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 OddBike juillet 2013

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Date d'inscription : 30/05/2011

MessageSujet: OddBike juillet 2013   Sam 31 Mai - 14:30


Wakan One Hundred Motorcycle


There is a certain brutish elegance to the act of cramming an impossibly huge engine into a tiny chassis. American designers in particular seem to have an affinity for stuffing air-cooled big twins of the Harley Davidson variety into sporting machines. There is something appealing about the incongruence of seeing a shuddering, massively torquey engine with its acres of gleaming billet and chrome overwhelming the appearance of an otherwise lithe machine. While not common, you do have a few choices if you desire a Big McLargehuge motor in a bike with sporting pretensions. Buell and Ecosse catered to the (admittedly limited) air-cooled-Harley-style-45-degree-twin-in-a-sport-slash-muscle-bike market, while Roehr tried to build a supercharged superbike around a V-Rod engine. If you desired something more inspired that wasn’t a cookie-cutter custom or generic café-styled machine, there was always Confederate. The only notable entrant from overseas was Yamaha, who got into the game with their weird but remarkably tame Warrior-powered MT-01.

Wakan Avinton Motorcycle


So it only makes sense that a French company would champion the cause of big American cruiser power in a sporty machine while citing Carroll Shelby as a major influence. That would be the plot synopsis of Wakan/Avinton, the oddball muscle-sport-bike that has been produced off-and-on in France since the mid-2000s.


Wakan Avinton Motorcycle


Wakan was the brainchild of French engineer Joël Domergue, who founded the company Engineering and More (Engmore) in 1999 to fulfill a motorcycling fever dream he had had since he was a teen. Domergue began as a nuclear engineer who entered the motorcycle industry in 1993 when he co-founded the Scorpa trials bike manufacturer in Alès, France. A successful trials rider himself, Domergue’s company produced a line of well-respected two-stroke trials machines from 1994 onward. It was during his time at Scorpa that Joël began to formulate a plan to build his dream bike, a machine which he described as a two-wheeled interpretation of the Shelby AC Cobra, a European brawler with American motivation.

Wakan Avinton Motorcycle Air Intake


The machine would be a stripped down, lightweight, naked sport bike built around a classic American 45-degree air-cooled V-twin. There would be a distinctly American vibe to the entire design and at first glance there would be nothing to suggest it was a European product - it could have just as easily emerged from a shed in the Heartland of ‘Murica as it would from a manufacturer situated in the south of France. The whole act of inserting a ridiculously large motor wherever it will damn well fit is a patently American pursuit in any case - hence the parallels to the Cobra, which was about the tiniest and lightest machine that you could stuff a Ford V8 into this side of a Sunbeam Alpine. Even the choice of name reflected Domergue’s Amerophilia – Wakan is a Sioux Lakota term that loosely translates to “great spirit” or “the divine”, Wakan themselves claiming it meant “sacred” and “incorruptible”.

Wakan Motorbike


The first prototype hit the show circuit in 2005 and were a sight to behold. Called the One Hundred, the machine featured minimal bodywork and a slender dummy tank surrounded a whopping great 1647cc V-twin engine with a square ratio of 4"x4" (that's 101.6mm x 101.6mm to the metrically inclined) and a 10.3:1 compression ratio that necessitated an electric decompressor just to start the beast. The frame was a simple 3 inch chrome-moly backbone that doubled as the oil tank for the dry sump motor. The swingarm was a double-sided extruded aluminum beam design suspended by a Sachs shock, while Ceriani 46mm upside down forks held things up at the front. The wheels were forged Marchesini alloys, with a single 340mm brake disc up front gripped by a six-piston AJP caliper. The suspension geometry was quite racy – the steering rake was 22 degrees and the wheelbase 54 inches. Not quite Buell XB territory but pretty extreme for what was ostensibly a street-going roadster with a big honking engine in the middle. Projected retail price was in the neighbourhood of $35,000 USD, and the machine was aimed squarely at the American market despite its Gallic origins – they made no pretenses toward abiding by the French 100 hp legal limit, with at least 115 hp on tap and the hint of more if you chose to progress beyond the “Stage 1” engine.

Wakan Motorcycle Engine


With the simple backbone/oil tank frame hidden underneath the bodywork and the motor hung without cradles or pipework to obstruct the view the Wakan had the appearance of being “all ate up with motor” as Darrell Waltrip so eloquently put it. The fuel was carried in the tailsection, below the seat and aft of the motor, which is why you will find a filler cap in the space normally occupied by the pillion pad. The slender dummy tank above the engine housed the intake, with a dual-butterfly electrically controlled “Vortec” air scoop protruding through where you would normally expect the fuel cap. Some thought the faux-supercharger look of the intake was cheesy, others thought it was a cool touch, and it was functional. In keeping with the Cobra theme a pair of prominent contrasting racing stripes ran fore and aft. Lighting was kept simple with a plain round headlamp up front, with a patented integrated digital display and trip computer (poached from an Aprilia SXV supermoto). The look was sleek, aggressive, muscular, and compact, giving the appearance of a clean-shaven street fighter who was laying off the booze but who would still tear your head off if provoked. There were references to cafe-racer culture and American muscle cars, with an overall high-quality appearance that wasn't overwrought or cheesy (intake scoop aside).

