"The Spencer Evo has a hold on me. In a decade-and-a-half of travelling the motorcycle world looking at one-offs, specials and race machinery, it is the one motorcycle that has made the biggest impression on my life. It is the "
Spencer Evo: Action
The Spencer Evo XR1157R is a pure muscle bike. It is tense. Taut. Gym-honed to the point it could star alongside Jason Statham. It is, as a friend of mine used to say, very light on its wheels. Like it’s gently bouncing, Bruce Lee-style, on the balls of its feet, ready to roundhouse a lightning-quick kick to crack some unsuspecting goon’s jaw with a collection of titanium metatarsals wrapped in a espadrille.
Flick the ignition switch (nothing as ‘street bike’ as a key on this beast) and watch the World Superbike/ WRC-spec MoTeC dash – that alone cost more than my last three bikes combined – scroll the message ‘Hello Freddie’. This is, after all, the evolution of the bike a young Spencer raced in the USA. Huge slide carbs, not proletariat CVs, are primed with a couple of twists of the quick-action throttle. They snap shut like Madame Guillotine.
Press a discreet button and a tiny lithium ion battery girds its loins to turn over the 1157cc inline-four. When it ignites, birds fall from the trees. The exhaust, as stunning as any I’ve seen on a motorcycle, was made to the owner’s specification by Racefit of Darley Dale, Derbyshire. It’s tailpipe angle is too steep for my tastes, but it is worshipped as a symbol of fertility on an island in the Indian Ocean. And its sounds is like an echo of Krakatoa.
I swing a leg over the low seat, put a foot on a high peg and click into gear. I love these engines, I always thought they had the best gearboxes in the business too. Some see inline-fours as the soulless heart of UJM – Universal Japanese Motorcycle, but to me they’re the lead instrument in the orchestra that plays every summer Sunday’s concerto, The Bypass Howl.
Though this is from a Suzuki GSF1200 Bandit, it’s really an oil-cooled GSX-R1100 motor, and they were the engines that democratised real speed, 160mph speed, for the working man. They have a sumo’s flab roll of torque from tickover and things keep happening till 11,000rpm. I change at 6K, in the middle of the torque curve, short-shifting, clutchless, moving my wrist just five degrees, back and forth. A hundred comes in a blink. Everything is composed. The sound of the exhaust is left behind.
The first thing that is apparent about this labour of love, this hyper-exclusive collection of parts, the cherry-picked finest components from around the world, is how much it feels like a standard bike. This, bizarrely, is just about the highest compliment I could lay on it. It is an exotic special, but no one really wants to ride an exotic special. They’re a ball-ache. They over-fuel, they’re too high-geared, they have no low down go and barely any steering lock. This thing is civilised. Not boring, but neither is it memorable for the wrong reasons. It is a brutal, if somewhat dated, inline four with a power-to-weight ratio supercars can only dream of.
‘As long as it handles as well as a standard Bandit,’ was the modest aspiration of the owner, but he’s been in the special-building game long enough to know how difficult that is for a bike created from nothing but thin air. When it comes to riding unfamiliar bikes fast I’m more Frank Spencer than Freddie, but I know when a bike feels right, well put together, set up to ride, not sit on a show stand and pout. This bike made more of an impression on me than any other because on paper it was so extreme, but on the road had real civility. Then the owner jumped on it, stuck it on its back wheel, toed the gear lever, and wheelied up to fourth gear then allowed the front wheel to drop with a screech and a puff of grey smoke. Yes, it’ll do that too.
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