Egli Harley – Davidson

Former Swiss racing champion Fritz Egli has been building beautifully engineered bikes around his own chassis for over 25 years. When Egli adapted his traditional steel spine frame to hold a tuned, 1607cc Harley – Davidson V-twin engine, the result was an exciting machine that was outrageous by any standards, and especially those of environment-conscious Switzerland, notorious for its strict limits on motorcycles’ power and noise.
Big, basic and muscular, the first Egli Harley, built in 1992, hand an aggressive and vaguely classic look, thanks to bodywork fashioned from 1960s style unpainted aliminium. A huge petrol tank curved over the top of the grey finished Evolution engine. Large triangular sidepanels ran below a one-and-a-half-person seat. Front and rear mudguards were also made from bare alloy sheet.

The frame consisted of a main steel spine, which doubled as the oil reservoir, plus narrower tubes that held the motor in a conventional twin cradle. Egli himself built numerous parts, including the 38mm diameter front forks and their yokes. At the rear, the triangulated steel swing-arm worked a single, multi-adjustable White Power Shock Absorber.
The motor was far from standard, having been built by Egli to incorporate a long list of tuning parts including Cosworth pistons, Carrillo rods and Manley valves. Plumbed with a 36mm Mikuni carburetor and an Egli made exhaust system, the results was an increase in the V-twin’s capacity from 1340cc to a massive 1607cc, raising peak output to 120 bhp at 550 rpm.

When the big Harley burst into life, it did so with enough noise to start an avalanche. The view from the pilot’s seat was intimidating. There was a long stretch across the alloy tank to adjustable clip on bars that were set low and wide. Standard Harley clocks perched above the protruding fork tops, the tacho needle flicking across the dial with every blip of the throttle.
Riding the Egli Harley confirmed that it was no docile modern sportster but a big, old-fashioned bruiser of a bike that needed a firm hand to give of its best. Its wheel base was compact by Harley standards, at 60ins. But conservative steering geometry, an 18 inch front wheel and a high centre of gravity meant a good deal of effort was needed to change direction.
Suspension was firm and worked well on smooth roads, the forks feeling reassuringly rigid and well damped rear unit keeping the back end under engine was a tractable as any Harley motor. Crack open the throttle and the bike hurtled forward to the accompaniment of an increasingly frenzied barrage of sound from the exhaust.

Vibration from the solidly mounted motor added to the sensation of speed, too. Below 3000 rpm the big V-twin was smooth, giving a relaxed feel up to 60 mph in top gear. But the vibes arrived at that Egli stormed past 100 mph on the way to a top speed of about 130 mph, fast cruising was best limited to short bursts.
Rubber mounting the engine would have been one solution, but, as Fritz Egli pointed out, much of the bike’s appeal came from its raw feel, to which the untamed V-twin lump was a major contributor. At least there was no pretence with an Egli Harley. What you saw was a big, old-fashioned V-twin brute of a machine, and that was precisely what you got. Plenty of sports bikes were faster and more agile than the Egli. Few were more thrilling to ride.

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Ducati 900 Superlight

Red, raw and unashamedly single-minded, Ducati’s 900 Superlight proved conclusively that a sports bike could provide high performance – not with excessive horsepower but through simplicity, light weight and agile handling. By modern standards the Superlight was only moderately powerful – but it was rapid, exciting and every last millimeter a pure-bred Ducati sportster.
The Superlight was launched in 1992 as a racier, more aggressive relative of the 900SS, which had been introduced in 1989 and revamped to good effect two years later. Essentially the new model was a hard-charging, single-seat version of the SS, complete with reduced weight and numerous other changes intended to cash in on Ducati’s early-’90s domination of the World Superbike race series.

Most of the Superlight’s 90-degree V-twin engine was derived from the 900SS, which meant it was a 904cc, single overhead camshaft unit with two valves per cylinder and desmodromic valve operation (valves closed positively, instead of by springs). The gearbox remained a six speed unit; the only transmission difference was a ventilated cover for the Superlight’s dry clutch.
The 900SS’s pair of 38mm downdraft Mikunis was retained, which helped give an identical claimed peak output of 73 bhp at 7000rpm. The Superlight’s lack of a pillion seat allowed the free-breathing exhaust pipes to sit higher. At the other end, the new bike gained a front mudguard of lightweight carbon-fiber, instead of the conventional plastic.
In Ducati tradition the Superlight’s chassis was based around a tubular steel ladder frame, and featured low-set clip-on handbrakes and rearset footrests. Most of the chassis was shared with the 900SS; including the study 41mm upside-down front forks form Showa, and the same Japanese firm’s multi-adjustable rear shock, working directly on a cantilever swing-arm.
To that Successful format the Superlight added composite wheels with aluminium rims and lightweight magnesium spokes, wearing Michelin’s Hi-Sport radical tyres in suitably broad sizes. Brakes were Brembo’s finest: twin 320mm disc up front, gripped by front-piston Gold Line caliper. As much as its pure performance, it was the Superlight’s purposeful attitude and uncompromisingly sporty feel that made the bike so additive. Its racy styling, aggressive riding position and rich exhaust note gave a sporty, unmistakably V-twin feel, and the Ducati’s blend of gusty midrange torque, light weight and crisp throttle response made for a wonderfully eager and easy-to-ride machine.

