Category Archives: Motorcycling

The NR500 Honda

There is an age-old adage that “necessity is the mother of invention”, which is an apt description of the challenge that the Honda Motor Company faced on its return to the 500cc class of Grand Prix motorcycle racing in 1979.

Honda had withdrawn from motorcycle Grands Prix at the end of 1967 for a variety of reasons. The Japanese company had prioritised the R&D department to concentrate on its venture into road cars, while also supplying racing engines to the Brabham Formula 2 team and entering its own car into Formula 1 with a former motorcycle and F1 world champion John Surtees at the wheel. The company’s resources were being stretched to the very limit.

And there were also changes in the wind for Grand Pix motorcycle racing with new regulations being introduced by the F.I.M. at the end 1969 season. These would limit the number of cylinders and gears for the different Grand Prix classes, in an attempt to reduce costs, which also played a part in the decision by Honda to withdraw.

During the mid-sixties Honda, a stoic champion of the four-stroke engine, had been fighting a rearguard action against the ever-improving two-stroke engines of its Japanese and European rivals, particularly in the smaller capacity classes. To overcome the more frequent power strokes the two-stroke engine design, Honda could only improve the four-stroke engines volumetric efficiency with more cylinders, higher engine rev’s and more gears, which were effectively to be outlawed by the FIM in 1969.

How could Honda respond to this technical conundrum? The answer is one of the most technically innovative motorcycle engine designs of all time.

The NR500's revolutionary engine.

The NR500’s innovative engine.

The decision to return to the Grand’s Prix was officially announced in December 1977 by the President of Honda, Koyoshi Kawashima. In true Honda tradition, the group of young engineers brought together to develop a winning machine had little if any racing experience. This “clean sheet” approach was indeed a risky one. No four-stroke had competed in the 500cc class since 1976 when the mighty MV Agusta team withdrew, conceding to the supremacy of the two-stroke engine.

With the official title of “New Racing”, the development team came together in 1978 at the Asaka R&D Center. Takeo Fukui, who would later become director of R&D and president of Honda Racing Corporation, would lead the team, while Soichiro Irimajiri, the man who was the father of the CBX road bike and the legendary RC166 250cc six-cylinder GP racer would help guide the group. It soon became apparent to the young engineers that, within the limitation of four cylinders, to get on a competitive footing with the two-strokes they needed to double the number of engine revs and improve intake efficiency by increasing the number of inlet valves and exhaust valves from four to eight. To accommodate eight valves, the team decided to free themselves from the traditional round piston and use a revolutionary oval design. In effect, a V8 with 4 sets of two cylinders fused together. According to their calculations, an estimated output of 130hp at 23,000rpm was possible.

Cylinder head for the Honda NR500.

A cylinder head for the Honda NR500.

To prove the potential of this design a single cylinder “slave” engine was built, initially with two valves, which showed the engine would rev. The number of valves was then increased step by step from two to eight. This was not without teething problems with the engine self destructing at anything over 10,000rpm. The problem was with the two connecting rods the oval piston design required, which distorted and pulled the piston pins out of position. Sealing of the piston rings, not unexpectedly, was also a significant problem.

However, it was the persistence of the team that one by one identified and found solutions to these problems. The achievement of effectively sealing of the piston ring, in particular, was a considerable boost to the feasibility of the overall design. With that, the test target moved from the single-cylinder ‘slave” engines to a full four-cylinder engine.

Toshimitsu Yoshimura was responsible for designing the 100-degree V-four, and bench testing of the revolutionary engine began in April 1979. The Grand Prix season was already well underway. But the 0X engine was still giving the team problems, from a damaged gear train to broken valves. Nevertheless, the engine was producing around 110 horsepower, and the engineers knew that to understand its real-world potential it needed to be assessed in the white heat of competition. “We wanted to identify the weaknesses in our new engine by seeing how it performed in an actual race,” remembered Yoshimura.

Oval piston from the NR750 Honda.

The oval piston from the NR750 Honda.

However, it was not just the engine of the NR500 that was innovative, the chassis was as well. Designed by research engineer, Tadahashi Kamiya, it was constructed as a true monocoque. The engine, with swingarm, attached, slotted into the stressed skin of the fairing, tank and seat unit. Radiators for the liquid cooled engine were mounted on the sides of the fairing, utilising the air funnelling through the front of the “fairing” to flow onto the engine and out the sides of the fairing through the cooling radiators. Although the rear suspension was a more conventional monoshock system, the front forks were unusual by using an “upside down” design in which the triple clamps held the fork tubes and the stanchions held the front wheel axle. The Honda design used external fork springs to enable quick changes of spring rates and a higher volume of fork oil and larger damping components in the fork tube.

Oddly the disk calipers where mounted in front of the forks, which to a degree was offset by an unusual trailing front axle. Again the team of engineers pushed the envelope by opting to use 16inch Comstar wheels with tyres developed by Dunlop as opposed to the commonly used 18inch rims with Michelin tyres in search of lower unsprung weight and a smaller frontal area for the NR500.

The revolutionary NR500 Honda of 1979.

The ground breaking NR500 Honda of 1979.

It was at the 1979 British Grand Prix at Silverstone, the 11th World Championship race of the season that the NR500 made its debut. Veteran English rider Mick Grant, an Isle of Man Senior TT and 250cc Grand Prix winner, along with Takazumi Katayama, a Korean born Japanese rider and 1977 350cc World Champion, had been recruited to race the groundbreaking machine. Both had tested the bike in Japan, and Grant, in particular, understood the frustration of developing the avant-garde Honda.

“By that time I knew what to expect.” Commented Grant. “They had open practice, and on the straight, a 250cc Yamaha was pulling away from me – not a lot, but pulling away and that was enough to show me the scale of the problem. I had never ridden harder.”

Even with Grant and Katayama’s best efforts, they qualified on the last row of the grid. Grand Prix racing in those days required a push start by the rider to fire up the engine when the starter’s flag was dropped. The Honda at that stage would only idle at 7000rpm and making the engine fire up was a hit and miss affair. Katayama caught his engine but waited for Grant’s engine to fire so they could circulate together around the circuit. It took several embarrassing seconds before Grant could get away. With his weight too far back on the saddle the Honda pulled wheelies through the gears. As he approached the first corner, the NR500 slid out beneath him and started to catch fire. The wheelie had caused oil to spill out the carburettors and onto the rear tyre. Katayama retired several laps later with engine problems.

The revolutionary oval piston technology.

The revolutionary oval piston technology.

The next race was the French Grand Prix at Le Mans where the Honda team suffered the humiliation of not even qualifying for the race. It was the last race of the year, and Yoshimura was moved to tears, “I felt miserable, just miserable,” he said. “Tears welled up in my eyes. Except for ours, all the bikes were using two-stroke engines. To be honest, I’d been hoping they would go to the final race and give us a really good run, even if it meant trailing at the very end. After the race, they asked me to watch the video, but I couldn’t bring myself to see it.” If anything it underlined how long the road would be for the NR500.

In fact, the plan documents for the “New Racing” team had stipulated, “Become World Champion within three years.” Time was of the essence, and the vast amount of new technology and innovation would take to long to perfect.

At the beginning of the 1980 season, the team had returned to a conventional tube type frame and 18inch wheels. The focus could then be put into developing the engine, which in many ways was the fundamental problem. Due to the V4’s extreme engine breaking which caused the rear wheel to hop on downshifts in the lower gears, a back torque-limiting clutch was developed to cure the problem. By now the 1X engine was producing 115ps, but acceleration and throttle response in corners was still a problem. And as reliability improved so did the engines weight by around 20kg requiring the use of exotic materials such as magnesium and titanium to maintain the status quo.

The tube frame for the 1980 NR500.

The tube frame for the 1980 NR500.

The 1980 Grand Prix season, however, did not see much reward for a lot of hard work. Although Katayama had managed, take a third place podium at an international meeting in Italy, in the World Championship his best results were fifteenth place at the British Grand Prix (the first finish for the NR500 in a GP), and twelfth place at the German Grand Prix. This did not stop the motorcycle media from harshly criticising the NR500 Honda, tagging it as “Never Ready”.

The oval piston engine was further refined for the 1981 season in order to reduce weight, improve durability and increase power. The 100-degree V of the engine was narrowed to 90 creating a more compact unit, but just as importantly it was now producing 130ps at 19,000rpm in its 2X configuration.

Freddie Spencer on the NR500 Honda at Silverstone.

Freddie Spencer on the NR500 Honda at Silverstone.

