Black to the Future.
First ride on the Dutch built Track Diesel T-800CDI Motorcycle.
Standing in the warm June sunshine, Kanterbrau beer in one hand, plastic tray of merguez et frites in the other, myself and the usual gang of pals were enjoying the opening laps of the Le Mans 24 hr. endurance race in France. We have been to the same spot at the southern end of the Mulsanne Straight most years since 1980, but this year we were to witness the future. As usual we had missed the start, preferring a good lunch in a nearby restaurant, so we arrived at our treasured spot an hour into the race. Approaching at about 200 mph, in first, second and third places were three black projectiles made by Audi. Striking in appearance and looking totally invincible they streaked past us a good 20 seconds ahead of the rest of the pack, the silence of their diesel engines both remarkable and, to be honest, rather an anti climax. Gone was the mighty rumble of a big V8, the scream of a flat crank Ferrari V12 or the distinctive boxer flat 6’s of the Porsche, to be replaced by - well - a muffled diesel engine noise. Two of the Audi’s R18 TDI’s were sadly wrecked in accidents, but the third scored a crushing victory for the new generation of diesel powered endurance racers and it sounded as fresh at the end of 24 hours as it had at the start.
The key words here are ‘endurance’ and ‘diesel’. The two make good bed fellows, but their association with motor cycles has largely been restricted to one-off home builds until recently. Over the last six years Track Diesel in Holland have been perfecting their own design of diesel powered motor cycle to take on the well established and lucrative ‘Big Trailie’ market. The uncompromising design uses their own frame, with suspension parts and brakes made to Track Diesel’s exacting specification by regular specialist companies like Brembo and WP . Positioned low in the frame is a motorcycle variant of the Daimler 800 cc three cylinder diesel engine. This engine has an excellent track record for performance, reliability and longevity and, in this application, has service intervals of 35,000 miles. With no spark required and a relatively low rpm, it is hard to see just what could go wrong on this unit. A quick read through the specification must surely make the Track T-800CDI a contender for any adventure motorcyclist who really wants to cover big distances with maximum reliability and good fuel economy.
This is a handsome bike too - quite sinister all in black, but a subtle combination of modern styling and well balances lines. In this respect it can hold it’s own against any of the established competition. Looking in detail, all of the drive train is different to the norm, but it would be, because it is! The three cylinder engine is fitted longitudinally with a quirky little exhaust pipe on the right hand side. At the back of the engine is a Continuosly Variable Transmission (C.V.T.) that transfers drive to a prop shaft final drive. C.V.T. is used to delver the torque and power of the engine at just the right revs throughout the speed range and with the longitudinal layout a shaft drive was the obvious choice. The entire design benefits of starting with a clean sheet of paper to design a motor cycle to fulfil the aspirations of a gifted and ambitious engineer, Track Diesel founder and C.E.O., Erik Vegt. Riding the Track Diesel T-800 CDI was clearly going to be a unique experience and I had to banish pre conceived ideas of motorcycling before slinging my leg over the machine.
I came to motorcycling fairly late in life, having turned 50 and well into a mid life crisis before I bought my first bike, a Cagiva Elefant 750. Since passing my test I have never aspired to the skills to be considered a ‘real’ biker - my knee has certainly never been down and pulling a wheelie is the last thing on my mind, but I have completed several very enjoyable European adventures and ridden a fair chunk of Route 66 on a rental GS 1200. I love a long trip and the sense of freedom motorcycling gives. What I find irritating is the need to fill up with fuel every hundred, or so miles. On Route 66 I very nearly ran dry having underestimated the GS’s thirst and the sparsity of petrol stations. On my own Cagiva Elefant I struggle to get more that 50 mpg, even driving carefully. Therefore a bike that claims 85 mpg matched to respectable performance figures is certainly an attractive option for the grey haired biker market with nothing to prove and everything to live for.
