Rickman Predator

The final revision of the fabled Rickman sports bike

By the time Rickman scratched out its Predator kitbike, the brand had lost some luster. This was in no way due to any failing by brothers Don, Derek or any of their talented craftsmen, but a condition caused by improved mass production methods in a market Rickman helped to form. Among a wave of standout fabricators including Britain’s Dave Degens (Dresda) Fridel Munch and Swiss engineer Fritz Egli, Rickmans built its first frame in 1960 and earned an impressive number of victories as riders and builders. Selling frames to their racing competition, success brought the brothers attention, and by 1965 Rickman Motorcycles was rolling out thousands of scramblers for BSA’s US importer. Known worldwide, sometime after a long run of Metisse’ specials but before the Honda CR, Rickman stood alone among the remains of Britian’s bike industry.

My admiration for Rickman runs deep and I’ve sampled a couple. If memory serves, it was 2007 when younger brother Don visited Phoenix dealer Ton Up Motorcycles while traveling in the USA. Distracted by something before ever going inside I regret that missed opportunity, but it doesn’t much matter. Part of successful research is knowing which questions to ask, and I didn’t then. Pity, as there’s precious little info on the Predator line, which I’ve roughly determined ran from 1980 to 1984. The mission? Write what I know about the brother’s last kit, speculate on the rest, then toss everything into the digital sea in hopes someone who knows more will reach out. This approach has worked before, and I’m certain those people with first hand knowledge of Rickman and its Predator line are out there. One success story includes owner Martin Weston, who snapped this photo of his (in the background).  

Someone defined the Predator as being remade into a sports tourer and that’s repeated often. but it’s a lazy conclusion. Some obvious aspects of the Predator’s build jump out at first glance; first is the adaptation of two new inlines; Honda’s 900cc Bol D’Or and the GS1000 from Suzuki. Largely hidden under the Predator’s swooping fiberglass, engine and frame live under a new monocoque shell that dramatically changed the Rickman’s looks and seating. An important point of emphasis addresses the confusion many seem to have lumping the Predator in with the previous Z1-powered CRE Endurance of 1979. There are elements of the CRE in the Predator’s revised ergos, but that kit was clearly patterned on the Kawasaki CR platform and promoted as a performance tourer. Adding to the confusion is the Predator CRE model  (shown here with Astralite wheels) and of the 100 Predator kits rumored, 10 are believed to be sports touring CRE endurance bikes using Suzuki GS1000 power.

1979 CRE Endurance (in white) is often confused with the Predator. These used Kawasaki Z900/1000 fours. Rare Predator CRE with Astralite wheels.

Similar to the CR frame, some (late?) Predators add a pair of radius braces near the steering head, and some report the bike has a longer wheelbase. Legend grew from mating Japan’s fastest fours with a superior chassis, but the gap separating Rickman from its donors was less than before. Still, new levels of stability and weight saving were gained due to Rickman’s fundamental engineering. Perfected inhouse, the frame’s butt-end profiled, hand-brazed cradle is made from thick wall Reynolds 531 manganese molybdenum tubing with generous cross bracing.

The essence of this and all Rickmans is the strength that connects steering head and swingarm pivot; holding at bay the tendency to twist or flex from inertia or side pressure from its heavy engine. Strong and resistant to permanent bending, Rickman used more 531 on the twinshock swingarm and supplied an assortment of positioning discs to tension the chain at its pivot. Noting the burly 41mm Betor fork, triple AP Lockheed calipers (some with Brembo discs) and Ronal (or Astralite) wheels, I’d wager few production sports bikes could match the Predator in power-to-weight discussions in 1982. No two alike, variance is common when research is limited to studying owner-assembled motorcycles.

With Z1000 engine in plated frame. Lockheed components were top grade. Note body attachment brackets, Ronal wheels. Photos: Ian Carter.

Body, engine and controls
Always a few steps ahead, I’m convinced the brothers and their design team looked to improve upon the CR’s most glaring weakness; ergonomics. Drawn in full GP crouch you’ll grind the Z1’s protruding alternator off before reaching the pegs, and the clip-ons are equally extreme. Those looking to race Rickman’s Competition Replica found it not far off and many did; including one time US importer Craig Vetter. Nearly putting Paul Dunstall out of business, England’s ban on plastic fuel tanks may have played a role in the Predator’s design, the kit featuring a steel petrol cell covered by the body shell. The platform sits a bit higher, and with a Z-bar the Predator offers a far more relaxed riding position.

Adding applications to include the Honda CB900 and Suzuki GS1000 certainly expanded Rickman’s catalog, but it is clear the Kawasaki application made it to the kit. Very graciously provided by owner/restorer Ian Carter, this Z1000 powered example answers some questions but asks even more. This frame does not include the additional side braces shown on the blue and yellow examples included here, leading me to believe the Predator body might fit onto the CR frame. Here’s hoping more details emerge. Perhaps an unseen benefit was the larger (1100cc) Honda and even better (GS1100) Suzuki engines to follow, each using similar mounting points. A modestly tuned GS1100 Predator would be a formidable mount indeed, but some owners did remark the extra weight could be felt. With no records or period tests in my files there’s little more to do than speculate, but I’m guessing the Predator lands under the 500-lb barrier with more than a few pounds to spare.   

Carter’s Kawasaki-powered Predator features a plated frame and mainstand. Donor parts traditionally include clocks, switches, and wiring harness. The blue and yellow examples shown here are late versions with extra frame bracing – some say they’re added to prevent cracking of the front downtubes. 

There are many elements that make the Rickman attractive, not the least being an almost equal draw between European, Japanese and English motorcycle enthusiasts. Joined by Egli, the Harris brothers, Georges Martin and other greats, Rickman shaped the sports bike industry by leading the way with beautifully simple, effective engineering. Very plainly the chassis-first approach. Derek Rickman is quoted saying that every member of Japan’s big four purchased a Rickman, and as frame technology progressed in mass produced form, the need to special order it disappeared.

We remember the styling. Can anything truly top it? Apparently not, for 80% of the Rickman owners I interviewed preferred the svelte CR over the full figured Predator. There are thriving fan groups all over social media, and some of these owners have been riding their English specials a long time. It’s entirely possible Rickman is more popular and better known now than when they were first soldered together, and the brand maintains excellent value for a kit bike. For me, the spell was cast years ago but the Predator is the only Rickman I’ve seen rigged for the open circuit. Except the CRE of course, but that’s my point. Basically a racer with extra coverage and a Z-bar, the CRE proved Rickman’s pure sports CR capable of both roles, so consider the Predator a natural progression. Not as beloved, the Predator nevertheless led again with its module construction, which would became the dominate sports-styling theme for more than a decade. Those special frame roots run deep, and maybe that’s the problem. This is history that should be known. Nolan Woodbury

Rickman Predator

Engine: Kawasaki Z1000, Honda CB900 Suzuki GS1000
Frame: Rickman CoMo cradle. plated
41mm Betor forks 5.5″ of travel
2 x Girling shocks/swinging arm
2 x 18″ Ronal wheels
2 x 280mm Rickman discs w/2p Lockheed (f)
1 x 240mm Rickman disc w/2p Lockheed (r)
Wheelbase: 58.5″
Weight: 480-lb wet

(Photos: Ian Carter, J. Luis, Erica Fabiola, Seeitdere Seeitdere, Stefan Bergmair, Car & Classic)

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