Honda had decided it would enter machines in the All-Japan Championship to help speed up development of the NR500. A fifth place at the second round of the championship saw the NR500 starting to compete on more equal terms with two-strokes. This was backed up with the NR500’s first win at the Suzuka 200 kilometre race where the four-strokes better fuel consumption was pivotal to the victory. Then in July Honda’s new rider signing, Freddie Spencer, scored a victory over 500cc Grand Prix World Champion “King” Kenny Roberts in a heat race for the final in an international meeting at Laguna Seca.

The NR500 (2X) machine that helped Kengo Kiyama to win the 1981 Suzuka 500-Kilometer Race, giving Honda its first victory with the oval piston engine

The NR500 (2X) machine that helped Kengo Kiyama to win the 1981 Suzuka 200-Kilometer Race, giving Honda its first victory with the oval piston engine

The competitiveness did not follow the Honda to Europe. Katayama managed a thirteenth place in the first round of the 500cc World Championship in Austria, but retirement from the subsequent races resulted in no points for the team that season.

For the 1982 season, after finally accepting that the rules favoured the two-stroke engine, Honda introduced the NS500 two-stroke Grand Prix racer. Although race appearances became fewer for the NR500, bench testing of the remarkable engine continued.

The technology continued to be developed resulting with the gestation of the NR750 to race at the 1987 Le Mans endurance race in France. Although not expected to win, (that was the job of the more “conventional “ Honda RVF’s of Honda France) and with two of rider line-up who were motorcycle journalists, it was up to two times Australian Superbike Champion, Malcolm “Wally” Campbell, to qualify for the race. Someone forgot to tell Campbell that for Honda it was more about publicity than racing and he put NR750 in second place on the grid behind the factory Honda RVF. Unreliability again put the NR out at the 22hour mark, but it did emphasise how far the technology had come. Campbell would give the NR750 its first win in a heat of the Swan Insurance International Series at Calder Park in December that year.

The 1992 NR750 Honda.

The 1992 NR750 Honda.

In 1992, thirteen years after the NR500’s debut in the World Championship Grands Prix, Honda unveiled a production version of the NR750. Around 300 of these machines are believed to have been made with an extremely high price tag of around US$50,000. Recently an example was placed on eBay with an asking price of approximately US$100,000.

There is also a certain amount of irony that Formula 1 banned both oval piston and two-stroke technology for use in an F1 engine.

Perhaps a quote by an unnamed engineer that worked on the project best sums up the NR.        “ The true value of the engine lay in its remarkable potential”.

Words Geoff Dawes © 2015. Images courtesy of Honda Worldwide. Video courtesy Honda Worldwide, MCN and Youtube.

A Legendary Champion

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Perhaps the only surprise surrounding World Champion Marc Marquez securing his second MotoGP championship was the fact that he did not accomplish it with a win at Honda’s own circuit of Motegi. After dominating the class from the opening round in Qatar to notch up ten consecutive wins by Indianapolis, which equalled the great Giacomo Agostini, it was quite clear that the 2014 championship trophy already had his name partially engraved upon it.

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Marquez celebrates his back to back MotoGP World Championships.

The 21-year-old became the youngest rider to win back-to-back Premier class championships since Mike Hailwood achieved it as a 23-year-old in1964. Marquez is also the first Spaniard to accomplish this feat. After finishing fourth in Czechoslovakia to the winner and Repsol Honda teammate, Dani Pedrosa, Marquez won again in England at the British Grand Prix. But mistakes at Mugello in Italy and Aragon in Spain kept the title tantalisingly out of reach until a tactical 2nd place to Jorge Lorenzo in Motegi secured the crown.

After a crash in Australia, Marquez still has two more races, in Malaysia and Valencia, to equal or beat Australian Mick Doohan’s record of 12 victories in a premier class season.

But although Marquez continues to set and break records, there is, maybe, one record he will be unable to achieve.

Fifty years ago on the 25th of October this year, John Surtees O.B.E. secured the Formula One World Championship for Ferrari, becoming the first and only man to win a Grand Prix World Championships on two wheels and four. Surtees had already won the premier 500cc Grand Prix crown on four occasions (1956, 1958, 1959 and 1960) and the 350cc G.P. title on three times (1958, 1959 and 1960) for a total of seven World Championships on two wheels. Surtees then clinched the Formula One title at the last race in Mexico in 1964.

John Surtees rides his MV Agusta to victory at the 1958 Isle of Man TT.

John Surtees rides his MV Agusta to victory at the 1958 Isle of Man TT.

It’s interesting to note that Surtees won his World Championships on two wheels and four with Italian racing royalty, Ferrari and MV Agusta. But remarkably Surtees had never raced a car until a non-championship meeting at Goodwood in 1960. Surtees put his F2 Cooper-Climax on pole and finished an incredible second to Jim Clark in a Lotus. In only his second F1 Grand Prix at Silverstone Surtees, driving a Lotus finished second to World Champion Jack Brabham. It was just his eighth car race.

At the Portuguese F1 Grand Prix, he put the Lotus on pole giving the team their very first pole position. This was all in 1960 while he was on his way to winning both the 500cc and 350cc World Championship on two wheels with MV Agusta.

Other examples of John’s versatility was to win the inaugural 1966 Can-Am Sports Car Championship in America driving a Lola T70 while another was taking Honda’s second F1 win in 1967 by driving the Honda Racing RA 300 to a fantastic victory on its debut at Monza in Italy.

Surtees pushes the Ferrari 158 to second place behind Jim Clark’s Lotus at Zandvoort in Holland 1964.

Surtees pushes the Ferrari 158 to second place behind Jim Clark’s Lotus at Zandvoort in Holland 1964.

In today’s world of specialisation in Motorsport this type of versatility is unheard of. Surtees, like most riders in the 1950’s and 1960’s, also rode in more than one Grand Prix class during a championship meeting: a concept that would be alien to today’s MotoGP heroes. Yet there is still even more to Surtees’ accomplishments.

Surtees also became a racing car manufacturer in 1970 forming the Surtees Racing Organisation with his cars competing in Formula 5000, Formula 2 and Formula 1. Surtees most significant success as a manufacturer came with another former motorcycle multi-world champion, Mike Hailwood, who won the European F2 championship for Surtees in 1972.

Surtees in discussion with "Il commendatore" Enzo Ferrari.

Surtees in discussion with “Il Commendatore” Enzo Ferrari.

The prodigious talents of John Surtees have created a unique chapter in the history of Motorsport and one that is unlikely to be repeated. Although Surtees has already been awarded an M.B.E. and an O.B.E. in the Queen’s honours list, many feel that a Knighthood would be a more appropriate recognition of this great man and his ongoing contribution to Motorsport. Surtees turned 80 this year.

Words Geoff Dawes © 2014. Images http://www.commons.wikimedia.org, http://www.ilpost.it, http://www.performanceforums.com and the Repsol Honda Team.

50 Years of Grand Prix Legacy

Left to right: Masahiko Nakajima (President of Yamaha Motor Racing) Phil Read and Marco Riva (General Manager of Yamaha Motor Racing)

Left to right: Masahiko Nakajima President of Yamaha Motor Racing, Phil Read and Marco Riva General Manager of Yamaha Motor Racing.

Saturday the 13th of September represented a significant milestone for Yamaha Factory Racing. Precisely fifty years had passed since the Iwata based company attained its first world championship with the two-stroke 250cc RD56 when English motorcycle legend Phil Read won the Nations Grand Prix at Monza.

Read was on hand at the Misano World Circuit Marco Simoncelli to present Masahiko Nakajima (President of Yamaha Motor Racing) and Marco Riva (General Manager of Yamaha Motor Racing) with his original 1964 F.I.M. World Championship certificate. The certificate will now take pride of place at Yamaha’s Hall Of Fame in Japan. A copy of the document has been made that will be signed by all those present to mark the occasion and in return will be presented to Read.

Phil Read went on to win a total of eight world titles across four classes, 125GP, 250GP, 500GP and TTF1. His career is littered with impressive achievements, including eight IOM TT race, wins, 121 Grand Prix podiums and four 250cc world titles which have only ever been equalled by Max Biaggi. Alongside Mike Hailwood and fellow Yamaha icon Valentino Rossi, Phil is one of only three riders to have won road-racing world championships in three or more classes.

Read receives the trophies and takes the 1964 250cc World Championship.

Read receives the trophies and takes the 1964 250cc World Championship.

