True to Form: Le Motographe builds a race-spec custom rally bike…
The founders of France’s Le Motographe, Jérôme Mawois and Yvan Bertona, may have backgrounds as a product designer and metallurgist, respectively, but the pair of them have been passionate about all kinds of motorcycles — particularly off-road bikes — since their boyhood days.
We first came across their work when we featured their Yamaha WR450 F “Skeleton” and “Skeleton 2” builds, street-legal enduro machines that were not only radical from a design standpoint, but had performance to match their looks. In fact, we got to see them race the EVO2 bike in three different categories at the 2019 Wheels & Waves event in France, including a drag race on a closed road (Punk’s Peak), an enduro race (Deus Swank Rally), and a flat track race (El Rollo), where Yvan put the Skeleton on the third step of the podium.
Now the Le Motographe boys are back with the next evolution of their vision, and what a machine it is. The project came about shortly in the wake of Wheels & Waves 2019, when a customer approached them with a dream: a true, race-capable rally bike based on the Skeleton:
“The specifications were clear: a motorcycle equipped as a real rally raid machine, with a look inspired by our Skeletons, and keeping slim lines.”
The idea was not to build a rally-inspired custom bike, but a true rally raid machine whose performance and functionality had been improved to the same level as its aesthetics:
“So our approach was well defined, to make a 100% custom project, as radical and pure in appearance as in performance.”
As such, Jérôme and Yvan decided to start not with a steel-frame WR enduro machine as before, but a brand new aluminum-frame WR450F — a common sight in today’s rally paddocks. They worked with French rally specialist Drag’on Distribution to outfit the bike to true race-spec, including a full electronics suite and navigation tower.
The bike is now running custom Öhlins suspension, Schott steering damper, large-capacity radiators, full titanium exhaust, and of course Le Motographe’s signature tubular trellis “skeleton,” carrying a custom high-capacity tank and airbox, both made in aluminum. The fenders and fork protectors are also made of aluminum and diamond engraved, as is the engine guard.
The resulting bike weighs 300 pounds, has 60 horsepower, and possesses all the elements on paper that would make it a true rally-capable machine.
“Everything on this machine has been thought out, designed, manufactured, and tested before being validated.”
However, the Le Motographe crew wasn’t satisfied with a fancy build sheet as evidence — they wanted to prove that this 450 “Rally Beast” could perform. Not only did they take their client on a 90-mile day of off-road riding to demonstrate the new build, but they enlisted seven-time Dakar Rally rider Michaël Metge to put the prototype through its paces:
“For our prototype, it was a real baptism of fire — if no problem occurred with Michaël behind the handlebars, the bike would definitely be considered ready to take off!”
Fortunately, after riding the bike hard on his rally track and cross-country course, Metge was highly impressed:
“The bike had very balanced handling, offering both the stability of a rally bike and the agility of a cross-country bike, all with an outstanding design and rally-specific parts. Michaël was thrilled, our customer was thrilled, and so were we!”
Below, we get the full story and specs on this custom 450 rally bike straight from the builders themselves.
Yamaha WR450F Rally Raider
When the custom world meets the rally raid world. In the past, we designed and manufactured two machines called the “Skeleton” EVO 1 and EVO2 based on an old WRF450 (2004) with a steel frame and exoskeleton handmade in stainless steel and aluminum. Intended for enduro, supermotard, and flat track, these machines allowed us to assert our vision of the custom bike.
The first one (EVO1) was delivered to California and continues to evolve today in the hands of its owner. The second (EVO2) allowed us to participate in The Bike Shed 2019 in London, and then, in the three different categories of races at the famous Wheels & Waves. Namely, a drag race on a closed road (Punk’s peak), an enduro race (Deus swank rally) and finally a wild race on a flat track ring (El Rollo), during which Yvan bring that machine on the 3rd step of the podium.
Many people were present during these races and could see that this machine, if radical, had also been well-conceived, built to perform well in a variety of disciplines. After Wheels & Waves, a customer came to meet us in our workshop and shared his dream: a rally bike built like our Skeleton. The specifications were clear: a motorcycle equipped as a real rally raid machine, with a look inspired by our Skeletons, and keeping slim lines.
So we decided with him to start this time with a brand new bike, a Yamaha WRF450 with an aluminum frame and fuel injection — a machine used as a base by many current rally riders.
