Getting V-Maxified: A California Helicopter Pilot’s Radical Roadstercycle
Los Angeles resident Jack Fleming tests experimental helicopters for a living, not exactly a safe profession, but a lot more fun than piloting an office desk. So when he wanted something to commute to work on, he looked for a vehicle with a bit more flair, although it wouldn’t be taking to the air. Not finding anything he liked in the showrooms, and a fan of both sportscars and sportbikes, he decided to blend up his own hybrid vision of earthbound transportation that would provide the thrills of flying minus the propeller. He thought he’d also build one for his significant other, Liz, so they could dice through L.A. traffic together. Liz had grown up in an airplane family, so was ready for some freeway flying.
Already a fan of the original, legendary Yamaha V-Max, Fleming decided its 1,197cc, V-4 powerplant, with over 110 rear-wheel horsepower and V-boost, would be the heart of the beast he would call the Roadstercycle. The V-Max became a cult bike, and it remained in Yamaha’s lineup with relatively few changes from 1985 until 2007. The long-running complaint about the V-Max is that its chassis, despite minor upgrades in 1993, has never been up to the task that its engine demands. Fleming felt the V-Max needed a new framework to bring it closer to earth and achieve his desired goals of go-kart-like low center of gravity and high G-force, corner hugging performance. That necessitated three wheels, so he went to his drawing board and set about designing a unique chassis/suspension/steering system into which to cradle the V-Max’s engine, and in the process he found time to design his own fuel injection system.
Says Fleming, a self-educated man, “My personal mantra is: If you really want to do something or build something, you’re going to get through it. You don’t need to go to school for years, you just need to focus on the elements needed to get the job done, whether it be welding or electrics or mapping fuel injection. Most importantly, you need motivation. When I was 15, I worked all summer at a hotel so I could afford an arc welder and just started using it. I took some auto shop courses and also read books about how to build electronic circuits and over the years taught myself different skills. That also went for helicopters. I learned how to fly them, studied for my license as an instructor, and then got myself hired as a test pilot for the Robinson Company here in California. I’ve clocked 7,000 hours as a test pilot and now work in experimental designs, finding out to make them safer. I’ve never had a mishap. Helicopters don’t fly; they just beat the air into submission. You really can’t afford to make a mistake with a helicopter.”
The Roadstercycle’s chassis is constructed from heavy gauge rectangular tubing because its shape makes it easier to work with rather than round tubing. Brackets are easier to mount to the frame for one thing. The front axle is one-and-a-half inch DOM (drawn over mandrel) tubing that’s seamless. Jack fabricates his own front ends, all TIG-welded, while a machine shop builds custom wheels based on his design to handle the side loads of a three-wheel configuration. U.S.-made Weldwood disc brakes are used on all three wheels. A critical component of the chassis is the “steer head” front section, a structural member of the frame that allows for the rest of the chassis and suspension to be mounted properly.
Fleming fabricated forward controls and front end assembly with torsion bar to stiffen up the suspension and prevent the bike from rolling in fast turns. He says he’s hit 110 mph and the Roadstercycle remained completely stable. And yes, that is a Simpson dragster parachute packed onto the backrest.
To obtain V-Max engines, Fleming buys complete motorcycles and harvests the motors. The machines seen here are powered by 1996 and 2004 models. He then sells what parts he doesn’t need but usually retains the control levers, instruments and some other pieces. The 2009-and-later Vmax features fuel injection, but the previous model was carbureted, so Fleming designed and built his own fuel-injection system for the Roadstercycle. He also sells the FI kit to owners of older V-Max bikes. The custom “gas tank” was built by Mustang, and it houses all of the electrical systems; the actual fuel tank, sourced from a Florida boat builder, is under the seat. Fleming fabricated purpose-built radiators and created his own fenders using a vacuum forming machine.
Each Roadstercycle is unique. One features the original instruments from a V-Max, while the other has custom digital instrumentation and a monitoring computer for the fuel injection system. Fleming fabricated the 4-into-1 custom oval exhaust on his Roadstercycle, while Liz’s machine a NASCAR-style rectangular exhaust. Both make a distinctive growl, but not too loud to disturb the local authorities. The Roadstercycles weighs about 750 pounds each, meet all U.S. standards and safety requirements, and are fully street legal.
Fleming has built Roadstercycles for customers as well, each requiring about 12 months to fabricate. On the day of my test ride, while out in traffic, a car followed us. When we stopped for lunch, the guy got out of his sportscar and wanted to buy not one, but both of the Roadstercycles. This is a typical reaction once you see one in person. In fact, the police have followed him home just to get a friendly look.
While he specializes in V-Max powered Roadstercycles, Fleming has built machines with Harley-Davidson V-twins and will consider almost any motor a customer might want. For more information, contact Jack Fleming in Torrance, California, by phone (310-766-5222) or email (email@example.com) or check visit www.roadstercycle.com.