BROUGH HEAD-TO-HEAD

How does a new 2018 Brough Su­pe­rior SS100 com­pare to an orig­i­nal 1936 SS80?

Classic Bike (UK) - - CONTENTS -

On the road with a 1936 Brough Su­pe­rior SS80 and the all-new SS100. Does bik­ing get any more ma­jes­tic?

If you were draw­ing up a list of iconic V-twins, it’s a fair bet that Brough Su­pe­rior would be some­where near the top. Ge­orge Brough’s en­gi­neer­ing gift to the mo­tor­cy­cling world might only have re­mained in production from 1920 to 1940, but the im­pact of the Brough Su­pe­rior is un­de­ni­able.

In­cred­i­bly, given the rep­u­ta­tion of the mar­que, to­tal production was only just over 3000 bikes. But the Brough Su­pe­rior be­came the bench­mark for lux­ury mo­tor­cy­cles, at­tract­ing the wealthy, ti­tled, fa­mous – and in­fa­mous – to the thrill and plea­sure of mo­tor­cy­cling. These days, nearly 80 years since production at the fac­tory in Ver­non Road, Not­ting­ham ended, there’s no sign of any slack­en­ing of in­ter­est in – or de­mand for – Ge­orge Brough’s vi­sion of what a mo­tor­cy­cle should be. Prices have spi­ralled and Brough Su­pe­rior own­er­ship re­mains a rare priv­i­lege for the com­mit­ted and well­heeled. So does the re­al­ity match the leg­end?

There’s no doubt­ing that the leg­end is still very much alive – so alive, in fact, that the Brough Su­pe­rior name has been re­vived and ap­plied to a new breed of lux­ury ma­chines. Brit Mark Upham has owned the Brough Su­pe­rior brand since 2008, but thanks to a col­lab­o­ra­tion with French de­signer Thierry Hen­ri­ette the new Broughs are man­u­fac­tured in Toulouse, France at Boxer De­sign’s production fa­cil­ity. In 2016 the first new Brough Su­pe­rior SS100 mod­els started rolling off the as­sem­bly line – slowly, with just 60 bikes built over the first year of production. No more than 300 will be built be­fore the fac­tory in­tro­duces a new model. Still exclusive and still ex­pen­sive at around £60,000 (de­pend­ing on specification), are the new gen­er­a­tion Broughs still the real deal? To find out, we’ve taken up the of­fer of rid­ing a 1936 SS80 and a brand new SS100 back-to-back. One of the few peo­ple in the coun­try – and maybe the world – who’s able to make that of­fer, is clas­sic dealer and new Brough Su­pe­rior agent, An­thony Godin. An­thony’s Mere­worth, Kent busi­ness sells clas­sic cars and bikes as well as be­ing one of a hand­ful of autho­rised Brough Su­pe­rior deal­ers in the UK. He has spe­cialised in clas­sic and vin­tage Broughs for years and he nor­mally has at least a cou­ple in stock. He also has a 2018 Brough Su­pe­rior demon­stra­tor read to roll. But he doesn’t just sell Broughs, he has a deep-seated pas­sion for them.

“I bought my first Brough – an SS80 like this one – in 1989,” he re­veals. “It was aw­ful re­ally. It had loads of in­cor­rect parts – my mates thought I was mad, but I re­ally liked it. We all had old Bri­tish bikes when we first started rid­ing – they were so cheap and you could have a go at mend­ing them when they broke down. But the Brough was some­thing else. I’ve owned a few since then and I still have a soft spot for the SS80 mod­els.”

An­thony feels that, while an ohv SS100 might be the ob­vi­ous model to hold up against the new ver­sion, the eco­nomics and prac­ti­cal­i­ties of own­er­ship make the side-valve SS80 a more likely op­tion for some­one con­tem­plat­ing Brough own­er­ship for the first time.

“The Matchless-en­gined SS80 was one of Brough’s best­selling mod­els in pe­riod,” he ex­plains. “I think about 460 were built out of a to­tal production of 3025 Brough Su­pe­ri­ors of all mod­els. And, be­cause the Matchless V-twin en­gine was also used in the Matchless Model X, there are plenty of spares about. The SS80 re­mains a prac­ti­cal bike to use and it’s con­sid­er­ably cheaper to buy than the SS100. I’ve got this one up for £89,995 – a lot of money and con­sid­er­ably more than £60,000 for one of the new SS100S, but a lot less than the £250,000 you’d need for a Matchless-en­gined SS100 or £300,000 for a Jap-en­gined bike in this sort of con­di­tion.”

I’m not go­ing to pass up the chance to ride two Broughs in one day and, as An­thony ef­fort­lessly goes through the drill to fire up the SS80, I turn the key on the new SS100’S ig­ni­tion switch and thumb the starter but­ton on the right-hand ’bar. The fuel-in­jected 997cc short-stroke 88° V-twin en­gine rum­bles into life in­stantly and I’m away.

