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- Written by Carole Nash Editor
- Created: 08 May 2008
Where does it all end when it comes to tuning or customising the Harley? From XR75 Storz flat-trackers, through Ness or Battistini Lowriders, to outrageous Fritz Egli turbo charged monsters, the Hog has attracted the world’s best (and occasionally the worst) custom specialists with its eternal mystique.
The Rickman brothers Metisse framed cafe racer specials were perhaps the very best adaptation of the Sixties cafe racer theme. Usually, they featured British twins taken from Bonnevilles, Dommies etc. but the man who bought the rights to the Rickman Metisse name, Pat French, is a more free thinking sort of bloke.
This stunning looking creation is loosely based on the famous XR75 flat tracker Harley-Davidson dirt racer, which tore around the dusty ovals of the States during the 60s and 70s. Too beautiful to waste on such sideways action, this Metisse one-off is a near perfect blend of British craftsmanship and American cool. Sorted.
The look is instantly familiar. High handlebars, teardrop tank, slender seat, and most crucially a big V-twin motor with high-level shotgun pipes poking out on the right. The Harley Davidson XR750 has been winning dirt-track races for over 20 years, and road going replicas have been getting increasingly popular of late.
This one is a little different, though. For a start, it´s made not in America but in England, and by a firm whose history in chassis-making goes back even further than the XR´s. In fact it’s based around a frame developed from the cafe racer´s delight; the Rickman. Brothers Derek and Don Rickman began building Metisse frames from nickel-plated steel tube in the 1960s, first for motocrossers and later for roadster motors including Triumph twins, Royal Enfield Interceptors and, in the ‘70s, Japanese multis, including Honda´s CB750 and Kawasaki’s Z900.
For many years the firm has been run by Pat French, who bought the Rickman name and the Metisse rights too, which literally means ‘mongrel bitch´ in French. Most of his output in recent years has been off-road chassis, but now French has produced the first Metisse Harley-Davidson roadster, a classy dirt-track replica that is hopefully the first of a batch of similar machines.
The first Metisse Harley-Davidson is a classy XR styled roadster replica that combines the look of the legendary dirt-track racer with a frame made from the nickel-plated tubular steel that has been a Metisse trademark for decades.
This bike is also unusual because it is powered not by the usual Evolution V-twin engine, but by an old, 1982-model iron-barrelled XL1000 lump bought brand new by Adrian Pavey, the former aircraft engineer who did put the bike together.
Pavey has recently quit his job to start a firm specialising in motorcycle engineering, and plans a run of ten Metisse Harleys if demand is sufficient. Those bikes will use Evolution motors, which will fit the frame with no modifications, but after locating the XL motor, brand new and in its box, in San Diego he decided to use it. Couldn´t resist using it.
But it´s the chassis that is the central point of this bike. Essentially a traditional twin cradle affair made from high tensile chrome molybdenum steel tube, the Metisse frame doubles as the oil tank. This not only removes the need for a separate tank, freeing more space for ancillaries such as the battery, but also provides an efficient form of cooling.
An aluminium rear subframe holds a Metisse seat. Adrian made the sidepanels himself from fibreglass and carbon-fibre, and commissioned the fuel tank from Pearson of Kent. Many details of future Metisse Harleys will vary according to owner taste and budget, but this bike gives a good idea of how a top-spec bike would look.
The swing-arm is in box-section steel, and heavily braced. The aluminium seat is coated in carbon-fibre, to prevent cracks. This bike wears front forks from a Yamaha OW01, with twin Ohlins units at the rear. Wheels are 18-inch Dymags at both ends, the front holding twin 320mm discs gripped by four-piston Nissin calipers. Tyres are Pirelli MP7s, the rear a respectable 170/60-section cover. Numerous neat touches include Earls hose throughout, and lightweight bolts that help keep weight to 415lb wet, a figure that would be reduced considerably by an Evolution motor, which will fit. The old pushrod motor has a capacity of 998cc and in standard form it revved to 5500rpm and put out a maximum of 55bhp at just over three grand.
Adrian has left the lump internally standard, merely adding a Dyna ignition and a Storz exhaust system, which needed several inches added to its length to fit the combination of motor and chassis. The motor is solidly mounted in the frame, which is chrome molybdenum steel tube. Unusually and rather cleverly, main tubes also form an engine brace.
By Harley standards the bike still felt refreshingly light, though, as I set off for a test-ride on a day whose dark, damp weather was much more typical of the Metisse base in Bristol than of San Diego. The flattish bars and fairly forward-set pegs gave a relaxing riding position at slow speed, although my right leg came into contact with the exhaust heat-shield and the air-filter.
The solidly mounted V-twin was considerably smoother than I had expected, feeling very sweet at low revs and responding crisply to a crack of the throttle. But it´s the chassis that this bike is all about. The Metisse was great for trickling round town, the suspension feeling firm without being too harsh, the bars´ width giving plenty of leverage (though there´s not much steering lock) and the motor´s flexibility allowing minimal use of the reasonably positive four-speed box.
Revving through the gears towards the limit of about 5500rpm (there was no tacho) revealed a reasonable turn of speed, too, and given a short straight the Harley rumbled briskly up to an indicated ton with maybe 20mph more to come. There was a reasonable amount of overtaking grunt on tap from about 50mph in top gear, too, although the motor began to shake more noticeably shortly after that speed, before smoothing out again at about 70mph.
Given the wind-blown riding position you wouldn´t want to cruise at more than 80mph for long, anyway, and Adrian reports that he´s sat at that figure for many a long motorway mile with no problems (except maybe sore shoulders) or engine reliability niggles.
Handling remained admirably stable at all straight-line speeds, showing none of the head-shaking tendency of the Champion-framed Bartels XR replica I rode last year. For a bike with 18-inch wheels and a 26 degree head angle the Metisse steered very quickly, yet the front end felt very neutral and confidence-inspiring as I pushed the Pirelli MP7s increasingly hard on drying roads whose odd damp patches remained to catch out the unwary.
Apart from the motor´s inevitable lack of top-end punch, the only speed-related drawback was the big gap between third and top gears, which a five-speed Evo motor would cure.
Apart from an erratic starter motor (due to a simple wiring problem) the Metisse ran faultlessly, the high quality of its construction showing through in almost every area. The front brake was powerful, paint finish excellent, the nickel-plated frame not only looks good but is hard-wearing too. The annoyingly hard to use sidestand will be modified on production bikes, and the distinctive twin headlamps, which Adrian accepts aren´t to everyone´s taste, could easily be replaced by a single lens.
Where the Metisse Harley project goes from here depends on the response for a bike that will be priced at about £11,000, for a complete machine, roughly as tested but with an Evolution engine. On the other hand, you could buy a frame kit for £3000 and build the bike yourself. Either way, you should end up with a hybrid Harley with the look and heart of an American dirt-tracker, and the handling of a true British cafe-racer. Which sounds like a pretty good combination to me.
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Engine 45 degree pushrod 998cc V-twin
Claimed power (bhp) -bhp @ -rpm
Compression ratio -
Bore and stroke; 81 x 97mm
Carbs; Keihin 40mm
Frame; Chrome-molybedenum, tubular cradle, also acting as oil tank.
Suspension; 46mm telescopic forks, adjustments for preload, compression and rebound damping
Rear Suspension; Twin Ohlins shocks.
Brakes; Twin 320mm discs, Nissin 4 piston calipers, single 240mm rear disc.
Wheels; Both 18 inch diameter cast alloy
Fuel capacity 13 litres