That 73 bhp peak output resulted in a top speed of almost 140mph, which could be bettered by several Japanese 750s. But the Ducati’s combination of superlightness and board power delivery meant the V-twin could stay with almost any competition on all but an arrow-straight road. Given a crack of the throttle the Superlight thundered off, remaining reasonably smooth all the way to its 9000rpm redline.
Handling was excellent too, thanks to the Superlight’s rigid frame and its collection of top quality cycle parts. Steering was light and neutral, giving the 388lbs Ducati the feel of a genuine middleweight. The adjustable forks gave a ride that was firm without being harsh, and the firmly sprung rear end was superbly well-controlled, even when being worked hard by the aggressive cornering encouraged by the grip of the fat and sticky rear Hi Sports tyre.
Whether the Superlight’s 15lbs weight advantages, compared to the 900SS, was strictly noticeable was debatable, and the two models were certainly very closely related in performance, as well as specification. The new bike’s price was considerably higher, too. But for riders addicted to the speed, style and simplicity of Ducati’s two-valves-per-cylinder V-twins, the 900 Superlight was second to none.

Ducati 916

To many, Ducati’s 916 is not merely a Superbike, but the Superbike. Part motorcycle, part fantasy, part erotic art, few motorcycles of the past 20 years has aroused such passion amongst the motorcycling public.
Just look at it. Is there such thing as Repetitive Strain Injury of the desire muscles? There is now. Within nanoseconds of its UK launch in late 1993, a whole generation of bikes had instantly put the 916 top of their list. Practically overnight, every one of the 200 destined for Britain in 1994 were sold, and the first 100 due in ’95. Even at $11,800 apiece, it seemed cheap.

Not only does the 916 have looks in abundance, it has pedigree. Essentially, it is a racer, with almost desultory addition of lights and a number plate. It is more than a spin-off from World Superbike regulations which insist that if you can’t find the same frame, engine castings and induction system in the shops, you can’t put them on the track, either. For this reason, Honda would probably never have built their RC45 were it not for their Superbike racing ambitions. Ducati, on the other hand, almost certainly would have built the 916 – because they are Italian and Italians are into that sort of thing.
The 916’s predecessor, the 888, had already won the World Superbike crown in 1990, ’91, ’92. Hot off the drawing board, the 916 followed suit, taking Carl Fogarty to memorable victory in the 1994 title chase. By the time you read this, he will probably have won it again. And if Fogarty doesn’t, another 916 almost certainly will.
Despite the leanness of its lines, the 916 is an extraordinarily complex box of tricks. That slim fairing hides an engine which may ‘only’ be a twin, the latest in a line of Ducati V-twin dating back to 1972. But the latest Dukes have four valves per cylinder, four camshafts, six gears, liquid-cooling, computer-controlled electronic fuel injection and desmodromic valvegear.

All this advance technology makes the 916 quite unlike most racing engines. Instead of a diet of pure, giddy revs, the twin pours out irrepressible, visceral urge almost from tickover. Solid, hard power begins as low as 3000 rpm, and from 6000 upwards the universe is thrown into reserve. Top speed is a blistering 160 mph.
In 955cc Superbike racing trim, the ‘916’ develops the thick end of 150 bhp. As a roadster it claims 114 bhp at 9000 rpm, but feels even stronger, more usable. The spread of power is so immense that almost any gear will do. And the booming roar when downshifting into corners is one of the joys of motorcycling.
The Ducati’s chassis, too, is of the highest class. Compared to the 888, the 916 is shorter, more agile, and more racer-like. The Japanese Showa suspension offers a huge array of setting, but there is very little wrong with the Duke straight out of the crate. With its short wheelbase and its lively geometry, it is in its element through turns – blindingly fast sweepers and hairpins alike.

Anyone buying the 916 takes custody of a dream as much as reality. As a practical street bike it has its faults, not the least of which is comfort. In a racing crouch – what it was designed for, all – it fits like a glove. As a tourer, it makes a good plank. This is not a practical motorcycle, and every red-blooded rider in the world should want one.

