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The Chef’s Special: Tyler Florence’s Triumph Bonneville Cafe Racer

It sits silent on its tires, but with character and attitude — lean and mean, all business. A fighter. This ‘California Bruiser’ was created by customizer Michael McDonald, who had virtually a free hand to cook up a masterpiece for an appreciative celebrity-chef owner, Tyler Florence.

Michael McDonald, the builder -“51 going on 15,” as he puts it, originally from San Diego; learned to love motorcycles at his father’s knee, starting at age five. He has created seven ground-up custom bikes since 2008.  McDonald is the Service Manager and Special Projects Coordinator at Hattar Motorsports (soon to become Marin Speedshop) where they “cater to individuals who want a unique, personalized bike.” McDonald’s earlier motorcycle art includes his $140,000 NCR Ducati and a gorgeous Triumph Scrambler-based street-tracker, its power raised from 39.4 horsepower on the dyno to 100-plus.

Tyler Florence, the customer/celebrity chef – 41, got hooked on cooking as a boy in South Carolina, and eventually opened restaurants in San Francisco, Napa and Marin. He also hosts a show on the Food Network.  Both Tyler and Michael now call Marin County home.  Each worked for years, each establishing his reputation, each without knowing the other, until they came together a year ago to create a unique and beautiful motorcycle based around a modern Hinckley Triumph Bonneville T100.

According to McDonald, “Tyler gave me essentially free rein to pursue my concept, based on our meeting of the minds.”

Tyler Florence: passion, intensity

He seems affable and easygoing but this passionate, intense man wants to live fully, as exemplified by a voracious appetite for inventing signature food. “I was captivated by motorcycles going back to my boyhood. They looked to me like birds in flight. The freedom, the control, the connection between machine and body, reached out to me.”

On creating his Triumph: “This [project] haunted me for a decade, based on my idea of one of one. When I get a vision I have to get it out there. I met Michael McDonald in Napa and I started from minute one to think about having him do something special for me, based on the ’50s and ’60s café racers. We took my T100, whose stance and attitude I liked, and kept taking off pieces until we had captured its essence, then built it back up as the one-off hybrid you see here — the tank, the bars, the tail, a machine that wouldn’t be instantly recognizable, a bike that provoked questions, a unique road spirit, unlike chromed-out American bikes. I like to work with teams of bright people. Michael McDonald and [tank-builder] Evan Wilcox were the right team.”

So, here are the ingredients that make up this customized T100 . . . a bike baked to perfection:

  • Take one new Bonneville T100, keep the frame and stock engine, remove everything else.
  • Ceramic-tape wrap the pipes for scale, and fit Norton Commando ‘peashooter’ tail pipes.
  • Re-valve the forks and use Öhlins’ few-off ATV race shocks at the back.
  • Install a 17” front wheel (vs. the stock 19”).
  • Design and install ‘button’ switches within the bars.
  • Find a 1970s-style tank, based on the legendary Slippery Sam Trident (a consecutive ’72-’75 TT title winner), reshaped by Ukiah’s brilliant Evan Wilcox.
  • Dig up original Triumph (logo) tank nameplates.
  • Have Wilcox hammer out a steel tail based on Ducati’s 750 Supersport bevel-head.
  • Find the perfect tail light (clue: See that boat trailer, in traffic, with clever little rear lights? Now scour boat shops until you find one).
  • Marinate the freshly sanded steel tank and tail section in a 15-gallon tub of balsamic vinegar—five hours, 150F.
  • Remove, wash and dry the tank and tail to ‘cure’ for two hours.
  • Dunk for another two hours to ‘fix’ the correct patina of an old chef’s knife blade.
  • Clear-coat and install tank and tail (with appropriate leather seat).
  • Under the headlight, fit a quickly detachable leather pouch.
  • Fit side number plates — ‘8’ — celebrating Tyler’s daughter Dorothy, born 8-8-08 at 8:00 a.m.

31 Comments

  1. Dave says:

    Very Nicely done. Unfortunately, all the pics show the left side only. I would have liked to see the right side too.

  2. Scruby says:

    100 + HP,I don’t think so.

