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Many regard Japan’s takeover in the 70s and 80s a golden age of sorts, and when Euro makers like Ducati, Laverda and Moto Guzzi countered the heat increased, leaving only BMW slightly left of center stage in the performance/prominence game. Both the R75 (1970) and R90/S (1974) twins were among the best available when introduced, but the limelight didn’t stay on for long. Some of motorcycling's most memorable were from Berlin, but the outright speed-through-the-gears disadvantage confounded the brand’s faithful. BMW’s response was machines made progressively heavier and slower, a move deemed unacceptable by tuner Werner Fallert.  

Lifted from the French forum (www.fmsp.net) this example represents Martin’s original ideas and application well. Flashy plating covers Reynolds CoMo tubing on the Egli clone frame (bottom right) hanging a tuned, 8v SOHC Honda 750. This engine, along with the Kawasaki 900 dominated experimental builds in the 70s and 80s and truly had the most to gain, at least in terms of availability, quantity of speed parts, and reliability. The owner displays exceptional talent, working a Wiseco 836cc kit into a late F2 four then adding components from Marzocchi and Brembo to the chassis. Compare this version to the later Martin-built spaceframe (top right).. Praised by veteran Martin builders, the finished machine had a troublesome amount of vibration through the fork, and the front JPX cast wheel was deemed unrepairable. That’s a lesson special frame owners know well, and the reality behind the Moto Martin and similar machines is there’s no two exactly alike, and few are without faulr after the first assembly. Just the ticket for the rugged individualist with a passion for speed....and a well-appointed machine shop.

Compared to slick production hardware the Harris, along with the others here display a creditable lack of creature comforts, but you’d expect no less from a compact performance build. Factoring in that many special frames were assembled from kits often uncovers an unwelcome amount of homespun interpretation. That might explain the lack of widespread market interest. What one can really expect riding or building a special frame bike is exposure into the designer’s mind, not to mention the thrill of exploiting the excellence of several vintage engines, now wrapped in a chassis that allow the rider more and better at-speed advantages. This is as true now as it was in 1979, proving the quest for excellence is never a wasted effort. Nolan Woodbury

Nearly everything I’ve learned about Fallert and the FM 1000 came from work released by Motorrad magazine in Germany, which is also the original source of these images. The focus begins with the special projects Fallert completed at the BMW car and motorcycle dealership he founded in 1964, then extended towards his intentions of building a better, faster BMW for those riders who wanted one. Higher rpms generate more horsepower, so Fallert ditched the standard OHV and pushrods to remake a modern version of BMW’s OHC RS54 Rennsport works racer. Studies suggest Fallert based his redesigned twin on the R100, but that may have been for press purposes. It’s likely the older, ‘Slash’ twins were in the mix too. The OHC, 4v heads are driven by shafts with bevels from a train of gears in the front cavity. The oil pump and most of the crankcase was retained but little else. 96mm bores bump capacity to 1000cc and with special 45mm DellOrto carbs engine output increased to 110-hp @ 8500 rpm. Last versions used 5-degree canted cylinders on special blocks, making the engine a true 170-degree v-twin. Mounted in a modified BMW frame Fallert’s FM 1000 could touch 160-mph.       

Note the heavy-radius drawn on the tail section, dramatic cylinder cutouts and integrated signals. Fallert passed away in 2012 and complete machines are very rare, but one could knock off a decent replica given the goodies available. More important? The FM 1000’s impact proves the effort wasn’t wasted, and the performance Boxer is now a production staple.

Labeled fairly as a classic French artisan, engineer Georges Martin transformed a passion for motorsports into market respectability. Don’t let the sweeping glitter and extravagance fool you; this is serious stuff. Like many, Martin’s initial frame designs followed Egli's big tube backbone pattern, but Georges soon moved on to develop his own perimeter space frame. Demand faded by the mid-80s when Japan adopted special frame technology (see Suzuki GSX-R) but not before Martin added his own line of wheels and other special parts to produce full coverage endurance replicas. Credited for the ‘South France' street-fighter look, many drew inspiration from Georges and his Moto Martin specials.

Leaving Ducati for magazine projects in Italy, de Prato was approached by an investor who not only wanted to purchase the bike for racing, but keep Bruno on as a consultant. Ducati refused to touch it but did supply a built 900cc twin from NCR, and the build was prepped with a stronger 38mm Marzocchi fork, Brembo brakes and a fairing. Its racing debut thrilled the team when the blue Eagle 1 shot past the leading NCR factory racer at the Misano 1000 but business issues caused the investor to lose interest and the Eagle was sold. Recently surfacing after restoration and delivered to de Prato for inspection, his moving recollection of the Eagle and its full development can be read here.

Moto Martin Honda (France)

Bruno de Prato Ducati (Italy)

The steering angle was steepened to 27-degrees, fit with a Ceriani fork and Campagnolo Hydroconic brake then covered with an alloy body styled after de Prato’s favorite Harley road racer. Wet weight: under 400-lb. Bruno reported the mood at Ducati’s NCR special project shop as ‘cool’ during assembly, and after the ultimate rejection de Prato hung a borrowed plate on the otherwise illegal Desmo and took it home.

