By Tom White
Modern racers take the selection of race-ready motocross bikes for granted. This wasn't always so! In the early days of motocross, there was no such thing as a showroom stock motocross bike. If you wanted to race, you had to turn a road bike into a dirt bike. Motocrossers of the '50s and '60s would take a production-based Triumph, Cotton, BSA, Matchless, or Royal Enfield and strip it down. Then they added stronger rims, better suspension, knobby tires, and the result was a 350-pound motocross bike. By today's standard, it was woefully inadequate.
By the late 1950s, Englishmen Don and Derek Rickman had become world-class motocross riders, and with good design and fabrication skills, knew they could build something better. They soon introduced their Rickman Metisse (metisse is French for mongrel) chassis kit for British four-stroke engines. The Metisse pioneered such ideas as oil in the frame, fiberglass bodywork, narrow chassis width and nickel-plated Reynolds 530 tubing.
The Rickman's marketing plan was simple. The brothers would race the bikes on Sunday and sell them on Monday. After a winning weekend, the public would literally line up to buy the Rickman machines.
Possibly the ultimate Rickman Metisse was the Mark IV Weslake BSA B44 powered machine. The BSA powerplant was small, originally starting out as a 250cc single-cylinder, but would prove both powerful and reliable, especially when the Weslake 500cc top-end was added. Top of the line chassis components like Ceriani forks and Girling shocks were used and lightweight Akront alloy rims completed the package. Rickmans weren’t just kit bikes. They were great bikes.
1968 RICKMAN METISSE WESLAKE BSA B44 FACTS
WHAT THEY COST
In 1970 you could purchase a 400cc Husqvarna for $1100, while a Rickman rolling chassis cost $1100. If you wanted to add a Weslake engine, the price would go up to $1800. Today, expect to pay between $10,000 and $14,000 for a nicely restored Rickman Metisse Weslake.
The Mk III chassis was available until 1967 and the Mk IV was available from 1967 until the mid-’70s. By the early ’70s, complete machines using either a Hodaka 100, Zundapp 125 or Montesa 250cc powerplant were common.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
Copies! You can contact either Wasp or MRD in England for nearly identical copies of the original Rickman chassis for the powerplant of your choice. For AHRMA racers, this is the way to go! For collectors, get an original Rickman, but note, it's difficult to tell them from the clones.
Wasps from Don Newell Motorcycles in Australia at email@example.com and in America, Vintage Iron at (714) 694-0066 and the web at www.vintageiron.com.
For more info on classic bikes go to www.earlyyearsofmx.com
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