Interview – Christofer Ratcliffe of Langen Motorcycles
Just as we’d come to terms with the death of two-stroke road bikes, a new independent manufacturer has raised the genre from the dead! The cafe racer styled Langen Two Stroke is the brainchild of UK independent manufacturer Langen Motorcycles. CEO Christofer Ratcliffe self-funded the company and after more than a year of development, testing and countless late nights he and his team have just unveiled their prototype motorcycle.
The appropriately named Langen Two Stroke is powered by a 250cc two-stroke that adheres to current emission laws. By combining innovative engine technology with featherweight construction and high-end performance components they’ve created what we consider to be the quintessential off-the-shelf cafe racer. To learn more about this awesome motorcycle, Return of the Cafe Racers sat down with Christofer Ratcliffe to bring you this exclusive Langen Motorcycles interview.
When did your passion for motorcycles being?
I was born into the motorcycle world. My mum was the first female dispatch rider in Manchester at the age of 17 on a Honda CD200 Benley. My Dad also rides and worked at Cotton Motorcycles in the early 80s fabricating frames just before I was born. Growing up, most weekends were filled with bikes whether it was riding pillion, time in the garage or race weekends. At 17 my first road bike, a Honda CB100N, turned up on a trailer ready to be revived back to life. From that point on I was hooked for life.
How did your career as a motorcycle manufacturer come about?
I decided to keep music as a hobby and studied Automotive Design and Engineering at Huddersfield University. Motorcycle jobs were quite hard to come by so after some time as a Development Engineer at TVR Sportscars and few years spent in the oil and gas industry I spotted a design engineer role advertised 10 miles from my home at CCM Motorcycles. Needless to say, I was straight on the bike to visit with Austin Clews with my CV and a bag of enthusiasm and was given a chance. That was 2010.
I read that your nickname is actually Langen. Where did that come from?
I would love to tell you it was based on Eugen Langen, the pioneer who helped Nicolaus Otto to commercialise the internal combustion engine. But it isn’t. It was a completely random nickname given during a game of rugby or football many years ago and it stuck.
What factors lead to you deciding to launch Langen Motorcycles?
There has always been an underlying desire to create something completely new and write a new chapter in British Motorcycle history. CCM really gave me that opportunity for 10 years when we grew a great team and launched a range of really unique motorcycles. Having the responsibility and flexibility as Chief Design Engineer during that time, I was able to absorb so much information about motorcycle design and the industry. It felt like a good time to hand over the reins and start a new company and develop a motorcycle completely different from anything else. So I left the job, sold the car and family home and buckled in for the ride!
How long has the Langen Two Stroke been in development?
First sketches started around 18 months ago once I left CCM. Some of the design elements have been bubbling around my head for years so it’s nice to see them come to life.
Where does all the manufacturing of the Langen Two Stroke take place?
Aside from the Vins Motors engine and Ohlins forks we are trying to keep as much manufacturing as local as possible. The design, engineering and build are all done in house – in Wigan, Greater Manchester, UK. We have a range of great local partners for machined components and fabrication and we are currently building a composite workshop. This will enable us to produce all of our own carbon fibre components. The aim is to be as self-sufficient as possible so we have everything in our own control, including quality.
Let’s address the elephant in the room. In a world limited by strict emissions controls how does a two-stroke engine comply?
The geniuses at Vins Motors have developed the patented an engine that complies with modern emissions standards. It does this by utilising things like carbon fibre reed valves, electronic exhaust valves and fuel injection. The most important feature when it comes to emissions is the injected lubrication system controlled by a secondary ECU, so no more premix fuel!
What kind of performance can we expect from the Vins 250cc two-stroke v-twin?
The UK spec bike will produce over 75BHP and 45Nm of torque. The beauty of this fuel-injected engine is that the torque delivery is very strong and smooth from idle all the way up to 10,500 rpm…..at which point you hit the PowerBand and the scenery goes by very quickly!
How about the rest of the bike’s performance?
The design philosophy, apart from looking pretty, is all about simplification and the reduction of weight. The chassis and swingarm are constructed from lightweight large diameter aluminium tubing with bonded machined connection points. All bodywork is carbon fibre, including the fuel tank. The final prototype machine has weighed in a just 114kg which we are very happy with. All components have been optimised for weight and CNC machined. The brakes are twin radial HEL callipers with 320mm discs born from the race track so the bike stops as quickly as it goes. The front forks are Ohlins right way up to keep the weight down and to give it a classic look. The rear shocks have been made bespoke for us by Ktech using their expertise in Superbike race suspension.
