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Dresda Solitaire
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Back in the 1980s, Dave Degens turbo-charged a Yamaha XJ550 engine and slotted it into his very own Dresda chassis. Paul Miles now wonders if this is the World’s Ugliest Bike...

To my simple mind, bikes fall into three distinct categories. Beautiful, like the Moto Guzzi 750S3, Commando Roadster and Vincent Black Shadow. Tough: like the Kawasaki Z1, Münch Mammoth and Honda CBX1000. Ugly: like the Honda Deauville, and any scooter.

Last summer I saw, lurking at the back of the showroom as you would expect, possibly the world’s ugliest bike (WUB). I was in the process of buying the MV ‘money pit special’ (a surprising number of these particular models are still out there, so keep looking), but even then I felt compelled to take a couple of photos of this ghastly thing. I asked the dealer what it was, and he told me ‘oh, it’s a Dresda Turbo thing, quite famous I understand.’

Aaaargh! 1981 Dresda Solitaire

Now, when I was a lad growing up in Wandsworth, nearby Dresda Autos was a Mecca for the teenage rider as they made some mighty fine specials. I even worked there for a summer, aged seventeen, and was sore amazed by the bikes I saw (and then cleaned). Ex-racer Dave Degens made up his own frames to tame the wild handling of some of the best Japanese motors out there; GT750, CB750, and of course, Z1. He’d apparently done this with something called Triumphs as well back in the olden days but had finally seen the light.

All this was fine and good, but what does it have to do with WUB?

By the early 1980s, motorcycling was fast approaching another major crossroads. We had all grown up watching Star Wars movies and Tron, and had never seen the wild bunch or sleazy rider, or fought with Teddy bears on Brighton beach, and so wanted our bikes to be ‘new’ technology too. Old Honda SOHC lumps in a featherbed copy didn’t cut the 1980’s moutarde any longer: we wanted space age stuff.

Degens, who remains an innovative genius, re-invented his frame and body kit designs and unveiled to the unsuspecting public....The Solitaire.

Now solitaire might well be the only game in town, and this is quite possibly the only one he built! I understand that it was made as a showcase in order to display his wares and skills at various shows and exhibitions. The thought process may have gone something like this:

Dresda stuff on

‘Hmm, usually my frames are featherbed style, but that’s not very high-tech these days, so I’ll make it a perimeter design wrapping round the motor, similar to those young upstarts, the Harris boys. Now the engine, it has to be a new-fangled design , I know, a Yamaha XJ550, it should be light, compact and powerful, I’ll use that. But, we need to be perceived as a high tech company so I’ll turbo-charge it as well. Finally, I’ll dress it with some conceptual bodywork designed on my Etch-A-Sketch, and come up with extremely high quality, but outstanding ugly bodywork. Behold my masterpiece. I shall name it Solitaire because it’s like a diamond, sparkly, expensive, and multi-facetted.’

It doesn't get any better.... 1981 Dresda Solitaire

It is indeed outstandingly ugly, especially when finished in a sort of yellowed white paint with stick-on red pinstripes trying to cover the scratches and dents. That fairing, with its twin headlights, looked like Marvin the paranoid android. Jeepers, nobody would ever buy that, surely. However, dear reader, I was intrigued at the prospect of reviving it, but dismissed it as foolishness.

So obviously a month later I bought it and eventually put it up on the bench. To my amazement it started and seemed to run perfectly well, and all the ancillaries worked, apart from the starter button which sensibly had run away and hidden. So I took off the bodywork, a pleasant task, to reveal the ugly old bird in all her glory. The frame design and welding quality is beautiful, and all the bracketry and metal fabrication was of the highest order. The wheels and forks are standard Yamaha and the rear suspension is by Marzocchi, no less. In fact, with no bodywork fitted it’s really quite impressive.

Full marks for the frame welding, but nill points for the gearchange pedal and those huge footrest plates. Dresda Solitaire showing Turbo

So what to do? I’d thought about fitting a single seat, ’cos solitaire is a singular pursuit, and updating the rest of it somewhat, but after much soul-searching decided that it is what it is, a child of the brave new world of motorcycling, all angles and unrefined technology.

I despatched the bodywork off to be painted, having first used my imagination and then shamelessly copied the design from a Guzzi Scura, shiny black with a red stripe. The bike is very angular and straight lines would work better, I reasoned. While the paint was being applied I fully fettled the bike, getting it ready for the road. I expected this to be a massive task as the bike had been unused for a while, and specials are notorious for bodgery and the cutting of corners. The battery was fully charged, and... err... that’s all that was required. The rest was perfect. Hmm. Oh, and I stuck in a new starter button, a 50p job that took two hours as the switchgear has to be dismantled using the skill of a neurosurgeon.

Looking better already. Dresda Solitaire without bodywork

Eventually, the paintwork was ready, and why does ‘two weeks’ in bodyshop speak actually mean three months? So I fitted the seat, tank and side panels, and paused to reflect. It really looked quite good. So I took a quick snap and posted it on the excellent RC site and asked for opinions on whether or not I should fit the fairing. The answer was a resounding vote for no fairing. I had a spare headlight from a previous project and fitted it, along with some period style winkers and -- viola (as we dyslexics like to write for dramatic effect) -- it was finished.

...And from the other side... Dresda Solitaire without bodywork

So what’ll it do, mister? Well, it’s a Dresda, and therefore follows the rules of all such devices. Because it’s about 20% stiffer than a standard frame, and the bike is about 20% lighter overall, the standard suspension and brakes have a much easier time of it, so braking, steering, and handling are absolutely superb . It starts easily, and makes that strange ‘hosepipe in a dustbin’ noise that lusty turbo bikes seem to make. The gearing is very high, and needs a lot of clutch slip to pull away, but once rolling is smooth and very fast. It feels like you’re being pulled forward by a giant rubber band; sloow at first then realllyquickly! The early turbo-charged bikes invariably suffered from lag, and this one seems to have it very low down in the rev range, but once over 3000rpm it really flies -- for a 1981 bike, that is.

...with a proper headlight and the all important Turbo badge. Dresda Solitaire without bodywork

It pulls around 60mph in first gear, and I would imagine that someone might possibly see around 130mph on a deserted stretch of, say, the M3, achieved very easily, with more to come. A pumper carb and lower gearing would make it a jet around town, even if you lost a little of the theoretical top speed. But this bike was made in the days when top speed was all important, remember.

Best of all, though, are the ‘experts’ who approach when you’ve parked up. ‘Yamaha is it?’ Not exactly, no. ‘Harris?’ No. ‘Oh yeah, it’s a XJ650 turbo innit’ NO!

Lovers of old bikes admire the quality of the work, and when told it’s a Dresda, nod wisely and talk about Tritons, whatever they are. Later, we ride away singing ‘...and Solitaire’s the only bike in town, and every road that takes him, takes him down...’ and it does, nicely.

So, back to the categories. Is it still the World’s Ugliest Bike? No, I now think it’s moved into the ‘Tough’ category, a fast turbo motor into a hand-made frame built by a legend, and as far as I know the only example in existence, and a naked bike at that. I love it. The irony is, of course, that Degens now makes his money building Tritons again, whatever they are. Without turbos.

So, now the Dresda has been upgraded from ugly to tough, what is the World’s Ugliest Bike? Easy, an Indian Enfield!

World's Ugliest bike with World's Heaviest Bike? Dresda Solitaire and Harley XLCR


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