"Rocket" Ron Haslam is a name that resonates with race fans, but what is less well celebrated is the time the father of WorldSBK star, Leon Haslam, dedicated to a brave, innovative yet ultimately doomed racing project that experimented with “left field” chassis concepts. Funded by French oil giant, Elf, an eye-popping range of machines for Endurance and Grand Prix racing were created as much as mobile test beds as race bikes. Most striking was the hub centre steering arrangement whereby braking and acceleration forces were isolated from the suspension action, keeping the stance of the bike as neutral as possible at all times.
Aside from this, there was much more Elf tech including a single sided rear swinging arm and the virtual elimination of a conventional frame with mounting plates joining the suspension to the engine creating a single homogeneous stressed member. Honda supplied engines and created a business relationship with Elf which allowed them to exploit the single sided swinging arm technology for the VFR road bike range.
The entire project spanned ten years between 1978 and 1988. Years of constant experimentation – including things such as push and pull “steering levers” rather than handlebars - and a lot more besides. Ron Haslam (noted as one of the best development riders ever), played a central role and some success was achieved (including 9th overall in the 1986 Grand Prix Championship) but, sadly, the entire grid stayed resolutely “conventional” and gradually left the quirky Elf behind in terms of development and success. The Elf project was a brave attempt to ask questions and defy the status quo. For that alone the decade of effort simply has to be admired.
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issued: Tuesday, October 12, 2021
updated: Tuesday, October 12, 2021
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