Triumph, Norton, Brough Superior… the list of revived names from the once-defunct British motorcycle industry seems to grow by the month. Triumph apart, they all produce on a tiny scale – a fraction of that once great industry – but their very revival points to a hunger for old marques from the past, and not just British ones – look at Indian, whose relaunch has revitalised the motorcycle arm of Polaris. And it hasn’t finished yet. At the Motorcycle Expo trade show in January, custom builder Mutt Motorcycles showed off its latest creation, reusing the splendidly period name of New Imperial.
None of this is news to Andrew Longfield, a Midlands businessman (and owner of an original Francis-Barnett) who bought the F-B name last year, and is now spearheading its revival. Unlikely as it sounds, he bought the name on eBay, which gives him rights to use it on motorcycles. “I’m the custodian of the Francis-Barnett name and I want to do the right thing by it,” he said. “But I ask people who criticise what I’m doing; if you owned the name, what would you do with it?”
And why would they criticise? Well, because the new generation Francis-Barnetts aren’t new British bikes in the way of Hinckley Triumphs (at least, the ones that really are Made in Britain) or Donington Nortons. They are based on Chinese-made retro-style singles, repainted and rebadged to transform them into Fanny-Bs. After testing the market with a pair of 125s last year – the roadster Kestrel and a pretty trailie named the Merlin – Longfield has come up with the Falcon 250. It’s a thoroughly conventional small motorcycle, with a 20bhp 249cc ohc motor (based on the old Suzuki GS single) housed in a simple tubular steel frame, with five-speed gearbox, twin rear shocks and disc brakes at both ends.
Given the already retro looks, transforming this Chinese bike into a Francis-Barnett hasn’t been that difficult. It’s repainted in Francis-Barnett silver or Arden Green, by AJL Motors of Coventry, which in a twist of fate is just around the corner from the original F-B factory. Kneegrips, Francis-Barnett badges and a pattern Triumph Bonneville rear light complete the cosmetic changes. It does have British tyres (Avon Distanzias) while Ferodo brake pads are fitted to firm up the braking. The Francis-Barnett 125s, which also have British alloy rims, stainless steel spokes and a handmade downpipe aren’t cheap (officially, they’re POA, but expect to pay about £4000), though the aim was to make the 250 more affordable, sticking with the standard exhaust and wheels for £3600.
Francis-Barnett Falcon 250 – On The Road!
As a naked roadster with just 21bhp and a fairly basic spec, the Francis-Barnett Falcon 250 is never going to set any new dynamic standards. But then maybe back to basics bikes like these are coming home – as sales of nakeds outstrip sports bikes by an increasingly huge margin, it’s an indication that more motorcyclists today are in search of easier riding fun, rather than sheer speed.
Having said that, the Francis-Barnett Falcon 250 isn’t overflowing with sophistication. You sit highish on a hard seat, on what is a very naked bike, with wide bars and a solitary speedo. But it goes better than 21bhp might suggest, with a claimed weight of just 140kg – no more than one of the bigger 125cc scooters.
It’s certainly fast enough to be entertaining on a twisty B-road. Nudge the wide bars and Francis-Barnett Falcon 250 tips into corners easily, while the Distanzias cling on well. There’s lots of ground clearance but the footrests don’t fold, which is worth bearing in mind. The rear shocks felt stiff with very little damping, but Andrew Longfield says these will be replaced on production bikes. In town, it’s light and slim enough to slip through the traffic, easy to filter and with good visibility.
It’s well balanced and easy to ride, and the brakes are easily good enough to cope with the performance – cable-pulled drums would have been more authentically ’60s than the hydraulic discs, but the Chinese don’t seem to make drum-braked 250s anymore.
Bikes like this aren’t expected to do long motorway miles, but the Francis-Barnett Falcon 250’s extra torque over a 125 means it’ll cruise happily at an indicated 65-70mph in top. Try and push it faster than that and the vibes start to come through the bars and the seat, while the mirrors set up a sympathetic blur. Back at sixty-five, it all feels a bit less stressed, and the wind-blast from the upright position isn’t too bad at that just-over-HGV speed.
The fuel tank isn’t big, at 10 litres, and I didn’t have a chance to do a consumption check, but given that similar mild-mannered 250 singles can usually manage 75-80mpg, 150 miles from a tankful looks realistic. The switchgear is all standard stuff that works well enough. The sole speedo suits the naked retro image… and the digital gear indicator does a good job of detracting from it.
So is it a genuine attempt to revive a famous name, or a quick cosmetic once over on a Chinese bike? The Francis-Barnett Falcon 250 is certainly a handsome looking little machine, and at the Francis-Barnett Owners Club people we quizzed all seemed to like it. Whether you think it’s worth the extra money over a Chinese-badged bike is up to you…
Francis-Barnett Falcon 250 Specifications and Price
Engine : 4-Stroke, Single-Cylinder, SOHC 4-Valve, Air-Cooled
Bore x Stroke : 72 x 61.2 mm
Capacity : 249 cc
Compression Ratio : 9.0 : 1
Induction : –
Transmission : 5-Speed, Chain-Drive
Power : 21 BHP @ 7.500 RPM (claimed)
Torque : 21 N.m @ 5.500 RPM (claimed)
Seat Height : 835 mm
Ground Clearance : 125 mm
Fuel Tank Capacity : 10 Litres
Weight : 140 kg (kerb, claimed)
Frame : Tubular Steel Frame
Front Suspension : Upside-Down Fork, Non-Adjustable
Rear Suspension : Twin Shocks, pAdjustable Preload
Front Brakes : Disc Brake, with 2-Piston Caliper
Rear Brakes : Disc Brake, with 1-Piston Caliper
Front Tyre : 110/70 – 17
Rear Tyre : 130/70 – 17
Price : £3600