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Falcon Motorcycles gives flight to its second bike: the Kestrel

May 4, 2010 |  4:27 pm

It's been two years since Falcon Motorcycles in Los Angeles sped onto the custom scene with a high-end concept bike fashioned from old British iron.

Commissioned by actor Jason Lee and unveiled at the much-loved but now-defunct Legend of the Motorcycle vintage bike show in 2008, the Bullet scavenged the engine and frame of a 1950 Triumph Thunderbird and fused it with the profile of a '20s board tracker and obscure bits and bobs to create a could-have-been bike that never actually existed.

Two years and 2,000 man-hours later, Falcon is back with a follow-up to its award-winning Bullet. It's called the Kestrel. Fashioned around the engine of a 1970 Triumph Bonneville and outfitted with hundreds of handcrafted pieces dreamed up by builder Ian Barry, the Kestrel, to be unveiled at this weekend's Quail Motorcycle Gathering in Carmel, is an evolution of the Falcon concept: one-of-a-kind motorcycles built around the engines of pre- and post-World War II British bikes.

Founders Barry and Amaryllis Knight won't disclose the price tag on the Kestrel, the second official Falcon bike. They prefer to use the term "priceless." And for good reason. Two thousand hours is more than double the amount of time it took to build the $45,000 Falcon Bullet.

And that doesn't even begin to get at the sleepless nights Barry said he spent conceptualizing his latest creation, or the cost of the vintage "donor bike" or the extensive machinery and raw materials employed to turn the Kestrel into elegant, two-wheeled art.

The cylinders of this 750 cc twin were machined in-house from a solid block of aluminum. The frame was designed and built from scratch, using silver solder for welds and an era-appropriate sweated fitting technique Barry learned from apprenticing with the man who recently restored the derelict Porsche 550 chassis Serial No. 001.

The oil tank, seat, fender, mounts, brakes and suspension were all made by hand -- formed around wooden molds or hand-carved and shaped. The metal details -- crafted in aluminum, stainless steel, copper, brass and nickel, but no chrome -- were all fabricated individually.

In fact, the only pieces sourced from existing bikes were the bottom front half of the Triumph engine and heads, a BSA transmission, the 21-inch wheel rims, the Dunlop tires and a portion of the gas tank.

"There are a lot of purists who want to see everything restored and who see custom building as a form of sacrilege, and I think it depends on how things are being done and who they're being done by," Knight said, citing George Brough of Brough Superior and Bill Lacey of Peerless, legendary builders who crafted bikes around pre-existing engines.

"It's really important to us because of the rarity and history of the engines that we're using incredible care so that in another 50 years people will look back and say, 'That's a Falcon,' " he said.

The Kestrel is the second of "the concept 10" -- 10 bikes of British provenance that will be re-engineered as bike prototypes -- had Barry lived in a previous era. Next up: A custom 1951 Vincent Black Shadow.

Barry, who is American, said his fascination with English bikes began when he was 12 and walking home from school in Northern California.

"I was literally run off the road by a pack of motorcycles," said Barry, now 37. "I heard a loud roar behind me and one after another motorcycle whipped by me.... I remember seeing Triumph, Norton, cuffed jeans, leopard print.... I had no idea who these people were, but it looked like the coolest thing I'd ever seen."

Little did Barry know that 25 years later, his own bikes would be admired as the coolest things many motorcyclists have ever seen. Bikers can see the Kestrel up close at the Quail Motorcycle Gathering this weekend.

-- Susan Carpenter

Video credit: Don Kelsen / Los Angeles Times

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