Read was quoted as saying, “This special evening to celebrate my bringing Yamaha’s first world title to them after 50 years is like coming home to the happy team, the reception has been fantastic, it’s overwhelming for me to see I get this recognition. I’m lucky to be here after fifty years of racing! It’s also thrilling to be here in Misano with Jorge on pole and Valentino so close on the front row too. It’s a little different now, from 1964; I came to Monza with two factory 250 Yamaha RD56s in the back of my car with one English mechanic and a Japanese mechanic who came over for the race in Monza. I think we had our carburettor settings written on a postcard! I still feel as much part of the Yamaha family today as I did then, and feel privileged to have started a run of world championship success that has continued to this day.”

Marco Riva, Yamaha Motor Racing, General Manager responded, “Our success with the RD56 wrote a page in motorcycle history. It was very competitive for many years and is still, in my opinion, the best race bike. Our aim has always been to have the rider at the centre of our racing project, Phil and other Yamaha icons such as Giacomo Agostini, Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo are all still the most important factor. We are the only manufacturer that raced from the beginning of the world championship to now, we’ve never stopped, and this is something very special. We are honoured to have Phil here with us to celebrate this anniversary. He is an icon in motorcycle racing, fourth in the all-time world rankings with eight world titles. We hold riders such as Phil in a special place in our hearts over these years for allowing us to win these titles together.”

Yamaha followed Japanese rivals Honda and Suzuki into the World Championship Motorcycle Road Racing Grands Prix in 1961. Since the inception of the F.I.M. World Championship Grands Prix in 1949, Yamaha has won 38 manufacturers titles and 37 riders titles that cover 125cc, 250cc, 350cc, 500cc and MotoGP.

Words Geoff Dawes © 2014. Images courtesy Movistar Yamaha Factory Racing.

Archives: Could Your Helmet Kill You?

I am a big fan of motorcycling commentator, Boris Mihailovic, and have always enjoyed his comments and views in Australian Motorcycle News. But it came as a shock to learn through his column of a recent nasty altercation with a car that left him with a broken neck and severely broken wrist.  In his article, he noted something that the Orthopaedic Surgeon had told him with some surprise. Boris was informed that his open face helmet had probably saved his life. According to the surgeon, a full face helmet may have inflicted a more severe impact on his C2 or “hangman’s” vertebrae which could have been fatal.

This resonated with me as 25 years ago I wrote a news story for Bike Australia that covered the research findings of the world famous Royal Adelaide Hospital Craniofacial Unit.  The following is the news item that included this particular discovery in 1989.

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Illustrations from Dr Rodney Cooters overview document “Motorcyclist Craniofacial Injury Patterns”.

A significant flaw in the design of full-face helmets has led Adelaide’s world-renowned craniofacial unit to design a safer motorcycle helmet.

In previous years some brands of full-faced helmets had been criticised due to the lack of a cutaway in their rear edge, as this was thought to cause neck injuries.  However, the Craniofacial Unit head, Professor David David, and researcher, Dr Rodney Cooter, found an even more serious problem with the basic design of the full-face helmet. “We discovered modern helmets have an Achilles heel.  They have been designed to prevent facial injury and are extremely successful, but because the face bars are so rigid they can occasionally result in the death of the wearer,” Mr David said.

For some years medical authorities have been puzzled by the number of fatalities due to brain damage, even though the motorcyclists were wearing full-face helmets and showed no visible facial injury. It was found that the chin piece of a full-face helmet can transmit the force of an impact back and upwards via the chin strap to the jaw and skull.  This can result in a skull base fracture, which in turn can cause the brain stem to tear.  “Ironically where crash survivors suffer facial injuries, they often have no brain damage because the face absorbs most of the impact.”

Diagram examples from Dr. Cooters overview document Motorcyclists Craniofacial Injury

Many hours of research was undertaken by Dr Rodney Cooter with the help of the Accident Research Unit at the Adelaide University, the State Coroner, the Forensic Science Centre, the Royal Adelaide Hospital, the Adelaide Children’s Hospital, the Institute and Veterinary Science and the Police. The Craniofacial Unit then sought the help of the South Australian Centre for Manufacturing at Woodville, where engineers Dr Fred Zoeckel and Mr Ralph Smith used computer imaging to come up with alternative full-face helmet designs.

Provisional patents have been taken out on several designs that alter the chin straps and insert movable cheek bars or alternatively utilise a special inner helmet which moves independently of the outer shell.  It’s hoped that a major manufacturer will produce the new designs. However, it was stressed that a conventional full-face helmet was much safer than no helmet at all.

Part of the helmet design that shows the internal chin pads.

Part of the helmet design that shows the internal chin pads.

Dr Rodney Cooter has been invited to deliver a paper on the research at the 1990 International Conference of the Motorcycle Safety Foundation in Orlando, Florida USA.

As a next step towards producing a working prototype of these new designs, Dr Cooter will hold discussions with Bell Helmets in Los Angeles during his visit.

 

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It seems quite astonishing that after a quarter of a century since the Royal Adelaide Hospital Craniofacial Unit produced the ground breaking research of Dr Rodney Cooter, no motorcycle helmet manufacturer has been able to address this fatal flaw in full-face helmet design.

Words Geoff Dawes (C) 1989/1990. Images courtesy the South Australian Centre for Manufacturing. Published in Bike Australia.

Archives: The Enfield India 350cc Bullet

 

A classic frozen in time.

Earlier this year Royal Enfield Motorcycles released its latest offering to the motorcycling world in the form of the stylish 2014 Continental GT that was Inspired by the 1960’s 250cc model of the same name. The official world launch of the new Enfield was at the iconic Ace Café in London which made an appropriate backdrop to the retro café racer styling. It is arguably the most modern of Enfield’s eleven model lineup; all based on the same basic architecture of the 1955 Royal Enfield 350cc Bullet. Royal Enfield, formerly Enfield India, has come a long way since the parent company was liquidated in 1971. The manufacturer now exports to numerous countries around the world and offers a range of apparel and riding gear with events designed to engage Royal Enfield enthusiasts in a way that many manufacturers use to make buying a new motorcycle a lifestyle choice.

The latest in Royal Enfield's model line-up the 2014 Continental GT.

The latest in Royal Enfield’s model line-up, the 2014 Continental GT.

But in 1988 the Enfield India Bullet was little known outside of the sub-continent. What follows is an article that I authored for Bike Australia in 1988 and perhaps charts some early small steps by Enfield to once again become a world brand.

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The Enfield name can be traced back to the middle of the 19th century when George Townsend and Company was founded in the Hamlet of Hunt End near Redditch in Worcestershire to make sewing needles and machine parts. They became involved in bicycle manufacturing in the 1880’s and in 1890 began producing their own brand of bicycle. Two years later the company changed its name to Eadie Manufacturing and for the first time used the Enfield name for a new range of push bikes due to a contract with the Royal Small Arms Factory at Enfield in Middlesex.

In 1890 the name  “Royal Enfield”  was licenced by the crown and the slogan “made like a gun” with a field gun trademark was adopted. Their first powered machine was a quadricycle built in 1898 using a De Dion power plant, and in 1901 they made their first motorcycle that featured an engine over the front wheel powering the back wheel by a crossed over belt.

It wasn’t until 1910 that Enfield became a serious motorcycle manufacturer when they started to produce large capacity V-twins. By the late 1930’s Royal Enfield were manufacturing quite a comprehensive range of machines, mainly singles of 150cc, 250cc, 350cc, 500cc and 570cc capacity with side and overhead valves as well as a small capacity two-stroke and a 1140cc side valve V-twin.

The “Bullet” range was first introduced in 1933 to satisfy the taste of more sporting riders. These were based on the standard models but with improved performance. Enfield though centred its competitive outings to off-road competition, which were mainly trials events. This fitted well with the Enfield image of uncomplicated, reliable motorcycles, suitable for everyday transport and the occasional weekend sporting event.

Simplicity, headlight switch, speedo and ammeter mounted in the headlight shroud.

Simplicity, headlight switch, speedo and amp-meter mounted in the headlight shroud.

It was after the Second World War when the needs for basic transport had been satisfied that Enfield decided something a little more exciting than their prewar and wartime models was needed to keep its customers happy. So in 1948, the first prototype of a new model 350cc Bullet was seen in the Colmers Cup trial ridden by the works team. They caused a bit of a sensation at the time because they used a rear swinging fork suspension, which was unheard of in trials at that time.

