‘‘ If it catches fire when you start it just lay the bike down on the right-hand side and let the petrol in the carbs burn off. It should be fine, but that’s why we turn the petrol back off once the carbs are primed.”
These words are spoken calmly by Mark Upham, CEO of the Brough Superior company of today and the owner of the Brough Superior SS100 on loan to MCN. We’ve insured it for a conservative £250,000, I hope fire cover is part of the policy.
This isn’t the kind of pre-riding drill I’m used to. Normally getting to grips with riding unfamiliar bikes means grasping an understanding of rider modes, how to adjust the brake lever and getting comfortable, rather than the risk of self-immolation by fire. But Brough Superior motorcycles are anything but normal. It’s a brand that became known as the Rolls-royce of motorcycles and the prices of these vintage slices of motorcycling history are reaching ever-higher figures. In fact, they’re worth more than the luxury cars they sought to best.
I’m dry mouthed and itchy eyed, the last three nights of worry-disturbed sleep have left me drained. My brain has been frenzied about the forthcoming ride. It’s a Brough bloody Superior SS100. No one gets to ride a Brough Superior. The mixture of excitement and trepidation has produced a weird drug that’s acting on my synapses.
Mark kickstarts the bike for me; expertly juggling the ignition timing and fuel mixture to ensure it erupts into life with nothing more fiery than a tiny puff of smoke from the carbs, and some almost instant drips of oil appear on the floor beneath the bike. It’s supposed to do that. To modern riders though, this total-loss oil lubrication system is something utterly alien, and you can’t help but feel concern.
“Take your time, feel the way it wants to move,” says Mark. “It’s only a bloody motorcycle,” he says. “Go with it, let it move about a bit and be prepared for it to skip about on the road.”
I swing my leg over and settle into the sprung seat. I bounce a little and then reach for the levers. “Don’t bother with the front brake. It’s almost useless,” he says. I nod silently. “The most important thing is to learn to feel the way the clutch works.” Another nod.
“Don’t worry about first or second gear yet. Pull off in third.” Nod.
The bike is warmed through. An off-beat pulse with an exhaust note that has a randomly occurring extra sound ensconced somewhere in the chuffing from the V-twin’s fishtail pipes; it’s reminiscent of a tin drum pinging. I look down and watch the mesmerising ballet of valve pushrods and springs dancing up and down. The hand-shifter looks alarmingly close to those moving parts – I’ll need to look down when reaching for it to ensure that I don’t trap my fingertips in the valve train. The smell of burning oil and hot metal is intoxicating.
There’s a clutch and front brake lever in front of me as is normal on any modern motorcycle but there’s also a choke lever on the left and the ignition timing lever on the right-hand bar. I’m
‘We’ve insured it for £250,000. I hope fire cover is part of the policy’
told to leave both of these well alone now the engine is warmed through. There’s also a decompression lever on the end of the left handlebar, which is effectively a kill switch but also facilitates kickstarting the engine. My brain is fizzing with fear and anticipation. £250,000. I’m bricking it.
Just in front is the new Brough Superior SS100; an evolved version of the all-new 2016 model that MCN tested a couple of months ago. Now we are going to see how the new bike stacks up against its legendary forebear. Mark climbs onto the new bike, thumbs the starter button and the V-twin thrums instantly into life. I feel a pang of jealously, it definitely doesn’t look like that one’s going to catch fire, while I still have visions of stepping off a burning quarter of a million quid.
I rode a pre-production version of the all-new Brough Superior SS100 back in February and the bike you see here is an evolution of that machine. The new SS100 uses a bespoke 999cc watercooled V-twin and cradles it in a bike that’s styled in homage to the golden era of the original. It’s also beautifully engineered, and while it will cost a rather hefty £45,700 it does represent the rebirth of Brough Superior.
This is actually the same bike I rode earlier in the year but there have been a series of engineering changes since then. The engine has been changed for one that has covered more than 45,000
we are away it becomes clear what the fuss is all about. This isn’t a hard bike to ride at all; it’s as if it wants to help you. The torque from that long-stroke engine means it can pull off in third gear with no drama at all. It’s comfortable and while the handling is rather less convincing than I had hoped, you set your pace accordingly. I find a nice relaxed pace at around 50 to 60mph and try to settle my nerves and enjoy the ride, the French countryside wafting past in a mellow haze of burning oil and soft mechanical clatter. This is amazing, unfamiliar, scary, liberating and exhilarating all at the same time. It’s hard to imagine how the guaranteed 100mph these bikes did in their heyday would have felt on the rudimentary roads of the 1920s.
‘It’s hard to imagine how the 100mph these bikes did in their heyday felt’