MotoCzysz Factory Tour
"I was reading an article on the Motoczysz in MCN. I never read MCN but I was reading this article and they were slagging off this American builder’s bike. The more I read the article the more I started taking issue with them because they were slagging it off because they didn’t understand the intent of the design. I started defending the design to the article. A few weeks later I looked on the Motoczysz website and they didn’t have any job descriptions that matched mine so Adrian and I wrote up our own job descriptions, sent them in and applied for the jobs. A few months later we had left Cosworth and we were working here.” This is how Simon Jackson described his recent emigration from England to America and from Cosworth to MotoCzysz.
I remember having a similar reaction to the first article I read on the Motoczysz (this is pronounced Motosizz) project in the January 2005 issue of Roadracing World. At first I think I was personally offended that someone had the audacity to challenge the conventional wisdom that only Italians and Japanese can build racebikes. My irrational emotional reaction was that it was offensive for someone to propose building a MotoGP bike outside of the one of the five established manufactures much less by an American architect of whom I had never heard. Reading one long uninterrupted quotation after another I struck an uneasy balance between grudging respect for the design philosophy but could not quite let go of the resentment about some of the declarative statements.
As I read through it again I was still struck that many of the design ideas sounded brilliant. Counter rotating longitudinal crankshafts to improve handling, tuned flex forks to reduce chatter and provide consistent fork action, quick access transmission, a long swingarm with constant chain tension. It is all the types of advanced thinking that we reveled in when John Britten was making his own carbon wheels in his back shed. I loved reading about Ian Cramp’s ultimately abandoned attempt to build a 500GP bike in the mid-90s. So why did I have a twinge of resentment about an American attempting the same?
I finally came to the conclusion that Britten always came off at the very picture of modesty and humility and, in the interviews, Michael Czysz comes off as being a little cocky. His declarative statements made sounded like confidence tipping over the edge to hubris. And lastly, every genetic motorcycle aficionado has dallied with the idea of designing a bike. Some have even built a couple. But ultimately we tell ourselves that is it impossible to build a revolutionary race bike because if it could be done then Honda or Suzuki or Ducati would have already done it. And if Czysz pulls it off, it demonstrates not only that it can be done, but the reason that the rest of us didn’t do it was because we were not talented enough, diligent enough, hard-working enough or smart enough.
Czysz’s success, therefore, would highlight the failings of every dreamer. And so I, and thousands of others, read with respect but were touched by envy.
And, of course, there is the racer in all of us that thinks “You talk a mean game in the pits, but show me the lap times.” Statements of superior design seemed awfully hollow when they were not backed up by lap times. The initial round of publicity seemed premature.
But that was because I missed one of the points of that round of publicity. It served the interest of the project in two ways, it helped raise the profile of the company and the product to current and prospective investors, the second was that it raised a light around the world to like-minded engineers, designers and fabricators. They started sending in resumes from around the country as well as England, Austria and Italy. Motoczyzc grew from a crew of four to a crew of twenty-two with top people ranging from engine design to composites to patent law. They tripled their dedicated square footage and ordered up (my estimate) at least a million dollars worth of machine tools. They formed a formal corporation. Established a board of directors and began building relationships in the racing community as well as in the manufacturing community.
None of this would have been possible without some notoriety and publicity that would have been impossible without a round of interviews and firm, declarative statements. The publicity a year ago wasn’t about lap times, it was more a call for help from friends to come pull an all-nighter to get the race bike together. Only in this case it was a call to the global economy and the all-nighter is for two years. Lap times are still a little ways off.
Michael Czyzc. Born 05/29/1964, grew up in southern Oregon with some time in San Bernadino, studied at Parson’s in New York and Portland State University. He married Lisa in 1988 and has two sons Max (7) and Enzo (9). He started his architecture firm Architropolis (architropolis.com) in 1990. Through his work with Architropolis he earned a reputation for designing high-end successful residential and commercial properties including projects for such notables at Lenny Kravitz and Cindy Crawford. His commercial work includes resorts, hotels and casinos including, most recently, the Red Rocks resort in Las Vegas Nevada.
His first motorcycle was a 65cc Yamaha dirtbike that he got when he was eleven. He began roadracing a Aprilia 250 streetbike in 1994 with OMRRA when he was thirty years old. He switched up to an AF1 (a real 250cc GP bike) in 1996 and won the OMRRA regional championship. In 1999 he was able to get his hands on a full on factory RSV250cc just one step down from the world spec. At that point it was only his third year racing and he took this sensitive piece of equipment straight to the AMA. The AMA was a tough proving ground and (something with kids) was able to build his architecture firm while still (insert) racing accomplishments.