The en­gine is an ab­so­lute gem. Ge­orge Brough would have given his back teeth for a unit like this. His longterm aim was to pro­duce his own, be­spoke en­gines for his bikes – and that’s ex­actly what this com­pact V-twin is. Brough Su­pe­rior com­mis­sioned French en­gi­neer­ing out­fit Akira to pro­duce an en­gine es­pe­cially for the re­vived ver­sion of the Brough. The four-valve-per­cylin­der mill pro­duces a punchy 100bhp with a broad spread of torque in stan­dard trim. Op­tional ‘sports’ parts can lift that to some­thing ap­proach­ing 130bhp ac­cord­ing to the fac­tory if you’re a lat­ter-day Lawrence of Ara­bia, bent on wring­ing the last ounce of per­for­mance from your ex­otic V-twin.

‘IN­CRED­I­BLY, GIVEN THE REP­U­TA­TION OF THE MAR­QUE, TO­TAL BROUGH SU­PE­RIOR PRODUCTION WAS JUST OVER 3000’

The test bike, with op­tional ‘sports’ pipes, cer­tainly feels lively enough as I ac­cel­er­ate into the traf­fic flow on a fast A-road. The revs build rapidly and the six-speed gear­box feels as crisp as a new fiver, with a short, pos­i­tive throw that al­lows me to keep the en­gine spin­ning hard. Brough Su­pe­rior claim top speed in stock trim is around 130mph, and with the bike’s im­pres­sive lack of bulk (it weighs 410lb/186kg) I’d reckon that to be a rea­son­able claim. Cer­tainly it whips up to the le­gal limit briskly enough, the torque is might­ily im­pres­sive and I can’t see many po­ten­tial own­ers be­ing dis­ap­pointed with the per­for­mance.

But if the en­gine is (rel­a­tively) con­ven­tional, the SS100’S chas­sis is any­thing but. The main frame – if you can call it that – is formed from ma­chined ti­ta­nium sheet, while the rear sub­frame and sus­pen­sion mount­ing tri­an­gles are a mix of tube and sheet. The en­gine is a stressed mem­ber of the chas­sis and the con­cept isn’t a mil­lion miles away from a Vincent de­sign. The cast al­loy swingarm piv­ots in the rear of the crankcases and, while the link­age-type sin­gle shock rear sus­pen­sion is con­ven­tional enough by mod­ern stan­dards, the Fior-de­signed dou­ble-wish­bone forks dare to be a lit­tle bit dif­fer­ent.

In prac­tice, though, the bike han­dles pretty much like a mod­ern bike. De­spite a rel­a­tively long, 1540mm (60.6in) wheel­base, a steep 23.4° head an­gle keeps the steer­ing rel­a­tively quick. And, once I get used to the fly­screen bob­bing up in front of me un­der brak­ing due to the ac­tion of the forks, I can ex­ploit the Brough’s ag­ile han­dling and ex­cel­lent high speed sta­bil­ity.

As for the brakes? Wow! At first glance the front discs look pretty small for a high-per­for­mance ma­chine – and that’s be­cause they are. The SS100 uses tiny 230mm Beringer discs on both sides of the wheel. But look again. There are ac­tu­ally four discs gripped by fourpis­ton ra­dial calipers, with three brake pads per caliper – the cen­tre pads have fric­tion ma­te­rial on both sides and are sand­wiched be­tween the twin discs. Brough Su­pe­rior claim the novel de­sign re­duces cor­ner­ing in­er­tia and looks more in keep­ing with the retro styling of the bike. That may be so, but it also pro­duces a stag­ger­ingly pow­er­ful brake set up. On our Euro 3 specification test bike, there’s no ABS (al­though there is on the new production Euro 4 ma­chines) and I re­ally have to re­mem­ber how ef­fec­tive they are. One re­strained fin­ger is all I dare de­ploy on the beau­ti­fully-forged and ad­justable al­loy brake lever. It takes a lit­tle while to get used to the fe­ro­cious bite of the set-up, but once I’ve got the hang of it I re­alise the brake is one of the best stop­pers I’ve ever come across.

Over­all, the SS100 is cer­tainly a fine mo­tor­cy­cle: fast, han­dles well, com­fort­able, sounds great and stops like noth­ing else. But it’s some­thing more than that – it’s a work of en­gi­neer­ing art, too. Ev­ery com­po­nent has a sub­limely well-crafted look and feel about it. Whether it’s the trade­mark, hand-beaten al­loy fuel tank, the

‘THE SS100 IS A FINE MO­TOR­CY­CLE: FAST, HAN­DLES WELL, SOUNDS GREAT AND STOPS LIKE NOTH­ING ELSE’

beau­ti­fully sculpted cast al­loy fork legs or the lov­ingly ma­chined al­loy switchgear, ev­ery­thing about the bike screams class. No won­der it takes the production team at the fac­tory around a week to as­sem­ble each bike.

That at­ten­tion to de­tail and the care and thought that has gone into ev­ery as­pect of de­sign and man­u­fac­ture is the main reason be­hind the Brough Su­pe­rior’s hefty price tag. But it’ll take a lot more spare cash to give your­self the op­tion of own­ing a clas­sic Brough Su­pe­rior.