They had limited success first time out but soon showed their form by winning gold medals later that year in the International Six Day Trial as part of the winning British trophy team. The road going version was put into production in 1949 with a listed price of  £171 9s  0p alongside competition versions for scrambles and trials. These differed only in minor details such as compression ratio, exhaust system, tyres and the general equipment fitted.   Relatively little had to be changed from one model to the other, and all were very much like the original prototype.

In 1955 Royal Enfield received an order from the Indian government for eight hundred 350cc Bullets for the Indian Army and Police. I was such a large order the company decided to set up an assembly plant in Madras India (now Chennai) for the 1955 model 350cc Bullet. In 1957 tooling equipment was sold to Enfield India Ltd. and in 1958 the first Indian made Bullet rolled off the production lines and is today still being produced virtually unchanged.

The Bullet ceased production in England in 1962 and the company folded in the early 70’s.  Part of its legacy being the surviving Indian company (it also seems ironic that the big 700-750cc Enfield twins used in the Constellation and Interceptor models were sold in the States as “Indians” after the famous American marque which coincidentally used modified Bullet barrels and heads).

A real coals to Newcastle situation occurred in 1977 when British Laverda importer, Slater Bros, started bringing Indian Bullets into the UK. Some were unsuccessfully imported into N.S.W. in the early 80’s, but ADR compliance was never acquired.

It took a South Australian company to finally get the Bullet to Australia and onto the showroom floor. Ron Lewis’ company T.A.S.C. Imports are part of a family business that has been involved in the automotive field for some sixty years. They specialised in importing American cars and parts and in 1971 were also importing Harley Davidson motorcycles.

Unfortunately, the introduction of Australian Design Rules made it impossible to import complete cars, and they also stopped importing Harleys – which is a bit of a sore point with Ron as at that time it was impossible to foresee the resurgence of that marque in Australia. T.A.S.C. now imports new and used car components for British, European and American cars as well as the Enfield India Bullet, which they distribute under the name Enfield Cycles Australia.

Igjition switch is housed in the side cover.

The ignition switch is housed in the side cover.

In 1984 that Ron went to India to negotiate importing the Bullet to Australia and to purchase one for compliance purposes.  This was thought to be a relatively straightforward effort. Unfortunately, it wasn’t. The major problems were with the exhaust system and brakes which were showing the modern day deficiencies of 1955 design. A new exhaust system was fabricated by Quad Pty Ltd to bring the decibels down to the required number, while Amdel laboratories helped in converting the front one-inch drum brakes to four inches in width and they also increased its mechanical advantage.

Finally, three years later, the Enfield India Bullet achieved compliance with the factory adopting Ron’s improvements on all Aussie bound Enfield’s. One thing the factory had improved over the years was the electrical system – the original magnet dynamo being replaced with a distributor and alternator although they remained 6 volt. Enfield Cycles Australia latest shipment, however, does feature 12 volt electrics although the Bullet Deluxe will still be available in 6 volt form for those who yearn for the days when Joe Lucas was known as the prince of darkness…….

Ron was kind enough to lend me a brand new Bullet Deluxe for a ride impression and to photograph. So it was with little trepidation that I arrived at Glynde Auto Wreckers to pick up the demonstrator as I hadn’t ridden anything quite like the Bullet before.

Like any motorcycle with character, there is a definite procedure to starting it. First turn the right-hand side toolbox mounted ignition switch on, turn the petrol on, put the choke on, pull the left handlebar-mounted decompression lever in, kick the engine over until the amp-meter needle swings over to the left – then give it a good kick in the guts! This generally does the job and you are rewarded with one of the best sounds a motorcyclist can hear – the classic sound of a British four-stroke single.

Decompression lever aids kickstarting the 350cc single.


Decompression lever aids kick-starting the 350cc single.

First gear is relatively high, so it takes quite a few revs and a little bit of clutch slip to get it going, but the exhaust makes such a glorious racket that it’s thoroughly enjoyable. The gearbox is relatively slow and needs a positive movement to engage the gears correctly, while second and third gears are relatively close in their ratio’s which helps to keep that lovely exhaust note rising and dipping until fourth gear is engaged with a noticeable drop in revs and flattening of the exhaust note. It’s such a relaxing bike to ride, and apart from the exhaust (which is so enjoyable anyway), it is a very unobtrusive motorcycle.

The ride is firm but well controlled, it handled nicely with a solid feel to it that inspired confidence. Ron pointed out that a properly run-in Bullet should touch around 120kph and be capable of returning an impressive 4.5 lt/100km from its 14.5-litre tank. The only problem I found with the Enfield was the brakes, which hadn’t bedded in fully and it took a fair bit of effort to get the Bullet stopped.

Apart from that, there are a few minor ergonomic niggles that are part and parcel of owning a motorcycle that was first designed in 1948. The Bullet does, however, feature some excellent design ideas, such as the neutral select lever, which is handy at traffic lights, and the snail cam adjusters on the rear wheel to keep the chain correctly tensioned.

The Enfield sports two good sized tool boxes which allow extra room for more tools (the standard toolkit is quite reasonable) and a puncture repair kit. Another nice feature is the single large alloy primary drive chain cover. It has a single central retaining bolt, which apart from its aesthetic appeal makes it very easy to work on the primary drive chain. The finish of the Bullet is pretty good too – it’s nice to see so much chrome on a production motorcycle again. The seat is trimmed by hand, and the pin-striping on the tank is also by hand.

There are 1,864 parts that make up a Bullet and Ron has at least one of all of them so spares should not be a problem and it’s also a boon to restorers of this classic design. At the moment Enfield Cycles Australia have two versions of the Bullet available, the Deluxe and the Super Deluxe costing $4,460 and $4,940 respectively, with a more modern looking version the Bullet Super Star on the water.

Another interesting aside of Ron’s involvement with the Enfield India Company was that it encouraged them to set up an export department, which bore the fruit of a shipment of Bullets to Japan that coincided with the first Australian shipment. A business associate of Ron’s in the States, Joe Cody of Pacific Automotive Exports in Washington State, is also taking them on for American consumption. Enfield Cycles Australia’s network has dealers in most States, but they would like to expand the number of outlets further and are in the process of looking for interested dealers.

At home anywhere in the world.

At home anywhere in the world.

It’s hard to adequately define a niche in the marketplace the Enfield will fill. As Ron pointed out if there is a “type” of buyer for the Bullet it appears to be a more mature gent who owned something similar as a lad and is now in a position to purchase a one for the occasional Sunday ride. Some may say that a true British bike enthusiast might sooner spend the time and money on restoring the “real thing” than purchasing an Indian “replica”. But for me, the Bullet acts as a time machine transporting every sense of its rider to an uncomplicated era in motorcycling that must have been a lot of fun!

Words and photographs Geoff Dawes © 1988.  Published in Bike Australia 1988. Image http://www.helmetstories.blogspot.com.

Archives: BMW Turbo Twin

Installation of the Turbo and plumbing is extremely neat.

Over the years BMW has achieved enormous success in the most diverse forms of motorcycle racing, with what is the same basic “flat-twin” engine design first introduced in 1923 with the R32.  Successes include winning the first European 500cc Championship in 1938 with a supercharged version of the flat-twin configuration.  From 1954 to the mid 70’s BMW flat-twin engines dominated World Championship Sidecar Racing and also during the 70’s came an AMA Superbike Championship and a win in the Castrol Six-Hour Production Race. BMW has also had successes with this design in the most gruelling off-road race of them all, The Paris to Dakar Rally.  The list goes on and on, yet most people look upon BMW’s R series flat-twins as nothing more than reliable tourers.

Anthony Steele’s 1979 R100S has perhaps caused a few people to think differently about this iconic design.  Tony’s bike, you see, has the ability to change from a mild-mannered tourer to an arm-stretching superbike at the twist of a throttle.  The transformation is brought about by current technologies answer to the supercharged BMW’s of the late 1930’s; the turbocharger.

Tony, who is a mechanic by trade, decided to turbocharge his bike in the early 1980’s at a time when spectacular claims of power and economy were being made for this form of forced induction.  Aftermarket turbo-charging kits were proliferating in the States with some finding their way to Australia.  The American Turbo-Pak kit fitted to Tony’s bike was acquired through the SA importer and distributor of BMW, Pitmans.  The package included a Rajay Industries turbo unit with adjustable wastegate, a Zenith side-draught carburettor, an electric fuel pump plus a larger capacity sump and all the necessary plumbing.

IMG_0002

Turbo-Pak kit tucks well out of the way.

