Most bikes have names. These range from the artistic (usually based upon the paint job) to the unprintable (usually based on said bike’s inability to start in the morning), but rarely do you come across a machine whose name is so intrinsically part of its being. Vic Jefford’s ‘Saracen’ is one such bike.
The word ‘Saracen’ has been appropriated in modern times by Alvis Ltd of Coventry (formerly known for sleek touring cars bearing a statue of a hare on their radiator caps) for its six-wheeled Armoured Personnel Carrier, and by a friend of mine as a name for his dog. Now, bearing in mind that the Saracen armoured car had an eight-cylinder Rolls-Royce engine, weighed ten tons, could carry twelve people and came equipped with smoke grenade dischargers, it’s a fair bet that Vic didn’t take his inspiration from that. Nor does his new bike look much like a Doberman Pinscher, so we can discount that theory too.
No, the Saracens who influenced this bike are the real deal, the nomadic desert peoples who, for centuries, lived fairly quietly in the area between modern-day Syria and Saudi Arabia. Then, at some point in the 7th century AD, they decided they’d rather like to get themselves an empire, and devoted the next century and a half to rather successfully doing just that. At its greatest extent the Saracen empire stretched from Spain southwards and eastwards across North Africa, through Egypt, the Middle East, Asia Minor, and across all of Central Asia to the borders of India and China. In October 732, they attempted to conquer France, but were defeated at the Battle of Poitiers by Charles Mantel, a rout that must ever remain one of the great events in the history of the world, as upon its outcome depended whether Christian civilization should continue. Had the Arab invasion succeeded then the future of Europe – and, indeed, the world – would have been very different.
So, are young Vic Jefford and his good lady, Lin, attempting to found a latterday empire, albeit without putting thousands to the scimitar? Well, not really, although their Destiny Cycles seems to be building its own empire thanks to the innovation and craftsmanship of bikes such as ‘Predator’, ‘Banshee’ and ‘Miss Liberty’.Nor is it a deliberate crusade, although you might be forgiven for thinking so. After all, it was the Saracens’ conquest and occupation of the Holy Land that led to the Crusades as the Knights of St John and the Knights Templar marched off to war. Unfortunately the Knights were more enthusiastic than successful in their mission, especially when they discovered – too late, as it turned out – that the Saracens had armed themselves with ‘Greek fire’, a jelly-like flammable liquid that was probably made of naphtha, sulphur and quicklime, although the exact composition is now a mystery. Whatever its ingredients, it was lethal (particularly when fired, flamethrower-style, from bronze tubes), sticking to the skin and only extinguishable with sand or vinegar. A thousand years before Vietnam, the Saracens were using their own version of napalm. Incidentally, the Crusaders left custom motorcycling their own legacy; because of the extensive armour the knights wore, they needed to be able to identify friend from foe in the heat of battle. Because they were fighting for a holy cause they chose the cross of Calvary as their emblem, a symbol which is now more commonly known as the Maltese cross…
The visitor to the Destiny Cycles’ workshop is more like to be greeted with a cup of tea and a cheese sandwich than a flamethrower (although I daresay Lin has considered the idea). The origins of the Saracen bike lie with Lin’s Miss Liberty Harley that graced the cover of last month’s BSH. As I explained then, when Vic and Lin came to the decision that they would build a pair of Harleys to act as a rolling advertisement for Destiny Cycles, they also decided that the two bikes should be as diverse as possible. Lin’s Harley had embraced an American theme from the Harley engine to the Miss Liberty name and the tattered Stars and Stripes paintwork. So Vic wanted a bike that, although it would share an engine with Miss Liberty (as in both bikes having Harley motors, not actually the same engine because that wouldn’t be very practical), would be as different as possible in style, theme and name. So, if Lin was to have a Yankee Doodle Dandyette, then Vic would have an Arab stallion.
Work started in December 2002 and bits of bent 2” cold drawn steel started to appear around the workshop. At that point those bits of CDS bore no resemblance to a bike frame, leading visitors to suspect that Vic had a sideline making bullbars (or cattle crushers as they call them up north where they’re not so squeamish about road kill). Six months later the bits of tubes still looked just like bits of tube, as I can testify, although by June 2003 they had been joined by a 1340 Evo engine. The trouble was that the bits of tube were in one corner of the workshop while the engine was propped up on a bench in another, acting as a useful if somewhat elaborate coat rack. With his workload increasing during the summer, Vic began to wonder if ever the twain would meet.
