Friday, September 04, 2009
After many, many months of anticipation, Pebble Beach provided the perfect opportunity for a road test of the new Brough Superior 'Pendine' model, an 1150cc ohv hotrod which is closely modeled on the George Brough's 1927 racing model. The capacity of the engine has increased, as has the power output, along with unseen improvements to metallurgy, casting techniques, and specification which were simply not available in the 1920's. The result is a motorcycle built to appear as an identical sister machine to those earlier models, but with an uprated spec, and a bit more oomph.
Mark Upham and his crew have done an amazing job with the machine, and I'll admit to having some hesitations when he announced his intention to build a new Brough. I've seen quite a few replica 'Broughs', ie built from new parts, and they have never failed to disappoint me - there is always something which gives the game away, from a droop to the exhaust or an amorphous timing chest casting, to a general malaise from poor quality finishing - sacrilege on a Brough Superior! The new machines, I am happy to report, are fantastic, and fulfill the original promise of the Brough Superior as 'Rolls Royce of Motorcycles' admirably. They look right, they feel right, and best of all, they ride right!
My roadtest was piggybacked onto Jay Leno's video test for his personal website, the results of which can be seen here:
Not having a camera crew in chase or a timeline at Pebble, I was able to take the machine for a slightly longer gallop down 17-Mile Drive, sampling the effortless power and incredible smoothness of the new engine unit. It has torque to spare, and doesn't feel twitchy in the least, although the deep bellow and uncoiling of the thoroughbred's legs are very much in the spirit of a KTOR SS100 of yore, with a bit more power available now! The handling felt particularly good; I've owned four Broughs, and this one steered better than any of mine - perhaps a result of a fresh build on a new frame jig? I've ridden several BS's which have felt as though they 'fall in' to corners rather than transitioning smoothly from straight line to curve; it's never felt actually dangerous, just annoying. The Pendine had none of this fault, with a bonus of increased ground clearance from larger diameter wheels and higher footrests; it's a Brough which can take a bend without grinding away precious metal on the tarmac. How rare!
The front 'Castle' forks worked beautifully, and the springs were clearly balanced to the weight of the motorcycle and a rider - an issue with older machines whose springs have sagged after 80 years, or using replacements which are often too hard or soft, giving poor riding qualities over undulations. The ride felt perfectly smooth and stable up front. The downside to Castles is a well-known bugbear - it's simply impossible to get a decent front brake with this short leading-link design. The brake anchor pivots to move with the forks, and somehow the geometry doesn't add up to good stopping power, even on a new machine. This is all, for better or worse, par for the course with a Brough using Castles... although several other types of fork were used on lesser BS models (Webbs, Bramptons, Montgomery), the SS100 was only offered with this elegant twin-tube design (based on a Harley-Davidson 1920's fork, which itself was based on an FN fork - the reason Harley never 'went after' Brough for copying the fork!).
Other aspects of the machine were so good as to be ignored; the clutch worked perfectly without drag or slip, the gearbox snicked into position via the tankside selector lever without fuss or drama, and the rear brake could easily lock the wheel.
While it may be true that a Brough Superior was always an amalgam of bought-in parts, it was ever the case that George Brough specified the quality of those parts, and was notorious for his rejection of engines, gearboxes, wheels, which didn't meet his quality standards. Thus, his engines, his gearboxes, his clutches, etc, were that much better than supposedly identical bits on similar machines. Taken as a genre, the BS has always been just another overhead-valve v-twin literbike, but there is something magical about the whole package, a happy synergy of the components, which established the reputation of the original, and no doubt will secure the admiration of the connoisseur motorcyclist interested in this new SS101.
Brough Superior was always synonymous with quality and bespoke service, and Upham and Co clearly intend to continue this tradition. To quote the catalog:
"Brough Superior has always been the epitome of exclusivity, luxury, elegance, style, extraordinary design, allied to a great passion for motorcycles."