Mike Nick's April 2016

It’s not surprising to learn of technicians in a leading MotoGP team who are taking an interest in classic metal. Compared to the ’60s, when Japanese manufacturers would often crush their last-season’s factory bikes, there is now a widespread appreciation of our sport’s heritage.

But France’s Tech3 team, the most successful of the MotoGP satellite squads, have gone a step further than simply admiring other people’s classics. They’ve opened their own historic division – Tech3 Classique – to restore bikes and use their 29 years of experience on the frontline of motorcycling technology to take on some of the more extreme challenges that arise in the renovation business.

Not so long ago, I was talking to Tech3’s patron Hervé Poncharal about his team’s sixth place in the 2015 MotoGP championship with the British rider Bradley Smith. In the course of the conversation I also asked about the classics department, and realised that their skills could help enthusiasts who have some really challenging projects on their hands. “I didn’t know what to expect,” Hervé said of his new venture. “But so far, with only a little promotion, we’re doing quite well. It’s one person, Laurent Ducloyer, plus Guy Coulon giving advice. They wanted to do it, and I told them to go ahead. The game is simple: in Tech3 we enjoy what we do. We do it with a lot of passion, with all our heart.”

Having known the Tech3 people for many seasons now, I can confirm that what Hervé says is correct. They like the personal touch; human contact. Hervé is unlikely to hire a rider who is simply fast; if he can’t show passion and blend into the Tech3 family, he won’t be invited to take up one of MotoGP’s most prized seats.

Guy Coulon is Smith’s crew chief, the one whose frizzy hair has made him a trademark figure in Tech3. “We have customers who own Honda RC30s,” he told me. “But many of those engines can no longer be run because the crankshaft is worn, and Honda no longer supplies a replacement. We are making a direct replacement. If we can get orders, we can perhaps make a batch of 30. It’s the kind of job we can handle that others can’t.”

Tech3 Classique is also working on a Munch Mammut TTS, the 1966-75 behemoth powered by a 1200cc NSU four-cylinder car engine. With 88bhp and a top speed of 137mph, the Mammut was probably the fastest road bike of its time. “It has many Elektron components. It’s old magnesium, and you have to give it special treatments to stabilise it and prevent oxidisation,” Guy says.

From an English client comes a 350cc Jawa V4 two-stroke, as ridden by Bill Ivy in 1969. “He has an original chassis and almost all the engine components, but the crankcases are unmachined castings. We are rebuilding the engine to original specification,” Guy says.

A less complex project was the Yamaha YZR250 given to Olivier Jacque by the Yamaha factory for winning the 250cc world title in 2000 for Tech 3. The bike was complete, but needed refreshing before Jacque could ride it in a classic event at Le Castellet. Tech3’s long experience of TZs could prove useful to anyone running such a bike in the new 250cc Classic TT.

Given his long exposure to exotic racing machinery, you might expect Guy Coulon’s favourite bike to be the Yamaha YZR500 on which he worked in MotoGP’s two-stroke era, or perhaps one of the one-litre 24-hour endurance bikes for which France is famous. But his preference is completely unexpected. “A bike that I like a lot for the road is the Rickman Royal Enfield Interceptor,” he said. “The engine is amazing and the chassis handles really well.”

So the technical head of one of MotoGP’s leading teams is passionate about a long-stroke British parallel twin. Just to add even more contrast, Guy’s bike for daily use is a 1969 Honda CB750. As a people, the French are very eclectic in their tastes, and it really shows through in Tech3 Classique’s approach.