Over the past few years, Revival Cycles have grown into one of the most highly respected custom motorcycle workshops in the world. This BMW Landspeeder is their latest creation, and instead of us writing about it, we’re going to publish the story of bike directly from the team at Revival.
A year ago, a client came to us and asked if we would be interested in building him a total custom motorcycle to display in a motorcycle gallery he was building for 20 motorcycles. His intention was to hire at least 5 custom builders to flesh out the ‘custom’ section of his gallery by having them all built simultaneously. All we really knew is that Max Hazan was building one and we were building one. Of COURSE we were interested!
The client gave me full creative freedom to choose the machine I’d wanted to build that fit his budget requirements. This wasn’t the first time that had happened, but it was the first time I had ever contemplated building a motorcycle that we knew would never be ridden by its owner and did NOT need to be street legal. This opened up my mind to many possibilities, but one stuck out in my head the most.
I chose to build a bike inspired by the Henne Landspeeder I had seen at the Wheels and Waves festival two years ago in coastal France. This machine was a 1928 BMW R37 racer. It was known as one of the most successful record breaking motorcycles ever built and in person it was a true sight to behold. From its aero shaped handlebars to its solid wheel cover it was every thing beautiful about a race bike that one could imagine. With this bike as inspiration, we set about designing our own version.
From the beginning we knew this would be a total departure for Revival. One of our founding principals is that we didn’t want to build sculpture. We build motorcycles that truly try to be better in every single way than their factory starting points….lighter, faster, better handling and simply more beautiful. They also have to hold up in real world riding conditions and this bike simply wouldn’t have to. There are so many custom builders out there that build simple sculpture that can obviously be beautiful, but we feel it gives them a great advantage or easy way out of making it also amazing to ride and enjoy from the cockpit.
There was sort of a revolt within the team when I presented this bike project that simply needed to look good sitting still. To overcome this concern we set out to build two. One would be a design exercise for the client to sit in his gallery and the other would be OUR race bike. That meant we had to design the basic frame and suspension to actually perform at speed. We wanted our version of this bike to exceed 150mph and that meant both versions would need to be capable. We also decided that we would begin the project with a more modern version of the engine Henne used, the R100/7 1,000cc BMW Airhead engine. Even though we knew this first bike would never be ridden by anyone but us, we chose to completely strip the engine down and rebuild it fresh. (to this day it only has about 20 miles on it) We installed a magneto ignition system with electronic advance control since a battery, lights and the required alternator simply are not needed for a race bike or a display bike.
Stefan started with the photos I had of the bike that I had taken in France a few years ago and began to build a CAD model. We lengthened the wheelbase just a bit for increased high speed stability and dropped the engine in the frame very low for a lower center of gravity. We then decided on a frame construction that would immediately deviate from the original Henne machine by choosing to build it out of flat cut steel instead of tubing. In Landspeed racing we know weight isn’t much of a factor for top speed, so strength and beauty ended up being the top priorities. As a team we’ve done quite a bit of riding and work on a Zundapp K800 that had a beautiful stamped steel box frame and thus a direction was chosen.
We then went about designing a front suspension that would be inspired by, but far superior to the one Henne used on his bike at over 173mph. The steering angle is a steep 24 degrees, but is balanced out with a full 6 inches of trail. We did this to further test our theory that steeper rake angles handle better even at high speed. The front suspension pivots are all rolling element bearings except for the shock eyes which means this setup is meant to last and be very tight no matter what is thrown at it. It’s definitely a modern interpretation of a classic trailing link suspension, but with a kinematic progressive linkage and 5 way adjustable mono shock that allows for adjustable preload, high and low speed compression and high and low speed rebound controls.
This isn’t your standard 80 year old trailing suspension. It’s light weight, has very low stiction, a virtually constant trail, low unsprung mass and minimal projected area. The most beautiful part of the original Henne BMW was the airfoil-shaped uppers of the suspension and handlebars and we mimicked this a bit with aero tubing and a great deal of welding and grinding. Stefan also took the time to machine totally custom stainless hardware and the appropriate tooling to hold the entire setup together. No parts-bin cap nuts here….this setup required a custom tool to be built just so it could be serviced. Plus….it simply looks crazy as fuck.
We built an internal throttle for a clean simple look and installed a reverse-pull clutch cable to complete the period look. We then devised a smooth as silk hand shifter that rides on sealed bearing axles and feels tighter than a drum for a solid shift. We also laced up custom wheels with straight spokes for the front since a brake would not be installed on the front.
From there it was mostly a stylistic exercise. We designed and machined a set of aero valve covers to give the profile a smoother look and they turned out so well that we’re considering selling them, but they will NOT be cheap. These took many hours to get right.
We then spent the better part of month building all alloy bodywork and fairing to cut down the wind. At first our intention was to hammer the alloy rough and a bit ugly like the original Henne bike, but Andy got carried away and made the bodywork into smooth and flowing lines that are far better than a racing bike would ever require. We chose to forego the requisite BMW white pinstripe after it was decided that bodywork was beautiful on its own. With the engine sucking air through the side of the bike through the velocity stack that Stefan spun out this thing sounds like a monster when its running.
If it’s not immediately apparent, we built a totally stainless exhaust system with that continued air-foiled header. The browned exhaust is a reminder that this piece of sculpture RUNS! The pegs and foot controls are also designed and made specifically for this bike along with the seat, belly-pillow, handle grips and knee protectors that are all made from rough finish leather.
At the end of the project the entire Revival team was still totally conflicted about the fact that we built a custom bike to only sit under the lights and look pretty, but we’ve already started the process of building the frame for this bike’s bigger brother and I’m sure it will more than make up for the concerns. The frame geometry, suspension and wheel sizes are all the same, but this new one will be supercharged and have more than a few extra horsepower to make things right.
For now we’re proud that it turned out so well on the road and under the lights and we can’t wait to share it in person. It should be known that this bike will make one and only one public appearance and that will be this April at our Handbuilt Motorcycle Show in Austin. Fittingly this year’s show will be brought to you by BMW Motorrad and we hope this one stacks up to the rest of the BMWs on display.
See more from Revival Cycles here.
Ben has had his work featured on CNN, Popular Mechanics, Smithsonian Magazine, Road & Track Magazine, the official Pinterest blog, the official eBay Motors blog, BuzzFeed, and many more.
Silodrome was founded by Ben back in 2010, in the years since the site has grown to become a world leader in the alternative and vintage motoring sector, with millions of readers around the world and many hundreds of thousands of followers on social media.