The racing interest is not that of a dilettante but of a fourth generation motorhead/designer/engineer. Michael’s earliest memories are all of being surrounded by motorcycle engines and frames. Friday nights were spent sleeping on the workbench in the back of grandfather’s van at Ascot. His family’s surname has been twisting tongues at racetracks for sixty years. This history includes some accomplishments at prestigious levels of racing. For instance Michael’s grandfather Clarence Czysz built a Norton engine to power a Cooper T17 to a world land speed record of 118.271 mph in 1955. In 1965, Terry Czysz (Michael’s dad) tuned a Norton which competed at the Daytona USGP and took second place to Mike “the bike” Hailwood on his factory MV Agusta.
This is not a man or a family that is unfamiliar with the Sisyphean task of racing. The know all about shattered connecting rods, broken valve springs, late nights, long drives, sacrifice and hard work. They are very familiar with competing with the limited resources against teams with far greater depth of talent. This family has been there and done that.
Most of the rogue race bike builders we’ve seen in the past were engineers. Czyzc is a designer. And a designer that spent some of his formative years in LA. Designers, by nature, must be very concerned with appearances. A designer not attuned to the emotional impact of appearance would have a very short career. As such, Michael brings a lot of style to everything he does. His office is a mix of minimalist clarity and 60s love nest. He is attuned to the way the workshops look, personally involved in the design of the apparel, opinionated on the wattage of the lights for displays and dresses more the part of LA casual that grease under the nails bike racer.
He is handsome, charismatic, friendly and clearly talented. He is patient and polite with his team, cool in the face of chaos, reasonable with the multitude of frustrations and late deliveries involved in a project but clearly passionate about motorcycles. The commercial building and the bike collection imply a great deal of debt or, more likely, decent (but not exorbitant) financial success earned through gift and hard work. Contrary to the stylized mogul photos and in contrast to the declarative quotations he is pretty down to earth.
The impression of him that I had from their website and other interviews was of a bit of a egotistical design guru of a sort that would be more typically found in the fashion or art world rather than the motorcycle industry.
With an expectation of meeting someone who is a little too sure of themselves, a little too smug in their own talents, a little too slick, I was pleasantly surprised to find that he is casual and engaging. He makes up words, uses the term “dampener” for “damper” and, when sitting on the lowered bike lift staring at the mock-up of a racebike peppers his language with expletives just like the rest of us. His very talented staff are respectful and clearly fond of him but are not obsequious.
He was somewhat taken by surprise at some of the negative reactions that his motorcycle project have garnered in magazines and, particularly, postings on the Internet. He isn’t even too fond of the name MotoCzysz that was originally a working title and ended up being adopted permanently. Many brands, of course, were proper names (Harley-Davidson, Honda, Michelin, Dunlop, etc etc) but Czysz has got an awful lot of consonants in it for the North American eye.
Lastly, in my estimation Michael Czysz would achieve greater financial success in his lifetime had he dedicated the energy expended on this company and bike towards client development for the architecture firm. The company will ultimately have to turn a profit to survive but for Czysz it is all about the bike.
Architropolis is primarily known for its luxury no-compromise design and builds whose work has been widely reviewed by a myriad of national and international architecture periodicals. Architropolis is housed in a non-descript 1950 industrial building in Portland Oregon. A low slung two story building with high ceilings and big square warehouse windows. The west side of the building is dedicated to architecture, The east side of the building is dedicated to MotoCzysz. Michael’s office sits in the rear of the building with a door into either half.
The two businesses are incorporated separately. In the last two years MotoCzysz has been formally incorporated, raised additional capital by selling shares of the company to various private equity and venture capitalist, hired an additional eighteen people, tripled its occupied square footage, invested in production and testing machinery and almost formalized the goals and timeline for the company.
MotoCzysz is currently financed using the sale of equity (or shares in the Limited Liability Company or LLC) to investors. Czysz himself retains over 50% of the shares of the company and thus, typically, control.
The following are my baseless estimates. These numbers are my estimates. The published amount of money spent to date was $1.5 million on the design and prototyping as of June 2005. Since that time the staff and machinery has expanded tremendously. My estimate is that the burn rate at MotoCzysz is somewhere in the neighborhood of $250,000 a month depending on the amount of outside parts sourced in any given month. Staff costs alone must be in the $120,000 to $150,000 a month range before getting into lease payments on machine tools, rent, and purchasing of externally sourced parts like engine parts or frames. At this rate MotoCzysz is going to be running through around three to four million a year with not much expectation of positive revenue for at least five years. That is a pretty large financial hole.
When I bounced my calculations off of one of the visiting venture capitalist he smiled like he knew something I didn’t and spoke confidently of his faith that this investment will yield a good return over time.