Would you describe the Langen Two Stroke as a cafe racer?
I guess it’s the closest category it would fall in to. The aesthetic is very much cafe racer and roadster but the ergonomics are a lot more user friendly and fully adjustable.
What factors influenced the design direction you chose?
The initial design brief was just a twin shock, 2 stroke road bike that was easy to ride. Easy to ride, for me, meant comfortable adjustable ergonomics, very lightweight, overall simplicity and top-shelf brakes and suspension components to compliment the geometry. The fuel injection and custom ECU map take care of an easy-riding two-stroke across the RPM range.
The twin-shock element was quite fun. The V-twin engine configuration meant that the natural and most efficient place for the upper exhaust stinger was straight down the middle. This already lent itself towards building two smaller rear shocks into the design rather than one larger shock to one side of the bike. The position and angle of the shocks give a subtle visual hardtail line from the headstock down to the rear axle – reminiscent of the 1920s and 30s triangulated frames. At the same time, you can see modern street bikes with a single shock in a similar orientation down one side. Ktech are the experts in this area and produced some custom damping and progressive springs for the bike. Fitting the twin shocks in this way also gives us symmetrical twist forces on the swingarm. It makes the computational analysis side of things nice and easy and gives a predictable feel when cornering.
What manufacturing techniques do Langen Motorcycles employ?
We have a nice blend of modern and traditional build techniques. Take the chassis, for example, all the tubes are CNC bent with laser cut profiles but are then perfected and hand welded to produce the intricate forms. CNC machining plays a big part in a lot of the components to achieve some of the complex shapes and dimensional tolerances. The carbon fibre fuel tank is a complex engineering challenge which is then hand-laid by skilled people. Rather than paint some of the detail on the bodywork we decided to apply gold leaf gilding which is an ancient craft and needs someone far more skilled and dextrous than me to achieve the level of quality and patina that really sets the parts off.
How much of the Langen Two Stroke is bespoke compared to off-the-shelf components?
All of the bike is bespoke and designed in our workshop. Where we couldn’t manufacture the components we worked with the producers to specify and customise the parts such as suspension, brakes, wheels and engine. We quickly found out that it was impossible to achieve exactly what we wanted with off the shelf components so we did it the hard and most rewarding way.
To what degree can customers personalise their Langen Two Stroke?
Pretty much anything goes. The beauty of keeping it to a hand-built limited run is that each bike can be totally customised for the owner. Any colours of anodising, paint, gilding or even composite sheets can be changed. Different suspension, carbon fibre wheels, upholstery changes, you name it. This is the part I am looking forward to the most and something I have always got a kick out of. Seeing people take a platform and modifying it to suit their own performance and ergonomic needs and aesthetic style is what keeps life interesting. We are looking forward to some challenges!
Where can people be able to view the prototype bike?
The prototype is due to be launched at Salon Privé Concours d’Elégance at Blenheim Palace on the 22nd September 2020. Its been tough this year as all of the traditional motorcycle and motorsport shows have been cancelled. I’m very thankful to be involved with this event alongside some awesome historic machines. We are working hard to organise some other private events for later in the year so people can see the bike in the metal and really appreciate it, hear it, smell it and ride it!
When will you be taking orders and fulfilling them?
Due to the overwhelming response, we have had so far and only 100 bikes initially being available we have decided to start taking pre-orders now. We are receiving £1000 deposits to secure a build slot then we can start talking about individual specifications. All going well we will start delivering the finished bikes from Summer 2021 at a rate of around 2 per week.
Will the Langen Two Stroke be available to international customers?
Once we get into the build phase of the 100 UK bikes we will already be developing a version of the bike that will be homologated for other countries. These bikes will need to include ABS and a few other features that we have managed to work around for UK registrations. The final countries haven’t been decided yet until we see what the demand is like in each area. The interest is very high in Europe, US and Japan so far. We aim to build the type-approved bikes from 2022 and limit the numbers to 150 builds.
Along with everything Chris covered above each Langen Two Stroke comes with a 6-speed gearbox, a multidisc wet clutch, spoked tubeless rims and Dunlop TT100 GP radial rubber. The bikes lighting is all LED-based with a halo style headlight in the front. The 249.5cc 90-degree v-twin produces 75 bhp and has a top speed of 140+ mph (225+ kph). With a total weight of just 114kg that equates to a knuckle-whitening 660bhp per ton and it’s 100% street legal.
Priced at £28,000 (approx $36,000 USD) the very limited first edition of the Langen Motorcycles Two Stroke is available to reserve on their website now.