February 09 2011
Simon de Burton
Although I’ve never tried it, I’m told that there’s a great deal of time to think during a transatlantic row. Andrew Morris made the epic voyage in 2005, partly for the challenge and partly to raise money for whales and dolphins – and between being capsized twice, he dreamed up the concept for what could well be regarded as the ultimate road-going motorcycle.
And now the Icon Sheene has come to fruition – a machine that Morris describes as the world’s first “ultrabike”, a predatory-looking beast that is probably the most powerful production motorcycle on the market and carries a price tag of approximately £107,000.
Why the Icon Sheene? Because this is just the sort of bike that Morris and a group of people who were close to Barry Sheene at the peak of his racing career in the 1970s believe the great man would have appreciated.
For those whose knowledge of Sheene is a little hazy, he was the charismatic Cockney whose thrilling riding style brought him World Championship titles in both 1976 and 1977 and who was famed for surviving some spectacular crashes – notably at Daytona in March 1975, when he parted company with his Suzuki at 175mph, breaking his right arm, left thigh and several ribs, as well as fracturing a number of vertebrae. “Apart from that, I’m fine,” he said the next day from beneath a swathe of bandages.
Cancer finally took Sheene in 2003, at the age of 52, but to motorcycle fans the world over he remains one of the greatest names in the history of the sport. He has always been dear to their hearts and, until close to the end, his appearances at historic events such as the Goodwood Festival of Speed continued to thrill the crowds.
At 46, Morris, the owner of half a dozen shipping companies, is among the demographic of motorcycle fans who were most touched by the man they called “the Sheene Machine” when he was at the peak of his powers. And it is for this reason that he was inspired to sink many hundreds of thousands of pounds into developing a two-wheeled tribute that he believes his hero would have been proud to be associated with.
There’s a great deal more to the Icon Sheene than just the name. To create the bike, Morris has worked with 18 people who played a significant part in Sheene’s career. The sculptural aluminium frame, for example, was designed by Stuart Tiller, who built Sheene’s first bespoke racing frame, while Sheene’s favourite brake engineer, Acke Rising, has provided the massive stopping power needed to bring the machine down from its 200mph top speed.
The paintwork was conceived by Mike Fairholme, who used to custom-finish Sheene’s instantly recognisable racing helmets with their Donald Duck logo; and Steve Parrish, Sheene’s lifelong friend and one-time Suzuki team-mate, has advised on the project throughout.
Perhaps most notably of all, however, the motorcycle has garnered the full backing of Sheene’s family – his widow Stephanie, his daughter Sidonie and his son Freddie, who, poignantly, rode the prototype up the famous hill at last year’s Goodwood Festival of Speed.
The bike’s unique, aggressive and somewhat futuristic appearance was penned by Morris, who studied art before embarking on his career in shipping – but beyond that, only the best available engineers have worked on the Icon Sheene. It takes a full month to hand-beat each fuel tank from a sheet of aluminium and there is but a single visible bolt attaching the bodywork to the frame.
A 1400cc Suzuki engine was chosen to provide the power because, of course, it was with Suzuki that Sheene enjoyed his greatest successes. The internals are all substantially upgraded with parts from suppliers well known to the world’s most successful race teams, and the unit is topped off with something that only started to appear on motorcycles – and then rarely – around the time Sheene retired: a turbocharger. The result is a remarkable output of 250 horsepower at the rear wheel, with a power-to-weight ratio of 1,250 horsepower per ton.
“It has proved extremely expensive to build and I don’t really regard it as a profit-making exercise,” says Morris, who hopes to produce an edition of 52 examples of the Icon Sheene, one to represent every year of Sheene’s life. Each will be individually numbered, signed with a facsimile of Sheene’s signature and carry a discreet Donald Duck logo in solid silver.
“The idea has always been to create a continuation of a legendary name, and that is why every major component has a direct link to Sheene, who, incidentally, was a brilliant engineer in his own right. I decided from the outset that it had to be a totally new, British-built motorcycle, not just a replica of something he had raced, and it had to have the sort of performance that would make it thrilling to ride on road or track. And I really want the people who buy these to ride them, not keep them on a pedestal as a work of art or an investment.”
And just as the Icon Sheene is intended to be an exclusive motorcycle, with each one tailored to the individual buyer, so it will be sold with the promise of an exclusive service. The handover will be performed personally by Parrish and, regardless of which country the buyer lives in, Morris guarantees that there will be a fully trained “local” engineer readily available for maintenance and troubleshooting.
The question is, are there 52 dedicated Sheene fans who will be willing to push the boat out to the tune of £107,000 to own a motorcycle made in his honour? As the often-philosophical Sheene once remarked: “Never wait for your ship to come in; there are times when you have to swim out to meet it.”