The ingenuity of Kiwis has long been one of our strongest traits, making do with the tools and materials before us, we have learnt that something so simple as a dream is most definitely possible. History has shown this to be true from the likes of Burt Munroe with his Indian, Richard Pearse the pioneer aviator and Bruce McLaren, who as you should know, founded the McLaren F1 team.
From the iconic No.8 wire to the Bungee, amongst a smattering of Kiwis, legendary ideas have come to pass, one of those being born down in the South Island, with which I kick off with, the Britten V1000.
Born on the 1st of August in 1950, Christchurch, New Zealand. John quickly put his hand to work, showing an interest in motor vehicles at a very young age. Building his first motorised go-kart at the tender age of 12 and moving onto an old Indian Scout found in a ditch the next year.In 1968, John went on to undertake 4 years of a Mechanical Engineering course at a night school and from there, going on-wards and upwards, working on various projects and businesses.
In 1992, John founded the Britten Motorcycle Company, which at first, operated from his garage. Coming from small beginnings, the Britten Motorcycle Company would soon show the rest of the world what they were up against, and that a man with a dream is a force to be reckoned with.
John experimented with various materials, bikes and ideas before settling on his final design. He originally started with a bevel-drive Ducati race bike, but after being let down by both the motor and chassis, he fabricated his own custom frame and after trialing the NZ made Denco motors (which he also did back in 1986 with his Aero-D-One bike) he decided to produce his own engines.
Designing the engine from scratch, John came up with two engines for different classes, one being the V1000 and the other the V1100 which found it’s way into the Cardinal bike. John conceptualized the body work with No.8 wire and a hot glue gun around his home-made frame inside his garage at home, he then molded a woven carbon fibre fairing from his finished design into the body work that we all know and love today.
All up, the cost of the carbon fibre throughout the bike was around $2-300 worth, which is astonishing considering he built the entire bike out of it. The wheels, swing-arm and girder forks as well as the body, engine components and additional extras.
One of the problems John faced was that whilst carbon fibre is as light as a feather and hard as steel, it is extremely brittle and prone to crack when it is bolted onto other components. John’s solution to this was named the skin and bones method, which was to machine aluminium spools to serve as hard points. Carbon/Kevlar filaments were then wound around them under tension, he then went on to lay another layer of carbon fibre over top to finish it off.
The double wishbone forks were another interesting addition into the Britten, the only problem with those forks for motorcycle racing applications were that they could not be made light enough whilst still providing necessary stiffness with the conventional materials. John realized that carbon would be a perfect material to produce the forks which provided both strength and weight reduction among other benefits.
Though during testing of the bike 9 weeks before the Daytona race, the bike had a serious problem. The wishbone forks snapped under immense stress and injured rider Chris Haldane, snapping his collar bone. It was back to the workshop yet again to work on constructing an even stronger pair of forks in time for the ever closer Daytona Battle of the Twins.
The idea for the colour scheme of the Britten came from when John was away on holiday in Australia, he came back with a glass starfish with different shades of blue and violet, John told his mate Bob Brookland who works as a screen printer and who paints and restores motorcycles in his spare time that, that was how he wanted the Britten to be painted the next time, though true to tradition, the paint had to be specifically made to fit the requirements demanded by John.
The bike was completed with 3 days to spare before being shipped off to America to compete at the Daytona event, along with key crew members and then up and coming rider Andrew Stroud.
Auckland born rider Andrew Stroud was 19 when he entered racing in New Zealand, competing first in the NZ 250 production class and winning his first championship in 1988, he then went on to place 2nd in the 1988 Arai 500 km Superbike race. Stroud also raced in the U.S. Endurance series and the Suzuka 8 hours.
During practice the Britten performed just as had been hoped and all was looking well until Stroud pulled into the pits and an water/fuel mix was found leaking from the bike. John and his team set to work on finding the fault in a nearby mechanics school and discovered the problem to be a cracked cylinder sleeve.
With no replacements available, they did the one thing that Kiwi’s do best, improvise. Tirelessly throughout the night, John and the team worked away at welding the cylinder sleeve crack, though without a clue on if it would work and no idea on how to best weld a cylinder sleeve so they made it up as they went.
The bike was put back together with a few hours to spare and after generating large media and fan interest, the bike and team were swamped with punters coming to look at this one of a kind motorcycle.
It was only Strouds’ second time on the Britten since it had been completed and his first time on the Daytona racetrack, though that didn’t stop the young gun from taking the leading position away from Ducati but with only 1 lap left, rainfall had halted the race till the track had dried out.
The race was restarted with Stroud in front, the bike tore ahead and the Ducati rider could not get past the almighty Britten, with only 2 laps to go, the bike started to lose power.
Ducati stole the lead and Andrew Stroud pulled into pit lane shortly after. The problem, one of the few parts not made by Britten himself failed. The broken stator caused the battery to run flat just near the end of the race and what could have been a triumphant moment in motorcycle history for John, Stroud and the team, was dashed away with the failure of the stator.
All was not lost however, the Britten and Stroud caused a huge stir in the crowd and the media were heralding them as champions with a revolutionary new bike, stating that they looked forward to seeing them next year at the following Battle of the Twins event.
Stroud went on to win both Daytona races in 1994 on the Britten bike while setting the fastest top speed recorded by any motorcycle at Daytona (189 mph or 305 km/h). He also won the 96′,97′ and 98′ Battle of the Twins races on the mighty Britten.
But what the world realised that day is that it’s not only big corporations and factories that can produce cutting edge technology and revolutionary designs, but that the dream of one man can be used to achieve anything set before him.
A bike hand built and designed by a dyslexic Kiwi man in a Christchurch garage with over 6-7000 handmade parts, sporting technology never seen before, could compete against the best of the best, the major brand names with millions of dollars to spend on R&D, the creme de la creme.
And we not only showed that we could build the bike, we showed that we could win.By Matt Wishart from http://nzblokes.co.nz
Thanks for re-posting my article Paul! 🙂
You’re welcome Matt…’twas a great read and thought more might like to check it out…Mr Britten was a legend!