Andy Marsden likes his V-twins, and he’s not afraid to mix, match or manufacture anything he chooses to create his ideal hardcore cafe racer
Whichever way you look at it, Andy Marsden’s S&S-engined cafe racer is an absolute brute. The 1600cc of S&S V-twin in a home-brewed tubular steel frame weighs 420lb fueled up and ready to rumble – and rumble it does. We spied it at The Creek Inn in Peel IOM during Classic TT race week. When we say spied it, it actually stuck out like a T-Rex thigh bone from a shallow tar pit. Parked up among more demure sporting tackle, it said two things: this is a big boy’s bike, and plenty old school too.
As we circled the monster it became clear it was much more than a brutal take on a Triton. Yes, there was a Manx Norton heritage tribute thing going on, the seat, tank and non-unitary engine and ’box said enough, but there was much modern componentry too. No place for a wirespoked wheel or drum brake (not even at the rear), no nod to anything Norton or featherbed here, just a huge 45-degree V-twin – and a kickstart. Fortunately, or in this case out of necessity, Andy is a big old boy. You can’t just idly prod 98 cubic inches into action. It takes a proper heave on the kicker. And when it barks into life, there’s fat chance of any polite chit-chat as each of the 800cc two-valve pots exhale into a cut down Akrapovic Fazer 1000 muffler.
“The kickstart,” says Andy (and we might as well begin there). “Is a modified H-D shaft on Norton splines.” It’s attached to a substantially-engineered Tasmania Transmissions five-speed gearbox. Andy had tried other ’boxes but they just couldn’t take the strain. “There was just too much wear on the pinions,” he says.
With around 100lb.ft of torque on tap it’s no surprise a high-spec tranny became mandatory. “It’s an extra-heavy-duty version and only took two months to get put together and arrive from the other end of the world once I ordered it,” he says.
Power transfer is another area where special componentry was needed and Joe Maxwell’s NEB Engineering provided a belt drive and clutch that could cope. The stainless steel belt cover is the work of Pete Sutton, who also bent up the sinuous header pipes. The paint, hardly surprisingly when Andy runs a firm called Ultimate Bike Paint in Bristol, is by his own hand.
The heart of this creation is the frame. “I was going to chuck the engine in a Norton featherbed, but decided to do something a bit different in the end,” says Andy. Richard Llewellin at local West Country Ducati fanatics Louigi Moto lent Andy a Ducati 916 frame to copy the geometry from. Andy (“with a lot of help from lots of mates”) bent and MIG and TIG welded it in cold drawn seamless tube (nothing too fancy) to those dimensions, but a whole two inches longer in the engine cradle to accommodate the substantial powerplant.
The rear subframe was fabricated tosuspend a stretched Manx Norton seat unit – and very little else. The battery lurks just above the clutch, and the muffler and rear shock remote reservoir for the Nitron unit are the only other residents of the rear subframe. This bike is pared to the absolute minimum in every department.
1. eBay is your friend. If you can’t make things, you can buy a lot of top quality stuff, some of it brand new, if you look hard enough. It’s not all rubbish.
2. Make sure you keep at it, but don’t be afraid to stop if you can’t get the right part and quality is going to be compromised.
3. Most important is to do a dry build every time. It might seem like a lot of time spent taking it all apart again, but you won’t waste time and money like you would if you rushed it to a finish.
Except perhaps for the vast Yamaha TR1 headlight unit. At nine inches in diameter, it’s almost the right size for something you might find at the top of a lighthouse. Yet cafe racer tradition often calls for something big at the front as a focal point to offset the bulk of a huge fuel tank. Think of the more traditional Tritons and their five gallon tanks with headlights mounted up high just underneath twin clocks – and it makes sense.
The tank itself is a very early Lyta-style Manx five-gallon item – and it needs to be – to stand half a chance of shrouding the immense rocker covers of the S&S engine. S&S (Smith and Stankos from 1958 to 1969, when it became Smith and Smith) have been manufacturing V-twin performance parts in the USA since ’58 and complete engines since the late 1990s). If it looks like dead ringer for a Harley- Davidson Evolution engine (1984-2000), that’s because it is.
1. That almost delicate 916 single-sided swingarm, with a very heavy duty drive chain slung over it
2. Clustered together in as small as space as possible, 916 instruments nestle under a minimal sheet of smoked perspex
3. The intricate subframe bracing and almost overwhelmed muffler are one of the best angles of this bike
4. Two and a half inch diameter belt takes drive from crank to gearbox input. Rearset footpegs are bevel drive Ducati 900SS items
SPECIFICATION S&S SPECIAL
ENGINE: 1600cc S&S 45-degree V-twin, 45mm Mikuni HSR flatslide, hand-bent header pipes by Peter Sutton, 5-speed gearbox by Tasmania Transmissions, clutch and belt drive by NEB, muffler cut-down Akrapovic FZR1000, handmade front-mounted oil tank.
CHASSIS: Handbuilt frame to Ducati 916 geometry, 916 forks and swingarm, 916 rear wheel and brake, Marchesini front wheel, Pre-Tech discs and calipers, Yamaha TR1 headlight, cut-down Manx Norton seat, Manx Norton tank, 916 instruments.
Andy’s had plenty of bikes, mainly big V-twins from hot Harleys to Aprilia RSVs and he rates this creation highly enough to want to embark on building another. “I’m making one with electric start,” he says. “Yes, it will be a bit heavier, but not by that much.” Anyone who’s seen the sheer effort it takes to kick over this version will understand his logic. It’s not as if 1600cc of lightweight V-twin will suddenly become less of an experience to ride just because it becomes a lot easier to start.