“Everything that can be invented, has been invented”, or at least that’s how the popular misquote goes. It is unquestionably untrue, but for devices that have been around as long as the motorcycle, with thousands of fertile minds having applied themselves to building a better mousetrap over the last 125 years, you’d think that all the viable configurations for achieving man-machine harmony would have been tried before now. Apparently not! An ingenious retake on the horizontally-opposed motor and chassis architecture has spawned a technological revelation in the form of the new French superbike, the Midual.
Before we get started, please be warned that the Midual is not for the faint of wallet. Production of the technological masterpiece will be limited to just 35 units, each with a price tag of €140,000 (US$185,400). If the price-tag isn't enough indication of Midual's intended hyper-elite marketplace, showing the company's two working Type 1 prototypes at Pebble Beach 2014 left no doubt.
Other companies to unveil machinery on the Pebble Beach Concept Lawn included Bentley, Hennessy, Lamborghini, Maserati, McLaren, Porsche, Renovo, Rolls-Royce, Saleen, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Infiniti, Toyota, Alfa Romeo, and Lincoln, a strong indication of the company this new French company hopes to keep.
The Midual's next public outing will be at the exclusive London Supercar show, Salon Prive.
As the sole motorcycle on display on the concept lawn at the world's most important upmarket automotive event, and one with a price tag equivalent to the median price of a home in the United States, Midual is the latest boutique manufacturer to address the needs of wealthy motorcycle enthusiasts seeking something more and different. These manufacturers produce limited edition two–wheelers and charge enough for each of them to create a viable business on small volumes.
At the pointy-end, this elite category now includes the likes of the US$300,000 Ecosse Titanium RR (clockwise from top right), the US$178,000 Icon Sheene, the US$175,000, 250 mph (402 km/h), 320 hp MTT Turbine Superbike and the latest Lauge Jensen Viking, which is designed by Henrik Fisker with a price tag anticipated between $50,000 and $55,000. That's a significant step down from the normal limited edition designer models from the Danish brand which usually run to US$100,000.
Lauge Jensen recently sold the gold-plated, diamond-encrusted "Goldfinger" (pictured) for US$850,0000, which is believed to be a record price for a new road-going motorcycle. Realistically, it's more a piece of art than a practical conveyance, but it is no less likely to see road usage than many of the other bikes listed in this article. This is the domain of exquisite, hand-crafted motorcycles that are extremely desirable and close to unobtainable unless you have the wherewithal to drop US$200 grand on a whim.
Then there's the entire range of NCR, an Italian company located close to the Ducati factory in the Borgo Panigale district of Bologna. NCR was Ducati's original, albeit external, racing department and has been re-engineering Ducati's finest models for a third of a century. It is best known for having built the small batch of 25 homologation machines for the Formula 1 class of the 1978 Formula TT World Championships.
Mike Hailwood rode one of this batch to his now-legendary comeback win at the Isle of Man in 1978, when he emerged from an 11-year self-imposed exile from mainstream motorcycle racing at the geriatric (at least in racing terms) age of 38 years. That small batch of machines enabled Ducati to take the first of its now 30 plus world titles and Hailwood his last. In early 2014, one of this batch (pictured below) was sold by the world's foremost rare motorcycle auctioneers (Bonhams) for US$175,500.
NCR still makes extraordinary bikes based on existing Ducati models, such as the US$110,000+ Leggera Extreme and the US$220,000 Macchia Nera – 134 kg (295 lb) of titanium, magnesium and carbon with 187 rear-wheel horsepower – but the US$200,000+ M16 is the closest example of what the Midual will be competing with in terms of cost and rarity.
The NCR M16 is a carbon showpiece with MotoGP-level forks, rear shock, electronics and wheels and it weighs 144 kg (318 lbs) – 16 kg (35 lb) lighter than a 2014 MotoGP bike but with lights, turn indicators and a number plate – with its highly modified Desmosedici motor producing 200 rear-wheel horsepower. The price is actually US$159,000 PLUS a Desmosedici motor, if you can find one, but with those specs, it's the closest thing you can get to a real MotoGP bike for the road.
Heritage Replicas from Brough Superior and Crocker
There's also a heritage sub-category in the hyper-elite motorcycle price range which involves authentic replicas of Brough Superior and Crocker motorcycles. With 24 bikes in the top 100 auction prices ever fetched for a motorcycle, Brough Superior is the most sought-after collectible motorcycle in the world. Vincent, with 17 bikes is next, with several marques fighting out third spot on the podium: Harley-Davidson (10 bikes), Crocker (seven bikes) and BMW (seven bikes).