According to Tony fitting the turbo kit was reasonably straightforward.  The battery under the seat had to be replaced with a smaller unit and tilted back to clear the turbo housing.  After some problems with detonation, two spacers were fitted between the crankcase and cylinder barrels on each side to lower the compression ratio.  The spacers are a standard BMW part for the R90 series engine for use in countries with low octane fuel.  They required some machining of their centres to accommodate the bigger bore R100 engine.  A lumenition electronic ignition was also fitted for more precise combustion.  Once installed the kit integrates well with the standard layout of the bike, only the loud exhaust note and lack of right-hand side muffler gives away the fact this is no ordinary BMW.

Starting the bike takes a bit of a knack as there is no choke fitted.  A few twists of the throttle to prime the carburettor usually does the trick and once started the throttle needs to be blipped for several minutes until the engine is warm.  It then settles down to a reasonably fast 1,500 rpm idle.  The exhaust note is nothing like a regular R series BMW, sounding more like a British vertical twin with sports mufflers.  According to Tony maximum boost of 10 psi comes in between 6,500 rpm and 7,000 rpm with a claimed 40% increase in power.  More importantly, though, the engine comes on boost as low as 4,500 rpm and is making 5 psi of boost by 5,500 rpm.  In touring conditions with a pillion, the turbo BMW has a definite power advantage over standard R100S in top gear acceleration.  Tony described the engine coming on boost as similar to changing down a gear followed by rapid acceleration and even more rapidly rising engine revs.

The top speed of the R100S is entering the superbike stakes at around 210 kph (130mph), but some stability problem became apparent at 160 kph (100mph).  After trying most brands of replacement shock absorbers a pair of Fournales proved best suited to the bike, but the stability problem wasn’t entirely cured until Tony had an R100RS full-fairing fitted by Pitmans.  The standard chassis though has been found to easily handle the extra horsepower, even when accelerating hard out of corners.  Tyre wear hasn’t increased noticeably, and although the lowest fuel consumption obtained after very hard riding was 8.5 k/l (24 mpg) in regular use it has proved slightly more economical than a standard R100S.

From any angle the turbo installation is neat.

From any angle, the turbo installation integrates well with the layout of the bike.

The all up cost of the turbo kit and mods, including the cost of the ‘79 R100S, was around $8,000, although it would cost a lot more to build a replica today.  So far, only the clutch has proved to be a weak point in the drivetrain and is due for some modifications shortly, although Tony does admit the bike doesn’t like some of the extremely hot weather that South Australia experiences. At the moment four-valve heads are being looked at by Tony as the next development for what is one of the neatest turbo conversions around.

Words and photographs Geoff Dawes (C) 1983. Published in Bike Australia July 1983.

 

Reminiscing: The Honda CB1100RC

Not a small motorcycle but extremely functional.

In 1982 the there was only one thing better for a Japanese motorcycle enthusiast to see than a Honda CB1100RC and that was more than one. In fact, it was the sight of five of the limited run, homologation specials, that greeted me on the forecourt of Trevena Honda at their Main North road dealership.  Only 200 of the RC model had been imported into Australia, and I was on a mission to secure one for myself.

My current bike, at that time, was a 1979 Honda CB900FZ, the machine the RC was based on. It was in my opinion, a somewhat underrated motorcycle that boasted lightweight, good handling and attractive styling, yet it had been pushed into the background due to the capacity war being waged with the other Japanese manufacturers.

The CB1100RC though was a different kettle of fish. Built primarily to redress the balance of power in production bike racing, it was not cheap. At $5,800 (Aus) it was almost twice the price of the CB900FZ it was based on, although this was tempered somewhat by the fact, that as a limited run special, it would hold its price and potentially appreciate in value.

That first ride home on the RC was an interesting one as it was the first time I’d ridden a motorcycle with a full fairing.  It proved to be quite effective at keeping the wind and weather off the rider although the hands were less well protected.  The footpegs were set slightly higher and a bit more rearward pushing the rider’s knees into the alloy fuel tanks indentations. The adjustable handlebars (a similar system to Laverda’s) were in the dropped position giving a good “feel” from the front end.  The brakes were highly effective causing the forks to compress considerably.  The RC was physically a large machine, but it steered and changed direction with relative ease.

Once at home it was time to indulge in the motorcyclist’s favourite pastime, making adjustments to the bike.  The TRAC anti-dive system on the front forks was set at number one of its four positions, hence the accentuated nose-dive under brakes. This setting was changed to number three, and the air pressure in both forks was set to 25psi (between 23 to 27psi was recommended by Honda).

Air caps on the fork top and the engine oil temperature gauge with warning lights.

Air caps on the fork top and the engine oil temperature gauge with warning lights.

The remote reservoir gas charged FVQ rear shockers had four compression, three extension damping settings and five spring preload settings.  These were adjusted with the spring preload set to three, the compression damping to three and the rebound damping to two.  The eighteen-inch wheels fitted to the RC sported 2.5inch front and 3.0inch rim rear widths respectively.  Checking the standard fitment Japanese Dunlop F11 100/90 V18 and K527 130/80 V18 tyre pressures was another essential job.

Next was to set the handlebars in the “flat” position. This was easily done by loosening the hexagonal through bolt enough to disengage the meshed “teeth” of the lower and upper part of the handlebar, so the upper bars could be tilted into the flat position, and then re-tightened.

A quick run on a favourite stretch of road showed the suspension adjustments had firmed up the big Honda making it more responsive to rider input and the raised handlebars improved the comfort of the riding position.

The owner’s manual was also very comprehensive and more of a condensed workshop manual, showing tolerances and recommended replacement of engine parts in racing kilometres/miles. The regular service schedule for normal road use was fairly standard, and the manual also quoted the CB1100RC as giving 115hp at 9,000rpm and 75kg-m at 7500rpm some 20hp up on the CB900FZ.

All the usual service points on the RC were easily accessible for the home mechanic.  The fairing lower took about five minutes to remove to reach the oil filter and cam chain tensioner, while the fuel tank had to be removed to gain access to the spark plugs and carburettors. The air filter was also easily accessible through the air-box side cover.  The RC was not fitted with a main-stand, but a rear paddock type stand was available from Honda dealers.

Naked RC. It took about forty minutes to undress.

Naked RC. It took about forty minutes to undress.

It became apparent after running in the RC that this motorcycle could be used as a serious high-speed, long-distance sports tourer.  On a favourite piece of road riding the CB900FZ at 120kmh was a comfortable rate of knots, but on the RC this seemed slow, and 140kmh was a comparative trot.  The full fairing was doing its job with very little buffeting, even around the rider’s helmet.  The power delivery of the 1062cc engine was quite linear, with a flat torque curve making hard acceleration deceptive with only a slight jump in power at higher revs.

What did become apparent though was a vibration zone at around 4000-4500rpm that could be felt through the footpegs and handlebars, was more predominant through the large 26lt alloy fuel tank.  This did eventually cause an internal baffle in the tank to break away which sounded like a buzz saw at these revs.  Also, a baffle in the right-hand exhaust became loose and rattled.  Both of these problems were fixed without question under warranty.  The engine did smooth out considerably once out of this “zone”, although this did translate into higher illegal road speeds.

FVQ gas charged remote reservoir shock absorbers.

FVQ gas charged remote reservoir shock absorbers.

The only down sides that the RC did have was a restricted turning circle, thanks to the large fuel tank and fairing, but once this was factored in it never really became an issue. Also carrying a pillion passenger was really not a design prerequisite for the RC.  The pillion part of the seat was higher, and the bulk of the weight of the passenger was behind the rear axle line of the motorcycle.  This really didn’t help the handling of the RC regardless of the suspension settings.

Although the front brakes were Honda’s very effective new twin-piston floating calipers that gripped 300mm ventilated disks, I opted to have the optional braided steel brake lines fitted. These were standard on the U.K. model and gave better initial bite and feel and were a worthwhile investment.

The Honda’s presence on the road was also quite impressive.  This was the first motorcycle I can remember that had car drivers change lanes to get out of the way. Other drivers would slow down just to see what sort of exotic piece of kit it was. Indeed the prominent fairing and bright colour scheme made the motorcycle quite visible to other road users, and it made the rider feel that little bit safer in traffic.

What I didn’t expect was the reaction of other motorcyclists.  In one instance I was told that it was a racer for the road and impractical for everyday use, and there was no way you could use all the power available.  This was from a group of riders, one of whom rode a Laverda Jota!

A comfortable sports tourer.

A comfortable sports tourer.

