Nap­kin En­gi­neer­ing

Classic Dirtbike - - Alf Hagon -

His­tory is lit­tered with ex­am­ples of ad hoc, spur-of-the-mo­ment jot­tings which have led to some­thing much greater. In­spi­ra­tion is no re­specter of sur­round­ings or prepa­ra­tion and in­spi­ra­tion doesn’t care if your notepad is else­where so any avail­able scrap of pa­per, block of wood or back of your hand is pressed into ser­vice.

In Hagon’s case, the bit of pa­per would have been a nap­kin in the Ori­ent Cafe op­po­site the shop and all sorts of ideas saw the first light of day over a mug of tea and a sarnie in there.

Even us off-road­ers will know Bob Lep­pan was a Detroit Tri­umph dealer with a pen­chant for record break­ing in Tri­umph-pow­ered stream­lin­ers named ‘Gy­ro­naut.’

“We built his frame for the ini­tial tests,” Alf told me.

Though Alf was more than happy to make what­ever peo­ple wanted, he knew there had to be a more for­mal side of things in or­der for the busi­ness to pros­per. An early as­so­ci­a­tion with Gir­ling Sus­pen­sion units led to the core busi­ness these days be­ing sus­pen­sion for ei­ther end of a mo­tor­cy­cle. “We’d been Gir­ling deal­ers for a while then the Gir­ling Lon­don dis­trib­u­tor de­cided it was time to re­tire and of­fered the busi­ness to Hagon.

“We took it on and soon were do­ing good busi­ness in sus­pen­sion, then Gir­ling called me and said they were sell­ing up to Aus­trian com­po­nents gi­ant Boge.” Boge it seemed weren’t in­ter­ested in the mo­tor­cy­cle an­gle, did Alf want it? “We thought about it at the time and de­cided to go for it, the only stip­u­la­tion was we couldn’t call our units ‘Gir­ling’ so Hagon Shocks was born.”

This grad­u­ally took over more and more of the busi­ness un­til the frame mak­ing, which started things off, was wound down in 1989.

Iron­i­cally, Alf’s ma­jor suc­cesses and the area in which he is most well known, were with mo­tor­cy­cles with lit­tle or no sus­pen­sion at all – sprint or drag bikes. This purely func­tional sport seemed to gel with the Hagon psy­che and his pa­tiently de­vel­oped v-twin JAP took record af­ter record dur­ing the Six­ties.

“The sprint­ing came about by pure chance,” he tells me. “I was in­vited along to an air­field meet and cob­bled some­thing to­gether that went rea­son­ably well and I was hooked.” Alf ap­plied his think­ing to the sport and of­ten went against ac­cepted prac­tice if he knew his way would be bet­ter, the list of re­sults which came his way proved he was on the right lines and his credo of light­weight with care­ful de­sign rather than su­per tun­ing. As part of the care­ful de­sign, Alf ad­mit­ted his ideal for the JAP sprinter would have been a large di­am­e­ter sin­gle top tube which he’d used for his Tri­umph-en­gined ma­chine.

“The prob­lem there was the height of the JAP v-twin com­pared to the Tri­umph. I wanted the profile of the bike to be as low as pos­si­ble so the only so­lu­tion was twin top tubes ei­ther side of the en­gine. That gave the right profile and light­weight too.”

Look­ing at the fi­nal de­vel­op­ment of the sprinter on the plinth behind Alf as we were chatting, it showed much ev­i­dence of his think­ing. What couldn’t be seen by some­one like me with only ba­sic JAP knowl­edge is the en­gine is out to 1260cc from an ini­tial 1000cc. “They changed the rules to al­low the Amer­i­cans to come over and race their bikes which were big­ger than 1000cc, so al­most to the day of the an­nounce­ment I was of­fered an 1100cc JAP en­gine and the de­vel­op­ment con­tin­ued in light of that. When it couldn’t go any fur­ther nor­mally as­pi­rated we added a su­per­charger and car­ried on.”

There was a slight pause while the as­sem­bled crowd… Alf, his son Martin, Hagon Sales chief and PR guy Tony and my­self imag­ined blast­ing up a straight line on a run­way on this min­i­mal­is­tic ma­chine, then the si­lence was bro­ken by Alf who grinned and pointed at the ‘seat’. “Some­body said to me ‘isn’t that seat a bit un­com­fort­able?’ But I told them I’m only gen­er­ally on it for 10 sec­onds...” There was no doubt this con­ver­sa­tion could have gone on much longer but Alf is a busy man so af­ter a quick hand­shake he van­ished al­most as fast as if he’d been on his sprinter. 

Mo­tor­cy­cling car­ried a feature on Alf’s sprinter, which in­cluded this su­perb line- draw­ing.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.