Crockers are extremely rare. While roughly 3,000 Brough Superiors were produced and around 1,000 are still known to exist, only 72 Crockers are still in existence, and whenever they reach auction, they invariably sell for more than US$200,000. Given that many concours Crockers predominantly contain parts manufactured by original processes at the Los Angeles workshops of the reincarnated Crocker Motorcycle company, the US$150,000 price tag for a complete replica (above) is seen by enthusiasts as a bargain.
Brough Superior has also taken the gamble of building a modern day motorcycle with the same brand values and plenty of heritage styling cues, with the price of the first 2015 production models to be somewhere between €50,000 and £50,000 (US$65,000 - US$83,000). This is considerably less than an almost atom-perfect replica of Lawrence of Arabia's 1925 Brough Superior SS100, plus it goes faster, handles better, stops quicker but ... it's not exactly the same as the bike the famous warrior often rode 500 miles in a day just for fun.
Indeed, just as in days of yore, you can now have your bespoke Brough Superior made to your own period design and exact specifications, such as this 1283 cc, 1930’s Basel Brough, which was purchased by Ralph Lauren Paris for advertising purposes. There is no price list for such bespoke wares, but count on spending upwards of US$150,000 for the privilege. That's less, by the way, than you'd pay at auction for one made 80 years ago.
In terms of appreciating assets, the replicas being hand-crafted by Brough Superior and Crocker are almost certain to hold their value better than any contemporary two-wheeler you can purchase for road usage.
The evolution of the Midual
Hence there's definitely a marketplace for genuine exotica, and Midual's Type 1 already appears to be just the first of a series of technologically fascinating motorcycles the new marque has planned (a search of patents indicates a V-twin and an electric motorcycle are in development).
The Type 1 has been mooted for 15 years with the styling of the first Midual having been done by highly respected L.A.-based motorcycle designer Glynn Kerr. Kerr was commissioned by Midual principal Oliver Midy to develop a series of concept sketches for his horizontally-opposed twin in the late 1990s.
As can be seen from the sketches of the time, Midy had hoped to use the name Douglas (more on the famous British marque later in this article), but efforts to secure the rights to the name failed and some publicity was garnered in the name Midual and some in the name Douglas. The boxer-twin debuted as a 900 (though some earlier mock-ups show an 860 logo) at the 1999 "Mondial de l'Automobile" show in Paris. The new Midual Type 1 displaces 1036 cc.
Midual redefines the horizontally-opposed twin
Midual's choice of the boxer twin motor, and the ingenuity of its engineering require a look back in history to fully understand how cleverly it has sidestepped the engine layout's disadvantages, while retaining its strongest features.
The virtues of the horizontally-opposed motor (primarily excellent primary balance and a low center of gravity), have been evident to motorcycle, car and aeronautical engineers since Karl Benz first patented the design in 1896. In cars, they have become the signature engine of such landmark creations as the Volkswagen Beetle, Porsche 911 and the entire Subaru range. In aircraft, the opposing cylinders were ideal for air-cooling and the primary balance made for excellent reliability, a mandatory quality in an aero engine.
In the motorcycle arena, the boxer-twin has become synonymous with BMW motorcycles, but many other marques have used the configuration, and in the beginning, the horizontally-opposed motor was usually fitted lengthways in the frame.
BMW's now signature transverse boxer-twin engine configuration dates back to 1923, but it was by no means the first manufacturer to use the boxer twin – it was not even the first to use it in the across-the-frame orientation, with the British ABC motorcycle of 1916 preceding it by a full seven years.
There's a wonderful "fairy story here" about the origins of first horizontally-opposed motorcycle engine (the 1905 Fée nee Fairy motor cycle above), and how it led directly to the Douglas motorcycle range of the same configuration, the success of which spawned many other similar motorcycles.
The Douglas twins built a fine reputation and helped the company become one of the first mainstream motorcycle manufacturers, building 70,000 military motorcycles for the British war effort during WWI.
Immediately post-WWI, BMW's engine designer Max Friz was faced with designing a motorcycle engine as the German aircraft company was forbidden from producing aircraft engines due to the provisions of the Treaty of Versailles and the company quickly had to find new commercial endeavors. Luckily, BMW's foreman, Martin Stolle, had a 1914 Douglas 500cc flat twin motorcycle and Friz, according to legend, stripped the bike down and copied the horizontally-opposed twin.