In reality, the Honda CB1100RC was a motorcycle you could commute to work on and use for weekend blasts through the hills.  And for five years I did exactly that and enjoyed every minute of it. The RC’s engine performance was user-friendly, as was the superb handling in just about all conditions. It was a big and heavy bike, and after few hours of scratching on winding roads, the rider would know it. But this just added to the satisfaction of riding this type of motorcycle.  The Honda was also a competent sports tourer that with the handlebars in the “flat” position was quite comfortable over long distances.

Many of the specifications of the CB1100RC were carried over to the CB1100F with improvements (including rubber mounting the engine) that made it more civilised than its production-racing cousin.  Unfortunately, the CB1100R series and CB1100F were also the last generations of big air-cooled four-cylinder bikes from Honda that along with other Japanese models quickly became dinosaurs in the fast-moving technological evolution of the performance motorcycle.

Words Geoff Dawes (C) 2014. Photographs Geoff and Vivienne Dawes © 1982.

The Honda CB1100R Series

The fully faired 1982 CB1100RC Honda.

It ‘s an understatement to suggest that racing success helped build the very foundations of the Honda Motor Company.  It was the driving force to win, instilled by corporation founder Soichiro Honda that the company’s engineering capabilities be proven in the white heat of competition. The forays, starting in 1959 to the Isle of Man TT, to take on the best in the world in Grand Prix racing, proved pivotal to the success of the fledgeling motorcycle manufacturer.

But in 1970’s production racing, and in particular the prestigious Australian Castrol Six Hour production race, this philosophy was faltering. In a class of racing that pitted showroom floor models against each other under racing conditions, Honda had tasted success but once, in the 1971 event, with the venerable CB750.

The unfaired CB1100RB explicitly built for the 1980 Australian Castrol Six Hour race.

The Castrol Six-Hour had become the jewel in the crown of endurance production racing that enjoyed live television coverage in Australia and immense media exposure all over the world.  It was a class of racing with a huge following as it allowed motorcycle owners to see how “their” bike performed against machines from the other manufacturers.  And in an era of unprecedented motorcycle sales, the old adage, “what wins on Sunday sells on Monday”, had never been more true.

Honda held great hope for success in 1979 with the RCB endurance racer inspired CB900FZ, but it was unable to be fully competitive against its larger capacity rivals from Suzuki and Yamaha. Although claiming a creditable third place the previous year, Honda’s own CBX1000 six-cylinder flagship did not have the success that Honda desired.

And the war for production racing supremacy was not just being waged in Australia, but also South Africa, New Zealand and the U.K which was also a part of Honda’s dilemma.  This required contemplation and a new approach to the race, or rather, the regulations.

The 1979 CB900FZ

The CB1100R series of motorcycles was created out of production racing necessity.  Honda became the first Japanese manufacturer to build a production homologation special for the road,  manufacturing enough road-registerable models to stay within the rules.

In a clever bit of reverse engineering Honda looked to its CB900FZ road bike, which had been based on the highly successful RCB1000 endurance racer.  It used lessons learnt from the RCB to transform the CB900F into a specialist endurance production racer. There was some irony here as Honda was also developing in parallel the RSC1000, by necessity based on the CB900F, to meet the regulations for the new prototype World Endurance Championship of 1980.

Honda Australia rider Dennis Neil was recruited by Honda Japan to develop the new machine and was responsible for testing it in both Australia and Japan. One hundred of the CB1100RB were fast-tracked and registered by Honda to make the September cut off deadline for entry into the 1980 Castrol Six Hour.  This was an unfaired version of the bike, which was unique to the R series.  European models and those released in most other markets were fitted with a half fairing.

The faired version of the CB1100RB sold in South Africa the UK and New Zealand.

The faired version of the CB1100RB sold in South Africa the UK and New Zealand.

The evolution of the CB900F to transform it into the CB1100R, though, was quite extensive.

Although the engine shared the same 69mm stroke of the CB900F, the bore was increased from 64.5mm to 70mm to give an engine capacity of 1062cc, the same as variants of both the RCB and RSC endurance racers. The cylinder block was solid, doing away with the air gap between the two outer and two inside cylinders. The compression ratio was increased, up from 8.8:1 to 10:1, and many of the engine internals were beefed up, including a wider primary drive chain, strengthened clutch, conrods, big end bearings and gudgeon pins while the pistons became semi-forged items and the camshafts had sportier profiles. The standard gearbox was retained, although final overall gearing was raised by ten percent, and carburation also remained the same as the CB900F using four constant velocity Keihin VB 32mm units. This resulted in CB1100RB producing 115hp (85kw) at 9000rpm and 72ft.lb  (98N-m) of torque at 7,500rpm, compared to 95hp (69.8kw) at 9000rpm and 57ft.lb (77.4N-m) at 8000rpm of the CB900FZ.

The chassis was strengthened with extra gusseting and the detachable lower frame rail of the CB900F, designed for ease of engine removal, now became a solid part of the frame.  The front engine mounts were also heavy-duty alloy items, which no doubt all helped to improve the rigidity of the chassis.  The 35mm CB900F front forks were replaced with new 38mm units that used air assistance to adjust the spring rate via a linked hose from each fork and the rear shock absorbers carried a finned piggyback reservoir to help cool the damping oil.  Honda reverse Comstar wheels were fitted although the diameters remained the same as the CB900F, with an 18inch rear wheel and a 19inch front. But the rim widths were wider, up from 2.15 inches for both the front and rear of CB900F to a 2.75 inch rear and a 2.5 inch front for the CB1100RB. This was to accommodate the new generation tyres developed for the race due to the intense competition between tyre manufacturers. Honda also introduced for the first time their dual twin-piston floating calipers that gripped solid 296mm disks.

A single fibreglass seat unit that also housed the toolkit took the place of the CB900F’s dual seat. The fuel capacity was increased from 20 litres to 26 litres with a massive alloy fuel tank.  The instruments and switchgear were taken straight off the CB900F, but the duralumin handlebars were changed to multi-adjustable items that could be replaced quickly in the event of a crash. The exhaust system was visually similar to the CB900F, being a four into two, but on the CB1100RB it was freer flowing and utilised a balance pipe just ahead of the two mufflers. It was also finished in matt black as opposed to chrome and was well tucked in. The pulse generator and ignition cover on either end of the crankshaft were reduced in size and chamfered to also help improve ground clearance.  The foot pegs were rear-set and raised slightly on new lighter alloy castings. Honda was quite proud of achieving a fifty-degree angle of lean for the RB without anything touching down. This was extremely important at such a tight circuit as Amaroo Park where the Castrol Six Hour was held.

Single seat unit housed the toolkit.

Single seat unit of the RB housed the toolkit.

However, the Willoughby District Motorcycle Club did not welcome the appearance of the CB1100RB at the 1980 Castrol Six Hour.  The organisers of the event argued that the CB100RB did not conform to the rules for a touring motorcycle, as it had no provision to carry a pillion passenger. Honda quite rightly pointed out that this was not written into the supplementary regulations for the event and indeed the organisers had to yield. It should also be pointed out that the organisers had turned a blind eye in previous years to entries such as the 750 and 900 SS Ducati’s that also could not carry a pillion passenger.

It’s history now that Wayne Gardner and Andrew Johnson on the privately entered Mentor Motorcycles CB1100RB won the race, held in wet conditions, ahead of the Honda Australia entry of Dennis Neil and Roger Heyes.  But it was a controversial win and not the clear-cut victory Honda would have hoped for. Suzuki Australia claimed that a lap scoring error had taken the win away from John Pace and Neil Chivas on a GSX1100.  After three appeals the Suzuki team were eventually awarded the win, only for Mentor Motorcycles to appeal against the ruling and be reinstated just four weeks before the 1981 race. To top all this off, the WDMC released the supplementary regulations for the race, which specifically banned solo seats.  Honda turned its back on the 1981 race and once again studied the rules.  Some solace was sought when the CB1100RB won all of the eight 1981 MCN Streetbike series in the UK, with seven victories going to series winner Ron Haslam.

The end result of all of the above culminated in the 1982 CB1100RC, which came equipped with a dual seat and rear footpegs – and also a full fairing. A removable cover was used to give the appearance of a single seat, while the tools were moved to a lockable toolbox that was hung off the seat subframe just behind the left rear shock absorber.  The rear suspension units were now inverted reservoir gas charged FVQ units with four-way compression damping and three-way adjustable extension damping with five spring preloads.  Front fork diameter was increased from 38mm to 39mm with separate air adjustment on the top of each fork leg.  The forks also boasted a new innovation from Honda, Torque Reactive Anti-dive Control or TRAC. This was a mechanical four-way adjustable system that utilised the pivoting torque of the brake calipers to close a valve in the fork leg, under braking, to increase compression damping which limited front end nose-dive.

