Showing posts with label Sports Bikes. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Sports Bikes. Show all posts

Matchless G50

Matchless G50 1950s British MotoGP bike

The Matchless G50 had a lot to live up to. To name your new company 'Matchless' needs confidence in its products - to put it mildly! That was something Charlie and Harry Collier clearly possessed, when they opened for business in 1899. They were located in Plumstead, south-east London. Both brothers were racers - of some repute. In 1907, Charlie rode a Matchless to victory at the first TT - in the single-cylinder category. Harry performed the same feat two years later. At the time, then, the Matchless moniker was pretty much justified.

Fast-forward to the Sixties - and Matchless were dominant again. Now, it was the turn of the G50 to hold all-comers at bay. First unveiled in the late '50s, the Matchless G50 was - to all intents and purposes - an AJS 7R, re-badged. Matchless had acquired AJS, in 1931.

More proof of confidence within Matchless can be found in its logo. It takes some hutzpah to rely on a single letter to get your marketing message across. Charlie and Harry, though, clearly felt that a winged 'M' was sufficient to identify a motorcycle as a Matchless. It is not as if it was an excessively long brand-name to display on the tank! There is a fine line, of course, between self-belief and hubris. The former is a prerequisite for success - the latter, an almost cast-iron guarantee of failure. However, it would seem that the two young Londoners got the balance spot-on. After all, Matchless motorcycles began winning races at the turn of the 20th century. And - at classic bike events, at least - they are still there or thereabouts in a new millennium!

Ducati Dharma SD 900

Ducati Dharma SD 900 1970s Italian classic sports bike

The Ducati Dharma SD 900 was a fine - if flawed - motorcycle. Certainly, there was plenty in its plus column. Performance, handling and styling all passed muster - and more. In the excitement stakes, the SD scored heavily. Only in practicality terms did it fall short. And yes, superbike fans, it does matter!

Looks-wise, the Sport Desmo was on solid ground. That was thanks to the revered visual skills of Italjet. The agency was run by Leo Tartarini. In the past, he had been a Ducati race rider. Tartarini now brought his innate Italian design skills to the table. For the Dharma, he drafted a sweeping swathe of tank, seat and tail. The 864cc V-twin engine looked good from any angle. Smart Conti pipes - and neatly-forged wheels - set off the SD's sartorial swagger.

Technically, too, the Dharma delivered. Admittedly, it was not the pokiest bike on the block. Still, its 60bhp output turned in a top whack of 115mph. Mere mortals were happy with that! The Ducati's bevel-driven valvetrain kept it all taut. Real-world speeds were a doddle for the Dharma. Ducatis had long been renowned for their handling. The SD's firm, but flexible frame, sweetly-tuned suspension and responsive brakes were stability to a tee. Long but lively journeys, then, should have been a gimme. Too often, though, gremlins grabbed the reins. To put it bluntly, Ducati build quality was not the best. Electrics could be especially trying - given wet enough weather. No matter how beautiful a bike, standing looking at it in a downpour does not show it in its best light! And peeling paint and chrome - while less of a pressing issue - in time likewise tested owners' patience. In so many ways, the Ducati Dharma SD 900 was a two-wheeled delight. Good to have a garage/lock-up at your disposal, though. Annoying little problems always need sorting in the end!

Dresda Triton

Dresda Triton 1960s British classic motorcycle

It has doubtless been discussed - in refreshment rooms around the world - which is the greatest café racer ever made. Dave Degens could be forgiven for making the case for the Dresda Triton. His company - Dresda Autos - was based in west London. As well as a race engineer, Degens was a rider of high repute. It followed, then, that he would be on the lookout for high-performance tips and techniques. A logical way to go, in that regard, would be to take a well-sorted motor - and install it in an equally well-sorted chassis. Which is exactly what Degens did. Indeed, since the mid-'50s, two-wheeled tech-heads had been bolting Triumph engines into Norton frames. The hybrid fruits of their labour were dubbed Tritons. Triumph's powerplants were the most potent around, at the time. And Norton's Featherbed frame rewrote the rulebook when it came to firm, but flexible geometry.

In the mid-'60s, Triumph's parallel-twin engine layout was cutting edge. The 650 unit was kicking out 50bhp - at 6,500rpm. Top speed was 120mph. Do the café racer math - and that exceeded 'ton-up boy' requirements by 20%! And all from an air-cooled four-valve twin. But - as Dave Degens knew only too well - horsepower is only half the equation. Handling, too, needs to be factored in. Cometh the hour, cometh the Featherbed! Norton's steel twin-cradle frame had excelled on both road and track. Norton's TT rivals could vouch for that! Put it all together - and Triumph engine, plus Norton frame - equalled fast and fluid motorcyling.

