Starmaker Metisse. 1966.

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16. Starmaker Metisse / 1966

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England’s Rickman Brothers, designers and builders of the Petit Metisse frame, and racers of their own products on England’s motocross circuits, are fast becoming a racing legend.

Metisse frames with 500cc Matchless singles, and with Triumph and Norton twins, are being seen more widely in this country, even though they are expensive, difficult to find, and not, as of this writing, commercially distributed in the United States.

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Starmaker Metisse / 1966

Cycle World’s Publisher, brought almost the first Metisse, into the U.S. and made a story of it in the December 1964 issue. Since then we have shown several Metisse’s on the pages of Cycle World, each a sample of the frames so sought after, but so difficult to obtain. We might explain that the Rickman firm is devoted to the building of a high quality product, in very small quantity. An attempt at supplying the superbly built frame in quantity to Spain’s Bultaco firm resulted in Rickman’s entering into a licensing agreement with Bultaco, who now build their scrambler with their own Metisse type frame, the Pursang.

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Starmaker Metisse / 1966

Only the highest quality, chrome-moly, steel tubing, is used by the Rickman’s, and the frame is bronze-welded, then nickel-plated and polished. Much of the original design of the frame can be traced to the familiar Norton “Featherbed” chassis, particularly the method of joining the tubes at the fork crown, but the Rickman’s have added many innovations to the pattern.

Among them are such niceties as carrying the oil in the frame, and the unique rear chain adjustment, using spacers on the swinging arm pivot. Fibreglass components, such as the fuel tank, fenders, air-cleaner and panels, are made by England’s famed Mitchenall Brothers. Which all brings us to the latest addition, our “Metisse of the day.” Metisse kits were, until a short time ago, distributed in the U.S. but due to the high unit cost, and the painful availability, the firm involved decided against the profitability of continuing the arrangement. But not before they had commissioned construction of a prototype, which they hoped would be available for import in suitable quantity. Using the Petit Metisse frame and components, in combination with an engine and transmission unit that is available in large quantity, the 247cc Starmaker.

The result is the Villiers Starmaker Metisse.

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Starmaker Metisse / 1966

Cycle World’s Publisher quickly added this rare bird to his collection, making only slight changes, such as replacing the European style 21 inch front wheel with a 19 inch, and a more comfortable and versatile set of handlebars. The Villiers Metisse frame is hollow, of course, but does not carry oil, as the engine is a two-stroke. Chain adjustment is accomplished with the eccentric spacers at the swinging arm pivot, permitting the use of a quick-change rear wheel for racing. Metisse kits are built to accommodate either the Ceriani forks, or the Norton units; the Villiers Metisse mounts the Norton units, modified by the Rickman’s for off road racing.

They are superb units, suffering in comparison to the Ceriani’s only in their weight. A tuned exhaust system is mounted conventionally on the engine, but is cleverly routed between the frame members and up under the seat, completely out of the way of the rider.

The space it occupies, on a four-stroke, is used to accommodate the huge air cleaner. As on other Metisse framed machines the fuel tank holds a mere 1.6 gallons, which is fine for an eight or twelve lap British motocross event, but for a Californian desert run, or a true long day of rough riding, it’s not enough.  

Obviously, the Villiers Metisse is not a trail or woods bike, but it handles superbly in the rough, and could very well be the best trail bike in the world, albeit the most expensive.

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Freddie Mayes, working on the Villiers Metisse with the Rickman Brothers / 1967

Readers may also detect a trace of regret in the current Villiers Metisse situation; such a fine thing should be for all. Perhaps one day soon, Rickman will adapt some fine old American mass production techniques and build enough Metisse frames to satisfy a burgeoning market.

 In the meantime, we will have to be content with a few of these mechanical marvels, setting a style for what we all hope will be a new era of scrambles machines.

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