Death Machines

AIRFORCE 1

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Built in memory of Moto Guzzi’s founder - a pilot - the latest creation from Death Machines of London is a lesson in aircraft-quality aluminium

Moto Guzzi is a legendary brand. The oldest European manufacturer in continuous production, they’ve been building bikes in Mandello del Lario, Italy since 1921, dominated racing in the 1950s, and were technological pioneers. The company was the idea of Carlo Guzzi, Giovanni Ravelli and Giorgio Parodi – two pilots and a mechanic who served together in WW1 and shared a passion for motorcycles. Ravelli was killed in a plane crash in 1919, before the company officially formed, and the eagle in Guzzi’s logo is a tribute to the fighter ace. Now Ravelli is remembered again in Airforce: the latest bike by Death Machines of London.

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What’s the concept behind Airforce?

Giovanni Ravelli was a decorated pilot and successful bike racer, as well as one of the men behind Guzzi. So the bike is designed in memory of him, inspired by one of his biplanes and futurist movies of the time. From the hand-formed body to the aviation-inspired chassis and wheels, his influence has shaped Airforce. Each decision began with ‘what would Giovanni do?’

Which Guzzi did you choose as a base?

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The donor is a 1982 Le Mans Mk2. Discovered in a yard in Italy, it had been involved in an argument with a truck then left outside, quietly corroding in the sun and salty air. Despite its condition the potential was obvious. The 844cc V-twin engine was found to be in remarkable condition. An inspection found no major problems, so it was vapour blasted and reassembled with new bearings, seals and gaskets. The cylinder heads were refreshed and gas flowed, and fuel is delivered through a pair of modified 36mm pumper Dell’Orto carburettors. The motor is completed with velocity stack inlets and open slash-cut pipes.

What about the frame?

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Guzzi’s legendary ‘Tonti’ frame works. They handle well and follow any line you pick; however, our ‘what would Giovanni do?’ approach meant we worked on the frame in the spirit of those pioneering times. As well as de-lugging and subframe mods, a custom in-house headstock was made to increase the rake by three degrees. The swingarm was swapped for a heavily-modified Guzzi California swinger, which is braced and operates a bespoke monoshock from Hagon.

That front doesn’t look standard either...

The fork is from an Aprilia RS250, highly modified, re-valved and refinished. Wheels used modified California hubs laced to 21 x 3in aluminium rims, with the rear using hand-spun aluminium covers. The frame and front wheel are coated in custom ‘Airforce Grey’, mixed specifically for this project. Tyres are period Firestone, and braking is by a pair of four-pot Brembo one-piece calipers, operated remotely via a cable to a Brembo RCS master cylinder. We designed and built the 300mm brake rotors in-house in steel.

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What about the other bespoke details?

All controls on Airforce are custom-made: clip-on ’bars, grips and throttle have all been fabricated in house. The bike also features our first set of completely custom levers, the inverse Lever Type IN01. Precision machined from aviation-grade aluminium, they’ll soon be available to buy. Footpegs and controls work on a modified Stucchi gear linkage. An M-Unit and custom loom control the electric functions. A single Xenon projector light gives both high and low beam, and the LED rear is housed in our custom cluster. The speedometer has adjustable illumination and is etched in nickel silver and brass. They didn’t have electric guitars and amps in Giovanni’s day but we like to think he’d be into his Foo Fighters, so ignition is by a ¼ inch guitar jack with a built-in immobiliser.

That bodywork is glorious…

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It had to say one thing: speed. Beaten and welded by the hand of our master craftsman, all the panels were built using the classic buck technique, where a wood skeleton is wrapped in aluminium. It’s something Giovanni would’ve appreciated. This process, for obvious reasons, leaves some imperfections – tiny hammer dents, small weld holes and the like. These are usually covered with filler and paint, but we chose to leave the metal raw with a simple brushed finish. It’s reminiscent of the WW1 fighter that was our inspiration. The fairing slots into the the fuel tank, creating uninterrupted lines. The lower concave curve of the tank is mirror polished to reflect the highgloss paint inside the fairing – the only part of the body that’s given this treatment – and the belly pan is double-skinned, and houses the exhausts. An Italian leather seat has a hand-stitched pattern based on air-flow, to enhance the impression of movement.

You’ve got to be happy with the result, right?

We’re about the imaginative application of art and engineering to create beautiful, bespoke machinery. Airforce was built in 112 days, just in time for Bike Shed 2017, but we waited to tell everyone about it because it needed to be better. There were parts we could’ve left alone without anyone noticing – except we’d noticed. It would’ve been far easier to not remake the belly pan, for example, or to not entirely re-engineer the levers. But we had to. Giovanni would approve...

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