Hinckley Hero: Joe Pitman’s Triumph 900 Triple “CR2″…
At the 1990 Cologne Motorcycle Show, Triumph Motorcycles returned with a bang, revealing a six-strong range of modern multi-cylinder machines built out of a new state-of-the-art factory in Hinckley, Leicestershire, England. These new Hinckley-built “T300” machines not only signaled the rebirth of the great British brand, but they were engineered to overcome the old reputation for oil leaks, frequent maintenance, and recurrent electrical problems — all while preserving the charisma and mystique of the marque.
The new triple-cylinder engines were a hit, offering a riding experience quite unlike that of their Japanese and European rivals.
“DO GOOD THINGS COME IN threes? Sure they do. Larry, Moe and Curley, for example. Guitar, bass and drums. Bacon, eggs and toast. Also, cylinders… In the here and now, Triumph Triples are etching the company logo into the hearts and minds of enthusiasts.” –Cycle World, 1995
The Daytona 900 soon appeared, a modern sports bike offering 98 horsepower from the liquid-cooled 885cc triple. Though it was a tad heavy, the 900 could offer something most of the competition couldn’t: character.
“I just couldn’t help falling for the bike. The classic style, the super sound, the sheer Britishness and part it played in helping to get John Bloor’s dream on the road, just can’t be ignored. Neither can its relative comfort and 200 mile tank range which gives it extra versatility.” -Tony Carter, Morebikes
Recently, we heard from Joe Pitman, a UK-based shed-builder who turned from building track bikes to customs about a decade ago.
“Building bikes is really important to me for my mental health, which has become more of an issue as I’ve grown older. I’m lucky enough to have a little workshop in my garden, which doubles up as an office. It’s kitted out with a lathe, mill, welders, etc. My builds typically take 2-3 years. I don’t like to rush, preferring to enjoy the process of letting the design evolve as we go.”
The bike you see here is based on a ’96 Daytona 900. Joe calls it the “CR2” for “Café Racer 2,” as it’s his second custom build using the Hinckley 900 platform:
“CR2 is very much a refinement of the design and execution of CR1, which was my first custom build.”
One of the most compelling aspects of the CR2 is the emphasis on light weight and performance, which can be traced back to Joe’s many years of track experience.
“Having built and ridden a lot of track bikes, every bike I build has to handle and stop well. I prefer to focus on losing weight rather than increasing engine power.”
Joe hacked off the overbuilt original subframe and fabricated a lightweight, fully-adjustable aluminum subframe (no welding!), which allows him to tweak the seat height and angle. The bike is now running a set of Öhlins forks from a Daytona 675R, Brembo brakes, 675R wheels, and a Nitron rear shock.
Other highlights include Keihin carbs with old-school Mikuni bellmouths, KTM-sourced rearsets, Motogadget switches / indicators / mirrors, custom battery and electronics box, modified Kevlar tail unit from a 90s Honda racebike, custom saddle with bronze stitching, and much more. After this so-called “R” treatment, Joe’s CR2 tips the scales at just 189 kilograms (~415 lbs) — a loss of nearly 100 pounds over the original machine!
One thing we love is how much Joe actually rides his triple-cylinder café racer. He says 100+ mile days in the saddle aren’t uncommon, and the CR2 made the pilgrimage to London’s Tobacco Docks under its own power for its time in the limelight:
“The bike was displayed at the 2022 London Bike Shed show, and I rode it the 120 miles into London because for me ‘function’ is paramount in a custom bike.”
All in all, this is one glorious bit of British-built kit, a 90s café racer that sits perfectly between the oily old twins of the Ace Café era and the overly digital sport bikes of today. Below, we talk to Joe for the full details on the build, and stay tuned in the coming days for another creation from Joe’s garden workshop!
Daytona 900 Café Racer: Builder Interview
• Please tell us a bit about yourself, your history with motorcycles, and your workshop.
Usual story; dirtbikes as a kid, a string of two-stroke road bikes in my late teens and twenties, back to dirtbikes and enduro for while, and then on to road and track bikes. Always modified everything I’ve owned. My first road bike, a Kawasaki AR50, ended up with a 98cc engine, bigger carb, and expansion chamber…and it just went from there.
