If you aren’t familiar with the Rocket III, let me give you a little background. It’s a tall 2300cc, three-cylinder in-line motor mounted length-wise with shaft drive in a stubby bike with cartoon-ish features. Not a particularly handsome lump of Ol’ Blighty to start with compared to the Bonneville-based choppers of the Sixties and Seventies. Mike called upon John Triplett of Nothing But Customs in Taylorsville, Kentucky, to collaborate on getting a frame built to somehow house this engine and make it attractive. “Not many people build motorcycles around a car engine and in my opinion, that’s what that thing was,” said Mike. “All John got was the motor and his initial reaction was, ‘Dude, you gotta be kidding me? Is this a joke?’ ” No, it wasn’t. Shortly thereafter, John started to get into the project and told Mike, “It might actually be cool.” John fabricated a long and low frame stretched 12” with a horizon reaching 43 degrees of rake and an additional 6 degrees in the trees. He likes to proportion his frames so there’s a 50/50 percentage from the center of the engine to each axle to give it the stretched, balanced style he loves. American Suspension supplied the classy looking inverted black forks that try their best not to go horizontal while holding a Tight Customs 21” Triplett-designed wheel sporting a single-disc American Suspension front brake. The how-low-can-you-go look is courtesy of Air Ride Technologies rear suspension, which not only allows the Triumph to kiss the tarmac when stopped, but also provides 3.5” of usable ground clearance with a comfortable real world ride when in motion. John used his intermediate shaft system, which allows the drivetrain to be centered in the frame to connect the stock Triumph unitized 6-speed tranny/ex-driveshaft setup to left-side chain drive to the rear wheel. Mounted on that intermediate shaft is a hidden disc brake that not only stops the 360mm Avon shod rear wheel, but also enhances its delightful fatness as well by not being anywhere in sight.
With the basic chassis platform to work around, Mike was faced with how to incorporate the huge mass of electronic systems needed to make a modern, high-tech engine run. “Believe it or not, the computer system was very complex and the stock fuel pump was huge. I made three gas tanks before this one that I finally was happy with,” said Mike. The stock bike has a huge air box and this needed to be worked around and still make it attractive. Hiding all that equipment and making it all still work was the toughest part. The gas tank just looks right and flows with the body. Mike’s well-known sheet metal expertise again came in handy with the massively chic aft-bodywork. “When I was working on the rear fender, everybody in the shop asked, ‘Where’s the fender?’ and I said, ‘That’s it.’ ” Mike was referring to his drag bike tail section, “I wanted people to look at it and go, ‘Whoa, I bet this thing’s scary fast!’ ” Mike’s radiator shrouding takes nothing away from this look and frames the engine nicely. All of a sudden, the motor lost its verticality and now looks more like a proper bike engine than a refugee from a four-wheeler. He finished off the bodywork with a front fender that celebrates the substantial look of the rear fender with a strong, not afraid to be a fender, presence of its own. Dave Little of Little Designs was called upon to lay one of his fine paintjobs over all this work and the silver and black design is not only tasteful, but slims out the bodywork. The look of this bike is in its sheer size and exceptional bodywork, and Mike should be applauded for pulling it off so well. “It stretched my limits, and my confidence of what I can do,” says Mike.
One thing Mike is especially proud of is his use of integrating stock Triumph components into the design. For instance, take that stylish bikini fairing Mike made, stock Rocket III headlights were used and you’d never know. Stock gauges, gas cap, emblems, forward controls, and other pieces are used throughout, but don’t stick out. Mike says, “I wanted to incorporate as much of the stock bike as possible. Who knows where it might lead?” Speaking of stock, that’s what this engine is and that’s just fine with Mike, “It has so much torque (155ft lbs) it’s unbelievable.” The exhaust is a Triumph/MGS modified piece while MGS also made the air cleaner set-up. That’s it.
Possibly the best compliment given to this bike is by the builder himself. “I told my wife that if we ever do anything else, this is the one bike I want to keep. I love this bike. It’s the smoothest thing I’ve ever ridden; the power band is like it’s electric, it just accelerates,” said Mike.
This bike feature originally appeared in Barnett's Magazine issue #52, Nov-Dec 2006.
Builder: Mike Stafford MGS Custom Bikes
Ten years ago, former dirt bike rider Mike Stafford started building custom exhausts and a few custom bikes in his garage, after being introduced to Harley’s by his future wife who rode her own H-D. That’s a new twist. He did have a background in working with metal though, fabbing stainless steel for the medical industry. One thing led to another and MGS Custom Bikes was formed and he’s quietly made a name for himself as one of the best builders around. “We’ve worked very hard to make our bikes speak for themselves with our radical bikes and one-off sheet metal,” says the non-tattooed, five–kid dad. “Hey, I don’t even look like I ride bikes.” The only looks that matter though are the tasty V-twin customs and parts that come out of MGS’s shop. “We’re staking our reputation to launch our new Liquid Steel product line; our gas tanks, fenders, handlebars, exhaust pipes, and chassis kits,” said Mike. “This should allow me the freedom to build 4 or 6 bikes a year on my own terms instead of 10 to 12 as we do now.” Interested? Check out MGS atwww.mgscustombikes.com or call 661-951-9878.
|Bike Name:||Triumph Triple Threat|
|Owner:||MGS Custom Bikes - Mike Stafford|
|Year / Make:||2006 / Triumph Rocket III|
|Fabrication:||MGS Custom Bikes|
|Assembly:||MGS Custom Bikes|
|Build time:||Six months|
|Engine:||Triumph Rocket III|
|Cases:||Triumph Rocket III|
|Flywheels:||Triumph Rocket III|
|Rods:||Triumph Rocket III|
|Pistons:||Triumph Rocket III|
|Cylinders:||Triumph Rocket III|
|Heads:||Triumph Rocket III|
|Cam:||Triumph Rocket III|
|Ignition:||Triumph Rocket III|
|Pipes:||Triumph Rocket III|
|Air Cleaner:||MGS Custom Bikes|
|Transmission:||Triumph Rocket III|
|Clutch:||Triumph Rocket III|
|Frame:||Nothing But Customs|
|Rake:||43 degrees in the neck / 6 degrees in the trees|
|Rear Suspension:||Air Ride Technologies|
|Front Wheel:||21" Tight Customs/ NBC Signature series|
|Rear Wheel:||18" Tight Customs/ NBC Signature series`|
|Rear Tire:||360mm V-Rubber|
|Front Brakes:||American Suspension|
|Fuel Tank:||MGS Custom Bikes|
|Oil Tank:||MGS Custom Bikes|
|Fenders:||MGS Custom Bikes|
|Handlebars:||MGS Custom Bikes|
|Headlight:||Triumph Rocket III|
|Hand Controls:||Triumph Rocket III|
|Foot Controls:||Triumph Rocket III|
|Electrical:||Triumph Rocket III/ MGS Custom Bikes|
|Painter:||Dave Little/ Little Designs|
|Special thanks to:||John Triplett of Nothing But Customs, Matt Capri of South Bay Triumph, Darren - the Rocket III Master!, Bob Coslett - Pinstriping, Jack Mattson of Mattson's Radiator, Gorilla Sandblasting, THE MGS CREW: Travis Andersson, Eric Brown, Peter Ellison, Mike Strozzi|