We all fantasize about creating the ultimate bike, one that combines the improbable ideas we dream up during commutes, long flights, or while lying on a beach. For most of us these chimeras remain unrealized, but occasionally someone surfaces with the drive, determination, and—above all—the resources to build a dreambike. Michael Czysz (pronounced siss) is such a man.
Best known for his Architropolis practice that designs stylish hotels, bars and spas, and luxe residential projects for clients such as model Cindy Crawford and rocker Lenny Kravitz, the Portland, Ore.–based architect has never allowed his high-profile architectural career to shut out his family’s motorcycling heritage. In the postwar era, his grandfather Clarence Czysz was a top Manx Norton tuner and his father Terry followed those tire tracks by preparing race bikes for others; Czysz himself has had an amateur road racing career, primarily on Aprilia 250 GP bikes, earning him AMA National points-scoring finishes.
Even so, contriving an avant-garde alternative to conventional two-wheeled wisdom as manifested in the MotoCzysz C1 990 was quite a step. It entailed the clean-sheet conception and construction of a 4-cylinder engine with staggered cylinder blocks and stacked contrarotating cranks positioned lengthways in a carbon fiber chassis equipped with radical front and rear suspension solutions. Czysz concocted it all with his own creative resources.
Czysz took his inspiration from John Britten. “I visited the Guggenheim Art of the Motorcycle exhibit, mainly to admire the Britten V-1000 there,” says Czysz. “After viewing the other 200 bikes covering the 100-year evolution of the motorcycle, this was something completely non-derivative, an autonomous solution by one guy to the question of what a motorcycle should be. So, the question started forming: Can someone take a clean sheet of paper to answer the question, ‘What is a motorcycle?’ It was a total epiphany.”
Czysz, who has no formal training in mechanical engineering, returned home to Portland and told his wife Lisa he was going to design an American superbike; so began one year of nights spent on his clean-sheet bike design. “I personally conceptualized the entire bike,” he says. “I made drawings myself of every single section on trace paper, the medium we use in architecture, before giving them to the three guys I hired to develop these sketches into technical drawings. Using the computer was critical to designing this motor—I’m good at spatial relationships, but I couldn’t have done this bike in 2D, without the ability to move parts around on the screen to find the right place for everything. My admiration for John Britten in creating his bike without a computer is stratospheric. I don’t know how he did it.”
Currently the subject of some 15 worldwide patent applications, the C1 provides ample evidence of original thought in its technical makeup. Rather than mounting the engine transversely, as with other in-line fours, the C1’s 988cc twin-crank quad-cam narrow-angle V-4 dry-sump engine is located along the axis of the wheelbase, as on a vintage Indian four-cylinder cruiser. “Simply by turning the engine 90 degrees, we removed the gyroscopic forces inherent to a traditional transverse in-line four, which actually work to inhibit the motorcycle from rolling over to turn in to a bend,” explains Czysz. “It makes for much more neutral handling, and resists pitching, like wheelies and ‘stoppies.’ ”
Czysz has abbreviated the length of the engine, in spite of the lengthwise crankshaft layout, by adopting a so-called upstairs-downstairs layout. Within the lengthwise crankcases lie twin-stacked but staggered contrarotating crankshafts, joined in the middle by gears. Mounted atop these crankcases, one behind the other, are two staggered tandem-twin cylinder blocks, set at a narrow angle of 15 degrees, with composite gear and short chain cam drive to their twin-cam eight-valve cylinder heads. It is an innovative format that reduces frontal area for enhanced aerodynamics—with an engine just 6.5 inches wide, the C1’s 20-inch girth is improbably skinny for a 1,000cc in-line four—and neutralizes the torque effect of rotational inertia with a lengthwise crank (think Guzzi V-twin or BMW boxer).
“On this motor, for every action there’s a perfect and equal reaction,” says Czysz, who first tested the concept with a test engine formed by band-sawing two salvage GSX-R1000 motors in two, throwing off the unwanted halves, then counter-rotating the remains and joining them back together with zip-ties and bolts. “Making that engine is what brought me some money from other investors,” he declares. “That was the seed for getting us this far, even if I’ve put in a lot more cash than anyone else.” And how much is that? “Upward of $700,000, out of a total investment of $1.5 million, but we have the engineering done right, and people can’t copy us without infringing our patents. Nobody else had built a motor like this before, so we have a very strong patent portfolio.”
The C1’s lower crankshaft drives the extractable six-speed transmission (for 10-minute internal ratio changes), via a primary gear. Dual clutches positioned at opposite ends of the motor, one a dry drive unit matched to an oil-bath slipper clutch, are aimed at eliminating rear wheel chatter from engine braking on the overrun. A bevel gear turns the drive through 90 degrees, to a right-side chain final drive sprocket.
This avant-garde engine is housed in a carbon-fiber deltabox frame, with the symmetric swingarm pivoting concentrically with the gearbox sprocket, to control chain tension. The swingarm houses an Öhlins monoshock that is devoid of springs and is operated via a falling-rate link. This offers a more compliant, supple action when the suspension is compressed under the steep cornering loads delivered by the excessive angles of lean and high turn speeds permitted by today’s tires. You can tell Michael Czysz has experienced the sharp end of life in the pit lane—there are twin remote cantilever springs, to allow immediate spring changes as well as maximize rear-end torsional stiffness.
Czysz’s unique 6X-Flex front-end format locates the front wheel in aero-section sliders bolted to octagonal-section male stanchions.