By the end of the Sixties, the Triton 'brand' had gone beyond its geeky beginnings. The dream ticket - courtesy of Triumph and Norton - now ate a substantial slice of the Brit bike pie. But, 'mass-production' for the Triton held a sting in its tail. Downmarket, if not dodgy deals increased - both in parts and build quality. Of course, Dresda Autos - with Dave Degens at the helm - never lowered its standards. Even now - decades later - they provide bespoke bikes to discerning buyers. A legend in the specialist motorcycle world, then, the Dresda Triton took on - and beat - all comers!

Bimota SB2

Bimota SB2 1970s Italian classic sports bike

'SB' stood for Suzuki/Bimota. It signalled Bimota's standard practice of incorporating other marques' engines into its own bespoke chassis. In the case of the SB2, power was provided by the Suzuki GS750. The 8-valve inline-four motor peaked at 68bhp. That gave the the SB2 a top speed of 130mph. Credit was also due to its slippery lines. A dry weight of just 440lb sealed the high-speed deal. This was still the Seventies, do not forget.

The driving force behind the SB2 was Massimo Tamburini. He had been a Bimota co-founder. Tamburini fitted the 'legendary engineer' bill to a tee. In his time, he had designed chassis for 250 and 350cc World Championship-winning bikes. In '77, Tamburini tipped his technical brilliance into the new Bimota. It was a gimme, then, that the SB2 would handle as well as it went. Ceriani telescopic forks - and a first-of-its-kind rear monoshock - did the business suspension-wise. They were duly hitched up to a tubular steel space-frame. The monoshock alone separated the SB2 from its rivals ... in every sense of the word!

First and foremost, though, a Bimota is about style. As befits a firm from Rimini, Italy. Certainly, the SB2 ran true to form, in that regard. Its bodywork wrote the book on 'swoopy'. The tank protector/seat was a self-supporting one-piece - which saved the weight of a subframe. That innovation - like the rising-rate rear shock - would subsequently be seen on mass-produced machines. So, Bimota - that consummate special-builder - had done what it did best. In the beguiling form of the SB2, it merged dynamite design and top-drawer technology. Again!

Triumph Speed Triple

Triumph Speed Triple 1990s British sports bike

In '83, Triumph looked dead in the water. Finally, the once-famous firm went into receivership. If it was to survive, it needed a saviour - and fast! Up to the plate strode multi-millionaire building magnate, John Bloor. A new HQ was set up in Hinckley, England. That was not a million miles away from the original Triumph factory - in Meriden, Birmingham. For the next eight years, Bloor and his colleagues planned a new range of Triumphs. One of them would be the Speed Triple. Throwing off the shackles of the wilderness years, the new bikes would be modern marvels of engineering. There would also, though, be design references to Triumph's glory days.

In '91, six new Triumphs rolled into the showrooms. The parallel twins of yore were no more. Now, three- and four-cylinder engines were the norm - complete with double overhead camshafts and water-cooling. Stylistically, a sea change had occurred. The new 'British' bikes were as futuristically slick as their Far Eastern counterparts. Indeed, their suspension and brakes had been made in Japan. Notwithstanding, they were clutched to the 'Brit Bike' bosom with eager arms. Whilst there were reservations amongst dyed-in-the-wool riders, a new breed of bikers was just glad to have a British brand-name back in motorcycling's mix.

The names of the new arrivals harked back to the past. Trident, Trophy, Thunderbird ... these were legendary labels! In '94, came the Speed Triple. For bikers of a certain age, that evoked memories of the Sixties' Speed Twin. Technically, though, it was state of the art. Saying that, Triumph had long turned out a tasty 'triple'. But, this was a three-cylinder machine with some major updates. As a result, it clocked up a top speed of 130mph. 97bhp was output from an 885cc motor. The bike's 'naked' look - devoid of a fairing - pared weight down to 460lb dry. It also lent itself to lean and aggressive styling. Road tests were positive. The Speed Triple was competent in every category. Unsightly oil stains were a thing of the past. A mighty marque was back on its feet. The Triumph Speed Triple - and its second-generation siblings - would take another tilt at the two-wheeled big time!