Wakan Motorbike Fuel Tank


Responses were mixed. Some members of the press and many armchair critics were quick to draw unfair comparisons to Erik Buell’s machines, and dismissed the Wakan as an overpriced toy built around an OCC-special motor. Many a bad joke about the French being pompous surrender monkeys was made. The comment threads overflowed with desk-jockeys proclaiming the Wakan a loser before it even hit the market. The old lines in the sand were being drawn – on one side, the “modern” crowd who worshipped at the altar of speed and engineering, on the other the “traditionalists” who praised the soul and butt-scooting torque of a bloody great American twin. Where the Wakan sought to bridge the divide between these two groups, it simply ended up exposing the fault line between them.

Wakan Avinton Motorcycle Roadster


However, this bizarre machine smote a few of us. We understood what Domergue was trying to accomplish, and appreciated the effort. He certainly wasn't the first to apply the concept - Matt Chambers has been producing the Confederate Hellcat to much acclaim since the mid-90s, and Erik Buell had been stuffing Harley motors into sport chassis since the 80s. But none of them really looked like the Wakan, which had a rather elegant style that other sporting bruisers often lacked. Buells are engineering-intensive and purposeful (read: function over good looks), while Confederates are elemental and raw (read: brutal and menacing). The Wakan had a muscular beauty and clean design that set it apart. I recall reading about the Wakan for the first time in a Cycle World article published in April 2007. Peter Egan rode an early example and wrote a favourable review, noting that there were hopes to open an American factory, an idea he personally supported.

Wakan 1647cc Motor Engine


Whatever Peter’s opinion was, I was entranced by the concept of this ridiculous but impressive machine that wrapped sporting bits around a comically large billet-clad engine that looked like it fell off a B-17 Flying Fortress. Then there was the seduction of the performance that such a combination could offer – here was an engine that produced 115hp and 115 pound-feet-of-tugboat-twisting-All American Torque in a bike that was claimed to weigh all of about 400 lbs dry. The sort of go that a colleague of mine, who has more experience with big American engines, described as “rip your arms out of their sockets and beat you over the head with them while rattling the fillings out of your teeth” power (“like riding a gorilla”). Sure, hyperactive sportbikes with time-and-space-disrupting thrust are fun, but in The Real World massive midrange punch from a grunty motor is a fantastic way to shorten the distance between corners and stoplights. Not that the Wakan was slow at the top end - it was capable of a claimed top speed of over 150 miles per hour, which is “good luck hanging on” speed for a big naked bike.

Wakan Avinton Engine Motor


That monster motor was supplied by American specialist Smith & Smith, better known as S&S, who have become the go-to supplier of go-fast bits for American iron and complete Harley-pattern crate motors. Generally every chopper and custom builder worth his salt is using an S&S as a more powerful alternative to an off-the-shelf Harley twin, which makes it an even more unusual choice for a “sport” machine. The 100 ci “Super Stock” is part of the small S&S collection – as ridiculous as that may sound to those of us weaned on Asian and European machines, 1647cc is small potato-potato in the land of Budweiser and monster trucks. The Super Stock line is based on Harley Davidson OHV four-cam Sportster Evolution architecture, which is the “small block” of Harley motors, Twin-Cam and big-twin Evolution (and S&S’s proprietary X-Wedge) being the “big blocks”. Sportster engines have more compact dimensions but are not as well supported in the aftermarket and are limited in their maximum displacement - if you simply must have 2000+ ccs of reciprocating mass you will have to look elsewhere.

Wakan Avinton Engine



Unlike the Twin-Cam (and previous big twins – the lineage can be traced back directly to the Knucklehead introduced in 1936) the Sportster series has a semi-unit gearbox housing that allows the use of a separate gearbox and primary drive but carries it in a mount that is integrated into the crankcases. They also use a quad-cam arrangement with widely staggered pushrods. Each cam has a single lobe driving an individual pushrod for each of the four valves – the Twin-Cam has two (duh), one for each cylinder, while the Evolution big twin had a single cam for all four valves. This allows the crankcase to be considerably narrower as the camshafts are a lot shorter.

Wakan Motorcycle Tank


Like any Harley-pattern engine, the intake is a y-shaped channel split between the two cylinders. In the Wakan fuel was delivered by a single 41mm downdraught Keihin flatslide carburettor. Devil produced the exhaust systems for all Wakan models. The gearbox is a five-speed unit provided by American specialist Andrews, with a proprietary dry clutch design and belt-driven primary. Final drive was by chain. The engines were assembled by S&S for Wakan. As such any S&S dealer could service the Wakan, and owners could make use of their extensive catalogue of hop-up parts should they desire some extra oomph.

