The Big Car Database

Britten Motorcycles

Britten Motorcycle Company is a Christchurch, New Zealand motorcycle manufacturer created by John Britten in 1992.

Website: Britten.co.nz

The Britten V1000 motorcycles were unusual for their heavy use of carbon fiber for the fairing, wheels and swingarm. Britten motorcycles had no chassis in the traditional sense. Instead, the engine behaved as a stressed member of the chassis and each end of the motorcycle was bolted to it.

John Kenton Britten (1 August 1950 – 5 September 1995) was a New Zealand mechanical engineer who designed a world-record-setting motorcycle with innovative features and materials.

Biography

John Britten was born to Bruce and Ruvae Britten at Christchurch at 10 minutes to midnight. His twin sister Marguerite was born just after midnight, so although they were twins they celebrated their birthdays on different dates. A dyslexic, he needed to have exam questions read to him at school and during his tertiary education, and his answers recorded by a writer, but that didn't stop him from developing into a remarkable engineer and architectural designer.

His childhood heroes were notable fellow New Zealanders, Richard Pearse (pioneer aviator), Bill Hamilton (father of the jet boat), Bruce McLaren (champion driver and founder of the McLaren Formula One Team), and Burt Munro (world record motorcycle speedster and subject of the film The World's Fastest Indian). In his own short lifetime, Britten was regularly and favourably compared with all of his heroes.

Britten completed a four-year mechanical engineering course at night school before joining ICI as a cadet draughtsman, giving him a wide range of work experience including mould design, pattern design, metal spinning and various mechanical engineering designs.

Britten travelled to England where he worked for four months with Sir Alexander Gibb & Partners on a highway design linking the M1 motorway to the M4 motorway.

Back in New Zealand he was design engineer for Rowe Engineering, designing off-road equipment and heavy machinery. In 1976, he built glass kilns and went into business as a fine artist designing and making hand-made glass lighting, later joining the family property management and development business.

Britten designed

Britten worked on motorcycle design for some years, developing innovative methods using composite materials and performance engine designs. He created the Britten Motorcycle Company in 1992 to produce revolutionary machines to his own design made of light materials and using engines he built himself, which became famous around the world.

His Britten motorcycles won races and set numerous speed records on the international circuits, and astounded the motorcycle world in 1991 when they came a remarkable second and third against the factory machines in the Battle of the Twins at Daytona, United States of America.

One of Britten's radical motorcycles is on permanent display at the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, in Wellington, New Zealand. 

Death

Diagnosed with an inoperable skin cancer related illness, he died on 5 September 1995 just over a month after his forty-fifth birthday. His funeral at Christchurch Cathedral was attended by over one thousand mourners and he was widely mourned throughout New Zealand.

Motorcycle

The Britten V1000 and Britten V1100 are rare machines with only 10 plus 1 prototype having been constructed.

Highlights include:

  • Carbon fibre body work including rims, front suspension fork and swingarm
  • Hand cast, 4 valves per head alloy engine
  • Frame-less chassis with engine acting as a stressed member
  • Radiator located under the riders seat
  • Carbon fibre fasteners (joining bodywork together)
  • Rear suspension shock located in front of engine
  • Engine data logging

Non-Britten Components:

  • Tires
  • Brakes
  • Steel cylinder liners
  • Gearbox (sourced from a Suzuki)
  • Suspension shocks
  • Various electrical components

The AERO Series of Bikes

The AERO

Thie bike started out as a styling project featuring an extended aerodynamic front with spoilers and avant garde bodywork. The design was a sleek asthetic shape conforming to the riders body.

Two bikes were constructed from this mould, the first for friend Mike Brosnan and the second as a BEARS race bike for John himself.

Construction of the body shell began in 1985, John Britten sculpting the plug from a block of polystyrene and car body filler. The plug and mould were completed with the help of Bob Brookland, Mike Brosnan and Nick Edwards.

AERO-D-Zero

The first bike, later named Aero-D-Zero, was built around a steel trellis frame and bevel drive Ducati motor of Mike Brosnan in 1985. It was converted into a BEARS race bike by Mike and successfully campaigned in early BEARS events in New Zealand. The bike was first run in the March 1987 BEARS speed trial, clocking 234.02 kph (145.41mph). It latter won the 1988 and 1990 speed trials with speeds of 242.72 kph (150.82 mph) and 247.80kph (153.98mph) respectively.

Interestingly the front handle bar winglets were found to cause a disconcerting lean at high speed and were clipped during these trials.

The bike featured a petrol fuelled Ducati Darmah bevel drive motor with Imola cams, big valves, standard rods and crank, and in its final spec ran Lectron flat slides. The chassis used Ceriani forks, a steel trellis frame very similar to a modern Ducati and a fabricated aluminium swing arm activating a Koni shock. Magnesium wheels by Morris and Campagnola, Brembo master cylinders, AP Lockheed front calipers, Fontana rear caliper completed the kit.

The initial bodywork incorporated lights, indicators and switch gear but the bike was never road registered. This bike has been recently restored by Mike and is in running condition.

AERO-D-One

After producing the first prototype John took the AERO bodywork and developed a monocoque version, the bike being named Aero-D-One, the first bike subsequently becoming known as Aero-D -Zero.

Initial thoughts were to develop a four valve cylinder head for a bevel drive Ducati motor to power the chassis. A local company, Denco Engineering, with a background in speedway motors was approached in 1986 to determine whether this was feasible. The resulting prototype Denco engine, a V-Twin based on a speedway design of Bob Denson and Rob Selby, was rolled out in 1987.

