World's first all-titanium motorcycle is spectacular, and nearly done
We haven't been paying much attention to the custom motorcycle world lately, but this jaw-dropping project demanded our attention. It's a Hayabusa engine wrapped in a spectacular titanium frame, swingarm, exhaust, subframe and bodywork.
Titanium is 45% lighter than steel, with the same strength. Compared to aluminum, it's twice as strong, but only weighs 60% more. That's why it's often used in aerospace, where high strength and light weight are critical factors. It also oxidizes into brilliant, permanent colors when you point a blowtorch at it, which can make it a damn near pornographic material for motorcycle exhausts and the like.
So why haven't we seen a full titanium motorcycle before? Well, for starters, it costs a lot more than something like aluminum. It's also a pain in the butt to work with. It's highly reactive at high temperatures, for example, so if you weld it in ambient air, it reacts with oxygen, nitrogen, or even the carbon in steel tools, creating brittle compounds and often wrecking the tools. It tends to stick to cutting tools and ruin those, too.
In sheet form, it's extremely springy, wanting to return to its original shape, so it takes a lot of extra effort to work into the kinds of complex shapes needed for motorcycle bodywork. But, as briefly outlined in the video below, that's part of the attraction for New Jersey custom builder W. Robert Ransom.
Ransom took on this all-titanium motorcycle project on behalf of a customer called Mohammed, hoping it would become "a display of artistry and craftsmanship previously not seen in the motorcycle industry."
The beating heart here is a second-generation Suzuki Hayabusa engine, lightly breathed on to take it up around 200 horsepower. Most of the rest is custom, and made from titanium. That includes a wildly curvaceous tubular frame, designed around an entirely new geometry that cants the engine slightly forward and holds it lower in the frame.
If you're one of those weirdos that enjoys weld porn, like myself, check out the insane quality of Ransom's work in the video below. He blows inert argon gas onto the metal as he welds, to stop it from oxidizing, and achieves some staggering precision joins at extreme angles with difficult access.
The swingarm breaks away from the tubular motif, and goes for a solid, MotoGP-style look with extra rigidity. But under the titanium skin, that's all curvy tubes as well. As with many 'Busa-powered customs, the swingarm is slightly extended – but this is not designed to be a straight line hero. Ransom says it's gonna corner, and he expects it to be ridden hard and fast.
Titanium exhausts are an obvious highlight on lesser bikes, but the 4-into-2-into-1-into-2 system Ransom has created, with more than 130 sections on the header pipes alone, is a spectacular highlight even with everything else going on here. The ram's horn headers join to mid pipes, which X together over the motor and feed back out through gaps in the tubular frame, terminating in a pair of teardrop-shaped underseat cans.
Ransom says it's pretty simple to get the exhaust off, thanks to a flip-up tank design. Check it out:
And then there's the bodywork. Ransom didn't give himself many easy ways out here; every shape is wickedly curved, with sharp angles, and the execution and attention to detail on this stuff is out of this world. It's pretty remarkable for a groundbreaking project like this to be happening completely in the open, but he's totally open to showing his work on this one.
With the bodywork looking close to complete, the finish line is in sight for this project – although Ransom is juggling priorities and spending a lot of time on something just as out there: a gleaming, polished silicon bronze bike that's already consumed some 10,000 hours.
The titanium bike, meanwhile, will end up with a totally unique appearance. Naturally, Ransom won't be painting it. Instead, the bodywork panels will receive color highlights in the form of anodized oxidation. This will be more precise than the coloring you get from heat treatment – but it's still very difficult to do with consistency.
There are some jewelers around that appear to be getting spectacular results with this technique – Giampouras has an entire oxidized titanium collection for sale, and browsing through that catalog will give you an idea of the colors that can be achieved – like the twisted earrings below.
The bike's price is surely astronomical; Ransom has already put upwards of 2,000 hours into the titanium bike project. But that's between him and Mohammed, and for all its impracticality and fanciness for its own sake, I have to admit I'm hanging out to see what the final machine looks like. All the better if we see it up on one wheel and getting flogged. Terrific stuff.
Source: W. Robert Ransom