They run on linear bearings mounted within the abbreviated female sleeves uniting the twin triple clamps. The ultra-accessible front Öhlins monoshock is positioned directly within the carbon frame’s 4-inch-diameter headstock, operated via the slider unit’s crossbrace, with its top end attached to the upper triple clamp. Fine-tuning chassis geometry and suspension setup is quick and easy: To alter ride height, damping rates, and spring preload, simply adjust the shock, or to change trail, swap the detachable spacers in the sliders holding the axle for others of a different value.
Joining the Czysz crew at Las Vegas Speedway for shakedown tests of the proof-of-concept prototype of the MotoCzysz C1 provided an opportunity for firsthand evaluation. Climbing aboard the MotoCzysz C1—the word “Dream” inscribed on the front mudguard—makes it immediately apparent how slim the bike is. Still relatively long but remarkably narrow, this translates on the track to a surprisingly agile bike for a 1,000cc four. Firing up the engine brings forth a wall of noise from each bank of cylinders‚ separate unsilenced 2-1 exhausts. Self-proclaimed as an American MotoGP Project by the slogan emblazoned on the fairing, alongside several Stars & Stripes stickers, the MotoCzysz C1 has a distinctive engine note best described as the legendary ripping calico beloved of vintage car buffs. Call it a lazy machine-gun stutter, if you haven’t ripped any calico lately.
The MotoCzysz engine feels well-balanced and smooth, yet muscular and torquey by 4-cylinder Superbike standards, and there is little vibration from the 4-cylinder motor, either at lower revs or rasping up high. However, plenty of inertia prevents the engine from scooting up the rev band as quickly as I expected—you sense substantial weight being moved each time you twist your wrist. And the bike doesn’t yet make a lot of horsepower, running in leisurely manner to the 12,500 rpm rev limiter with a wide spread of smoothly delivered linear horses helping offset the C1’s slow, vague-feeling gear-change action; however, these are early days in the C1’s R&D.
My Las Vegas ride certainly underscored that the twin-crank quad-cam V15 motor’s innovative concept works just fine in principle. So, how about the chassis, with the engine stuck lengthwise in that stiff carbon frame? It is hard to resist feeling that Michael Czysz has turned a new page in two-wheeled architecture, one that mainstream designers ought to scan closely. The MotoCzysz may well be the most neutral-handling bike I’ve ever ridden, a dynamic clean sheet from which all adverse forces created by the engine operation have been completely expunged; you start writing the book by dialing in your preferred chassis geometry and suspension setup of choice, unencumbered by external considerations like crankshaft rotation and inertia. Blip the C1’s throttle at rest in the pit lane, and there is zero sign of the bike rocking’n’rolling to one side beneath you. Out on the track, this makes for an ideally balanced engine package, the advantages of the lengthwise engine layout allowing you to exploit the bike’s neutral handling to the max.
While the MotoCzysz feels a little tall and top-heavy, it steers into turns very easily and controllably, flicking from side to side in a chicane, almost as quickly as the Aprilia RSV250 that Czysz was aiming to emulate, despite being 75 percent heavier. Although it is high, it handles bumps well on the gas without tank-slapping, in spite of the relatively steep 22.5-degree fork rake—and with the reduced amount of power presently on tap, it hooks up well out of turns, cranked over. Thanks to the way Czysz has made the previously negative gyroscopic engine forces work in your favor, using them to resist weight transfer when it matters, the C1 doesn’t squat unduly exiting a turn on the power; it just hooks up the rear Michelin and drives. Nor does it want to wheelie out of slow turns, an increasing issue with the many MotoGP bikes I’ve been fortunate to ride. The jury is out, though, on how well the C1 will behave with a further 50+ hp on tap.
The 6X-Flex front end delivers great confidence straight out of the pit lane, where even the best set of conventional telescopic forks will ask you to take time exploring their limits. The single Öhlins race shock delivers ideal feedback from the front Michelin so you can feel every ripple, every imperfection in the road surface, telling you exactly how far you can push the tire when cranking the C1 hard over and keeping up turn speed—all the more an issue when you are lacking power from the motor. It feels stable, yet sensitive. Call me a believer!
“Racing will be a very important part of MotoCzysz,” says Czysz. “We aren’t here to build another American motorcycle relic, but a true world-class performer. We have funding in place for the C1 taking part in at least one shakedown race in 2006, then racing a full Superbike season in 2007.” But what is the timescale for the startup of production? “I don’t think anyone has the ability to raise $100 million to start a motorcycle company in the United States right now. Not just because of the economic climate, but because of the experience with some manufacturers which has left potential investors sour. So we’re going to use the revenue of the company to build, and that means building slowly, but staying out of debt.” Czysz plans to manufacture a first run of 50 racers in 2006 for those interested in track day bikes or collectors’ items; they will sell for around $100,000. For 2007, 150 street versions will sell for between $55,000 and $65,000 each. And only two years after that, Czysz hopes to be producing 3,000 bikes a year. “We have a business plan in place for an entire range of street bikes and race bikes—our next model to follow the C1 will be the C6, which will be a 600cc 4-cylinder Supersport. Just wait until you hear that engine!”
Editor’s note: Tragically, Michael Czysz died in May 2016 after a three-year battle with cancer. His family requested that memorial contributions be made to the Oregon Health & Science University Knight Cancer Institute.
Studio photography by Cordero Studios
Location photography by Kevin Wing
Moto Czysz C1 990 Photo Gallery