published at 09.10.2015, 10:19

Old School Engineering and“L'Echappée Belle – its “Great Escape”

BMW Motorrad France instigated a “Custom Contest” at the start of the 2015 summer. This unique contest allowed French motorcycle customisers of all levels to submit designs for a customised BMW R nineT. Judged by a jury made up of renowned figures in the motorcycle industry and social media votes, the winning entry came from Old School Engineering (OSE). The prize was a new R nineT and €10,000 to assist in building their proposed design. The end result is “L'Echappée Belle” – “The Great Escape”.

If there is such a perfect place to hold a Custom Party, a rendevouz of custom bike builders and an impressive display of these builders’ labour of love – their one-off motorcycles – then the Maison des métallos is it. The “Steelworkers’ House” is a collection of buildings that once housed a busy workforce manufacturing exquisite copper musical instruments among many other intricate metal pieces. Now a place for social events, the collection of customised bikes displayed inside and outside of this famed heritage site for the second Custom Party organised by BMW Motorrad France, pays homage to the skills of yesteryear’s workers by way of similar exquisite end products.

Last year’s Custom Party was also the place where Fred Krugger, twice World Custom champion, revealed Project Nurbs; a truly magnificent custom machine based around the six-cylinder engine that powers the BMW Motorrad K 1600 series of machines. For this year’s Custom Party (01-10-2015) there was to be another project reveal, the winning and completed design that won BMW Motorrad’s ‘Custom Contest’.

Old School Engineering, a group of friends that love to customise and tinker with motorcycles, won the competition with a truly outstanding R nineT with sidecar design. Based around the three-wheelers of yesteryear, “L'Echappée Belle” – The Great Escape – is a modern-day take on these mechanical steeds that carried families and cargo for many years in an affordable, reliable way. They also allowed people to make their own ‘great escapes’ by travelling to, well, wherever the sidecar unit was pointed. They were popular and superb machines, and the OSE build is many more steps up that same ladder of brilliance.

It’s the detail woven into L'Echappée Belle that fires the imagination. From the left side it looks like a stunning R nineT of scrambler persuasion. The chunky Continental TKC80 tyres and chopped rear end aid the off-road style. From midway on there is no sign of the Watsonian Squire-supplied sidecar unit. Step around to the rear or front and the immaculately painted sidecar comes into view. To say the bike as a whole is finished to factory standard and beyond says so much about the labour of love that has obviously been placed upon it.

With more intense staring, more details become apparent. The routing of the fabricated exhaust is immaculate but didn’t come about easily. Benoit Krotki, the English speaking member of OSE, explains. “To retain the scrambler-look, we had to keep the exhaust closely tucked to the bike and this meant getting close to the fuel injection fuel supply pipes/system and the fuel tank. This also meant heat from the exhaust would be a problem. We had to fabricate sheet metal protection to prevent problems. The protection metal was awkward to make in a way that would retain the clean, uncluttered lines, but we succeeded. The proof was running the bike and leaving it on tickover at standstill until it got really, really hot. There were no problems found.”

Not that it is obvious, but OSE had one other major problem to overcome and this was the mounting of the sidecar to the R nineT chassis – it doesn’t have a lower frame tube to provide a mounting point for the sidecar chassis! There was a lot of discussion with Watsonian to get around this. So does the finished item mirror the original sketches OSE produced in order to win the competition?

“Yes, it does,” says Benoit. “We had to change a few little things from the original design but these were just the result of getting around small details that you don’t envisage. These are just normal, everyday snags that occur when building around a bike that needs to retain its base identity – in this case the brilliant R nineT. When building a bike from a bare frame or engine then it’s considered that everything needs to be specially crafted. Whether this means the amount of work is easier is a talking point!”

Further use of the OSE crew’s imaginative minds and fingers comes with the subtle motogadget replacement dash display. This was chosen for three reasons: 1) it follows the shape of the standard R nineT triple-trees (fork yokes), and 2) it is one of the few systems that have the vital attributes of easy plug and play. The third reason is obvious: individual personal taste/styling is everything.

The choice of final colour and application of the paint is stunning. OSE’s own Christophe Louvel supplied the tolerance needed in applying the paint. Of course, OSE is a group of four young men and the same level of appreciation and congratulations should be aimed at Anthony Dilard and Marc Morel for their involvement.

Special thanks go to Florie, a lady from business Harley Grove who expertly stitched the leather seat covering to the seat pan and foam to a shape that OSE supplied. Laser etching to the rear of the seat and sidecar’s backrest are tasteful and significant touches to form a unique look. As does the use of the three PIAA main headlight units – it takes a few seconds to spot these ‘mini-suns’: one mounted to the front tip of the sidecar unit, the other based between bike and chair, and the third on the left of the R nineT. In case you were wondering, the front footpegs are the serrated items from a 2015 R 1200 GS, and the sidecar wheel is actually a rear wheel from another R nineT.

“We are pretty stoked with the finished product,” says Benoit, “but we are especially stoked with people’s comments on the way the bike has turned out. So is BMW Motorrad because they now want to take it to many shows within Europe and possibly get further exposure with a video. Who knows about the future? I mean, I now work for myself building bikes but am involved by association with OSE – the other guys still have their full time jobs and we get together in our spare time to carry on our love of playing with bikes.”

Although “L'Echappée Belle” took main stage as the star of the show, the Custom Party drew in urban custom specialists from across France. The sight of one-off bikes in the parking lot and those in the concourse area was a modern motorcyclist’s and custom fans’ dream. From equally tasty R nineTs to thoroughly modern classic old-school Boxer-powered bikes to classic Japanese customs, there was a lot to see and drool over. If that wasn’t enough, there were two barbers on site and a bar to enable the chilling effects of wine and beer to take place – remember this is France, where such liquids are an important aspect of everyday life. Specialist helmet painting by Bruno Allard was a delight to see in action as was leather jacket tattooing. As for the disco... the lady DJ was, shall we say an attractive backdrop? In all, the Custom Party was a night to remember. More importantly it was a night OSE will never forget.