We consume things so quickly in the 21st century that it’s no wonder that designers frequently have to dip into the past for inspiration. They’re not deliberately trying to reinvent the wheel, just trying to make it faster or look cooler. And right now, retro sells.
This happens all the time in the motorcycle world. Manufacturers who blazed a path in the 60’s and 70’s with generation-defining designs, often dip into their own back catalogs for inspiration.
Kawasaki’s recent Z900 and Z650 launch are a case in point. As well as every bike Hinckley Triumph ever produced, all resurrected from an iconic model from the past.
We’re also living in the era of the boutique motorcycle manufacturer. With companies such as Confederate, made famous by their innovative design, bold engineering, and celebrity owners. Not so well known perhaps, are French builders Midual owned by inventor Oliver Midy. His hand-built 1000cc in-line parallel twins will set you back around US$215,000.
But people don’t go to the enormous expense of building a motorcycle from scratch just for the hell of it unless of course, you’re Howard Hughes. So, there must be a market out there for such exotic beasts.
That’s what British boutique bike manufacturers Hesketh are hoping for anyway. The company has recently launched a jaw-dropping new machine guaranteed to get your pulse racing and your bank manager’s blood pressure climbing.
The Hesketh motorcycle brand has been in existence since 1982 and was launched by Alexander, the 3rd Lord Hesketh. With a history in Formula 1 racing, he has the distinction of being the last privateer to win a Formula 1 Grand Prix.
Legendary racer James Hunt was behind the wheel and off the back of that success, Hesketh decided that he was going to single-handedly rejuvenate the British motorcycle industry. After much trial and tribulation, the first Hesketh V1000 appeared in 1982.
The 1000cc V-twin bike was groundbreaking. Having the distinction of being the first British motorcycle to feature four valves per cylinder and double-overhead cams. On paper, it looked fantastic. The press loved Hesketh’s Formula 1 heritage and lord of the manner eccentricities. They also thought the bike showed great promise at its glitzy champagne and caviar launch.
Unfortunately, a lack of investors meant that certain engine problems couldn’t be resolved. So, despite interest shown by Cagiva and Triumph, the underfunded company was doomed after making only 130 bikes.
Since then the Hesketh has been through several reincarnations, each meeting yet another untimely fate. But in 2013, former Cosworth engineer Paul Sleeman became involved. Intending just to buy one of the old Hesketh bikes, he ended up buying the company.
It was always his intention to continue with the brand but his newly launched Hesketh 24 spectacularly breaks the mold. The only thing it has in common with the original bikes is the name and the engine configuration.
The original V1000 used a Westlake 1000cc V-twin engine and the 24 has gone the same way in as much as outsourcing the power plant. The new bike is powered by a 1950cc X-Wedge unit from the renowned American engineers S& S, who also supply the closed-loop electronic fuel injection.
With no exact power output figures released yet, it’s safe to say that the bike will be pushing out more than 100bhp. This is probably why they also decided to use the bulletproof Baker 5 speed gearbox with overdrive. Baker was also used for the clutch. With the final drive by the chain, there are no power-sapping belt drives for Hesketh.
There are numbers available for torque which give more than a hint at what lurks inside. Producing 145 ft-lbs, this gives it the same stump-pulling output as the Triumph Rocket III. With almost 50% more than Ducati’s diminutive hyperbike, 1199 Panigale.
‘We also had to stick with an American company to supply the frames,’ says Sleeman, ‘these big engines break things very easily so we wanted to go with a company that had experience in dealing with that’. And whilst on the subject of frames, the swingarm also incorporates the oil tank to keep the bike’s center of gravity as low as possible
Looking at the list of components used on the rest of the bike reads like a who’s who of aftermarket top-shelf brands. And in keeping with the sporty bodywork and tuned engine, Ohlins 55mm USD forks have been selected for the front end.
The forks come with adjustable preload, compression and rebound damping and fit inside a set of beautifully machined Harris Racing billet yokes.
Rear Suspension is in keeping with the rest of its retro vibe and uses twin Ohlins piggy-back-reservoir style shocks. With adjustable ride height, preload, compression and rebound.
With the pre-production test bike weighing in at 243kgs, the weight for the finished bike is yet to be released. But, says Hesketh, they’ll be aiming to shave a good 20kgs off that. Thankfully, the brakes on the hefty streetfighter look more than up to the job of calming things down.
Beringer four piston floating Aerotech’s on 300mm discs live upfront with a single four piston caliper on the rear. Both are fed via stainless braided hoses.
The bike is also full of nice touches that may go unnoticed at first glances, like the keyless ignition, BST carbon fiber wheels, and hand-stitched Napa leather seat.
The dash has a nice old school feel to it too, featuring four analog style clocks set into a carbon fiber mount. Not a flashy digital readout to be seen and the Perspex cowl they live behind is a clever design nod to the set up on the 1980’s original.
Ultimately, potential buyers will be limited by the cost, which initially will be around the US$43,500 mark settling down to 30 after demand builds. Sleeman sees his audience as, ‘the guys who want something unique, who pull up to the lights and don’t want to sit next to the same thing’.
When in production (the original batch will be limited to 24 bikes) customers will be encouraged to choose the fit and finish of their bike at the factory. And with an almost unlimited range of options, individuality is guaranteed. ‘If you want it in bright orange, then so be it,’ says Sleeman.
As previously mentioned, the initial production run will be 24 units, which as you may have guessed is not a number merely plucked from the air. The patriotic red white and blue paint scheme and whole 24 ethe are a straight lift from James Hunt’s, Hesketh backed No.24, F1 winning race car.
‘We’re British at the core and this ties us into the bike’s heritage and racing success,’ adds Sleeman.
As for looks, the 24 has a very solid British appearance to it, and with its single-seat, rear-set footrests and under-seat exhaust conjures up aggressive elements of a pure streetfighter.
Basic production principles dictate that at least some of the components in the product range should be interchangeable. And Sleeman aims to make most of the large components a base, on to which variations can be built.
With this in mind, the company already has a dual seat model with a more conventional exhaust system on the drawing board.
But if you thought the 24 looks tasty, images of their second model, the Sonnet will have you drooling.
It’s a huge chunk of pure café racer right down to its aluminum twin cap tank, with its strap, clip and humpback seat. A tiny headlight cowl covers a single clock and a MotoGP style two into two exhaust and bellmouth finish things off.
Components like the forks, rear suspension, headlamp shell, and brake calipers have been blacked in. This accentuates the aluminum and chrome and it appears to have replaced the clutch cable of its counterpart with a hydraulic one.
True to his word and bringing more engineering facilities in-house and sourcing components closer to home, Hesketh chose the recent Carole Nash MCN London bike event to showcase the 2018 Valiant model, which embraces this new philosophy.
With a chrome moly frame and swinging arm/oil tank, built by Nottingham GIA Engineering, the show-stopping bike features a 2100cc supercharged engine. The Rotrex supercharger is being co-developed by Hesketh and performance specialists TTS.
With a whopping 217ft lb of torque, the engine produces 210 bhp at 5000rpm. Which, says Sleeman, will be more like 250bhp when development of the engine begins later in the year.
If you thought the 24’s US$43,500 price tag was steep, you’d better take a seat. The Valiant has been given a launch price of around US$62,000.
Mind you, a Confederate Hellcat is US$65,300 and a Harley-Davidson CVO Softail Deluxe is 45K. So, if that’s the kind of league you play in, the differences in price are probably the least of your considerations.
At the end of the day the new Hesketh 24 may be easy on the eye but sure is heavy on the pocket. But for us mere mortals, there’s always the hope of a lottery win.