“This rig is the best-handling bike I’ve ever owned,” claimed Steve McQueen
Story by Ron Keys
Photos by Ron Keys, Gerry Lisi archives
In a flash, the airborne green-and-silver motorcycle thunders past, landing with an earth-shaking thud. Power on, the rider leans forward, sliding sideways through the grassy corner, the bike’s rear knobby tire spewing lumps of sod skyward in a great rooster tail of debris. The sweet sound of its powerful four-stroke single engine resonates across the fields and through the nearby forest. These are the sounds of the sixties, the Golden Years of motocross, when thundering four-strokes were king of the hill.
Today, you can walk into a shop and buy a motocross bike all ready to race. In times past, racing motorcycles were street bikes that were stripped down and modified to make them somewhat suitable for the genre of competition involved. Motocross bikes were heavy and ill-handling, and often failed under the extremes of racing. But oddly enough, back in those days, it was not uncommon to see upwards of 50,000 spectators and sometimes in excess of 100,000 fans lining the track.
A Change Was Needed; Success Follows
Wanting to improve the sport, two brothers from Hampshire, England, decided to design a motorcycle frame with good handling characteristics and strong enough to take on the extremes of competitive racing. The Rickman brothers, Don and Derek, were immensely successful racers in their own right. Working out of their family-owned motorcycle shop, they created a beautiful strong frame that changed street-based racing bikes to purpose-built competition bikes – and changed motorcycle racing forever.
Since the Rickman frames could be made to accept any motorcycle engine, the brothers considered calling the new motorcycle “Mongrel,” as every bike could be of mixed origin, but their sense of humour prevailed and they loosely translated that to the French word métisse. And from this, the Métisse Mark I was born.
Their chromoly steel frames, which innovatively contained the engine oil, were soon to be followed by the Mark II and Mark III. Rickman Métisse frames soon became the worldwide standard for handling excellence in motocross racing frames.
From the beginning, the Rickman Métisse frames were a worldwide success story. With the company forming an alliance with Bultaco of Spain, the Bultaco Métisse became known as one of the best bikes for the newly accepted FIM 250 cc class. In the United States, the legendary actor and motorcycle racer Steve McQueen once said that the 650 Triumph Métisse was the best desert bike he ever rode.
Don and Derek continued their phenomenal success story by introducing frames for road racing, and even produced a Rickman automobile for a few…