Tube & Pipe
Friday | 20 August, 2010 | 5:14 am

Blending old with new

By Russ Olexa

August 2010 - When Ian Barry and Amaryllis Knight, co-founders of Falcon Motorcycles, Los Angeles, decided to blend classic British motorcycle engines into handmade custom motorcycles, they discovered a unique and challenging experience. Previously, no motorcycle company had dared merge engines as rare as a one-of-seven Velocette Venom Thruxton into new designs.

Recently, Barry and Knight embarked on an endeavor to blend seamlessly the engines and designs of 10 iconic British motorcycle engines into the minimalist lines of Barry's custom designs, a project named Concept Ten.

Actor and motorcycle rider Jason Lee commissioned the first Concept Ten machine, the Bullet Falcon, after his friend, fellow actor and rider Giovanni Ribisi, purchased a Barry motorcycle. After more than 1,000 man hours, Falcon unveiled the Bullet at the 2008 Legend of the Motorcycle Concours, where it won the Best Custom award, presented by fellow builder Jesse James.

"As a kid, I loved old bikes," says Barry. "I grew up in Santa Cruz in Northern California, and as a 12 year old in a sleepy surf town, there was nothing cooler than being blown off the road by a motorcycle gang on vintage British motorcycles."

From a young age, Barry had a gift for taking things apart and putting them back together. He went to college to study architecture but decided to change his career path and move to Los Angeles, where his hobby of building motorcycles for friends became his full-time occupation.

Barry met Knight in early 2008 when Knight was shopping for a motorcycle and happened on one that Barry built. They became engaged a month later and started Falcon shortly after.

Barry and his team of skilled fabricators recently completed the Kestrel motorcycle, named after a species of falcon that hunts in the open plains. For Falcon, the Kestrel is a giant leap in build technology over the Bullet.

An engine from a 1970 Triumph Bonneville is at the heart of the Kestrel, which Barry cut in half and completely re-engineered. With the exception of a few critical pieces (crankcases, gearbox and 10 in. of the original Triumph headstock), the team fabricated everything in-house, including the frame, girder front forks, gas and oil tanks, exhausts, handlebars, levers and cylinders. The team used blocks, sheets and rods of steel, brass and aluminum.

The Kestrel required more than 2,000 hours of machining, stretching, hammering, rolling and hand-carving. Barry intended it as his final bow to a decade of building custom Triumphs that use twin-cylinder engines. The next Falcon, the Black, already is under construction and uses a 1951 Vincent Black Shadow engine that has extensive California racing history.

Next in line is a 1967 Velocette Thruxton, one of only seven special Squish Head engines made by Veloce Ltd. that led from start to finish and won the 60th-anniversary Diamond Jubilee Isle of Man Production TT race.

Going forward, each engine in the collection will have a unique racing pedigree or rarity, but Barry will use only engines that have been salvaged.

"We will never take apart a bike that is running or that's together," says Knight. "It's really important to us to find these derelict treasures that have been tucked away somewhere that no one has paid attention to."

Barry and Knight converted a welding factory in downtown Los Angeles into Falcon's workshop. It contains a mix of technologies that allow Barry to create his functional art, along with tools created to produce specific parts for his motorcycles. The shop contains a roll bender that Barry uses to build the custom exhaust shapes his motorcycles require.

Bending tubes
Because his motorcycles demand unique exhaust systems, Barry originally had to bend tubes for frames and custom exhaust pipes by hand. At one point, he was bending 1.5-in. OD tubing manually. He would put sand in the tube, cap it off and slowly bend it into shapeÐa long and laborious task.

As the company grew, Barry purchased machining equipment to help him develop unique bike parts. He also bought an Eagle CP 30 Roll Bender from Eagle Bending Machines, Stapleton, Ala., to bend his exhaust systems and frame components.

"I love the idea of using traditional methods, such as hand-bending exhaust tubes, while incorporating modern technology," says Barry. "It dramatically increases productivity while allowing the human elements that make an object special and one of a kind. A roll bender is more of an artist's tool, for instance. It's not like a CNC bender, which is computer operated, but yet we're able to get exact angles that we need with it by feel rather than by science. It's the perfect blend."

Eagle Bending's CP30 bender is a three-roll, pyramid-style universal profile roll-bending machine that incorporates numerous unique and user-friendly features, says David Donnell, president and owner of Eagle Bending Machines.

"Machine components are CNC-machined to tight tolerances, and the main frames are produced from stress-relieved solid alloy steel for maximum strength and longevity," he says.

Falcon researched what equipment it would be interested in using and owning. "We heard about the Eagle Bender. Then we looked at the different benders that were available. We had also just hired several fabricators to work with us, and one of them worked with an Eagle Bender before and was happy with it. So I ended up calling the company. The machine is great. I found since owning it that it's a quality machine."

The CP series has hardened, honed shafts with large dual-tapered roller bearings for very smooth operation, says Donnell.

"Eagle's patented Z-Block Top Roll Journal and large two-piece lower-roll journals provide maximum shaft rigidity and 'true-to-plane' rolling," he says. "The top-roll journal moves on four hardened guides and ways with adjustable gibbs that reduce maintenance and protect the journal itself against wear."

The large, high-brightness LED digital readout permits precision repeat positioning of the top roll, says Donnell. Heavy-duty lateral material guides are journaled in roller bearings and have dual rake angle settings. Lateral guides are adjustable in thrust to prevent asymmetrical materials from twisting or to impart a pitch purposefully to a rolled part. Thrust adjustment studs have a large OD with knurling for quick adjustment by hand and a ratchet hex receiver for easy adjustment under heavy load.

Additional benefits include flush electrical panels, e-stops, 24VAC low-voltage controls and magnetic thermal overload protection for enhanced safety in the shop, says Donnell.

"The combination horizontal/vertical operation of the CP30 allow for easier shop placement," he says.

Additionally, heavy-duty cast steel foot pedals on a long, trailing lead control forward and reverse rolling directions and nest into the machine base when not in use, he says.

Life-long dream
"I dreamt about all of these bikes as a kid," says Barry. "I've obsessed over every detail. For me, Falcon Motorcycles is the culmination of a lifelong dream filled with rare, amazing British motorcycles that allow me to design around them in a way that is respectful and takes them far beyond the limitations that were imposed upon them in their heyday by limiting factors, such as the Industrial Revolution.

"Most people restore basket cases of these kinds of motorcycles, and I think it's really important. I can understand why purists don't like the idea of people customizing history. I'm actually a purist at heart. I have spent days, weeks and months studying British motorcycle designers' work. I am fascinated by the idea of taking their ideas farther, entering their designs and imagining where they could have gone if cost had been no issue and if they were able to spend as long as they wanted on each individual bike, taking it to its utmost."

Barry has found this isn't an easy task, because few engines the company is building around, such as a 1936 Ariel Square Four with overhead cams, were imported into the United States originally. The ones that do exist are treasured by their owners, who rarely let them go.

"It's been a beautiful and interesting process for us to find the kinds of engines we are now working around," says Barry. "Initially, people were adamantly against the idea of customizing their heirlooms, but ultimately motorcycles are about people, and we've watched many people's perceptions change, as they understand the amount of love, care, respect and work that go into what we do." MM

Watch FFJTV's On Location with Falcon Motorcycles.

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