Thursday, October 27, 2016


Paul Brothers and Colin Lyster, whose partnership created the Lynton racer.  The pair display their ultralight frame and Hillman Imp-based motor in 1968

Colin Lyster isn’t a household name, unless you’re a hardcore café racer fan, in which case, he’s a demigod on par with Dave Degens and the Rickman brothers. A former Rhodesian road racer, Lyster moved to Britain in the early 1960s, and set about re-framing Triumphs and Hondas to reduce weight and improve chassis stiffness.

The sole surviving Lynton racer, from the H+H web page.  Not the Weber DCOE side-draft carb, racing AMC gearbox, and triple discs - in 1968!
His frames were ultra-rigid and half as heavy as the comparable Norton item; he typically discarded the lower frame rails, using the engine as a stressed member, and thinwall tubing of smaller diameter than considered prudent for a street machine. Still, hotshot riders can’t resist a road racer with lights, and a few Lyster-framed roadsters can be found in books on the café racer craze. 
The drive side of the Lynton, with single-plate diaphragm clutch a lá the Norton Commando (H+H photo)

Lyster’s frame output was low, but his impact on the industry was outsized. He developed the first triple-hydraulic disc braking systems for motorcycle racing teams in the mid-1960s, using specially adapted Ceriani road race forks and his own fabricated swingarms, with his own cast iron discs. Triple juice discs became a must-have item on winning road racers; Lyster began selling kits to the public in 1971.  After failing to interest the British motorcycle industry in his product, he sold his patents to AP Lockheed. Ironically, it was Honda who first used hydraulic discs on production motorcycles, in 1968. 
The halved Hillman motor, with Lynton's own DOHC, 8-valve cylinder head and geometric sump.  (From Cycle World)

Still, it was Lyster’s patent, and he changed motorcycling forever. By the mid-1960s, the British motorcycle industry had given up on Grand Prix racing, but enterprising builders hadn’t. Colin Lyster thought a reasonably-priced, competitive engine could be built from automotive parts, and he cut a water-cooled 1000cc Hillman Imp 4-cylinder car motor in half, and built a DOHC, 8-valve cylinder head for it. Interestingly, the Imp motor was designed by Leo Kuzmicki, the Polish ‘janitor’ who was ‘discovered’ by Joe Craig, race chief of Norton, as having been a research scientist in combustion theory before becoming a WW2 refugee. It was Kuzmicki who kept the Norton Manx engine competitive a decade after its sell-by date, extracting ever more power from the aging single-cylinder design. After leaving Norton, he moved to the Rootes Group, and designed the extremely reliable and very fast Imp motor. 

The chain-driven DOHC cylinder head, with central spark plugs and 4 valves per cylinder (Cycle World)

As reported in CycleWorld in July 1968, Lyster’s Imp-engined ‘Lynton’ racer was a collaboration with Paul Brothers, and used an ultralight Lyster full-cradle frame, with his own triple disc setup. The cylinder head is a chunk, and the side-draft Weber DCOE carb doesn’t inspire confidence that the watercooled engine is light. The builders claimed 60hp from the motor, which used a 180-degree crankshaft, a modified Hillman part, as were the rods. Slipper pistons from Mahle and cams by Tom Somerton painted a picture of speed, and the projected price of £300 undercut a Matchless G50 single-cylinder SOHC motor by £75. Orders were not forthcoming, though, as the project needed more development, and it remained yet another British ‘what if?’ 

1971 magazine ad for Colin Lyster's double-disc front brake kit

It seems only the prototype motorcycle was built, although Lynton offered a full four-cylinder version of its special cylinder head to Imp rally drivers; a few of these are floating around, including rumors on one cut in half for a motorcycle! Britain’s HandH Auctions have turned up the sole Lynton racing motorcycle, which was freshened up for sale on October 12 , 2016, but apparently went unsold. It’s an uncompromised beast with a pur sang pedigree, and a lot of near-forgotten stories surrounding its build. Colin Lyster moved to the USA in the early ‘70s, and worked with Canadian national champion road racer Ed Labelle to build Lyster-Labelle racers, using Triumph Bonneville motors in lowboy frames with triple discs. Only a few were built before Lyster moved on to New Zealand, where he carried on with other projects until his death in 2003.
A man full of ideas!  This wing was an air brake for a racing motorcycle!  It proved, as you can imagine, frighteningly destabilizing
A closeup of a Lyster front brake kit - note the similarity to the Lockheed system, as used later on Nortons
The cafe racers' dream; a Kennedy-Lyster, with a Norton Atlas motor in a Lyster frame, with a double-disc front end.  I reckon this is pre-1970...what a beauty! 

Subscribe here to by email!


Rhynchocephalian said...

Wonderful Paul! Its nice to see a bit about Colin Lyster, and well written at that. I've a LysterTriumph frame from the Ed LaBell/Lyster team up; Frame #5. The frame always blows my mind; you think its about so-so in weight and then when you go to pick it up, just about throw it through the ceiling! Always a fun thing to tell someone to 'pick that frame up..' to see their reaction!

Max Paganetti said...

Cool article share, love reading stuff like this. Thanks for the post!

Rhynchocephalian said...

Nice to see more info on Colin Lyster. You can't believe how light his frames are until you pick one up. I've frame #5 from the Ed LaBelle/Lyster teamup; frame and swing arm only though. Maybe someday I'll get it back into a running machine. Maybe even Velo Powered! Keep up the great writing.


Really interesting article . I had heard the name but did not know the
details . Such an elegant looking frame and neat disc brake set up contrast so well with the brutal functionality of the cylinder head . Great looking bike . Thank you for sharing .

rafe03 said...

Ah Paul, you do a great job of reactivating old rememberies! Back in
the late 60's (when a T20 was all I could afford) these were a bench racers
dream. Paul Dunstall had a light weight (sewer pipe) frame & twin disk
setup for sale as well.
Many a wasted hour in History class spent gazing off into the clouds &
thinking of Castrol R.
Thanks for keeping these heroic old pieces of history alive.

Hristo Yanev said...

Hi people,
Thank you so much for this wonderful article really!
If someone want to learn more about Dreamracer I think this is the right place for you!

Nopit Jjjj said...

I dont look image from this post. I think my browser is error.

Been riding a Wyle Now said...

Good Article..I am blessed to own both a Lyster Honda 450,and
a Lyster Triumph twin.Everyone marvels at the cross sectional
view of the swinging arms,almost a "D" looking profile.Compared
to even his contemporaries,Colin Lyster was a forward thinking
engineer for certain.I understood his later years in New Zealand
were spent designing offshore racing boat engines as v12's.Now,
that I'd like to have seen.A post in a forum down there related
that his widow burned all his design stuff-a shame if factual.