Ducati 900 Monster

Ducati made their reputation by building uncompromising sports bikes for those with the discernment and money to appreciate them, but in recent years they have branched out in another direction. In late ’92 Ducati unveiled the M900 Monster to a stunned public, proving that they could build exciting bikes for all tastes, not just for the race replica sports rider.

The M900 was the first Ducati for many years to appeal to a wide range of riders, from the traditional Ducati fan to the rider in search of something ‘a little different’. And the Monster is certainly different. Although it uses the same engine as the Ducati 900SS, the Monster is designed to be a muscle-bike. A bike that accelerates with startling rapidity, and which is more at home cruising the urban jungle looking for traffic-light Grands Prix to take part in than jockeying for position into turn one at Monza.

The Ducati 900SS has an engine blessed with masses of low-down power and usable torque, so to make it into a serious muscle-bike Ducati lowered the gearing and slotted the engine into the steel trellis frame that is their trade-mark. The engine puts out 84 bhp at 7000rpm, power enough to hustle the Monster to a top speed of almost 130 mph. That’s not all that fast for a 900cc machine, but this is a bike built for cursing and back-road riding, so there is no fairing and the riding position is very upright. That makes is great in town or on country lanes, but painful at speed on motorways.

Where the Monster is really at home is cruising the Promenade des Anglais in Nice or parked outside Tre Scalini in the Piazza Navonna in Rome. This is a bike for being seen on, for posing on, for getting you around town in style and comfort, and with a large grin on your face. And that grin is there not only because the Monster is very fast from a standing-start, not only because it is equipped with the best suspension and brakes around, but because it is stupendous – looking machine. The feel-factor gained from riding II Mostro is enormous.

Of course it does help that the Monster will out drag all but the most powerful sports bike or supercar, that it comes with state of the art 41mm upside-down forks and a multi-adjustable rear monoshock, and that it wears a massive pair of Brembo disc equipped with four position calipers. All the elements come together to make a bike that it is real pleasure to ride, and even more of a pleasure to look at.

For the head core Ducati fan (a devotee of rock solid suspension, agonizing riding position, and ‘idiosyncratic’ electric) the Monster will be a disappointment. But to everyone else the combination of good looks, lightning quick steering, excellent suspension, eyeball popping brakes and a lusty motor will ensure a huge grin and a much-depleted bank balance.

Nico Bakker QCS 1000

Yamaha were the first company to put an alternative front end into mass production on a motorcycle, but they were by no means the first to experiment with replacing the front forks in favor of a better design. One of the pioneers of alternative front ends is Dutch ‘Specials” builder Nico Bakker, a man with several decades of chassis and suspension building to his credit and an impressive consultancy list that includes BMW and laverda. And his QCS1000 (QCS stands for Quick Change System, both wheels can be changed in a very short space of time) is the latest incarnation of his own very effective design.

Traditional front forks are inherently flexible and can affect a motorcycle’s steering geometry as they compress in corners. A method of separating the steering from the front suspension is generally considered to be the way forward for motorcycle design, and as yet only Yamaha and BMW have put alternative front suspension systems into production. But Nico Bakker has a system which he has been using since 1998 which is both clever and effective.

The QCS is a hand built ‘special’ that uses a Yamaha FZR1000 engine for its motive power, around which is wrapped an aluminium alloy square-section chassis onto which are bolted single-sided swingarms front and back. The front suspension system works in a very similar way on that Yamaha GTS1000 – the steering is handled via a spar running from the hub of the front wheel to the steering crown, while the suspension is actuated by the single-side swingarm that bolts onto the front of the chassis. The benefits of this system can best be realized by a high-performance sportsbike, which makes Yamaha’s decision to fit it to a modest-performance sports-tourer surprising.

But the performance of the QCS is anything but modest. The derestricted FZR1000 engine oozes power and torque. The five-valves-per-cylinder inline four makes 145 bhp in the QCS and is capable of whisking it u to 165 mph in the QCS and is very short order. The rear suspension is also a single-sided swingarm affair, but without the necessity for steering the system, is used primarily for fast wheel changes (Honda developed this system for their endurance racing bikes, and it has subsequently been used on road-going machines by Honda and Aprilia)

On the road the QCS delivers exactly what it promises. There is no front end drive when hard on the brakes, and the bike is rock-steady mid-turn. It exhibits none of the drawbacks of traditional front forks and, unlike the GTS1000, the steering response is both fast and positive. A massive front disc brake gripped by a six piston caliper helps stop this 160 mph beast, and a massive 180/55 section rear tyre helps the QCS tenaciously in the corners. The svelte bodywork and ‘unusual’ suspension system give the QCS a look all of its own – the swoopy styling and bright red paint tells the world that this is one serious, and very powerful, motorbike.