The only option was to attempt the impossible, and make more time. Not having the omnipotent ability to change time (not yet, anyway), Vic resorted to getting up at the crack of dawn and working late into the night, fitting in work on his project around that on customers’ bikes. Thus the frame was finally finished, and was originally intended to be followed by a solid rear wheel. But, by the time he’d completed the frame, Vic had decided to fabricate a domed disc sprocket which meant that the solid wheel he’d set aside couldn’t be used.
Sometime before Vic came up with the idea for a domed sprocket Lin had spotted an ad in BSH smalls, advertising for sale two 15” 120-spoke stainless steel wheels. She pointed the wheels out to Vic who thought that they were from Si Harris’ Rent Boy II – as, indeed, they turned out to be. By the time Lin got round to ringing the phone number in the advert she was convinced that the wheels would already have been sold. They weren’t, a deal was struck, and two one-hundred-and-twenty-spokers were soon winging their way to North Yorkshire.
Remember, at this point, Saracen was still destined to have a solid rear wheel, so the newly-acquired spoky wheels had no immediate destination – other than whatever places Lin could hide them. Like everyone else who saw them, she coveted the ex-Rent Boy wheels and did her utmost to squirrel them away where they wouldn’t be found until everyone else had (a) forgotten about them, or, (b) died. It was to no avail; by now Vic had thought of the domed sprocket (although I wouldn’t be so cynical as to imagine that had anything whatsoever to do with the acquisition of the spoked wheels. Oh no…). By persuasion, wheedling and promising to finish the bathroom he ripped out three years ago, Vic convinced Lin to let him have one of the wheels as a Christmas present. Their friend, Ako, by a combination of persistence and text messaging, managed to relieve Lin of the second wheel. Well, they say you never miss what you haven’t had, although I bet they wouldn’t dare say that to her face.
With the rear wheel dilemma sorted out, Vic went in search of something round for the front of the bike. He had his eye on another 120-spoke wheel, the only problem being that it was then residing in the rear of the Prodigy Firestarter chop that’s been around for several years. But the intricate Northern web of trading and swapping came to the rescue. Firestarter now belongs to Shov, who bought it from his mate, Ian Pringle, who is also good mates with Charlie who owns the radical and ridiculously wide-barred Harley from the cover of BSH223. (Are you following this? There will be questions later). In return for work that Vic had done on his Harley, Charlie offered him a pair of radical spoked wheels which, in turn, Vic offered to Shov in exchange for the wheels on Firestarter. Shov agreed, leaving everyone happy, and me in need of a little lie down
The frame being finished (by the way, did I mention that it’s oil-in-frame? Thought not… Well, it is.), and the wheel problem solved by begging, borrowing and bartering, work started on the engine. As with the Twin Cam motor in Lin’s bike, the bottom three fins on the Evo engine were removed and polished and powdercoated. Except for the ubiquitous Screamin’ Eagle carb, the engine is more or less standard, albeit somewhat shinier than it left Milwaukee. Vic tends to reserve manic tuning and performance modifications for Japanese bikes, on which he can be just as mad as the next person, although not quite as deranged as Lin. After all, this is a gentleman who used to race sidecars (a sport for which a large amount of lunacy is obligatory), finishing a most respectable third in the sidecar class at the 1990 TT.
As you might expect, almost everything was made by Vic, and most of the parts that weren’t came from autojumbles (both Vic and Lin having a fine Yorkshire parsimonious attitude to buying anything new). Their Mecca (to return to the Saracen theme) is Rufforth autojumble near York, where they are known and feared by the most hardbitten of traders. Seasoned stallholders shake with panic when Lin or Vic show an interest in one of their items. I have no idea what Vic paid for the new BSA A65 rear sprocket ring or the billet IRS racing caliper, but I can imagine the seller had to have a stiff cup of tea and a nice quiet rest afterwards.