The fully faired 1982 CB1100RC Honda.

The fully faired 1982 CB1100RC Honda.

The front brake disks now became ventilated while 18-inch “boomerang” spoked Comstar wheels graced both ends of the RC.  The rear rim width was now 3.0 inches, up from 2.75 on the RB, while the front rim width remained 2.5 inches but on an 18 instead of 19-inch wheel.  Steering rake was increased by half a degree to 28 degrees and trail was shortened from 121mm to 113mm mainly to accommodate the effects of the new 18-inch front wheel.  The wheelbase also became slightly longer from 1488mm of the RB to 1490mm for the RC but still 25mm shorter than the CB900F.

The instrument “pod” now was now mounted in the nose of the full fairing, and the tachometer became electronic as opposed to the cable driven item of the RB.  There was also the inclusion of an oil temperature gauge mounted with the warning lights on the top steering yoke.  The full fairing was lightweight fibreglass, reinforced with carbon fibre, and its lower half was quickly removable utilising six Dzus type fasteners and two screws.  In the engine department, the only significant mechanical change was a stronger cam chain tensioner and 1mm larger Keihin VB 33mm CV carburettors. Claimed horsepower and torque remained the same as the CB1100RB, although South African and New Zealand models were recorded as giving 120hp.

Honda dominated the 1982 Castrol Six Hour even though Suzuki unleashed its 1100 Katana with special wider wire wheels.  Wayne Gardner and Wayne Clarke took the top place on the podium with three other CB1100RC’s finishing behind them.  The nearest Suzuki Katana was a lap down in fifth. Honda again dominated the British MCN Streetbike series winning all the races with Ron Haslam and Wayne Gardner sharing the spoils and series title. For 1983 new restrictions were put in place for production racing, which limited engine capacity to 1000cc and effectively made the CB1100RC redundant.

The Honda CB1100RD. Note the nose of the fairing in line with front axle line.

The Honda CB1100RD. Note the nose of the fairing in line with front axle line.

Honda still produced one more model in the series, the 1983 CB1100RD, the main differences from the RC being a rectangular tube swingarm, which was slightly wider for the new fatter tyres, and it also carried upgraded rear shock absorbers. The nose of the fairing was also pulled back to be in line with the front axle to meet racing regulations.  Aesthetically the blue stripe ran up the sides of the headlight and not underneath it while the blue and red paintwork appeared almost metallic in its finish. The Honda winged transfer on the tank was grey, black and white as opposed to yellow and white of the RB and RC.

The overall finish of the RD appeared a notch above the RB and RC, and it was suggested that Honda did not have the capacity on its production line to cope with the limited number run required to homologate these two models.  Honda’s Racing Services Centre (which became the Honda Racing Corporation in 1982) was said to have been responsible for assembling both the RB and RC.  An upgraded production line in 1983 enabled Honda to accommodate the RD.  This does make sense and a good reason for the better quality of finish of the RD. It also makes the RB and RC somewhat unique as they would have been assembled by Honda’s racing department.

How limited in numbers was the CB1100R series?  1,050 of the 1981 RB were reported to have been built, although whether this figure includes the 100 fast -racked unfaired machines for the 1980 Castrol Six Hour is unclear.  It seems that 1,500 of both the RC and RD were made, giving a number of 4,050 in total.

Words Geoff Dawes © 2013. Photograph Geoff Dawes (C)1982. Images http://www.nirvanamotorcycles.com, http://www.mctrader.com.au, http://www.worldhonda.com, http://www.carandclassic.co.uk, http://www.flkr.com.

Speed King

For enthusiasts of Land Speed Record breaking, the title “Speed Ace” or “Speed King” conjures images of such archetypal heroes as Segrave, Campbell and Cobb, frantically sawing at the wheel of some aero-engined behemoth as it thunders down the beaches of Daytona or along the dazzling white salt flats of Bonneville. English gentlemen who would risk life or limb for King and Country and the prestige of Britain.

But record-breaking often creates less likely heroes who would arguably qualify for the same distinguished mantle.  Don Vesco was one such person, who not only set an outright World Land Speed Record for motorcycles of 318.598mph (512.73kph), but also an outright World Land Speed Record for a wheel-driven vehicle of 458.440mph (737.787kph).

Don Vesco.

Don Vesco.Record-breaking was only one part of a lifetime chasing speed.

Record-breaking for Vesco though was only one part of a lifetime chasing speed.

Don was born in Loma Linda Southern California on April the 8th 1939, in an environment that not surprisingly nurtured a “need for speed”.  His father, John Vesco, ran hot-rods and streamliners out of his body shop on Southern California’s numerous dry lakebeds – a perfect setting for Don and his two younger brothers Rick and Chuck to gain an education in all things fast.

Vesco was mechanically gifted as a child, and while still in his teens, modified a rigid framed Triumph 500cc T100R twin to enter his first official race, a local drag race meet at San Diego’s Paradise Mesa drag strip. What followed was that unique blend of American motorcycle racing, on bitumen, dirt track and TT steeplechase. One of Don’s old Hoover High School buddies and main rival on the track in those days was a future legend, Cal Rayborn.

It was in the discipline of road racing that Vesco excelled and it soon became apparent that the Triumph was no match for the Manx Norton’s many of his rivals were racing.  Thanks to a loan from his girlfriend Norma, who would become the first of his three wives, Don was able to purchase a Manx.  The combination proved almost unbeatable in local road races at tracks like Willow Springs and Riverside in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s – at a time when Japanese manufacturer Honda was trying to take a foothold in the lucrative American motorcycle market.

Don on the salt at Bonneville with his Manx Norton.

Don on the salt at Bonneville with his Manx Norton.

Honda hired Vesco to race its highly successful RC161 four-cylinder four-stroke 250cc Grand Prix racer in American events to help promote the brand. Don duly notched up two wins on the RC161 first time up at the Goleta Airport track in Santa Barbara but crashed the bike several months later at the same venue.  When a promised ride in the 1962 US Grand Prix at Daytona (an FIM sanctioned international event) was given to Japanese rider Kunimitsu Takahashi, it appeared that Don was out of favour.

In a twist of fate another Japanese manufacturer, Yamaha was also trying to promote their motorcycles in America. Yamaha contacted Vesco to race its RD56 250cc two-stroke Grand Prix racer the following year in the open class at the same event. The race, however, wasn’t to be all smooth sailing. Vesco, suffered a fall in the Daytona infield, but remounted and went on to lap the entire field to win the 1963 US Grand Prix, giving the Japanese manufacturer their first major victory in America. Vesco was to ride again for Yamaha at Daytona in 1964, and this time the Grand Prix was a fully sanctioned round of the FIM 250cc World Championship.  Unfortunately, a nasty fall in practice resulted in a broken collarbone for Vesco, and the GP racer was handed to up and coming English rider, and future World  Champion, Phil Read. The bad luck continued for Yamaha and the bike seized during the race.

Don aboard the Open Class winning Yamaha RD56 at Daytona 1963 with Japanese rider Fumio Ito.

Yamaha was now offering Don a dealership, which initially he declined, but reconsidered when his employer complained he had too much time off through racing accidents. He opened shop in El Cajon California in 1966.

By the early 70’s Vesco had two of the world’s best racers riding out of his dealership, former world 250cc Grand Prix champion, Australian Kel Carruthers (who had come to live and race in the U.S. at Don’s invitation), and his old racing buddy and rival Cal Rayborn.   By the late 70’s other such greats as Gene Romero, Dave Aldana, Ron Pierce and Yvon du Hamel had all ridden under the Team Vesco Yamaha banner.

Don had by now shelved his own racing ambitions to concentrate on the dealership with the satisfaction of having been a factory rider for a number of manufacturers including Honda, Yamaha, Bridgestone and BSA.

Don on the cover of the Orange County Raceway program riding a 250cc Bridgestone GP racer.

It was during this period that Vesco began his highly successful motorcycle land speed record runs at Bonneville Salt Flats. Don was no stranger to the salt having first run a motorcycle at Bonneville at the age of 16, and in 1963 joined the exclusive 200mph (321.87kph) club, driving his fathers Offenhauser powered four-wheeled streamliner #444 to 221mph (355.67kph).

