Triumph Special – Dream machine

This special build is the result of lots of hard work and determination, the result being a stunning creation.

Words: CHELSEA BORCHERT Photographs: GARY CHAPMAN

Many people have asked me “Why one of these?” Surely, you only have to look at it to understand.

I fell in love with the Rickman Metisse look and story when my dad came home from display flying at an airshow; he had randomly bought a Metisse over the weekend. I later learned all about it and ultimately understood why he snapped it up. I’ve always loved classic bikes (especially scramblers) and this was the ultimate historic scrambler.

Dad’s bike turned out to be a 1962 Petite Metisse, with a Triumph 500cc engine. I went with him to collect it the following weekend and was instantly bombing around the airfield at Bicester Heritage – no helmet, strappy top and sunglasses. I had never felt anything like it – its lovely handling was empowering.

Over the next year I rode it on and off road and it became my ‘dream bike.’ At the time I had a yellow 1977 Honda CB400 Super Four which I loved, but nothing beat the sound, the look and the lightness of dad’s Rickman.

After a relationship breakup, I decided to sell my Honda – a spur of the moment decision, thinking let’s just see what it goes for. It sold in a week for £2500 more than I paid for it, which inspired me.

However, the hunt for a suitable replacement was proving hard, with time ticking away and the summer nearly over. The Honda was heavy but reliable and cruised at a nice speed – and like the Metisse, it was a good looking, fun classic. Nothing else I tested compared. Although I was having fun riding dad’s Metisse, I needed my own bike.

Dad needed a new fuel tank for his Metisse and we got to know Wasp Motorcycles, who specialise in producing classic models for the historic racing scene. Originally they made grasstrack and sidecar outfits along with producing the replica of a Rickman Metisse chassis, as well as bespoke frames. They were able to supply us a new fuel tank. We were amazed that they were only five miles away from home. We went back for a few other parts and we learned that they sell a ‘Mk.III kit’, which consisted of the Rickman-type frame, glass fibre body parts, swinging arm and seat. My dad had spent the previous five years building a biplane, so when this project came to an end (and while regretting having sold my Honda) he said to me one day: “Why don’t we build a new Metisse?”.

I thought about it and decided that it would be a complete missed opportunity to say no.

That week we went to Wasp and put the order in for the frame and chose the colour for the glass fibre bits (Steve McQueen Battleship Grey). I found a suitable donor bike for the engine on eBay – a 1966 650cc Triumph Thunderbird, which had recently been imported from America. I bought it on my birthday September 19, 2017, and started stripping it down the day it arrived; it was a runner but a real state.

Mark at Wasp had put me in touch with a local Triumph enthusiast, Mike, aka ‘Triumph Man’, and they both came over to have a look. Mark took some measurements for the frame and we discussed with Mike how he would rebuild my engine. Mike took away with him the engine and the rest of the Thunderbird and in exchange supplied me with some forks and a set of hubs for my build.

One Sunday during mid-October, I went over to Wasp and watched John Hand (their amazingly talented welder) bronze weld my frame. My mind was blown watching him put my frame together, and I realised then that this was going to be a very special project.

In love from the start

The next week I collected the frame, it felt like Christmas; it had been bright nickel plated and it was absolutely beautiful. I was in love with my bike project and it had only just begun.

Mike supplied me with some new old stock forks and hubs from a 1973 Triumph TR5T Adventurer. The forks were good to go, they had not been on a bike before, so I fitted them to the yoke that I had been adjusting and polishing. The hubs needed some love as they looked the 40 plus years old they were. I spent hours on these, sanding out the corrosion pitting, before polishing them, making them really shiny.

I collected the engine cases from Mike then polished these and when finished they looked brand new. I found the whole polishing process really satisfying; I think it was just because I knew I was working on something to do with building the bike. I wasn’t too sure what to expect during this process as I had never done anything mechanical before in my life, but it was a really enjoyable learning curve and I was just happy to be out in the garage, being productive.

And the main motivation was I wanted to be able to ride the bike the following summer. I put the forks and the swinging arm on the frame and collected the glass fibre bits from Wasp, and although a very minimal, naked bike, it was starting to take shape and I was very excited. Saying it comes as a kit is a bit misleading. You might expect a kit to be about assembly – perhaps following instructions. The Wasp Mk.III kit is just the basic major components. Lots has to researched and thought about and while I had a donor engine, forks and hubs, I had to source a lot of parts to complete the bike.

My dad’s Metisse has no lights or indicators as most of the originals were produced for competition, not for the road. I wanted to make my bike roadworthy, so I needed to plan where to store all the electrical equipment. Space for a battery was a challenge. I made an aluminium box that fitted inside the original Rickman design airbox. With dad’s help we designed a panel to go behind the side panel with a box attached to it. The Triumph engine was pre-electric start so it didn’t need to be a large battery, but it only just fitted inside the airbox. This took me three weeks’ worth of evenings, but I’m so glad to have done this because the final arrangement is perfect.

Read more in the November issue of The Classic MotorCycle – on sale now!

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