The basic assembly came next, swapping out the original handlebars for aftermarket clip-ons, plus a rewire. Karl took delivery of the rolling chassis for the final time to get everything mounted and ready for running in.

Just as the paint had finished drying (and Christmas holidays finished) Karl bolted the bodywork to the bike. Nigel Petrie of Engineered To Slide sent through a set of custom stainless steel headers (which Triumph decided to cover with safety-wired black thermo wrap), and Karl added a pair of slip-on megaphone mufflers to finish them off.

A Triumph T120 homage to Rickman by Return Of The Cafe Racers
“To avoid any electrical nightmares we kept the original Triumph dials,” says Geoff. “Which is fine, since they look so good perched within the Avon fairing. And although the taillight looks like it was made for the fairing, it’s actually a new-old-stock Harley-Davidson part that Karl found. It slid into place after a little trimming.”

‘The Mongrel’ is now the cover star of the latest issue of Tank Moto magazine, which Geoff edits. And a few days ago it headed to the Phillip Island Classic, the largest historic motorcycle meet in the southern hemisphere, for the shoot you see here.

A Triumph T120 homage to Rickman by Return Of The Cafe Racers
If you missed it at the Island but live in the Lucky Country, keep an eye out for Geoff’s ‘Rickman’ T120 at the motorcycle shows, and in Triumph showrooms.

You’re unlikely to see a finer modern homage to the heritage of Triumph and the Rickman brothers anywhere else.

Return Of The Cafe Racers | Triumph Motorcycles Australia | Images by Luke Ray of Tank Moto magazine

A Triumph T120 homage to Rickman by Return Of The Cafe Racers

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