1962 Rickman Metisse Scrambler

John Whitby gets a second chance at restoring a Rickman Metisse Scrambler.

1962 Rickman Metisse Scrambler

1962 Rickman Metisse Scrambler

Photo by Kurtis Kristianson

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1962 Rickman Metisse
Engine: 497cc air-cooled OHV single, 86mm x 85.5mm bore and stroke, 9.5:1 compression ratio, 35hp (est.)
Weight (dry): 300lb (136kg)
Fuel capacity: 2 gal (7.5ltr)

Remember the one that got away? That one tired old motorcycle that you had to sell because there wasn’t enough time or money to see it through?

There are probably more than a few of you reading this right now who can recall at least one such project you wish you had kept. Most everyone would appreciate a second chance if they could do it all over again, and John Whitby of Calgary, Alberta, Canada, was given just such an opportunity with this AJS/Matchless-powered Rickman Metisse scrambler.

The first time around

John first bought the Rickman in 1983. The bike, a circa 1962 model, was in pieces. At the time he got a frame and swingarm, seat pan, gas tank, engine mounting plates, a gearbox and empty single-cylinder 497cc AJS 18CS cases. “I started collecting bits and pieces for it,” John explains. He recalls paying $250 for a brand new Ceriani fork, and he picked up front and rear magnesium hubs from a CZ motorcycle at a local bike-wrecking yard. “That’s pretty much how it sat, and I stored it in my parents’ basement. It collected dust while I tried to find engine parts for it.”

John is actually a pretty focused bike-builder and restorer. On top of working a full-time day job, he’ll often turn out four or five bike projects in a year, from start to finish. No moss growing on him, then. But he had the Rickman project in the days before the Internet, and he just hit a wall trying to find salvageable engine pieces.

That’s when a friend’s father learned about the bike, and made John an offer he couldn’t refuse. In 1989 the project changed hands, and eventually the Rickman found its way to Vancouver Island, Canada. John lost contact with the father, but the father’s son still knew how to find John.

Years later, after the father passed away, the son called to say the Rickman was still sitting where his late father had left it. John sensed an opportunity to redeem himself with the one that had gotten away.

“Nothing had been touched,” John says. “In 2012, all of the boxes still had my name on them. He’d purchased a gasket set and some cables, but nothing that would have really made it a bike.”

Restoring to stock

When John first owned the Rickman project, he had wanted to build the bike as a street-legal dual-sport machine. This time around he decided to build it to something closer to its stock configuration, though even “stock” is something that would have been somewhat open to interpretation, as Rickman machines were essentially kit motorcycles.

Started by brothers Don and Derek Rickman, the British-based Rickman Motorcycles traces its roots to the late 1950s. The brothers were successful competitors in scrambles and offroad events, and in 1958 they began piecing together their own machines using engines, frames and forks from different British bike makers. These early machines are referred to as MkI and MkII models. The English journal Motor Cycle wrote about the brothers in a 1962 article, noting, “When … Derek and Don decided to forsake over-the-counter machinery and build motocross models incorporating their own ideas, it was almost sacrilegious to use anything but a single for scrambling. But the Rickmans settled for a Triumph Tiger 100 engine. They decided on a BSA duplex frame and a BSA gear box. Front suspension would be by a Norton fork. That their machines were successful needs no underlining here.”

Yet already by the fall of 1961 the brothers had decided they’d gone as far as they possibly could with the frames, forks and shock absorbers employed from myriad different motorcycles. With knowledge gained in modifying other frames, the Rickman brothers laid out plans for their own exceptionally rigid, oil-bearing frame. They dubbed the result the Metisse, or the MkIII. Metisse is a French term that roughly translates to the word “mongrel.” The Rickmans used it to suggest a machine of mixed ancestry.

The Metisse

Constructed of 531 Reynolds manganese molybdenum steel tubes, the brazed-together full duplex frames were lightweight yet ruggedly built, featuring a 2-3/8-inch diameter steering head. The steering head alone was supported by six other tubes, including twin downtubes running from the rear of the head down, twin top tubes running from the bottom of the head and back, and two other braces, one at the top and another at the bottom. The top three frame tubes, including the brace, carried 3.25 quarts of oil, and overall the chassis weighed 22.5 pounds.

The rear drive chain was adjusted in a unique way. This is how it was described in Motor Cycle magazine: “The plates carrying the pivoted fork spindle are slotted in a fore and aft direction. Outboard of each plate is a circular housing providing the location for a disc in which is a hole for the pivoted-fork spindle. Ten pairs of these discs are available, and permit a variation of spindle positions 1/32 of an inch at a time.” Frames and swingarms were finished in bright nickel plating, something that became a hallmark for the specialized motorcycle company.

