The Watkins M001 Custom Motorcycle:
Exclusive Interview with Jack Watkins
There are many routes taken by the great custom motorcycle builders. Most had a passion for motorcycles that dated back to boyhood, and they brought that insatiable appetite to create to fruition as adults. A Polish man who goes by the name Jack Watkins took a different approach.
“I was always a big fan of cars,” Watkins reveals. “Just a few years ago, I decided to build a motorcycle—just like that, more less in the middle of the process of getting a driving license for motorcycles. In Poland, you have to proceed the driving license training on a Suzuki Gladius. First lesson, first ride. I was very surprised how quick it was. Very quickly I started to enjoy. Since that moment, I am in love with motorcycles. I have four in my garage.”
Despite his quick infatuation with motorcycles, Watkins was not satisfied with what was available for purchase. “I have very inconsistent feelings about stock motorbikes,” Watkins says. “On one hand, I am really impressed with usability and, most of all, reliability. On the other hand, the simplicity forced by cost reduction makes them all looking the same, and in some sense boring.”
Inspiration for Watkins to build his own motorcycle came from Sweden, in the form of Stellan Egeland’s SE Service BMW Harrier. A 2009 World AMD Championship competitor, the Harrier featured hub steering and unconventional suspension.
“It grabbed my attention due to unusual technical solutions,” Watkins says of the Harrier. “As a mechanical designer, I started to investigate details. In a certain moment, I realized that I could do it by myself. I have design experience from heavy duty machinery. This style or technology is quite typical to me. My machines just look like that.”
Watkins has certainly done his homework. He’s a mechanical engineer with a Ph.D., who also is a lecturer and researcher at Gdańsk University of Technology. Real world experience comes from leading a local design office with over 30 engineers.
Watkins started with a clean sheet when designing Watkins M001, and it was very much a personal project. “I have designed complete machine by myself, Watkins says. “I have analyzed all the kinematics and forces. I did many stress analyses using FEA (Finite Element Analysis).”
“I began with front suspension. I designed it until the very last detail, without a detailed idea for the rest of the motorcycle,” Watkins says. Watkins uses cables, something motorcyclists rarely associate with steering a motorcycle.
“It gives a lot of freedom in the front suspension kinematic arrangement,” Watkins says of the cable system. “It also simplifies the design by the elimination of the rods and levers. A friend of mine has an ultralight plane. Everything inside works thanks to wires. I thought it might be a good idea to follow. The pilot pulls the lever, and the wing adjusts. Traditional handbrakes work exactly the same way. You pull the handbrake in the cab and, thanks to wires under the floor, the brakes activate in rear wheels.”
Unexpectedly, the shocks come from a Moto Guzzi V7. “I was searching for certain parameters—the donor was not important,” Watkins explains. “The behavior of front suspension can be in many ways adjusted. I have played a bit with different settings. I personally found the stiff setting more fun.”
The hub design is also unique, and intricate. “I do not care that it is complex,” Watkins says. “In fact, I find it as an advantage. If you bring some good ideas based on experience, you can really make it user-friendly. The way it looks is just amazing. I do not even think about changing it.”
Beyond the steering and suspension, the sheet metal frame is a defining characteristic of Watkins M001. It’s an S355 structural steel plate that was laser cut and CNC bent.
“From the beginning, I wanted to build a fully functional motorcycle with all the lights, brakes, reasonable fuel tank—it holds 16 liters—and most of all comfortable position for the rider,” Watkins says. “I have spent lots of time searching for proper materials and verifying the necessary amount of screws. There are almost 300 components unique for this motorcycle. Each has an industrial technical drawing to share among suppliers. Each component was manufactured by professional workshop according to detailed technical information. The final assembly was supported by local workshop MotoSpec, owned by Mateusz Kozłowski. He supported me with space and tools.”
“The arrangement of the seat, handlebars, and footrests was precisely investigated,” Watkins continues. “After that, I knew how much space has left for the equipment. So, I arranged everything inside—battery, engine management, tank, relays—keeping in mind the general idea for this unusual frame. The last step was to play a bit with small design details to make it more attractive for the eye. Yes, it was quite a process, but thanks to general requirements, I knew exactly how to proceed.”
Powering Watkins M001 was an easy choice for Watkins. “There were two possibilities—BMW or Moto Guzzi,” he says. “BMW is so much easier to get, so the choice was quite simple. I found an ex-police BMW R 1150 RT for good money. The next step was to 3D scan it and to arrange in my design.”
The final proof of concept is in the riding, of course, and Watkins M001 is a motorcycle intended to be ridden.
“Due to the steel frame is a bit heavy,” Watkins reveals, even though Watkins M001 weighs in a just 440 pounds. “That makes the bike a bit clumsy at lower speeds. The steering angle should be and will be increased. It does not disturb while riding. But, it is a bit annoying on the parking lot. After reaching a certain speed, it becomes an absolutely normal bike—only other people will not let you forget what you are sitting on. The M001 grabs absolutely amazing attention on the street. It is like riding spaceship. It magnetizes crowds and jaw drops by other motorbike riders. Really cool!”
“The engine has almost 100 brake horsepower. For a daily ride, you do not need much,” Watkins explains. “The brakes come from a BMW R 1200 GS—hard not to be satisfied. It was designed as an urban motorcycle. I use my motorcycles daily. I like going to work by bike. That was the purpose of M001, as well. Over last year, however, it was more on the way from exhibition to exhibition than on the street. It has visited half of Europe.”
For Watkins, M001 is just a beginning. Watkins M002 is already in the offing. “I prefer now to do one more evolution with this engine,” Watkins says. “There is a lot of experience hidden behind such a build. Over the whole design process, I was listing ideas for future improvements. Now I would like to implement them before going for another new project.”
Look for Watkins M002 to have an aluminum frame, rather than sheet metal. “Mostly it will not be a problem,” Watkins says of the transition to an aluminum frame. “The tank and front frame will not be an issue. I have checked that already. I have to put some more attention to the front suspension. Some more FEA stress calculations will be required, for sure.”
Watkins M001 is a singular motorcycle, but it is possible to acquire one for your collection. “I am in contact with a few customers from Europe and USA,” Watkins is willing to reveal. “Also, one of the companies building electric motorcycles has contacted me. I negotiated another custom project with one of the biggest producers, too. So, there are some activities around. I would like to say more, but I think I will come back to your magazine in the future.”
We wait with bated breath.
Photography by Maciej Bejma