The tank started life as a King Sportster before being – as happens to everything in the workshop that doesn’t move fast enough – much modified so that it now incorporates a stainless battery box. The electrics were kept to a minimum by use of points ignition and a Spyke direct starter button. Solid stainless yokes at a reasonable price (or at any price) tend to be rare at autojumbles, so a set was lathed and milled, and milled again, and milled a bit more by the Destiny Cycles Wonder Cat (why do you think they call her Millie?), overseen by Vic. But Rufforth did provide a pair of chunky forks from one of Suzuki’s tall DRZ400 trailies, which were subsequently modified by machining two billet ends for the fork bottoms, moving the spindle position from the front to the bottom and adding about 4” to the overall length. The 49mm DRZ forks are fairly long to start with, but, in their new life, they had to cope with not only fifty-four degrees of rake in the frame, but an extra five degrees in the yokes. You’d think that, after all the trouble that Vic went to in getting the front wheel that he wouldn’t want it quite so far away from him…
At the front end braking is taken care of by a 6-pot Harrison billet caliper, which Lin bought new at an autojumble in Leeds and didn’t hide from Vic quickly enough. The one-off rear hub is nothing short of a work of art, and could only be improved by having a small singing canary inside. Like all of Vic’s bikes, there is a wealth of unique finishing touches, small details that belie the time taken in their construction. Note, for example, the exhaust ends that continue the Eastern theme of the bike (the handlebar ends, lights and various other parts have a distinctly Arabic turn to them, reflecting the dome shape of the Saracens’ helmets). Vic made up the exhaust system in stainless tube (doubleskinned to avoid discolouration) and intended to end the pipes in simple bullrings. However, Lin insisted that something more extraordinary was required. Vic disagreed. Lin insisted. Stalemate ensued in the state of Kirkbymoorside. Then Logie arrived to look at the almost-finished Predator and promptly sided with Lin. Wisely, Vic gave in, and the Moorish-style exhaust ends are the happy result.
The wide bars were made in 42mm stainless tube and, although I can’t tell you exactly how wide they are, I know that they wouldn’t fit through the door of the studio for the photoshoot. And they don’t come off… The seat might appear to be an instrument of torture, but Vic swears it’s actually very comfortable. It’s made up of solid billet stainless bars, milled, polished and then welded into place. Although it looks excruciating, Vic points out that the seat bars were placed to fit him (or more precisely, the contours of his bum) exactly, while the little kicked up scorpion end gives a little support to the small of his back.
With almost everything in place, the bike was disassembled and entrusted to Percy at Bad Brush Dezigns. The only problem was that, having spent several weeks barely seeing daylight in order to finish Saracen, Vic didn’t have a coherent plan for the paintjob. Or any plan at all, really. Eventually Percy realised that he would have to make the final decision on design himself, so he did. Fortunately, with an artist of Percy’s calibre, this is not the terrifying situation it could be; whether or not Percy researched Saracen history or whether it was inspired design I know not, but the finished paint scheme fits in perfectly with the overall theme. Much of the design is abstract, as is much of Islamic art, representations of living creatures being banned in Islam, while, on the top of the tank, stylized flames run down towards the seat, a nod to the Saracens’ all-conquering weapon of ‘Greek fire’. Needless to say, Vic was delighted with it.
We often describe bikes as works of art, but rarely have I felt that a bike deserved that description as much as Saracen. My only disappointment is the obvious lack of any huge curved swords anywhere on Saracen, but then I have to remember this bike belongs to Vic and not to Lin…
photos: SIMPLY ECSTATIC & ABACUS
make & model:
2003 Destiny Cycles Harley-Davidson
Harley Evo 1340 with polished Screamin’ Eagle carb. Lower fins removed, barrels and heads powdercoated and casings polished. Stainless bellmouth polished by owner. 5-speed gearbox, polished. One-off exhaust by owner in 2” double-skinned stainless tube.
Rigid one-off Destiny Cycles frame in 50mm tubing. Oil-in-frame. 54° of rake in frame and extra 5° incorporated in polished stainless billet yokes.
Much modified and polished Suzuki DR400 forks with billet bottoms and aluminium seal shrouds. 5.75” x 15” stainless rim with 120 spokes and 150 x 15 Pirelli tyre. Harrison 6-pot brakes. One-off stainless bars in 42mm tube by owner. Ness headlight.
8” x 15” rim with 120 spokes and 230 x 15 Avon tyre. One-off hub, sprocket and disc by owner. Ness taillight.
Minimal seat. Stretched and widened King Sportster tank with Pingel fuel tap and one-off tank cap by owner. One-off cylindrical billet oil cooler and billet number plate holder by owner. Totally built by owner from frame to grips, pegs, etc.
paint & finishing:
Paint by Percy at Bad Brush Dezigns. Polishing by owner and Derek.
“PCP of Malton; Steve of NB Coatings; Charlie & Logie for their powers of persuasion; Derek for help with polishing and not forgetting Lin who hasn't moaned too much about me ripping the bathroom out three years ago and still not finding time to refit it. A special thanks to English Heritage and Pickering Castle who were kind enough to allow photographs to be taken in the grounds. If you're in North Yorkshire, it's worth a visit (phone 0 1751 474989 for opening hours). An extra special thanks to Percy of BadBrush Dezigns from all the owners of Destiny bikes which he has painted. YOU'RE SOME BOY, PERCE!”