Métisse 8V Mark 5 | First Ride

Modern Mongrel

In addition to reborn Triumph and newly resurgent Norton, a third historic motorcycle name from Britain's past is ready for a revival. This time it's Métisse (French for mongrel), the iconic, competition-oriented marque founded in the 1950s by Derek and Don Rickman. The Rickman brothers first found fame building superior off-road machines, then went on to build café racers for the street. Unlike the old days, when Métisse motorcycles used engines borrowed mostly from British and Japanese manufacturers, this time the marque is coming to market with its own engine.

Italian entrepreneur Gerry Lisi has been managing the brand since '99, mostly concentrating on manufacturing vintage Triumph-powered Steve McQueen replicas. Lisi always intended to create a modern powerplant, however. First conceived in '03, this proprietary twin-cam, fuel-injected parallel-twin has been designed and developed entirely at the Métisse factory in rural Oxfordshire.

The 997cc lump features a 360-degree crank for classic British character, and employs a combination of air and oil cooling to keep the size and weight down for off-road applications. The cam drive is located on the right side to allow a gap between the cylinders for improved cooling, and two gear-driven counterbalancers quell vibration. The eight-valve cylinder head contains twin cams spun by a combination gear/chain drive, and twin 42mm throttle bodies with single injectors provide the mix.

A modern-era five-speed Triumph Bonneville transmission is presently employed, but the production version will have a dedicated six-speed gearbox, Lisi says. This proof-of-concept prototype engine is presently housed in a Métisse Street Scrambler Mark 5 chromoly cradle frame, fitted with a 41mm Ceriani-type Paioli fork and twin Falcon shocks. Spoked Alpina alloy rims-19-inch front and 17-inch rear-carry on the street-scrambler theme, and Brembo brakes provide plenty of stopping power.

At the moment the engine is relatively understressed, with the rev limit set artificially low at 7500 rpm for testing purposes, but the performance is still satisfying. An extremely flat, meaty torque curve and an utter lack of vibration both impress, and with a claimed 97 bhp on tap, that's little surprise. The best part is the way it catches fire from 3000 rpm upwards with a great top-gear midrange roll-on thanks to the horizontal torque curve. More enticing is the claim that the motor could make as much as 140 bhp with suitable tuning; bring on the café racer!

This motorcycle is hard to criticize on first impression-remarkable for something that's essentially fresh from the CAD screen. Lisi's intentions are to complete the 8V test program and start production as soon as August. "My projections are to make about five bikes a week, all hand-built, which would be 250 a year, and a nice little business," he says. "We want to start off with this kind of bike, which appeals to our traditional Métisse customer who's looking for something more modern but not too modern. We want to stay true to our roots."

tech SPEC
Price $25,000
Engine type a/o-c parallel-twin
Valve train DOHC, 8v
Displacement 997cc
Transmission 5-speed
Claimed horsepower 97 bhp @ 8000 rpm
Frame Tubular-steel cradle
Front suspension 41mm Paioli fork
Rear suspension Dual Falcon shocks with adjustable spring preload
Front brake Dual Brembo four-piston calipers, 320mm discs
Rear brake Brembo two-piston caliper, 220mm disc
Front tire 110/80-19 Avon Distanzia
Rear tire 150/70-17 Avon Distanzia
Wheelbase 57.9 in.
Claimed dry weight 399 lbs.
Contact www.metisse-motorcycles.com

Verdict 3 stars out of 5
A promising proof-of-concept prototype that could form the basis of a satisfying line of neo-retro machines.

Chassis is the latest Mark 5 version of the classic Métisse cradle frame, with geometry perfected over decades of on- and off-road competition.