By Ross Sharp - 17 Jan 19
Setting out plinths at the Bike Shed show isn't the most complicated of tasks but last year one of our volunteers began the task with a diagram and a tape measure. A change from the norm of laying them down and moving the whole lot five times. Said volunteer was Jack Watkins, a mechanical engineer with a PHD and team of 30 other talented people working for him at a leading industrial engineering company in Gdańsk, Poland. Oh, and he lectures at the city's university! My much smaller brain put two and two together and figured that the unusual bike beyond the stack of plinths awaiting a spot was Jack's. Wind the clock back 10 years and Jack had become transfixed by a similarly whacky machine, Swede Stellan Egeland's BMW 'Service Harrier'. Jack set out to design and build his own interpretation of the hub steered, Difazio style front suspension setup. Like the rest of us though Jack was juggling work, family and life commitments which caused this to be a slow burn of a project. He was also without a fully equipped workshop so Mateusz Kozlowski from Moto Spec was enlisted to assist with the project. The donor was literally that. The owner of a perfectly rideable 2002 BMW R 1150 RT was persuaded to sell just the engine, wiring harness, transmission and rear shock. The rest was left behind, presumably for the guy to resist on eBay. The rear wheel is from a GS and the front from a Yamaha XJ6.
What Jack lacked in grinders and blow torches he made up for with mastery of his CAD software, designing around 100 components that would need machining and turning. Perhaps the most complicated of all was the front hub. Calculating the opposing forces and functions dealt with by essentially a single unit boggles the mind, let alone imagining the permitters and tolerances involved in ensuring smooth and safe operation.
The swinging front assembly itself is suspended by a pair of shocks originally destined for a Moto Guzzi V7, Jacks calcs determined these would provide the perfect spring and damping ratios - as well as being affordable.
With the powerplant being a stressed member the chassis design was no less complicated than the suspension. After 3D scanning the engine and specifically concentrating on the mounting points two large sections of steel were laser cut and CNC bent to form a seemingly simple structure. There are however hidden bracing pieces for strength and rigidity. Sheet steel's propensity to move around when heated meant Jack was forced to fabricate a jig to hold the pieces during the welding process.
Next time around Jack plans to use lighter and more expensive aluminium. Despite the huge amount of work already done, it appears the Watkins M001 is merely a prototype.
A 16 litre fuel tank lives between the main steel sections and beneath the minimal seat pads, but it isn't your average tank - it's a stressed part of the rear suspension mount and internally very complex. A bit like the inside of Jack's head. The rear of the tank is masked by polycarbonate fins that double as taillight and licence plate mounts.
The motor might be standard but the exhaust certainly isn't. Taking five hours and 84 screws to assemble the complex computer designed tubing and collector box emit a rumble befitting the effort bestowed on the rest of this incredible machine.
If anyone noticed the arrow straight alignment of exhibits at our show it'll come as no surprise that Jack noted every single modification of the the Watkins M001 and plans to produce an accompanying service manual. Which will no doubt be incredibly comprehensive!
If you're in Verona this weekend for the Motor Bike Expo be sure to head to the Café Racer pavilion to see the bike and meet its maker.
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