Clinton Hill Classics recreates Steve McQueen’s Metisse desert racer!
In the 1950s, brothers Derek and Don Rickman were successful UK motocross riders who decided to turn their passion into a business, building off-road chassis kits for a variety of two- and four-stroke engines: BSA, Matchless, Montesa, Norton, Triumph, Zundapp, and more. Far across the pond, American off-road racers had been converting their street-legal British twins for desert racing, but the Rickman Metisse (French for “Mongrel”) introduced a whole slew of competition-minded innovations.
To start, the oil was carried in the frame tubes instead of a separate oil bag, thereby saving weight and helping to dissipate heat during long, high-speed desert races, and the Metisse also boasted nickel-plated chromoly tubing, eccentric chain adjustment, larger diameter forks, and more. The Metisse was an absolute game-changer in the desert, and soon serious racers were scrambling to get their mitts on a Rickman frame so they could build their own ‘sleds.
One of the early and dedicated Metisse enthusiasts was none other than the “King of Cool” Steve McQueen, who visited the Rickmans at their workshop in the UK and later invited them to California, hosting them at his own home. For anyone who knows 1960s desert racing, McQueen’s Triumph-powered Metisse is a true dream machine.
Enter David Harutyunyan of Brooklyn’s Clinton Hill Classics, whose love of motorcycles goes back to one of the most iconic chase scenes in modern cinema history, when Arnold Schwarzenegger and Edward Furlong went roaring through the LA River flood channels, trying to outrun a T2 in a semi truck:
“Seeing ‘John Connor’ on that little Honda dirt bike made me imagine owning a bike and having the freedom to go anywhere I pleased.”
Today, David buys and restores a wide range of bikes, though he has a soft spot for old British iron. For years, he’d longed to own a Rickman Metisse, and when he discovered the UK’s legendary Wasp Motorcycles, who’ve been producing Metisse chassis kits for more than 30 years, David pulled the trigger.
“Having been inspired by the motorbikes of Steve McQueen, I decided to go full on and make an exact replica of his bike. Every single component was researched and chosen to be the same as it was built in the Bud Ekins workshop.”
David says the bike is authentic right down to the paint color, 1950s Triumph front brake, BSA Quick Disconnect rear hub, BSA A65 yokes, and Ceriani 35mm forks. Aptly nicknamed “The Cool One” after the McQueen himself, the finished desert racer is not only stunning to look at, but absolutely rips in the dirt:
“Having ridden only stock frame Triumphs, getting on this bike is a whole other ballgame. The lightness of the chromoly frame, which carries the oil and helps cool it, is immediately noticeable. Combined with a 53T rear sprocket, the bike is ready to rip out of your hands. It is the perfect bike to rip around the desert, or in my case, the sandy fire roads in the NJ Pine Barrens.”
Below, David gives us the full story and details on the build, along with more shots from photographer Rodin Banica.
Rickman Metisse 650: Builder Interview
• Please tell us a bit about yourself, your history with motorcycles, and your workshop.
My name is David Harutyunyan, and I am the owner/operator of Clinton Hill Classics in Brooklyn NY. My obsession with anything that had a motor began at a very young age, but my obsession with motorcycles began after I saw Terminator 2 for the first time. Seeing “John Connor” on that little Honda dirt bike made me imagine owning a bike and having the freedom to go anywhere I pleased. Fast forward to 2009 when I got my first set of wheels. A Vespa GTS 250. I took that scooter everywhere and it was my main mode of transport for many years. In 2015 I purchased my first old Triumph and met the guys at Sixth Street Specials. Hugh and Fumi helped me get the bike going and became my mentors for all things motorcycles. In 2016 I was fully addicted to old Brit bikes and had acquired three more projects. That’s when the shop space became available in my building and Clinton Hill Classics began. Since then I have been buying and restoring bikes that I always dreamed of owning and seeing them on the road puts a big smile on my face.
• What’s the make, model, and year of the bike?
1971 Rickman Metisse 650.
• Why was this bike built/restored?
I had been dreaming of owning a Rickman for years and finally I decided to go for it. I stumbled on the legendary Wasp Motorcycles in England, and saw that they had available a custom made frame kit available to purchase. I knew I had to have it, and so the process began.
• What was the design concept and what influenced the build?
The nature of a Metisse (meaning “mongrel” in French) is that it’s built to suite the rider. One would purchase the frame kit, which comes with the bodywork, and choose the bits and pieces they wanted to use. Having been inspired by the motorbikes of Steve McQueen, I decided to go full on and make an exact replica of his bike. Every single component was researched and chosen to be the same as it was built in the Bud Ekins workshop. Starting from the color of the bodywork and ending with the correct 50s-era Triumph front brake. Doing the research has always been my motivation for restoring and building bikes. It’s great finding out why certain parts were chosen over others.
• What custom work was done to the bike?
Custom work on this bike includes a BSA Quick Disconnect rear hub, which allows a flat to be fixed easily on the trails. The front triple trees are from a BSA A65, which has a very desirable pull back for comfortable body positioning.
The triple trees were machined to be able to accept Ceriani 35mm forks. Hagon Shocks were fitted to preserve the vintage look but allow for much better rear suspension.
• Does the bike have a nickname?
“The Cool One.”
• Can you tell us what it’s like to ride this bike?
Having ridden only stock frame Triumphs, getting on this bike is a whole other ballgame. The lightness of the chromoly frame, which carries the oil and helps cool it, is immediately noticeable. Combined with a 53T rear sprocket, the bike is ready to rip out of your hands. It is the perfect bike to rip around the desert, or in my case, the sandy fire roads in the NJ Pine Barrens. The bike is nimble yet it provides enough power to keep the rear tire planted in the sand.
• Was there anything done during this restoration that you are particularly proud of?
I feel any custom bike build is a work of pride for the builder. With this bike I’m just proud of the accuracy of the build. The ability to stick to a vision and pay tribute to a machine that made its mark in motorcycle history is a satisfying accomplishment for me. Hey if it’s good enough for the King of Cool, then it’s good enough for me!