    • Jim Meyer says:

      My Speedmaster dynoed at 81 HP and I didn’t get too agressive with the mods. I think if you’re willing to throw ridiculous amounts of cash at the triumph twin, you can get 100HP.

      BTW, it’s not this bike that is claiming 100HP, it’s another bike this guy built.

      But I don’t see why this thing gets to be featured. Looks like one of a million “custom” bonnevilles.

  3. Neil says:

    If our economy keeps going the way it is, with the top 5% building new homes in the burbs, as is the case in Boston, with most people just getting by, and us glorifying the upper crust, then we will see more bikes from China very soon. This bike is nicely done, for that customer anyway. Not my taste. Bars too low and too far forward. Ugly number plate. Ugly seat. Ugly pipe wrap. – I appreciate success in life, but I am seeing far too many examples of us glorifying mere mortals at the expense of us all. The guy is a cook. – I want to see bikes most of us can ride, like Cleveland Cycle Works but better quality. CCW is going to open a factory in Cleveland instead of China soon! – Nice bike. I just wish there were more of us commuting and because of our mass auto mentality and the few robbing the many in various ways, we will not see more bikes on the roads any time soon, just more cell phones!

  4. LMJS says:

    Taped pipes? Boring, overdone, overused, nothing new there.
    Slippery Sam tank? Slippery Sam was a triple, a boxy Trident, not a Bonneville.
    Triumph Bonnevilles are meant to be skinny bikes, not chunky lumps with tooled leather tool bags and number plates that are somewhat ridiculous on the street. A little logo cartoon deal on the fender or tank to celebrate the 8 year old idea would by far more in keeping with a cafe racer look and pedigree.
    What’s with the bars? Have Ace bars all dried up?
    I can’t help but think how much better this thing would look as a Dresda special with that idea of the faux patina on the tank, a tidier ride and “narrow through the hips”
    design would make it stand out more for what it is supposed to be.
    Commando exhausts? Why not? But a nice set of TT pipes would also do the deal.
    Perhaps this bike looks better in person, as it stands it doesn’t look like anything too interesting in a Tickle, Dow, Kennedy, Lyster, Degens, and Dunstall way.
    But the owner is happy and that is what counts at the end of the day, I imagine.

  5. j.davis says:

    I can’t think of anything positive to say about the bike.

  6. trent says:

    I just hope he actually rides it.

  7. Reinhart says:

    Looks like your basic $8000 bike with $25,000 of icing poured over it.

  8. Provalogna says:

    I don’t know. But I can’t resist my 2c worth when asked twice.

    Notice the bike has a big, wide, husky look. Replacing the 19″ front wheel with a 17″ lowers the bike a full inch, increasing the heavyweight look by minimizing vertical clearance. Header pipe ceramic tape increases pipe diameter. Beyond that it adds texture vs. a smooth chrome finish, and attracts the eye which now darts back and forth between all the other eye candy. Tape makes the pipes better match the “scale” of the hulking fuel tank and other design cues.

    At first I wasn’t sure about the tape, and I even briefly agreed with the negative comments.

    Now I love it.

  9. Brian says:

    nice bike, and if you happen to be in SF, you can’t go wrong at Chef Tyler’s “Wayfare Tavern”. comfort food at its greatest!!!

  10. Steve says:

    One of the coolest bikes ever is a purely stock 66 Bonne with the beige tank and orange racing stripe.

  11. chris says:

    Presuming that the leather pouch is for toolkit? Whether you love the look of that bit or not, unless you can pop the tailsection for easy storage of the original Triumph toolkit, where else ya gonna put em on a stripped down cafe bike? The tail section and tank mate up nicely, look “for real”; all in all a nice package, pipe wraps — uh, mehnt, and I never cared much for the hexagonal cylinder cooling fins on the new generation Triumph retros, it seems incongruous on what otherwise looks like a vintage machine. The number plate is a personal preference I guess, if he wants “8” instead of an ace of spades, its his bike, right? Thanks for sharing this one -

  12. Haggis Rules says:

    I don’t care whether he bought it, commissioned it, or built it himself~ it’s beautiful. There are things I would change if it were me, but the point is it’s not. Dipping the metal bits in balsamic it acid-etch and stain at the same time, while simultaneously giving a nod to the owner’s “other” passion is a stroke of genius. Well done, Michael.