Harris Kawasaki (England)

According to a report published in Motorrad’s archives, Wolfgang Kayser chipped in to design a six-speed gearbox, and this fit to an engine now residing in an all new tube spaceframe from Werner Dieringer, chief engineer at Kreidler. Some FM 1000’s show Lectron carbs, but all I’ve seen (in print) use some combination of a stock/modified Sachs fork, twin shocks, rear drive and Brembos. I have no information on the wheels. Fallert’s now-trademark white painted body kit fits over it all and was styled with traditional Bol d’Or era lines.

If the idea of blasting down a perfect road on a vintage race-spec Zed sounds like something worth doing, you might want to jot down the contact info for Harris Performance. Then again, those still reading no doubt recognize the name and know the history. Info published on the Harris website listed well over 2000 of the Magnum special frame kits sold, ranking Harris among motorcycling’s engineering elite. They’ve done it all; consulting, managing and designing one-off creations for factory race teams in Japan, crafted GP frames, expanded applications and most everything else connected to chassis technology. Credit brothers Steve and Lester Harris plus director Stephen Bayford for taking Harris in Hertford to ever-loftier heights.

Magazine readers might recognize the name Bruno de Prato as European correspondent for popular titles like Cycle World, but de Prato has worn many hats. After earning a engineering degree at university in South Carolina he returned to Italy to take a position under Fabio Taglioni at Ducati, just as development of the first L-twin was beginning.. And while many laud Ducati’s prized 750/900 Super Sports as a period-pinnacle of speed and mechanized soul, de Prato’s heated exchanges with Taglioni about design and application moved the chief engineer to issue a challenge to his understudy: Can you do better? What you see is Bruno’s reply: the Eagle 1.

The F1 endurance is an early effort from Harris, dating from the second half of the 1970s and predating their popular Magnum kit, which is based on the F1 design. The assembly splays down and away from the steering stem to wrap the engine on its way to the swingarm pivot. Best described as a welded tube perimeter, the design is triangulated with bracing and attachment points top, mid-cylinder and below, near the swingarm pin. Note the quick change rear wheel, a feature unique to the F1 frame. This example was on offer in 2012 and taken out to 1200cc.  Tuning specs include a welded crank, special porting, larger valves, hi-lift cams, a bank of 34mm Amal carbs and a ‘semi-close’ five-speed. Twin 18” Dymag wheels hold 280mm discs and the 38mm Marzocchi is pinched in Harris cast yokes. Brembo calipers are used on the front, the rear a single Lockheed, all using Lockheed master cylinders. A quick-flip aero-filler sits in the alloy tank and both the fairing and tail were Harris catalog items. Handsome in red, the accessory dual headlight cowl screws on the fairing’s nose.

Special Frames Part Four

Be it teacups or tractors, somebody will try to make a better version. The practice is human nature to some yet completely foreign to those without the interest, talent, or both. This is no slam on the non-inventor, for surely they’ve spent their time on much more lucrative endeavors. Those intent on involving themselves in the task of two-wheel performance count for a lot, considering the impact special frames have had on production bikes. Driven by passion and promise, many of these fabricating engineers didn’t count on the dirty work involved, but that all became clear when the cash dried up before problems were resolved. Firms like Rickman and Bimota are remembered with honor for pressing on to commercial success, but some very talented builders remain under the mainstream radar. In this space, we’ll look at four of them.   

It’s difficult for me to understand the lack of interest in special frame classics, especially given the reverence earned by the greats. On a semi-modern scope the practice gained traction when Dave Degens or whoever created the first Triumph/Norton hybrid rolled it out for a look. As the 1960s progressed Fritz Egli in Switzerland and England’s Rickman burst onto prominence, each attracting the same customer with a different approach. Originally drafting his now famous backbone tube for a racing Vincent, success and wins hatched a new customer base for Fritz W. Egli and consultant Roger Slater, who wrapped the same mathematical principals around a myriad of engines. The results were unanimous. Remembered best for its Métisse hybrid, Rickmans started in the dirt but finished with roadsters; powered primarily by British engines until the Honda four was released. Please don’t underestimate the impact Japan’s wave of powerful multis had on the special frame industry, and the list of talented engineers that emerged is deep. Some of these I’ve covered previously, the following is a sample from a much larger compilation that’s not yet finished. 

Werner Fallert BMW (Germany)

The project began with a 750cc Desmo twin and de Prato’s drawings for a new frame, patterned after (you guessed it) Fritz Egli’s 100mm backbone tube. These plans were taken to Egli in 1973 for assembly and while the Swiss master didn’t see the need for the additional down tube mounting points (totaling four extra) the frame was constructed as designed. Both Egli and Taglioni found it impossible to argue with the results. Less size, weight, and equal weight distribution were the goals, and more than three inches were chopped from the 750 SS.