Motorcycle Classics

1971 Rickman-Enfield Interceptor

1971 Rickman-Enfield Interceptor
Years produced: 1970-1972
Number produced: 137 (approx.)
Claimed power: 60hp @ 6,500rpm
Top speed: 115mph (est.)
Engine type: 736cc air-cooled, OHV parallel twin
Weight (dry): 365lb (166kg)
Price then: $2,100
Price now: $12,000-$18,000
MPG: 40-45

Dateline: 1974. Bad news dominates North America. President Nixon signs legislation making 55mph the national top speed to cut fuel consumption as the OPEC oil embargo deepens. The Watergate investigation reaches full boil, the House votes for impeachment and Nixon resigns. Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau’s government falls after a vote of “no confidence.” And Wisconsin’s Mike Engelhart decides to buy a 1971 Rickman-Enfield Interceptor from a Canadian dealer. What?

The U.S. government was in turmoil, and in no mood for international shenanigans — especially from some Royal Enfield nut from Wisconsin.

“I already owned a 1968 Royal Enfield 750 Interceptor,” Mike says. “In 1974, I saw an ad from Chariot Cycles up in Winnipeg about the Rickman-Enfield 750. With the Rickman chrome-moly frame, Ceriani forks, Dunlop tires, Borrani rims, and front and rear disc brakes, the bike was really state of the art, and it had the 750cc Royal Enfield Interceptor engine, which I really liked. So, I decided to go up to Canada and buy one. The Rickman was still in the crate for the trip back from Canada. At the border, the U.S. customs inspector pried the crate open enough to see the Rickman’s steering head, looking for the EPA certification plate. It didn’t have one, so I wasn’t allowed to bring it across.”

Someone less determined might have gotten his money back and given up; not Mike Engelhart. Like any true American, he set out to beat the system. He took the bike back to Chariot Cycles, uncrated it, removed the engine/transmission package and put that in the trunk of his car, and re-crated the rest. He arranged for Chariot to air freight the crate to Minneapolis and headed for the border again, but this time to a different crossing point, in hopes of avoiding the same inspector. It was a good thought, but it didn’t work.

“The same guy was at the other border crossing! This time, with the motor alone, there was no problem.” Mike recalls, smiling. “Then I had to go to Minneapolis, pick up the crate, and then back to Wisconsin to my sister’s house — because I didn’t have a garage at the time — to reassemble the bike.” After no small trouble, Mike finally had his Rickman.

Trouble maker

No wonder getting it caused some trouble; the Rickman-Enfield 750 was born out of trouble. In 1969, American entrepreneur Floyd Clymer, trying to revive the Indian brand, acquired Royal Enfield Mk II Interceptor engines to be shipped from England to Italy, for assembly into what were to be badged as Indian motorcycles.

Unfortunately, Clymer died in 1970 after only a few of his Clymer Indians were made, and Royal Enfield collapsed soon after, leaving a batch of engines sitting in an import/exporter’s warehouse in England with no place to go. That’s where the Rickman brothers came in.

In the 1960s and 1970s, Englishmen Derek and Don Rickman were the superstars of high-performance, on and off-road motorcycle chassis design. Known for their rigidity and light weight, the Rickman nickel-plated, bronze-welded chrome-moly steel frames were highly prized. Mitchell’s of Birmingham, the import/exporter that had “inherited” the Enfield engines, contacted the Rickman brothers about building a frame for the leftover Enfield engines. The Rickmans agreed to the project, and the engines found a home. It’s believed only 137 were made, leaving what is today a very rare, high-performance machine.

Unlike many low-production, high-performance machines, the Rickman is surprisingly easy to live with, relatively quirk-free and quite reliable. Tickle the Amal concentric carburetors, give the kickstarter a firm nudge and the Interceptor engine snorts to life, consistently in one or two kicks.

What quirks there are hide in the Enfield’s 4-speed transmission. Not only is it a right-foot shift setup, it has a propensity for false neutrals, and finding the real neutral is so tricky, Enfield equipped it with a special lever. Located just above the shift lever on the right side of the case, the lever will bring the transmission back to neutral from whatever gear it happens to be in. Mike put rear-set pegs on this bike, necessitating reversal of the shift lever, so the shift pattern is reversed from one up, three down to one down, three up. The bike came with both high touring handlebars, which were on it when it was uncrated, and clip-ons, which it has worn since being reassembled in the U.S.

The machine also had some uncommon features contributed by both the Royal Enfield engine and the Rickman chassis. The Enfield engine is a dry sump design but doesn’t use the expected external oil tank. Instead, the engine has an integral oil tank in the lower engine case. It also features a replaceable cartridge-type oil filter.

Star chassis

The star of the show is the Rickman Métisse frame. “Métisse” is a stylized version of the French word métis, which roughly translates to “a mixture of origins” or “mongrel.” Apt naming considering the Rickman frames were mated with a mixed range of engines, suspension components, brakes and so on.

One feature unique to the Rickman chassis is the swingarm pivot chain adjustment system. Instead of having adjustment slots at the rear axle, the adjustment slots are located in the gusset plates where the swingarm pivots are located. Adjustment is made by inserting eccentric discs that mount in a housing outside the slots. Each pairing of discs in the set provides for approximately 1/32-inch increments of adjustment. This arrangement prevents any possibility of the rear wheel becoming misaligned or slippage of the chain setting.

Of course, the feature most sought after is the Rickman chassis, renowned for its brute strength. Engineering types will tell you the triangle is one of the most robust structural shapes for construction, and the Rickman chassis relies heavily on straight lines brought together in triangles wherever possible. Add bronze-welded gusset plates at the corners and the strength of chrome-moly steel tubing, and you have a frame that is unaffected by the same stresses that can make pressed steel or other tubing designs flex like a willow in the wind.

The quality of the bike’s construction was not lost on Mike: “I was impressed by the high quality of the frame construction — my father was a supervisor for a company that built stainless steel components for nuclear power plants, so I knew even then what great welds looked like — and the gel-coat fiberglass was beautifully made.”

Mike offers this assessment of the Rickman’s handling: “What impressed me was the ‘riding on rails’ sensation that I had not experienced up to that time. The bike is very low and narrow and yet, being no larger than my 305 Honda Superhawk, has 750 power with disc brake stopping. It was very stiffly sprung so I put in lighter springs in the rear shocks. Even then, the ride would be kindly said to be ‘firm’ — and I weigh 212 pounds.

“I wonder what [Grand Prix rider] Dani Pedrosa would think!”

I think Pedrosa would wonder how he could get an Interceptor of his own; but he’d better think twice unless he’s willing to go to a lot of trouble. MC


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  • Published on Dec 2, 2009
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