The 1936 SS80 I’m about to ride is one of the first Matchless-en­gined SS80S. It was orig­i­nally sup­plied to a Bury St Ed­munds dealer and sold to its first owner at­tached to a Wat­so­nian side­car. Re­stored back in 1989 by renowned mar­que spe­cial­ist Tony Cripps, it has cov­ered a few thou­sand miles since. It’s a well main­tained, match­ing-num­bers bike that’s in good, ride­able con­di­tion. Just how I like ’em.

And like it I do. Hoist­ing the long gear­lever up to reach the first of four ra­tios in the four-speed Nor­ton ’box is a boot-off-footrest af­fair, but eas­ing out the clutch lever re­veals a smooth and light ac­tion. There’s a bit of a jump to sec­ond, but the de­light­fully smooth and soft power from the low com­pres­sion side-valve en­gine takes all that in it’s stride. A cou­ple more lifts of the right foot and I’m lop­ing along ef­fort­lessly in top at 60mph. The en­gine feels de­light­fully un­der­stressed and there’s no need to ad­just the ig­ni­tion ad­vance on the Lu­cas mag­neto (us­ing the left-hand twist grip) ex­cept

on the steep­est of in­clines. Progress feels smooth, so­phis­ti­cated and stately. I feel like I’m the king of the road – Brough Su­pe­ri­ors do that to you.

Han­dling per­fectly suits the Brough Su­pe­rior’s grand tourer im­age. The long, low chas­sis (wheel­base is 58in) makes for great sta­bil­ity, but couldn’t be ac­cused of be­ing sporty, and the Monarch forks and am­ple sprung sad­dle help iso­late the rider from road im­per­fec­tions. Ev­ery­thing works well and ex­udes a qual­ity feel.

Ev­ery­thing, that is, ex­cept the front brake. A bit of re­search has led me to con­clude that vir­tu­ally all Broughs with Monarch forks suf­fer from ‘in­dif­fer­ent’ front brakes, but the seven-inch sin­gle-lead­ing-shoe unit on this one is the an­tithe­sis of the brick-wall stop­pers on the 2018 SS100. Luck­ily, the rear brake is much bet­ter, com­bin­ing great feel with de­cent stop­ping power.

Af­ter my ride on An­thony’s SS80, I can start to see what all the fuss is about. The bike feels like more than the sum of its parts – per­haps un­sur­pris­ingly, as it’s a col­lec­tion of what Ge­orge Brough con­sid­ered the finest pro­pri­etory parts of the day, lov­ingly blended into what he firmly be­lieved were the best mo­tor­cy­cles of their era. Some may say a Brough Su­pe­rior is noth­ing more than a posh ‘bitsa’. Oth­ers will fer­vently be­lieve it’s a sub­lime fu­sion of the best en­gi­neer­ing of a gen­er­a­tion.

Whichever camp you’re in, you’re go­ing to at­tract a lot of at­ten­tion on a Brough Su­pe­rior – but that’s the least you ex­pect from a £60,000-90,000 mo­tor­cy­cle. Whether you think no bike is worth that sort of money or the exclusive al­lure of Brough own­er­ship makes it a bar­gain, prob­a­bly de­pends as much on your view of ‘en­gi­neer­ing as art’ as it does on your per­sonal wealth.

If you can af­ford a Brough Su­pe­rior – old or new – you’re buy­ing into some­thing that’s spe­cial. Some­thing that is so far from the main­stream that it makes its own rules. Think of a Brough in the same way as you might a paint­ing or a sculp­ture. Not ev­ery­one will like it, not ev­ery­one will ap­pre­ci­ate it – and cer­tainly, not ev­ery­one will be able to af­ford it. I can’t, but that hasn’t stopped me en­joy­ing a fan­tas­tic day out on two very spe­cial mo­tor­cy­cles. But if you can and it makes you feel good, why not? The most im­por­tant thing is to en­joy it.

‘WITH A BROUGH SU­PE­RIOR, OLD OR NEW YOU’RE BUY­ING INTO SOME­THING SPE­CIAL’

ABOVE: Smooth, so­phis­ti­cated progress on the SS80 made our man feel like King Gez

RIGHT: Front brake is not con­fi­den­cein­spir­ing. The rear’s bet­ter

Matchless side-valve en­gine was first of­fered by Brough in late 1935

As you can see from the bar­rels, this SS80 is in ‘ride­able’ rather than ‘mu­seum’ con­di­tion

Fuel tank top fea­tures beau­ti­ful de­tail­ing

A 130mph speedo may be a tad op­ti­mistic

Punchy en­gine and sixspeed gear­box makes for rapid progress New SS100’S fu­elin­jected V-twin is a be­spoke unit

New Brough has plenty of front, with dou­ble-wish­bone forks

Small discs, but there’s four of ’em – and three pads per caliper

Al­loy fuel tank is a mod­ern in­ter­pre­ta­tion of a clas­sic trade­mark

You’ll cre­ate a stir rid­ing ei­ther one of these beau­ties

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