Shop Visit: Ripple Rock Racers
When we picked up our window bike for March from our friend Kemp Archibald we asked if we could snap a few pics of where he works on his builds and asked him a few questions that inspired the words below. We met Kemp when we first opened in 2012 and consider ourselves lucky to randomly have opened up in his hood.
About 10 years ago I decided to pursue an old dream and build cafe racer motorcycles. There was something very romantic about the cafe racer subculture that I’d always felt really close to, speed with style. I repurposed the family garage into a small motorcycle shop with a hydraulic lift. This was by far the most important piece of equipment that I’ve ever bought for the garage, without it I couldn’t have physically worked on the bikes. It’s the one thing I must have. I’m lucky that my little shop has a compressor , air lines, solvent tank, tiny bead blaster, drill press and welder. This allows me to do lots of work in house but the one thing I lust after is a small lathe! I’ve been working on motorcycles since I was fifteen off and on and I’ll be 70 in May, God willing! Really got into bikes in the late 1960’s with the cafe racer and road racing scene in Winnipeg. Seems odd but that prairie city was a real Mecca for exotic motorcycles and sports cars. I remember once leaving evening classes at the U of M to witness a rider in a full black racing suit bump start his Ducati Mach1 and blast off into the night as if he was racing at the Isle of Man. That was Winnipeg in the 60’s and 70’s.
The one bike I wish I had never sold was my Suzuki TR-500 factory road racer which I bought from Radco Suzuki in Vancouver. The bike had been retired as no longer competitive against the new TR350 Yamahas. I think the Suzuki factory had built 25 of these bikes from about 1969-74 and mine was an early one. Not many of these machines reached Canada and the USA. As a piece of exotica, the bike was truly magnificent but for a young roadracer sprinting down Donnybrook’s mile long straight and reaching 149 Mph entering the banking, it was mind blowing.
Myself and 3 friends started the Manitoba Roadracing Association from my living room in 1974 and turned to the newly built race track at Gimli just north of Winnipeg. This circuit was built on the massive WW2 bomber training base which had been abandoned. We started holding races there with the Winnipeg Sports Car club and later with CMA sanctioning, held our own series of events as part of the Canadian Championship. We also ventured south of the border to hold a Can/Am challenge series with our sister organization at Brainard Minnesota, the fabled Donnybrook race track. This was a kind of strange way to get into racing motorcycles but if you have the passion you will find a way.
My earliest recollection and what started my passion for two wheels was a grimy old time motorcycle shop in Brandon Manitoba. My parents would go into town to shop on Saturday and as a 14 year old I’d hang out at Laurence Bird Motorcycles. The shop sold Triumph and BSA bikes and the patrons were young 20 something’s with long hair and black leather jackets. I was tolerated but too young to be a part of the scene. These guys led by Myron Script and Tiger Tanka all bought BSA Lightnings in 1966 and travelled across the country to California, they came back totally different people from the summer spent between San Francisco and Los Angeles. I bought a little Honda Sport 50 that summer and terrorized the streets of Shilo Manitoba.
When I started road racing I stopped riding on the street. Quite frankly I was afraid of street riding in Winnipeg, thought it was too dangerous. Later when I moved to Toronto I started riding my Honda 50 to school and learned to contend with the traffic. Now I prefer to ride back roads or the mountains ranges in Kentucky and Virginia. It’s the beauty and solidarity of the ride that I enjoy now. The freedom afforded by riding a motorcycle that I enjoyed as a kid I still enjoy now, simply nothing like it.
When I started building cafe racers and brats, I gravitated to the Honda’s of the late 60’s to the the late 70’s. Honda’s build quality was really high and the models they produced during this period often set the bar in motorcycle design. There was quite the romance with these machines back in the day which carried forward to the resurgence of the cafe racer culture we currently enjoy. The Honda CB550 really stands out as an exceptional design back in 1971. It produced one horsepower per cubic inch displacement which was equivalent to the Formula One racing cars at the time. The bike was also small, light and handled well so it became the perfect platform to modify then as now. I guess I always want to produce the ultimate cafe racer, a bike with a strong classic tie to the period but modern bits added to improve its function for more enjoyment in modern times. It’s the romance of era that is still in my heart, speed with style.
We've had many of Kemp's builds in our window over the years you can check them all out here and if you're in the market for rad parts for your bike make sure to visit: ripplerockracers.com!
Some of Kemp's builds: