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Rickman Metisse Desert Racer
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Steve McQueen’s Rickman Metisse desert racer is one of the most iconic classic bikes of all time. Now Rickman-Metisse have created a faithful, limited-edition reproduction which will appear at Motorcycle World for the first time in July...

Métisse Motorcycle’s have just announced the next exciting addition to a product range which spans the company’s 48 year history. A happy few Triumph enthusiasts will soon be able to buy a replica of one of the most famous dirt bikes of the 1960s -- the Rickman-Métisse Desert Racer, as originally designed and built by Steve McQueen for serious competition use. The company have faithfully reproduced McQueen’s machine and the limited-edition machines are available to order now.

They don't make 'em like that any more. Oh... 2008 Rickman Metisse Desert Racer

Each Desert Racer will be authentically hand built by Métisse Motorcycles in the UK. The replica is fully endorsed by Steve McQueen’s family, and features his signature on each one of these exact replicas.

A limited number of 300 machines will be built, complete with official certificate of authenticity from the firm which made the original possible all those years ago. The company tell us that bikes are identical to the one that McQueen built and rode back in the 1960s. The Desert Racer Replicas offer a unique way to experience a competition motorcycle designed and built by a Hollywood hero who also happened to be a seriously competent off-road rider and an ISDT competitor.

McQueen was part of the American team which competed in the ISDT held in East Germany in 1964. The team was doing brilliantly until Bud Ekins broke his ankle. McQueen then came a cropper in the same place, and was only able to complete the trial by ‘adjusting’ his damaged exhaust system with the aid of an axe…

McQueen with his original Rickman Metisse

In 1966, McQueen explained why he liked his Rickman-Metisse machine so much in an interview with Popular Science magazine. McQueen opted to fit a Triumph twin engine to his favourite motorcycle; ‘I used a 650cc Triumph engine as a power plant for this bike. The drive train and gearbox are also Triumph. I prefer the big four-stroke engine, but on a light bike.

‘The best way I've found to get this combination is with a bike I put together with the assistance of the Ekins* brothers in our valley shop. I used a Rickman-Metisse frame -- a revolutionary piece of equipment that does away with the oil tank. The oil circulates through the tubes of the frame, which keeps it cool. That's especially important when you're racing or driving under hard conditions. It helps to avoid breakdowns and should make piston seizures quite rare.’

McQueen fitted Ceriani forks with 7.5-inches of travel ‘for a real smooth ride’, and BSA yokes which he believed were the strongest around at the time. ‘It's real important for me because I've hit bumps so hard sometimes that I've actually bent the handlebars’ said McQueen. Told you: he rode it like he meant it.

'I've hit bumps so hard sometimes that I've actually bent the handlebars’ McQueen in action with his original Rickman Metisse

‘The fibreglass fenders and tank hold the weight down to a notch under 300lb (136kg). You can build a rig just like it by ordering the frame from the Rickman-Metisse distributors in England. The frame costs $400 and you can scrounge any other components you need to complete the bike from junkyards. You should be able to put together a real first-class bike for a very modest sum - and that makes plenty of sense.’

Ah. Well. It’ll cost you a little more than that today… Yet despite the cost of McQueen’s machine being extremely modest, he was delighted with its all-round performance. ‘This rig is the best-handling bike I've ever owned. And the power - it's like supersonic!’

Steve McQueen stuff on

The 2008 replicas of the McQueen desert racer are ready to order now. The 2008 bikes use a fully reconditioned Triumph TR6 engine from the correct era, complete with a single Amal carb, and the machines are faithfully constructed to encompass the ideals employed by Steve McQueen all those years ago. So the footrests are made to his original design while the front end uses 35mm Ceriani forks, with the all-important seven-plus inches of travel to soften the effects of riding fast on rough ground. The yokes once again come from BSA to relocate the handlebar position behind the steering stem for better handling.

They *do* make 'em like that any more. 2008 Rickman Metisse Desert Racer

Steve McQueen described this bike as ‘being years ahead of its time.’ The 2008 Desert Racer faithfully adopts a MKIII chrome-moly, nickel-plated, oil-in-frame chassis with chromed steel wheel rims, period styled chromed exhausts, scramble rear tyre, trials front tyre, Amal competition levers and twist grip. A period Triumph front hub with BSA rear along with an authentic colour coded tank, seat and panels complete the specification.

This bike will make its first public appearance at Motorcycle World at Beaulieu, near Southampton, on 5th and 6th July 2008. So… are you tempted to put down a deposit on one?


More Info:

  • Metisse Motorcycles:
  • Beaulieu Motorcycle World:


    *Yes, it was Bud Ekins who was filmed doing the big leap in the Great Escape, but not because McQueen couldn’t handle the stunt. SMcQ’s riding skills were more than up to the job but the film’s insurers couldn’t take the strain…

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