Boutique British motorcycle company defines ultra-bespoke
Langen Motorcycles founder Chris Ratcliffe tells us all about what makes this company stand a class apart from everyone else
The new Lightspeed from boutique British brand Langen Motorcycles is a statement piece. Whereas the company’s debut model, The Two Stroke, is a contemporary homage to the 1980s and 90s heyday of 250cc racers, the Lightspeed is a road monster with an 1190cc engine offering 1000bhp per tonne.
It’s a confident move demonstrating an uncommon breadth of ability for such a new company. Most emerging players in the market would simply offer a variant of the model that’s established them and created a dedicated, club-like following.In his easy, Manc-coloured accent, Langen Motorcycles founder Chris Ratcliffe makes it sound very simple. “I spent a lot of years on a Yamaha V-Max,” he says. “I’ve still got it, and I love it, but I wanted something much lighter, more powerful and better-looking, and with handling good enough for Alpine passes to the Nurburgring. So we set about designing and engineering that bike.”
The V-Max wouldn’t sit happily alongside the Two Stroke but the Lightspeed does, in spite of its muscle. The Two Stroke defined the Langen brand, and the Lightspeed adheres to the same ground rules. It’s ultra-light – the key to superlative handling. Langen engineers targeted a saving of 30-40kg over Ducati’s market-leading Diavel, with extensive use of carbon fibre and CNC machining, and it has a one-to-one bhp-to-kg ratio. Like the Two Stroke it’s simple wherever possible. And also like its stablemate it’s unique from the ground up and hand-built to commissions only.
LANGEN MOTORCYCLES: A BRITISH ORIGINAL
The brand Ratcliffe’s created is a British original: a fusion of great British design, engineering, innovation and traditional craftsmanship, with a team gathered from proven specialist British manufacturers including Triumph, McLaren and track-car icon BAC. And Langen may well be the world’s only company building bespoke motorcycles of its own design – Bentley and Lamborghini both now offer a branded bike, but even at this most rarefied end of the market the bikes are reworkings of the Italian Diavel. Langen also claims to have the highest British components content of any automotive manufacturer.
But while Ratcliffe likes to take revered classics and industry benchmarks and improve on them, he isn’t afraid to form partnerships to access the best technology from elsewhere. The Two Stroke’s 250cc engine is a tailored version of that developed for the Vins Duecinquanta, a road racer produced in Maranello, home to Ferrari and its ecosystem of technology providers. If that means the Two Stroke is unashamedly a Manchester-Maranello mash-up, like the Gallagher brothers in a Ferrari, then it’s an endearing USP. And the engine won’t be found in anything other than these two Manc-Maranello cousins.
IT’S ALL IN THE DETAIL
That simplicity characterising the Two Stroke and the Lightspeed is achieved through a microscopic focus on optimising the performance of every single component. It’s detail engineering. As an engineer Ratcliffe is rightly proud of that, but he’s also a designer, and the form-meets-function part of him is clear when you set eyes on the bikes. They’re two-wheel Ariel Atoms rather than McLarens – their structure is proudly exposed, not just to reveal carbon fibre elements but to show off the frames. It projects a sense of authenticity and hand-made integrity, enhanced by the visible welds. The frame also exposes key componentry – the automotive equivalent of a skeleton watch.
If you’re close enough to see those welds you’ll also appreciate the purely aesthetic detail, especially the historic references. The Two Stroke’s traditional round headlamp features a hand-gilded bezel and the Dunlop rubber has the same tread as the first bike to lap the TT circuit at 100mph, while the seat leather patterning and stitching take their cues from classic Belstaff bikers’ jackets.
ULTRA-BESPOKE: ERGONOMICS MAKES IT REALLY PERSONAL
Bespoking a product is becoming a defining quality in ultra-luxury cars and motorcycles. Usually this means surface paint colours and trims – Langen can also change the metals and anodising – with the possibility of colour-matching a product to a customer’s favourite possession, like a jewellery item. But whereas a car is likely to be matched to a smaller and less valuable item, with a bike the opposite can apply: Langen is finding that some customers are matching bikes to a cherished car, perhaps in race livery. The bike becomes an accessory – albeit one which may be more usable than its garage twin.
But for Ratcliffe bespoke specifications are perhaps more about the performance, and especially the ergonomics. “Hand-building to commissions means that we can change engine and suspension characteristics. But we can also alter the bike to accommodate different sizes and shapes of rider. Performance bikes are visceral and how a person rides them is very individual. It’s important that anyone can feel completely at one with our products.”
The introduction of the Lightspeed alongside the Two Stroke has created white space for Langen and its customers to colour in as they choose. These two models may be (rightly) limited in numbers but the opportunity for creating ultra-bespoke motorcycles just got a lot bigger.