KTM Adventure 990

KTM Adventure 990 2000s Austrian sports bike

The KTM Adventure 990 was made in Austria. Produced between 2006-13, it was designed to be dual-purpose. The Adventure was equally at home both on and off road. At least, that is what the marketing men said! Its engine - the LC8 liquid-cooled 4-stroke 75° V-twin - was tailor-made for rough terrain. Power output was 105bhp. Capacity was 999cc - to be precise. With a dry weight of 461lb, the Adventure maxed out at 123mph - on flat tarmac!

R & D for the Adventure was the Paris-Dakar Rally. Lessons learned from that hotbed of competition trickled down to the roadster. Probably not too much pre-release testing was needed after that! The Adventure's long-travel suspension came courtesy of Dutch masters WP. The flexible tubular steel frame was almost identical to that on the 950 desert racer. So, indeed, were many other parts. Fabrizio Meoni sat tall in the saddle. He won two of the three Paris-Dakars preceding the Adventure's release. Not a bad sales pitch!

Styling-wise, the Adventure was supermodel svelte. But, a model that packed a punch! At 6,750 rpm, no less than 100 N-m of torque was on tap. And - thanks to its chromium-molybdenum trellis frame - the Adventure rolled with the punches, too. Anything that less than snooker-table smooth green lanes could throw at it, anyway! As far as all-round capabilities go, then, the KTM Adventure 990 was about as kitted-out as a motorbike gets!

Honda VFR 750F

Honda VFR 750F 1980s Japanese sports bike

The Honda VFR 750F was about as versatile as a motorbike gets. Indeed, it is often cited as the ultimate all-rounder. The VFR played footsie with perfection ... then improved on it! Fast, fine-handling - and styled with finesse. What more could a motorcyclist want?

In engine layout terms, the Japanese in-line four had the market pretty much covered. Until the VFR arrived, that is. Its water-cooled, 16-valve V4 was to prove a more than viable alternative. The motor's 100bhp output gave a top speed of 150mph. Sweet stats, by any standards! Combined with that, the VFR's 460lb dry weight was reasonably slim for a bike of its size. Plus, the VFR was fitted with a sturdy twin-spar aluminium frame. That was state of the art chassis technology, at the time.

As if all that were not enough - the VFR impressed visually, too. Not only did its bodywork sear through air, but the paintwork was sprayed to last. Hondas have long been known for their build quality. Deftly designed ducts sat by discreetly drawn graphics. Neat tucks and folds were the order of the day. Sales-wise, the VFR was a banker from the off. And Honda needed it to be. The VFR's predecessor - the VF750 - had damaged the Japanese giant. It had taken reliability issues to another level! Technically, then, the VFR 750F more than restored bikers' faith in Honda. As a bonus - it did so in impeccable style!

Hesketh V1000

Hesketh V1000 1980s British sports bike

The Hesketh V1000 might be viewed as a mechanical folly. In production terms, was all the time, effort and expense incurred worthwhile? Not from a financial viewpoint, certainly. Only a few of them were sold, after all. Then again, an architectural folly stands tall - boldly proclaiming itself a glorious failure. Perhaps the Hesketh V1000 should do someththe same.

It was not as if the losses would hit Hesketh hard. After all, Lord Hesketh funded the F1 team which bore his name. Along with some sponsors, of course. Certainly, the noble lord did not lack for ambition. His goal with the V1000 was nothing less than the resurrection of the British bike industry. And he might have succeeded. All things considered, the V1000 was far from a bad bike. It was stylish, for starters. And, when it came to the cycle parts, everything was tickety-boo there, too. The frame was made from nickel-plated steel tubing. Suspension was by Marzocchi. Disc brakes by Brembo. As you would expect, then, the V1000 handled and stopped with aplomb. So far, so good! Why, then, did the bike fail? Did it, perhaps, have an Achilles' heel?

Lord Hesketh's choice of engine designer could not be faulted. Weslake were at the top of their game. What they did not know about 4-strokes was not worth knowing. But, something went badly awry. When tested, the V-twin was noisy - and prone to leak oil. The gearbox was basic, at best. That said, the twin-cam set-up, with four valves per pot, gave 86bhp - and did so smoothly. Top speed was a cool 120mph. So, things certainly were not all bad. Sadly, though, there were more than enough 'issues', to sow doubts in buyers' minds. Which was a shame. Because Lord Hesketh's vision for the V1000 could have led to a good British bike. Maybe even a great one. In true folly fashion, though, it finished up mere whimsy. The Hesketh V1000 promised so much - but delivered so little. Anyway - hats off to his Lordship for trying!