A composite monocoque chassis was constructed inside the AERO body shell, the new design having a fabricated aluminium swing arm mounted directly to the engine gearbox assembly. An under-slung White Power push-shock arrangement completed the rear suspension. The body bolted directly to the heads and swing arm pivot, the steering head being bonded directly into the composite bodywork. The influence of top GP motorcycle technician Mike Sinclair, also of Christchurch, can be seen in the chassis and its GP specification componentry: White Power forks and mono shock, AP Lockheed brakes and Marvic magnesium wheels.     

The monocoque was constructed in unidirectional carbon-fibre, kevlar cloth and high density closed cell foam and incorporated an integral fuel tank and internal ducting for engine cooling. The mould was made up of 26 separate sections with the finished monocoque weighing in at 12kg. This was attached by inserts to the cylinder heads and swing arm pivot making the engine semi-stressed.

The bike was put together under the guidance of mechanic Allan Wylie and was first ridden in 1987 and ceremoniously dropped by John attempting to turn around in Carlyle street outside the present Britten Factory.

Initially the bike had many problems not the least being the inaccessibility of the monocoque design - the bike had to be split in two to access the motor. The bike was first raced at a local BEARS meeting in March 1987. The motor had plenty of torque, enough to make it a handful, but would not rev freely.

The heads from this motor were subsequently sent to Jerry Branch in California who made valuable suggestions on their redesign. New heads featuring straightened inlet ports and a new cylinder design were constructed, the rear head being turned around so both carburettors faced the rear. Bore and valve sizes were altered to produce a freer revving motor.     

  • Engine: Air cooled, 60 degree V-twin four stroke. Belt driven DOHC, four valves per cylinder. Compression ratio 13.5:1 on methanol fuel. Unit construction cases with dry sump.
  • Capacity 999cc. initially 87x84mm, finally 94x72mm 
  • Output claimed 120bhp at 9000rpm 
  • Carburation modified 40mm Amal Mk2 smoothbore 
  • Clutch wet multi plate 
  • Gearbox 5-speed XJ 650 gearbox, removable 
  • Ignition Phelan chainsaw magneto ignition 
  • Chassis: Kevlar/carbon composite monocoque with semi stressed engine. 18" Marvic front and rear wheels.
  • Steering 25.5 deg head angle, adjustable trail. 
  • Suspension front: White Power upside-down 54mm forks rear: White Power monoshock mounted under engine 
  • Brakes front: 315mm rotor with Lockheed four piston caliper rear: 250mm rotor and two piston caliper. 
  • Wheel Base 1425mm Weight: 130kg 

The new Denco motor made more top-end power and was much more tractable. It was also more reliable after initial problems with oil supply systems had been sorted out. The result was a very quick bike, Kiwi international rider Gary Goodfellow going very close to breaking the lap record at the local Christchurch track, Ruapuna. Gary also raced the bike in the 1988 Dunedin street races winning two and crashing out of the third race with a seized gearbox. This MarkII bike won the 1987 BEARS speed trial clocking a speed of 238.52 kph (148.21mph).

The bike was retired from racing after breaking a gudgeon pin at the 1988 Sound of Thunder Meeting. It currently resides in the basement of the BMC factory awaiting restoration.

Race Results

1999

March 99 Sound of Thunder Daytona 1st

1998

Nov 98 NZRRS
Round 2

Levels, Timaru

1st Both Races

Nov 98 NZRRS

Round 3

Ruapuna, Christchurch

1st

Nov 98 NZ Grand Prix Ruapuna, Christchurch 1st
Festival of Ducati Oschersleben 1st

Japan Battle of the Twins

Round 16

Tsukuba, Japan 4th
AHRMA Sound of Thunder Daytona 1st

1997

AHRMA Battle of the Twins - Open

Race 1

Race 2

Mid Ohio

Mid Ohio

1st

1st

AHRMA Sound of Thunder

Race 1

Race 2

Mid Ohio

Mid Ohio

1st

1st

NZ National Superbike Championship 96/97 Season - 1st Overall

NZ Grand Prix

Round 3

Round 4

Ruapuna

Ruapuna

Teretonga

3rd

1st & 3rd

2nd

Sound of Thunder World Series

Round 1

Daytona 1st & 2nd
AHRMA Battle of the Twins Daytona 1st
Bears National Final Race Ruapuna 1st

1996

Wanganui Cemetery Circuit

NZ Battle of the Street

Robert Holden Memorial

 

1st

1st

BEARS World Championship

Round 1 Round 5

DaytonaAssen 1st1st
Austrailian National Bears Round
(World Superbike Final Support Class)
Philip Island 1st
Bears Sound of Thunder Ruapuna 1st
AHRMA Battle of the Twins Daytona 1st

NZ National Superbike Championship - 1st Overall

Round 1 Round 2 - NZ Grand Prix Title

Round 3

Round 4

Manfield

Pukekohe

Ruapuna

Teretonga

3rd

2nd

1st, lap record

1st, lap record

1995

European Pro Twins Assen 1st

BEARS World Championship - 1st & 2nd Overall

Round 1 Round 2

Round 3

Round 4

Round 5

Round 6

Daytona

Monza

Thruxton

Zeltweg

Brands Hatch

Assen

1st

2nd

1st

1st

1st

1st

Battle of the Twins Daytona 2nd & 3rd
NZ Battle of the Streets Paeroa 1st

 

 

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