We then approached Drag’on Distribution, who specializes in the field, in order to get specialized parts and put together a built out that would meet our client’s wildest dreams.
In addition to Yamaha and Drag’on, we wanted to work with the best in terms of on-board equipment and technology for this project. Öhlins provided us with a custom-made shock absorber and fork for this project.
So our approach was well defined, to make a 100% custom project, as radical and pure in appearance as in performance.
And now, 1.5 years and about 500 hours of work later (design + production), the beast is finally ready to ride!
The motorcycle has all the equipment used in rally raid, including a custom aluminum tank that crosses the bike from one side to the other and offers a few extra liters of capacity without going as far as the 32 liters used on the official Dakar machines. Indeed, as the customer only intends to participate in small rallies, he wanted to keep a light and sharp bike.
Apart from the original aluminum engine frame and the engine itself (reprogrammed with new maps), everything else has been replaced, modified, or made from scratch.
A custom-made tubular trellis frame, the signature of the Skeleton concept, carries the tank and the air box, both in aluminum. The fenders and fork protectors are also made of aluminum and diamond engraved, as is the engine guard.
The airbox also integrates a KMS screen allowing constant feedback from the throttle valve (throttle position sensor, temperatures, rpm, etc.) as well as a GET traction control connected to a GET Rally electronic box, allowing power management to the rear wheel via a 10-position switch.
Of course there’s a complete navigation tower, with a scrolling road book on the handlebars, a reservation slot for the GPS + repeater provided during the races, and also an additional support for the GPS used by the customer on his different motorcycles.
Radiators with increased capacity, rated at 2bars and equipped with a fan, cool everything and are protected by custom stainless steel radiator fins.
We also chose to install a Devil 100% titanium exhaust system and a rally air filter. The exhaust manifold loops right in front of the custom Öhlins shock.
The Excel rims and reinforced Haan Wheels hubs with torque damping are also rally specific and are shod with Desert Race tires from Michelin.
The custom Öhlins fork is housed in Nekken triple trees with the addition of a Schott adjustable steering damper for more stability at high speed.
Two independent LED lights on the front end, one of which is long range, provide good visibility when riding at night and are encased in an aluminum front end, with a custom-machined frame and interchangeable 3mm plexiglass protection. The whole section, as well as the air box, is easily removable thanks to quick release fasteners, facilitating access if needed.
The front brake is also modified, with a 310mm Motomaster disc for more feeling and braking power and a machined bracket for the caliper offset.
The footrests have also been designed and machined in 7075 aluminum (Fortal). (We will be adding these footrests for sale on our E-shop for anyone who would like to equip their bike with them.) The upholstery, also custom-made, uses materials that offer a good grip across the whole seat surface. The rally-specific chain kit also benefits from a reinforced chain guide system.
Everything on this machine has been thought out, designed, manufactured, and tested before being validated. As the final test before launching this bike, we invited our customer to do a full day of off-road riding with us in order to allow him to familiarize himself with his new bike. The program included 150km of off-road riding in the mountains, on demanding terrain, both for the machine and the rider. Result: a great day without any problem on the machine and a satisfied customer! Prototype validated!
We also wanted to test the machine with a professional rally rider accustomed to official rally raid bikes. We had the opportunity to get in touch with Michael Metge, who agreed to ride the machine on his training ground with some photographers and magazines present.
Mickale Metge has raced seven times in the Dakar Rally, an experienced rider with a great track record and also very accessible. For our prototype, it was a real baptism of fire — if no problem occurred with Michael behind the handlebars, the bike would definitely be considered ready to take off!
After riding it on both the rally track and the cross-country course, the bike had a very balanced handling, offering both the stability of a rally bike and the agility of a cross-country bike, all with an outstanding design and rally-specific parts.
Mickale was thrilled, our customer was thrilled, and so were we!
This project alone defines the way we approach our work, consistently drawing on both our professional expertise and our motorcycling experience to provide our customers with projects that are as crazy as they are consistent. This philosophy applies to radical projects like this one, as well as to smaller projects and to the parts we are currently designing for different machines.
- 18 months of development
- About 500 hours of work (design + manufacturing)
- 220km range
- 137kg (302 pounds)
- 60 HP
- Zero plastic (or almost)