Wakan 100 Motorcycle


By 2009 a few examples of the Wakan One Hundred, which was now being referred to as the Roadster, had been built and were being canvassed to journalists around the world. Reviews were largely favourable, and as you might expect testers often commented on the odd combination of sporty ergonomics and lazy, thundering motor that produced massive punch across the rev range. Shifting was notably good considering the rough character of the motor, not that you need to shift much when you are making over 100 lb/ft of torque at around 2000 rpm. Nobody complained about the handling though one review hinted that the Sachs shock was not up to snuff, particularly on a bike that was now quoted at damn near $50,000 USD (33,500€ in 2009). Alan Cathcart charitably declared the single six-piston front brake as “OK”, which loosely translates to “unimpressive”. The main complaints leveled against the One Hundred were the slightly uncomfortable ergonomics, a few cheap components, and the exorbitant price tag. While the price isn't exactly affordable, it wasn't obscene considering the components. A S&S crate motor with an Andrews gearbox and a primary drive would run you about $10,000 or more, not including any hot-rod parts, or the fueling, or the ignition... Tally up the parts cost and you'll realize that you would be hard pressed to build something better for less money.

Wakan 100 Motorbike


Unfortunately demand for an expensive, hand built, oddball French motorcycle was limited after 2008. A special edition with upgraded brakes, exhausts and some performance enhancements called the Track Racer was unveiled and promoted as part of the 50th anniversary of S&S in 2008, but didn’t progress past the prototype stage. Wakan always in the shadow of other marques building sporting machines around big American twins – on the low end, you had Buell, while in the high-end you had Confederate and Ecosse. The Wakan was somewhere between the two (in price and in specification), but was unable to carve out a niche in the market. The company canvassed for investors and announced plans to open a US factory, but nobody was forthcoming with capital following the economic collapse. Wakan struggled through the recession like many other small marques, ultimately succumbing to financial problems and going into liquidation in May 2011.

Wakan Avinton Motorcycle


But all was not lost. In late 2011 the factory, spares, prototypes and all the company’s patents were purchased by investor Cédric Klein, a veteran of heavy industry with an interest in motorcycles. The motorcycle remained unchanged, but the marketing wasn’t. Wakan was dead and buried – the name was changed to Avinton (with vaguely aeronautical connotations) and the previous company became unmentionable. Domergue’s contributions were never acknowledged; despite the fact the company was his concept and had been under his control less than a year before.

Wakan Avinton Motorcycle


Avinton relaunched the lineup in early 2012. The One Hundred became the Collector, which was offered in three flavours – Roadster, GT, and Race (the only difference between the three being the height of the handlebars). The Track Racer prototype was rebadged and given a new set of brakes and wheels, but was otherwise almost identical to what had been unveiled 2008. The Shelby Cobra connection was still emphasized, but now the Wak… Erm, “Avinton” was marketed as a luxury lifestyle product produced by a passionate boutique brand. The Collector is presented as a handcrafted lifetime product, a machine that an (admittedly wealthy) enthusiast can purchase and maintain for decades. As of 2013 prices start at 28,345€. Much ado is being made about how each machine can be tailored to the owner’s desires with a vast series of optional extras, both aesthetic and functional. There is even a “Super Snake” performance package that offers, and I quote: “the first motorcycle in the world to be equipped with four front break (sic) discs!”.

Avinton Collector


Avinton is currently expanding production and distribution of the Collector across Europe, with EPA homologation in the US an ongoing process. They expect to be represented in the Asian market by early 2014. Around 30 machines were built in 2012, and they hope to produce between 60 and 80 machines for 2013, which is already more than were produced by Wakan over a period of six years.

Avinton Wakan Collector Motorcycle


One gets the impression that Avinton wishes to downplay the role of Domergue and his original company and re-purpose the brand as a "luxury lifestyle" accessory. The motorcycle they are selling is clearly unchanged from the Wakan days, and all specifications are identical if you ignore the optional extras and add-on packages. There is less emphasis on the product being an interesting motorcycle that is the product of one man's dream, more about the bike being a flashy accessory for wealthy clients who want an exclusive plaything tailored to their whims. Their website and press releases are filled with the sort of canned marketing jargon and trite clichés that makes honest bike builders and enthusiasts cringe, though they certainly aren't the worst offenders in this regard. Regardless of the connotations of these alterations, the new direction appears to be more successful in generating sales and attention for the marque even if the original spirit of Domergue's endeavour has been lost somewhere along the way. I wish Avinton well, but I would prefer to own a Wakan.

Wakan Open Road Motorcycle


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