However, it was the outright Motorcycle Land Speed records that Vesco became synonymous with. The first was in September 1970 using a twin-engine streamliner fitted with Yamaha R3 air-cooled 350cc two-stroke engines to set a new world record of 251.924mph (405.43kph), becoming the first man to break the 250mph barrier.  It was short lived though, as less than a month later Harley-Davidson broke his record with Cal Rayborn at the controls. Vesco knew of his friend’s record attempt and made sure he received his contingency money from Yamaha and his other sponsors quick smart!

Vesco and Big Red the first motorcycle to achieve over 250mph.

Vesco and Big Red the first motorcycle to achieve over 250mph.

Five years later Don returned to the salt and was the first to crack the 300mph barrier and set a new record in the Silver Bird Yamaha, (a stretched version of his old streamliner Big Red, fitted initially with two TZ700cc two-stroke Yamaha racing engines), leaving the mark at 302.928mph (487.53kph).

This was not enough for Vesco, and in August 1978 he established a new outright world record of 318.598mph (512.73kph) with Lightning Bolt using two modified 1015cc turbocharged Kawasaki KZ900 engines.  Remarkably this outright world record stood for 12 years.

But it was only two months later that success turned to failure when Don took Lightning Bolt to El Mirage dry lake and crashed.  Vesco escaped without injury, but much of the streamliner’s bodywork was damaged.  By 1980 Don had finished work on a new streamliner using two turbocharged 1300c six cylinder Kawasaki engines, although success eluded his latest creation.

Don with the Silver Bird Yamaha streamliner after setting an new world record of 302.98mph.

Don with the Silver Bird Yamaha streamliner after setting a new world record of 302.98mph.

Vesco now started to eye the record for wheel-driven automobiles and in 1982 returned to Bonneville with a unique machine called Sky Tracker. Built along the lines of Don’s motorcycle streamliners, Sky Tracker used the driver’s compartment from Lightning Bolt and sported five wheels, two next to each other at the rear, one on each side and enclosed in the middle of the bodywork, and one at the front.

Rain, in both 1982 and 1983, thwarted attempts with Sky Tracker at Bonneville, although a speed of 235mph (378kph) was achieved in 1984 using a turbocharged Drake-Offenhauser engine before the meet was rained out again.  1985 saw Vesco qualify Sky Tracker for the World Finals record runs with a pass of 318mph, (512kph) his unusual creation starting to show its potential. Like anybody involved in the pursuit of speed, Vesco was well aware of the dangers, but a blown rear tyre at 350mph (563kph) underlined that point in no small way.  Sky Tracker crashed end over end five times utterly destroying the car. Don came away with damaged vertebrae, concussion and a broken bone in his hand and right foot.

Don with the Kawasaki Lightning Bolt. His record stood for 12 years.

Don Vesco with the Kawasaki Lightning Bolt. His record stood for 12 years.

Finding enough money to continue chasing the record was not unfamiliar territory for Don and his brother Rick who was also working on a parallel project. It made sense to join forces to complete a new twin-engine car, although it was not until 1991 with a pair of turbocharged 160 cubic inch Drake-Offenhauser power units that it started to show promise with a run of 372mph (598kph).   Expensive engine failures were now becoming a problem, and it was apparent to the brothers that piston engine power was reaching its upper limits. A different power source was needed if they were to break Al Teague’s wheel-driven record of 409.97mph (659.78kph).

A gas turbine was seen as the best solution, and a compact helicopter unit could be found comparatively cheaply in the form of an Avco Lycoming T55-L-11A SA. The streamliner now became known as the Turbinator with its engine producing 3,750hp at 16,000rpm, driving all four wheels through a gearbox bolted to the front with a reduction ratio on the shaft of 2:1.

Turbinator.

Turbinator.

The first development runs took place in 1996 at Bonneville, and over the next four years, Don and Team Vesco set three national records at the World Finals in excess of 400mph (643.74kph), culminating a one-way run of 427mph (687.19kph) in 2000. The world record slipped through their grasp that day when a gearbox failure with Turbinator prevented the team turning the car around for the return run within the one hour stipulated by FIA regulations.

Team Vesco returned to Bonneville once again in 2001 for the World Finals, with 500mph squarely in their sights.  The team were buoyed by the fact that in a one-way “shakedown” run Turbinator reached 470.28mph (756.84kph) and was still accelerating out of the measured mile. The record runs however produced a real problem.  Don was unable to hold open the throttle as the engine temperature at the burners kept creeping up dramatically and could have caused the engine to self-destruct. Vesco had to modulate the throttle 16 times to contain the temperature but still hit over 458.mph (737.08kph) on the first run. The problem was the reduction gearbox, bolted to the shaft on the front of the engine, prevented enough cooling air to flow into the turbine.

The return run was going to be challenging, and again Vesco was required to modulate the throttle 18 times to contain engine temperature. Worse was yet to come as the rear left tyre blew inside the measured mile. It took all of Don’s skill and experience to keep the Turbinator on track and slow it down, stopping a mere 15 feet inside the black line.

Team Vesco had done the job; the return run had equalled the first to give a two-way average of 458.44mph (737.79kph).

Don and the team were happy to have beaten Al Teague’s 1991 wheel driven record of 409.986mph (659.81kph) in Spirit of ‘76. But more delighted to have broken the record for a gas turbine automobile of 403.10mph (648.73kph) set 37 years earlier in 1964 by Donald Campbell at Lake Eyre in South Australia driving CN7 Bluebird.

Don and Team Vesco break the wheel-driven Land Speed Record 2001.

Don and Team Vesco break the wheel-driven Land Speed Record 2001.

In 1999 the American Motorcyclist Association had honoured Vesco’s achievements and inducted him into their Hall of Fame. Don turned 60 that year.  If there is one thing, that old motorcycle racers know from experience, crashing and riding injured come with the territory. Vesco had suffered his share, but in 1995 while spectating at a sprint car meeting at the Manzanita Speedway in Phoenix Arizona, Don was struck in the left eye and permanently blinded by a piece of debris thrown up by the rear tyre of a sprint car. Driving Turbinator with one eye was just another obstacle for Don to overcome, which makes those 400mph (643.74kph)  plus runs all that more remarkable. It didn’t deter Vesco from competing at Daytona in the BMW legends series, riding an R1100RS as fast as ever, and he continued to compete in AHRMA events on one of Team Obsolete’s Manx Nortons.

Unfortunately, there was one final obstacle Don was unable to overcome before he could achieve his dream of 500mph (804.67kph). He was diagnosed with prostate cancer and succumbed to the illness on the 16th of December 2002 aged 63.  Vesco was inducted posthumously into the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America in 2004.  Today, after 13 years, Don’s record still stands, but Team Vesco will continue to work towards that dream of 500mph (804.67kph) and will be back at Bonneville with an upgraded and improved Turbinator 11.

Don Vesco, factory motorcycle racer, team owner, engine tuner, designer, Land Speed Record Breaker. Speed King.

Words Geoff Dawes (C) 2013. Images http://www.bluebird-electric.com, http://www.bikernet.com, http://www.gregwapling.com, http://www.forumboxerworks.com, http://www.yamahapart.com, http://www.eliteday.com, http://www.global.yamaha-motor.com and http://www.croinfo.net.

Casey Stoner Pushing The Limits

For a large number of MotoGP followers, and in particular fans of Casey Stoner, his new autobiography (with Matthew Roberts), “Casey Stoner Pushing The Limits” subtitled ‘The controversial and explosive autobiography of a two-time World Moto GP Champion” holds very few surprises. Many of the events in Stoner’s career and early life have already been well documented in the media.9781409129219

But the book draws all the elements of Casey’s life together in a single volume that gives him the freedom to set the record straight after years muted media statements often due to the politics and pressure of the MotoGP paddock.  Stoner does not like being in the public spotlight and has found it difficult to fit the “Superstar” persona that the commercialised sports owners, Dorna, and the ensuing and often frenzied media pack try to demand.

Casey’s early life and his  love of motorcycles and racing is intriguing, and it’s clear that his upbringing played such an important part in shaping his career

However, the greatest revelation, I personally found, was his reasons for leaving Australia to compete overseas.  Although forced upon him, it was this decision that set Casey and his parents on the long and hard road to success.

“Casey Stoner Pushing The Limits” is well worth reading if you have little or no knowledge of this great Champions career. For those who follow the sport, or are a Stoner fan, it will clear the muddied waters of MotoGP politics, revealing how incredibly special the talent of Casey Stoner is.

Highly recommended.  Available from the Book Depository in hardback or paperback.

Words Geoff Dawes (C) 2013.