Rickman sold the frames in kit form, and to complete the machine the buyer had to have a donor motorcycle or an extra engine and plenty of parts. Powerplants commonly used were AJS/Matchless and BSA singles or Triumph twins. Together with the scrambles frame came a fiberglass gas tank, seat base, air box, tail unit, side panels and front fender. The Rickman company also bought in powerplants and built and sold complete motorcycles. In the mid-1960s the Rickmans branched into the world of road racing, constructing frames for the AJS 7R and Matchless G50.

After some success with their competition road frames built for single-cylinder bikes, the Rickmans turned their attention to the new crop of multi-cylinder Japanese motorcycles, including the Honda CB750 and the Kawasaki Z1.

The Rickman brothers continued building specialized motorcycles and frames until the mid-1970s, and produced accessories until 1980. They then sold their remaining parts to enthusiast Pat French, who established the MRD Metisse company. French continued on and built MkIV machines. However, somewhat confusingly, another Rickman aficionado, Adrian Moss, acquired some of the original tooling and later the rights to trade under the name Rickman Motorcycles. Currently, Rickman Motorcycles Limited in Gloucestershire, U.K. is recognized as the worldwide MkIII specialist, manufacturing and selling almost every component, including frame kits and body kits.

The build

From Rickman Motorcycles Limited, John sourced all new red body components, including gas tank, seat, seat pan, tail section, side panels and front fender for his project. Although he had some of the original fiberglass parts, they were in rough condition and couldn’t have been fixed for the price of buying new. He also sourced new decals from Rickman Motorcycles.

On John’s frame some of the brazing around the upper head tubes had cracked, so he used his oxy/acetylene welding outfit to re-braze the joints. He then sent the chassis, including the swingarm, to Alberta Plating in Calgary for a fresh coat of nickel, as per the original. The serial number on the frame is 293, which should date the frame to circa 1962 or 1963. John did try to authenticate the serial number with Rickman, but the early records have been lost. If you go by the serial number on the AJS engine cases, the engine dates to 1960.

The Ceriani fork set he’d bought all those years ago was cleaned and detailed and fitted in place. New wheels were built up using the CZ hubs and new-old-stock Akront alloy rims, a 21-inch rim up front and an 18-inch rim at the rear. One of John’s specialties is wheel lacing and truing, and he used spokes from Buchanan’s Spoke & Rim to perform the job. He chose a set of new Spanish-built Betor shocks to suspend the rear.

When it came time to resurrect the AJS 18CS 497cc single-cylinder engine, John was much more successful in finding the needed parts this second time around. A new crank bearing came from an enthusiast in Australia, while other components, such as a flywheel and necessary bushings, were sourced from engines found in a local collector’s estate. From the same estate, John found a completely rebuilt Lucas SR1 magneto, with automatic advance.

“It had a nice fat spark, and I went with that,” John says, adding, “And that’s why it’s got the Matchless timing cover, because it fits the automatic advance timing unit. Originally, the engine would have had a manual advance Lucas competition magneto.”

The cylinder is a brand new item from Wassell, found on eBay. A standard size piston came from JP Pistons in Australia, while new Matchless SH competition cams and AJS valves, guides and springs arrived from AMC Classic Spares in the U.K. The piston required some work for it to clear the head, which John did, reshaping the crown on his lathe. A brand new Amal Monobloc carburetor was procured from Burlen Fuel Systems in England, while the exhaust pipe came directly from Rickman Motorcycles.

John cut a new set of engine brackets from 1/8-inch-thick alloy plate, and created the authentic engine-turned finish using his drill press and a small, coarse wire brush attachment. The AMC gearbox and clutch that came with the project were rebuilt, and John says one of the most exciting parts of the project was getting the primary covers to fit and look right. The covers originally used came from a 500cc Royal Enfield Clipper. John had both the inner and outer covers, but they were too badly damaged to resurrect. Instead, he sourced an inner cover for a 700cc Royal Enfield Meteor from Hitchcocks Motorcycles in England, which he matched up to an early 500cc Royal Enfield outer. Both had to be massaged so they would fit.

Even after all of that, John still had to trim the clutch basket down so it would fit inside the new covers. As a result, the clutch now uses four plates instead of six. A few other parts — such as the front number plate, kickstart lever and Amal-style clutch and brake levers — were ordered online from Speed & Sport, a large supplier of vintage motocross and trials components in Meadow Vista, California. John made up his own cables, and when it finally came time to fire the Rickman, it started on the third kick. Surprisingly, John says, even with the competition cams and the 9.5:1 compression ratio, the 497cc single-cylinder engine will sit and maintain a steady idle.

Although he feels he’s redeemed himself some 30 years later by finally finishing the Rickman, John says he doesn’t see putting the motorcycle to much use. For the time being, he’s simply savoring the accomplishment, sitting back and admiring the lines of the one that almost got away. MC