Sitting on the bike outside Track Diesel’s small factory in Holland, Erik talked me through the start up and riding technique. Firstly there is no clutch - the C.V.T. takes care of that. As a rider who is always missing gears and trying to change into a phantom top that sounded good! Erik then pointed out that you do not rev this bike up to impress your pals outside the local bar. Being ‘twist and go’, one rev and you’re off! Plus the sound of this engine is never going to make the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end. At tick over it sounds like what it is - a three cylinder diesel engine. But that’s not what the Track Diesel T-800CDI is all about. It is about riding pleasure and being future proof. Diesel alternatives will be around far longer than petrol and this bike will be able to run on a new fuel called GTL (Gas to Liquid) produced from natural gas.
We pulled out onto the main road in Valkenburg. Me on a production bike and Erik on his own identical bike that had recently returned from a testing session in Morocco. I was relieved not to have to worry about changing gear on top of riding an unfamiliar bike on foreign roads. Once mobile the diesel sound is soon left behind and it’s a comfortable ride on a well handling bike. For somebody who knows little of the science of motor cycle handling this made me, a relative novice, feel competent. It was very comfortable with forgiving suspension, good brakes and was reasonably swift. Soon we were on one of many Dutch motorways heading north towards Amsterdam. Overland travel in Holland was new to me, but one thing that is blatantly obvious is that it is flat - very flat. No hint of even the smallest of hills. We peeled off the motorway and joined smaller roads, heading east in search of more interesting scenery without myriad industrial estates.
After an hours brisk riding we escaped the tedium of urban Holland and were riding through small villages surrounded by woodland, the unique sound of the T800CDI turning a few heads! At a roadside cafe over an omelette and fries I was able to quiz Erik on the diesel bike project, his passion since 2004. The Company philosophy has always been forward focussed and based on the premiss that oil based fuels are, year on year, more expensive and ultimately doomed to extinction. Like so many car manufacturers have realised, diesel engines offer a future proof situation, combined with excellent fuel economy. Having built and now scrapped 15 prototypes to perfect his design, Erik is now confident that they offer the most developed and accomplished diesel motor cycle on the market. The design is proven, both by their own testing and customer feedback from rides as diverse as Iceland, Morocco, Croatia, The Alps and Spain. Customer satisfaction is high and reported problems are few. The acknowledged weak link in the drive train is the C.V.T. belt which should be changed every 16,000 miles, but Erik is working on a far tougher version incorporating Kevlar into the construction. It is conceivable that one of these bikes could ride right around the Globe without the need for a service and run entirely on Bio Diesel - the bike’s ready!
We headed back to base and topped up with fuel to what Erik says is the usual alarm from the garage attendant that he is filling a motorcycle with diesel! A quick calculation revealed that I had achieved 72 mpg in mixed riding - We had negotiated towns and villages and I had cranked it up to just over 100 mph on the Motorway, but don’t tell the Dutch Police! Having spent a day riding the Track T-800 CDI in remarkable comfort I did feel that I could have carried on and ridden it back to the U.K. in one long hop, but sadly Erik refused my offer!
Box out 1
Engine: Daimler Benz, 794 cc turbocharged common-rail, direct-injection, 3 cylinder diesel.
Transmission: V-belt C.V.T.
Power: 50 bhp at 4500 rpm
Torque: 88.5 lb.-ft. @ 1800 rpm
Frame: Chrome-molybdenum-alloy-tubular-steel trellis
Front suspension: WP 48 mm inverted forks.
Rear suspension: WP shock with adjustable spring pre load.
Front brake: Four-piston Brembo callipers, 310 mm discs
Rear brake: Four-piston Brembo calliper, 265 mm disc
Front/Rear tyres: 90/90-21 and 150/70R-17
Seat height: 34.6 inches
Wheelbase: 63.6 inches.
Fuel capacity: 4.94 US gallons. (extended tank available)
Dry weight: 460 lbs.
Box out 2
Bio Diesel is clearly the way ahead as it can be made from a wide variety of organic substances. There is a comprehensive article on Wikipedia about how to do it and the chemical process involved, but one Beverly Hills Doctor is in a spot of bother with the Authorities for processing his patients human fat into Bio Diesel, or ‘Lipo Diesel’ as it has become known. Anyone interested in converting their love handles into fuel should do a Google search for ‘Bio Diesel from Human Fat’ - if you have the stomach for it!
Reproduced from Overland Journal Winter 2012 Edition. Thank you.
Toby Savage February 2012