MotoCzysz has recruited top talent from around the world. Cosworth alumi lead up the engine department, a composite specialist from Austria that not only designs the carbon fiber cut patterns for the frames but personally lays up the bodywork in the back. Ex-Ducati employees are sprinkled throughout the workforce and MotoCzysz has its own dedicated employee from Magnetti-Marelli to handle the immensely challenging problems of fuel injection, data logging, wiring harness, ignition and instrumentation. Despite being the largest growth engine in the American economy, much of the federal regulations governing business are weighted heavily in the favor of big business. MotoCzysz is running square into these dynamics which range from DOT and EPA regulations of motor vehicles to immigration restrictions which create costly and maddening delays in assembling staff, and thus, motorcycles.
The architecture side of the Czysz operations.
The 2005 C1 languishes in a corner of Michael’s expansive private office.
Michael’s expansive private office with doors into both MotoCzysz and Architropolis.
On the idea that history repeats itself, first as tragedy and second as farce, Czysz is, to some extent following in Buell’s footsteps. Eric Buell first bike was a square four two stroke that was designed to be raced in the AMA Formula 1 class. As his design came to fruition, the AMA adopted superbike rules that made the Buell ineligible and obsolete in one line of the rule book.
In this case the Czysz is facing a similar circumstance. The C1 (v2) is 990cc which is the displacement limit for MotoGP, until next year, when they get dropped (almost exactly as has happened in the past) to 800cc. The MotoGP targeted C1 will, therefore, be ineligible for competition in pretty much any class in the world except for WERA endurance and WERA Formula 1.
Aware of this rule based obsolescence MotoCzysz would really like to get their bike on the track in a MotoGP race this year and they are aiming for a wild card entry, potentially for Valencia. Since the bike is still being bolted together for the first time ever nary 100 feet from where I sit on July 10, 2006 they has a long way to go in terms of testing, tuning, refinement, and, probably worst of all, lobbying Dorna for a wildcard exception for a single round of competition. Witnessing the dedication, multi-tasking and steady progress, it still seems possible that they will do it.
Participation and, more importantly, qualifying for a MotoGP is incredibly difficult and would be a tremendous accomplishment for MotoCzysz as well as a very important step in laying the ground work for building a mystique and soul for the company.
Regardless of racetrack outings MotoCzysz is planning to being production of their first fifty motorcycles this fall. These fifty bikes will be sold for $100,000 each with deposits being accepted at the USGP of $10,000. These bike will not be street legal and they will only be eligible, in the US, for WERA Endurance or Formula 1. At that price, and restricted to track days or WERA racing these bikes seem mainly destined for collectors or wealthy enthusiasts more than general consumption. Assuming all the parts go together as planned and work as designed these bikes will be of an astounding level of performance.
Even at $100,000 each this first production run could easily result in a net loss of cash to MotoCzysz. Those familiar with the production costs associated with limited run no compromise fabrication will not be surprised by that revelation.
As the C1 will not be eligible for MotoGP in 2007 MotoCzysz has switched the target to racing in AMA Superbike. This will result in a massive increase in the cost of production to MotoCzysz. Not only will they have to build 150 to 300 units but those bikes will have to be street legal. Street legal means expensive DOT and EPA approval as well as engineering all that street equipment like lights, sidestand, mufflers, airfilters and the like. However, building a streetbike will also broaden the appeal of the brand to a much broader audience.
Depending on how the discussions go with the dynamic (meaning, perpetually in turmoil) AMA pro racing board MotoCzysz could be racing in the AMA as soon as 2007 but, more likely, in 2008. That is assuming the technology pans out, the investors keep writing checks and the rules are accommodating to the inclusion of a new brand.
Internally to the company the attitude towards racing is that, although expensive, it is imperative to both the development of a world-class performance motorcycle and of building the image around the brand; branding being paramount in the emotion driven motorcycle market. In other words qualifying for a MotoGP in 2006 would be well worth the expense for the world wide name recognition value alone. That is, as long as the bike does reasonably well and doesn’t fail catastrophically.
At this point there are not formal plans to build an 800cc engine to return the focus to MotoGP competition.
In addition to producing and selling complete motorcycles on a limited production basis, MotoCzysz will also be licensing some of its technology to other manufacturers.
When I was visiting the production facility the parts where largely on the premises but where in the process of being converted into a running motorcycle with a deadline of having it at in eleven days. That said I was able to examine many of the pieces and look inside the engine but was unable to ride or otherwise experience the finished product. The plan is to test ride the bike at a race track in the last summer or early fall. At that time I will be able to give you the full technical write up because, quite honestly, just the engine alone has enough tasty details and expression of theory for an entire article alone.
One of the hardest aspects of the bike’s design was to get through my head that this is not a streetbike that has to withstand rain and dust. It is not a production bike with a retail price point of $12,000. It is not for any other purpose than to get around a racetrack very quickly. The designers barely cared about ease (ie cost) of engine production or ease of maintenance. It was not important that the frames cannot be straightened or that the valves are the absolute last thing to come out of the engine. This one is a no compromise track only bike. Keep that in mind.
Some of the tasty bits:
Peering down into the top of the fork one can see the roller bearing down in there.