Photographer: Krisztian Bocsi/Bloomberg

The World's Fastest Motorcycle, Reborn

In Greek mythology a Chimera was a fire-breathing monster with a lion's head, a goat's body and a snake's tail. More recently, it's been defined as something that only exists in the imagination. Classic motorcycle aficionados know the Chimera really does exist – and it's called the Brough Superior. Custom-built in Britain in the early 20th century by racer and engineer George Brough, his sporty models were test ridden to 100 miles per hour before delivery. Now, the Brough Superior is getting a 21st century makeover. Photographs by Krisztian Bocsi/Bloomberg

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    British entrepreneur Mark Upham bought the Brough Superior name in 2008 and approached French vehicle consultants Boxer Design about building a new model. The result of the partnership is the Brough Superior Motorcycles SS100 (it stands for Super Sport and the name was originally used by George Brough in 1924).

    Adventurer T.E. Lawrence – war hero Lawrence of Arabia – was the company's most valuable publicity asset. (After all, he did own seven of the machines.) Noted for their loping V-twin engines and tapered tanks, they were lightning-fast and only for the brave. As Lawrence said: "A skittish motorbike with a touch of blood in it is better than all the riding animals on Earth."

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    The factory floor in Toulouse where bikes are assembled. France isn't a major player globally in motorcycle production but it's filled with avid motorsport fans and home to the world's most demanding endurance race, the 24 Heures Moto at Le Mans.

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    An employee in France works on hand-shaping an aluminum gas tank before welding. The new SS100 gives a faithful nod to the iconic tank on the original, fewer than 400 of which were built in Nottingham, England, from 1924.

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    The new SS100 is designated as the Mk1 and assembled by hand rather than on a mass-volume production line. The front radial brakes use art deco-inspired Beringer calipers with four small disks (unlike modern sports bikes with two large disks), and the frames are machined from expensive solid billet titanium to reduce weight and improve rigidity.

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    Like many modern manufacturers a large range of merchandise is planned, including vintage-inspired "pudding-bowl" helmets. TV star Jay Leno has a collection of vintage SS100s. Watch him taking one out on the freeways of Los Angeles. Afterward he said: "It's just a fascinating machine and comes from the era of romance and excitement when 100 mph is what 250 mph would be now."


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    Some parts on the new bikes are made in-house, while specialized components are outsourced to high-end manufacturers.

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    An employee welds a gas tank at the factory. Like some of the original Broughs the new tanks are held in place on the frame with straps, like hoops on a barrel.

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    Engineers in the design and engineering department work at desks behind various segments of the SS100, including the modern overhead cam v-twin 997cc water-cooled engine, designed and constructed by superbike race champions Akira and BSM.

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    Gas tanks sit on a work bench during manufacture in the sheet metal section before final quality control checks, and painting and lacquering.

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    The solo-seat Brough Superior SS100 weighs 410 pounds (186 kg) and is crafted with modern aesthetics balancing the original design – which is now 92 years old – while the company admits there is a "touch of British eccentricity" to the concept. Delivery starts this year through a worldwide dealer network with a starting price of €49,900 ($55,000) plus taxes.

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    A Brough Superior SS100 on a winter test ride in the French countryside. There are three model variations, powered by a torquey six-speed 88o v-twin engine developing 100 bhp. Road bumps are smoothed by Fior girder-inspired articulated front forks (in 1924 they used Harley-Davidson's) and an Ohlins rear monoshock.