  13. PN says:

    I think it’s ugly. I don’t like bedrolls on the forks and I don’t like wrapped pipes. I don’t like the rounded tail on the seat pan either. It looks like the designer just had to make the ends meet. And number plates look pretentious.

  14. kawzies says:

    I’m glad they taped up the pipes they’re always blued on these Triumphs. I’m not for celebrities buying “cool” from some hot-shot designer. The designer has a right to ply his trade of course but to me it’s all about what the RIDER himself does to his or her bike. I don’t care how rich or how busy the rider is if he’s gonna publicize his love of bikes and use them to cool up his image then I’ll only be impressed if he did some work on it himself and didn’t throw thousands of bucks at some designer/builder. Reminds me of OCC doing those corporate bikes. It always made me squirm when the CEO first sees the bike and struggles to explain how they caught the “essence” of Raid roach killer or whatever with a chopper. Well no matter what it’s a beautiful job (and obviously I’m jealous!).

  15. Norm G. says:

    re: “This ‘California Bruiser’ was created by customizer Michael McDonald”

    guess that whole doobie brother’s thing and singing career ain’t quite working out for ‘em. :)

  16. Duncan says:

    I have seen the bike in person and the proportions look good. Beautiful bike:)
    DT

  17. Gutterslob says:

    I know narrow depth of field is ideal to isolate a subject when it comes to photography, but in this case I wish the photographer stopped down his lens aperture a bit. I wanted a peek at the rest of the bikes in his garage/workshop.

    Beautiful grips and seat leather on the Triumph. Love seasoned looks like these.

    • Gabe says:

      Ha! Thanks for your comments. The photographer is my brother, a very gifted photographer who usually does very high-end portraiture. This was his first motorcycle shop shoot. He really is an artist, which means he shows you what HE wants you to see.

      In any case, the background bikes are all new Ducatis and Triumphs–you can see those at your local dealer.

  18. ReflexTowing says:

    Nice looking bike. I’m not usually a fan of this type of custom, but this looks well thought out. Michael is a nice guy, didn’t know he did this kind of custom work. A bit sad to see Hattar change ownership. Adeeb and crew were awesome…

  19. Tom says:

    if I ask for a different number, can I get an identical one made for me, too?

  20. kjazz says:

    Are 17″ front wheels correct for the look he’s tried to replicate….?? The front hoop and the tires seem wrong, otherwise, not a bad looking bike. I’d lose the number plates. I really do like the grips. Those are cool, but antique white would’ve looked better. The leather parcel roll up front is totally dumb. A leather “chest pad” on the tank would’ve been a nice touch. While the seat looks good, it wouldn’t be comfy for very long, oh well.

  21. Provalogna says:

    Make a poster of the last image. I’d have to buy it. As close as possible to the perfect motorcycle image. Wish the old boat trailer tail light was visible.

    The old so-called “Clubman” bars are uncomfortable for me….but still, how can you not love this gorgeous bike?

  22. HalfBaked says:

    What the heck does, “tape wrap the pipes for scale” even mean? Pipe wrap is a ridiculous fad that serves no purpose at all and as in this case looks like a poorly bandaged limb. All this needs is Firestone tire and would have all the required retro-bits.

  23. mickey says:

    Beautiful bike. There are some things I don’t care for but those are just personal taste. The tank and tail sections are works of art.I had an 03 t100 and other than being a bit weak in the hp and brakes for me, the bike was unbelievably smooth and reliable as an anvil. My younger brother owns it now.

  24. blackcayman says:

    A thing of Beauty is a Joy Forever! That’s the best retro Triumph ever

  25. stratkat says:

    Fit side number plates — ‘8’ — celebrating Tyler’s daughter Dorothy, born 8-8-08 at 8:00 a.m.

    note: when applying numeral 8, try to find a permanent marker that is semi dry and scribble onto number board. outline numeral with whiteout, or chalk.