As a result of this plagiarism, which to be fair was rampant in the industry at the time, the BMW M2 B15 500 cc side-valve engine was born and sold to numerous German motorcycle manufacturers of the day to power their motorcycles. Motorcycles that employed BMW's M2B15 included Bison, Corona, Victoria, SMW, SBD and the Helios. The Helios was built by Bayerische Flugzeugwerke, a company which was later merged into BMW AG, so it could be argued that it was indeed BMW's first motorcycle (using the same logic which accredits the pre-1926 racing exploits of DMG and Benz & Cie to the company they merged to become: Mercedes-Benz).
The 1920 Helios (pictured above) was one of many motorcycles made using BMW's M2B15 500 cc side-valve engine that had borrowed heavily from the Douglas flat twin.
When BMW finally decided to build entire motorcycles, Friz used all the know-how he'd accumulated in building aircraft engines, plus no doubt valuable feedback resulting from supplying the M2B 15 to other makers, to create an entirely new engine, turning it 90 degrees in the process.
In 1923, he took all those lessons and produced the R32, which became the first of an unbroken lineage of boxer twins that have been deeply loved by motorcyclists across the world for the nine decades since.
It's interesting that, despite such seemingly wonderful personality traits as a low center of gravity and great balance, the design has never lent itself particularly well to the motorcycle form factor, mainly due to the problem of fitting such an inconveniently-shaped motor into a motorcycle frame without compromising one of the key aspects of riding.
Mount it lengthways in the frame and it will provide a wheelbase that's simply too long, making the motorcycle a handful around town and compromising the sweetness of the motor. Those early horizontally-opposed motorcycles engines that had their cylinders mounted in-line with the frame often suffered from the rear cylinder overheating.
Mount the engine sideways and the protruding cylinders immediately compromise ground clearance and expose the vulnerable cylinder heads to damage in the case of mishap. There's also the torque reaction that comes when a motor's crankshaft is in line with the wheels, though I've done a lot of miles on Beemer twins, and once you're accustomed to it, it's never the problem that theory suggests it might be.
The above illustration shows two of the best known early horizontally-opposed twins which used a longitudinal mounting: a 1919 Harley-Davidson 584cc Model W Sport at top left and right, and a 1925 Douglas 2¾HP (350cc) Model CW. Click the image for access to the photo library and more detailed images of each of the machines.
Once BMW began developing its boxer-twins and began winning hearts and races, other transverse flat-twin motorcycles followed, such as Germany's Zundapp, China's Chang Jiang and the mass-produced Russian marques Ural and Dnepr.
The ingenuity behind Midual's new variation on the theme is that it has tilted the engine forward at a 25-degree angle, enabling the rear cylinder to clear the swinging arm pivot and enabling the wheelbase to be kept within compact dimensions, completely removing the torque reactions associated with the inline crankshaft of transverse boxers, and enabling the exceptionally-low center of gravity of the engine to be used to full benefit. Midual claims that the resultant handling "makes negotiating curves a delight" and it is confident enough of this new variation on the theme to have patented it.
By comparison, the latest liquid-cooled 1170 cc BMW 1200GS performance figures come in at 123 hp @ 7,750 rpm and 125 Nm (92 lbf·ft) @ 6,500 rpm.
The Midual Frame
The Midual Type 1 frame is the result of "several thousand hours" of design and development according to Midual's press documentation. It uses a unique single-piece aluminum chassis cast in a French aerospace foundry and then hand-shaped after numerous intermediate operations. The external double wall serves as a fuel tank and this too has been patented.
Detail, Personalization and SERVICE
While the price tag might seem very high for a motorcycle, the Midual is aiming at an entirely different marktplace than currently exists, with a level of service designed partially to overcome the lack of a dealer network, and partially to deliver amenity levels previously unheard of. The 35 machines available for delivery in 2016 are destined solely for the European marketplace.
That price includes a four-year contract for maintenance and warranty support, including collection of the motorcycle directly from the customer’s (European) home for delivery to the manufacturer’s workshops and back again. According to Midual, "in this way, full guarantee of careful, thorough after-sales maintenance can be assured."
All metallic components of this motorcycle show a level of detail far beyond the norm. From the press blurb, "the machine’s instrument panel and analogue gauges, all the leather trim, the handlebar controls, side plates, kickstand ... each element is specific, noble and refined. The finishing reveals the highly expertise of the most skilled French workers."
"A Midual is designed to be personalised to the point where each machine’s personality can be modified to be completely in tune with its owner. Thus, he will be able to choose between many different types of body finishing, from brushing and cap design to a polished/patina look. More than 45 types of leather are offered standard and can be matched to 25 sand casting shades, which can be applied even to the engine parts. Each machine is marked with its creation date, number and owner’s name."