MotoCzysz C1: The bike with a ‘Z-Line’ engine

MotoCzysz was an American motorcycle company based in Portland, Oregon that intended to compete in MotoGP. The C1 prototype engine was designed with perfect balance not needing a balance shaft. Some of the patented innovations included a slipper clutch with twin clutches, and a unique front suspension. The business also developed a successful electric racing motorcycle, the E1pc.

The goal was simple: to build the ultimate American superbike. Give it 200 horses, massive torque and the ability to transition faster and a fact now proven to be the case: that bikes would rev higher in the future and that lean angles would increase, the answer for which was in the crankshaft design. More power for a given displacement required the crank to spin faster, but the gyroscopic effects would also affect handling. Issues like these are challenges for even the brightest of engineers.

Michael Czysz wasn’t an engineer, but one thing he did know even without an engineering background was following the path of the established players like Honda was pointless. The four cylinder engine was the answer, of course, so it was decided to place it longitudinally, the advantages of which were great. For starters, it allowed a narrow bike, only 165 mm wide, same width as the rear tire.

The bike could transition from side to side much easier since the gyroscopic forces of the crankshaft weren’t fighting the bike nearly as much. However, there were also some downsides. Original design had the cylinders in-line which looked great on paper, but by the time you brought in the intake and put out the exhaust at reasonable angles, the engine was as wide as if we turned it around, so there goes that idea.

Back at the drawing board, Czysz came up with an idea to design a narrow V. He figured he could just offset the cylinders a little bit then close those bores up. The intakes & exhausts drop in better and it closes up significantly. He made two peace signs with his fingers and then interlocked them forming a W shape similar to what Volkswagen were doing back then.

A major benefit of the 15-degree V engine was the extremely compact dimensions you achieve and there are significant cooling advantages too. The bores can close up and you have a lot of cold water hitting the exhaust sides of the cylinders and in fact the bikes had virtually no plumbing because the decks horizontally. The upper part of the cylinder is hotter than the lower part so they would send in the water through the top level and then use the lower level to return the water to the radiators.

While Czysz and his team seemed to overcome the challenges of a longitudinal engine, anyone who has ridden one can attest to the torque effect when throttling the bike at a stop. While it adds character to a street bike, it hampers a racer’s ability to go fast. To counter this, Czysz split the crankshafts in two and formed contra-rotating cranks along the same axis, utilizing the first lesson we learned in high school Physics: for every action, there’s an equal and opposite reaction.

The biggest unexpected advantage of this design was the sound; it had a very American heavy kind of V-8 sound but it just revved ridiculously fast, all the way to 16,000 rpm!

As history tells us, the C1 never turned a wheel in competitive anger. Blame the major sanctioning bodies. Originally, Czysz looked at World Superbike rules which stated that small companies like his producing a limited number of street bikes each year only needed to homologate 150 bikes.

But, of course, the rules changed. Homologation numbers jumped to 1500 units for all manufacturers. Czysz estimated he would have needed upwards of $20 million just to get the tooling needed to build that many bikes for homologation, so instead he looked across the way, to MotoGP and its field full of prototypes, which had recently switched to four-strokes.

In fact, it was relatively easy to configure a slightly smaller 990cc engine to fit MotoGP requirements. But just as the C1 was coming to life, the death knell for the C1 project rang: MotoGP was switching to 800cc engines. The 800s changed everything, revving to 18,000 rpm: That’s pneumatic valve territory and they just couldn’t afford to develop them. Not to mention you can’t use pneumatics on the street.

With funds practically dried up on a bike that was suddenly obsolete, no interest in developing two concurrent technologies: pneumatic for the track and conventional valves for the street; nor the ability to homologate 1500 bikes for WSBK, it was the end of the road for the C1 project.

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Tanmay Kulkarni
Tanmay Kulkarni

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