After a long spell building track day bikes, I got in to building custom bikes about 10 years ago — the logical progression. So far, I have made two Triumph café racers and a KZ1000 restomod — all three have appeared at the Bike Shed London shows. I’m currently building a GPZ900R restomod, which is going to be my most in-depth build yet, with lots of welding and machining. It’s already 2 ½ years in and a long way off completion….
I would describe myself as an enthusiastic amateur, this is just a hobby for me. Building bikes is really important to me for my mental health, which has become more of an issue as I’ve grown older. I’m lucky enough to have a little workshop in my garden, which doubles up as an office. It’s kitted out with a lathe, mill, welders, etc. My builds typically take 2-3 years. I don’t like to rush, preferring to enjoy the process of letting the design evolve as we go. I particularly hate rushing, cutting, corners and compromising.
• Tell us about your Bike…
First generation Hinckley Daytona triple given the “R” treatment, now tipping the scales at 189 kg wet. The bike was displayed at the 2022 London Bike Shed show, and I rode it the 120 miles into London because for me “function” is paramount in a custom bike.
The two-year transformation began by stripping the bike right down to that trademark spine frame and hacking off the huge subframe. These bikes are renowned for being massively over-engineered in Triumph’s quest to shake off its reputation for building fragile triples in the 70’s.
A fully adjustable aluminium subframe was knocked up on the lathe, no welding, just bolted together to form a strong yet light and adjustable platform. The use of pivots around the fabricated mounting points on the spine of the frame enable me to set the seat height and inclination. The subframe also houses the battery box and all the electrics.
After painstakingly stripping and repainting the low mileage engine, it was reattached to the frame and the rolling chassis build began. A specially-machined top bearing cup in the steering head tube has enabled the fitment of a complete Daytona 675R Öhlins front end with Brembo M50 calipers and custom brake lines.
In the rear a matching Daytona 675R wheel and Brembo rear brake caliper has been slotted in the stock swingarm, which was stripped and brushed, and a custom-built Nitron adjustable shock installed. The rearsets are from a KTM SDR 1290 with a custom gearshift linkage.
Engine-wise, the Mikunis were replaced with Keihins, rejetted and fitted with old-school Mikuni bellmouths originally intended for a CB900. The headers are a rare set of polished stainless tubes from an early Trophy mated to custom shorty cans. The radiator is stock with a 1.8 rad cap, which eliminates the need for an expansion tank.
At the controls are a set of matching Brembo master cylinders from a Ducati Panigale, Motogadget switches, Motogadget indicators and mirrors, Keyless Go, and a Koso instrument set driven by a sensor pickup on the rear wheel ABS sensor. The headlamp is a billet item bolted directly to the headstock for clean lines.
The bike has been rewired from scratch with a Motogadget M-Unit at the heart of the new system, fully exploiting the Bluetooth functionality on offer. A Shorai LiPo battery sits in the subframe along with the CDI etc.
The tank is from a Triumph Adventure, and the filler is an alloy Monza-style affair. The seat unit is a heavily modified Kevlar replica unit from a mid 90’s Honda RSR 250 racer. The custom saddle was made in black leather and bronze stitching. A local old-school airbrush master laid down the unusual paint scheme.
• What’s the meaning of the nickname?
CR2 stand for Café Racer 2, and this bike actually is the second cafe racer I’ve built around the Triumph 900 T300 platform, hence the “2”. CR2 is very much a refinement of the design and execution of CR1, which was my first custom build.
• Can you tell us what it’s like to ride the finished bike?
Having built and ridden a lot of track bikes, every bike I build has to handle and stop well. I prefer to focus on losing weight rather than increasing engine power. CR2 started off as 250-kg touring bike and is now 189 kg with decent tyres, suspension, and brakes. It rides superbly, grunty and flickable. The triple sounds amazing with those twin pipes. I often cover 100-plus miles on it when we go out.
• Was there anything done during this build that you are particularly proud of?
The overall aesthetic is the thing I’m the proudest of.