Polish designer drops jaws with unique hub-steered custom motorcycle
If the goal of building a custom motorcycle is to create something unique, then "Jack Watkins" (not his real name), of Poland, can tick that box. A hub-steered head-scratcher with a Beemer Boxer motor and laser-cut sheet steel frame, the Watkins M001 is an epic engineering curiosity.
The work of an anonymous Mechanical Design Ph.D who runs a team of 30 designers at an industrial company in Gdansk, the M001 starts out with the engine and drivetrain of a 2002 BMW R1150RT, and strikes out in several curious directions.
First up is the hub-center-steered front end – more or less the inspiration for the whole project. Hub steered motorcycles lose some directness in the steering, but in return they don't suffer from the brake dive and geometry changes that telescopic forks do, allowing stronger braking in corners without stopping the suspension from doing its optimal work.
Mind you, if these handling characteristics were what Watkins was after, he could just as well have left the R1150RT in one piece; its Telelever front suspension was designed to deal with those self same issues, and it does a terrific job.
It doesn't have the crouching cheetah look of a hub-steer unit, though, so Watkins pressed ahead and executed a very complex steering design including a yellow Yamaha XJ6 front wheel, the only splash of color on the bike. It's got a milled hub arrangement in the middle that allows it to steer in between the confines of two suspended horizontal front swingarms.
The hub steering system allowed Watkins to run a very compact top layer to the bike. It almost looks like a minibike sitting on top of a full size motorcycle. Using 3D scanning to ascertain the exact mount points, Watkins used laser cut and bent sheet steel for the frame and bodywork. A fin-like arrangement at the back serves no practical purpose except as a good place to stick the license plate and a visual accent.
The headlight is a round chrome bucket. The seat is a few whispers of padding sat atop the steel. The fuel tank is hidden away under the seat, contributing to the surreal compact look of the front end, but somehow still holds a decent 16 liters (4.2 gallons). The tank also has structural elements inside it, as Watkins needed it to carry load from the seat down into the rear shock.
Fully custom twin exhausts exit the Boxer engine's cylinders and curl around to the underside of the bike in front of the rear wheel, where they meet in a two-layered stainless steel box that Watkins says uses 84 screws and took almost five hours to assemble.
Two things are for certain: nobody's mistaking this bike for anything else, and its mysterious creator has one heck of a twinkle in his eye. We've seen that kind of twinkle before – there goes a happy engineer.
Jump into the gallery for some neat design images that show just how throughly planned this build was, right down to that yellow front wheel.