Sterling Autocycles replica flat tanker
▲ Builder Fabio Cardoni rode the bike on a 3-day jaunt across Europe from Milan, Italy to Birmingham, England to deliver it. We're told that the only faults were a failed horn, and a bolt breakage on an exhaust mount (the design has since been modified).
This is bound to be a pretty divisive motorcycle. One camp will tell you that it's a cool, latter day replica of an 1920s flat tanker motorcycle, but with the convenience of a modern engine, oil-tight mechanicals, decent brakes, "classic style" and a reasonable turn of speed to boot.
The other camp will tell you that it's a cheesy fake; a grotesque and misplaced homage to a style of motorcycle that died a natural death almost one hundred years ago.
And they'd both be right. And wrong.
▲ It ain't likely to convince anyone who's been around classic motorcycles for a while. But the proportions are right, and the poise and balance looks good. We're not buying, but we ain't sneering either.
▲ The headlight on the left is a "faithful" replica of the Bosch "Trommelscheinwerfer", also known as a "herring can". The price is £276 (€350). Alternately, you can opt for the replica Lucas light on the right priced at £78 (€100). Think the Lucas light would look right on the Sterling? Or is it all wrong for your taste, anyway?
▲ That's a long drive chain, but the engine power is low. Still, looks like there's gonna be some slap'n'rattle in that top run.
▲ A lightweight girder fork and a modern front stopper? Sounds like a mismatch of technologies, and a recipe for disaster. We're hoping that Black Douglas has done its sums right and hasn't over-braked this one. And is the engine convincing enough? And does it matter? There's a kickstarter on this bike. We don't know if an electric starter is also fitted.
Certainly the Black Douglas Motorcycle Company which produced this Mk4 machine is bullish about its product. The firm describes it as "elegant" and "stylish", and to demonstrate its faith in the product, the bike has just been ridden 1000 miles from Milan (where it was built) to Birmingham (where the first bike dealer will take delivery; more on this below).
This model is called the Countryman Deluxe. It costs £6,170 (€7,900), and is powered by either a 125cc or 230cc single-cylinder air-cooled pushrod engine manufactured by Zhongshen in China and based upon Honda the CG platform. The bike used in the aforementioned European trek is the 230cc version rated at 14hp @ 6,000rpm. The torque is ... well just 13.4 ft/lbs @ 4,500rpm (18.3Nm).
So okay, you're hardly gonna get a collapsed lung with that. But then again, the bike weighs just 228lbs (104kgs), and with those skinny tyres (21-inchers) and a generally narrow profile, there ain't a lot of rolling resistance either. You're looking at a top speed of maybe 60-65 mph and around 70-75mpg, or more.
▲ The Sterling Mk4 frame. Cold drawn seamless (CDS) tube, TIG welded. If you fancy building your own homage, you can buy one in raw steel for £710 (€900). Add another £189 (€240) if you want it painted. The lack of cast lugs will, for many potential buyers, detract from the authenticity of this chassis. But on shorter production runs, castings simply wouldn't be economically viable.
The frame is rigid and made from steel. The front fork is girder (and is of the firm's own design). The fuel tank is aluminium (with a compartment for the electrics). There are four gears in the box. And the brakes are drum at either end.
We've been advised that one month ago the motorcycle was granted an European Certificate of Conformity which signalled the right moment to take it to market.
So how did the project come about? Well, the driving force behind it is Benny Thomson who owns and runs the Monday Motorcycle Company in Birmingham, England and apparently operates from an old custard factory. Thompson, who is heavily into 70s chops and Harley-Davidson customs, conceived the notion of a modern flat tanker designed right here in the UK. He also built the Mk1 version.
It's not a new idea. Timeless Motorcycles in the USA has been doing exactly this for a while. And Timeless, it might be argued, produces more authentic vintage bikes based around its own engines (as opposed to imported Sino-Japanese motors).
Fabio Cardoni came later into the Sterling project. He's the man in Milan (and partner in the firm) who turned Thompson's vision into a reality, It's not clear how many of these bikes are being produced, or at what rate. But it's admittedly a small operation at present. The company is, however, looking for dealers who share the vision and feel they could successfully market the Sterling. And the Birmingham dealer who's taken delivery of the first bike?
We're assuming that that's Thompson himself.
▲ A Villiers air cleaner (left) will cost you £43. A complete 125cc engine will set you back £434. Add £118 for a 230cc engine.
A 350cc, 400cc and an electric version are being contemplated. And there are plans to cobble together an outfit and offer a board-track style racer.
The first Sterling (Mk1) was displayed at Verona in 2012. Two years on, the project has taken giant strides into the future whilst methodically updating its vision of the past.
Not quite. But it's up there somewhere in the alternate reality universe. Irritatingly, there aren't many more technical or manufacturing details forthcoming. As with Timeless, the oddly-named Black Douglas Motorcycle Company, has a website that needs a lot of developing, and what little information the respective firms do supply is often confusing.
Whatever you think of the bike, you've got to admire the dedication and work that went into this. Armchair engineering is easy. But knuckling down to producing a viable machine is an art and a rare skill.
Chances of this modern Anglo-Italian flat tanker project going any distance beyond the trip from Milan to Brum? We've no idea. The world is currently awash with "personal visions", homages and replicas. But at least the price of the Sterling is broadly in the right area—assuming, that is, the bikes can really be built and sold at the proposed level.
— The Third Man
Copyright Sump Publishing 2014