Thirty Years with a Rickman Z900: From 1/4-mile sprinter to cafe racer…
Rickman Motorcycles, founded by brothers Derek and Don Rickman — both AMA Hall-of-Famers — is possibly the world’s best-known name in motorcycle frames. They cut their teeth building innovative off-road frame kits for desert racing and scrambles, incorporating nickel-plated tubing and oil-in-frame designs, becoming the favored chassis of legends like Steve McQueen and Bud Ekins. They then progressed into road racing, and by the 1970s, they were selling chassis kits for Japanese superbikes like the Honda CB750, Suzuki GS1000, and the mighty Kawasaki Z series.
Enter Paul Gandy, a Sussex, UK native who’s been riding and wrenching on motorcycles for nearly 50 years:
“Never happier than when I’ve got spanners in my hand.”
His first custom was a ’65 Honda Super Cub with motocross bars, solo seat, and a front guard — well ahead of its time! The bike you see here is an ’82 Rickman frame with a mid-70s Z900 engine, which Paul bought in 1990. What followed is a 30-year saga of iteration, performance, and fun.
“In the mid 1990’s I took up 1/4 mile sprinting and as a result the bike evolved — engine, and chassis mods, various paint schemes etc.”
The bike ran a 10.8 quarter mile in the late 90s. Around 2000, Paul retired the Rickman from drag racing and rebuilt the bike into the form you see here, a big air-cooled inline four cafe racer that was years ahead of the current cafe craze:
“I’ve always liked the traditional cafe racer look, right back to the when I built a stripped-back Yamaha RD350 back in the early ‘80s. In particular the minimalist ‘see-through’ frame look.”
In current trim, the bike has a 1075cc Wiseco piston, Yoshimura stage one cams, welded crank, programmable ignition, hydraulic clutch conversion, Mikuni TM33 carbs, Dresda swing-arm, Astralite wheels, and much more — an air/oil-cooled 110-bhp superbike that would have the leather-clad rockers and ton-up boys of the 1950s Ace Cafe begging for a go:
“As an overtaking bike, it’s up there with the best, despite being geared up to take advantage of the additional power (geared for about 155 on top) — it really doesn’t matter which gear you use when you wind it on.”
Below, we get more details on Paul Gandy’s Rickman Zed from the man himself.
Rickman Z900 Cafe Racer: Builder Interview
• Please tell us a bit about yourself, your history with motorcycles, and your workshop.
I’ve been playing and riding motorcycles for nearly 50 years. Never happier than when I’ve got spanners in my hand.
Owned ridden and worked on all types, but really a Jap bike person.
My first modified bike was a 1965 Honda Super Cub that I “improved” with motocross bars, “laydown” shocks, single seat, and alloy front guard. That was in the early 1970’s so I was ahead of my time!
This Rickman was my second — the other had a Honda 750 engine and was completely standard, but once I had the big Zed version the slow old Honda had to go…I bought the current bike in 1990.
• What’s the make, model, and year of the bike?
This is a Kawasaki Z900 engine of c. 1975 in a late Rickman CR frame made in 1982. The bike was first registered in 1984.
• Why was this bike built?
When purchased in 1990 the bike was very rough. It was in initially tidied up and made roadworthy and used as was. That included riding it down to Lisbon, Portugal, where I kept it for a year while I was working there.
In the mid 1990’s I took up 1/4 mile sprinting and as a result the bike evolved — engine, and chassis mods, various paint schemes etc.
I “retired” it from sprinting in about 2000 and subsequently have completely rebuilt the running gear into its current form.
• What was the design concept and what influenced the build?
I’ve always liked the traditional cafe racer look, right back to the when I built a stripped-back Yamaha RD350 back in the early ‘80s. In particular the minimalist “see-through” frame look.
The paint was loosely styled on Eddie Lawson’s AMA superbike and in fact at times this does run with raised handlebars and a small fairing.
• What custom work was done to the bike?
Where to start…this is a 30 year build programme — and after many changes the current state of play is:
Wiseco 1075 cc on 10.5:1 compression
Yoshimura stage one cams with heavy duty valve springs
Gas flowed head
Dyna 2000 programmable ignition
Vance and Hines Pro-pipe exhaust
APE manual cam chain tensioner and race cam chain
PMFR billet clutch
EBS clutch springs with a needle roller clutch pusher
Hydraulic clutch conversion using Falk slave cylinder on a billet PMFR support instead of sprocket cover, and zxr master cylinder
3/8” offset gearbox sprocket and 530 chain conversion
Mikuni TM33 flat slide carburettors
Oil cooler and oversize engine breathers
One off wiring harness
Chassis and bodywork
Frame has been de-lugged and re-nickel plated.
Dresda one off swing arm with additional 1 1/2” and extended adjustment range
“Short” tank and single seat combo have the decal recesses filled and are painted in Eddie Lawson (sort of) homage colours
Laverda Jota style adjustable ace bars, clip-ons or flat bars depending on my mood
Electrics relocated to allow “see though” look
Astralite wheels – 18” front and rear with radial tyres – 120 front and 150 rear
Front and rear wheel bearing carriers and spacers all machined by myself
B&C one off rear sprocket
Standard Rickman Lockheed front brakes with GSXR master cylinder
ZXR 400 rear calliper
Hagon rear shocks
Rev counter is a ‘80s Scitsu, electronic analogue position front and centre, the Koso speedo combines fuel gauge (necessary with a 13 litre tank) and the idiot lights
• Does the bike have a nickname?
• Can you tell us what it’s like to ride this bike?
It’s surprisingly compact and light (bearing in mind the weight of that old Z lump), the torque is exceptional and the motor pulls hard from 2000 to 10,500 rpm (any more and this engine will spit out its valve adjustment shims as it’s still a “shims over” standard head).
The exhaust note is awesome…
Turn in is a bit slow compared with the sportbikes of the last 20 years, but it’s mega stable. The Betor forks are basic but aren’t too bad and the Hagon rear shocks are pretty good.
Riding position is pretty sensible (especially compared with my Kawa 250 and 400 sports bikes) and I still do 100 mile runs on it without discomfort.
It makes about 110 bhp at the rear wheel which by 2020 standards may not sound massive, but it’s all about the way power is delivered and I ran a 10.8 quarter on the bike in the late ‘90s before it gained the current ignition, carb and exhaust set up. As an overtaking bike, it’s up there with the best, despite being geared up to take advantage of the additional power (geared for about 155 in top) — it really doesn’t mater which gear you use when you wind it on.
• Was there anything done during this build that you are particularly proud of
The style — it was ahead of its time when I built it — way before the current cafe race craze.
It’s very reliable and usable — in 30 years it’s only ever failed to get me home once when it threw a bearing on a wheel I had fitted temporarily.
Last build was a Kawasaki ZXR400 track day bike. Next project is a Kawasaki 1999 ZX9R. Now where is the tool box.