Legends: Craig Vetter

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36 JANUARY 2015 // MOTORCYCLE CONSUMER NEWS Born in 1942, Craig Vetter is one of those people that sees things that others do not. “I always liked airplanes. I thought I would go to the Air Force Academy and build airplanes,” he laughs, “but I don’t get along with math.” Instead, he found an Industrial Design curriculum at the University of Illinois. “They had a display of little cars, little motorcycles, and little things with wheels and wings and little engines. And that’s what I wanted to do.” He graduated in 1965 with a degree in Industrial Design but, according to Vetter, no one was doing what he wanted to do—designing those things with wheels and wings and little engines. He turned down some early job offers “designing kitchen appliances or going to General Motors to design hubcaps and steering wheels.” Knowing that Craig was unhappy with the available choices, his instructor urged him to explore the work of ’60’s visionary Buckminster Fuller. Fuller, a neo-futuristic architect, system theorist, writer, and designer, was intent on using what he called “anticipatory design” to solve world problems. Vetter rode his motorcycle 150 miles to Carbondale, IL and listened to Fuller lecture at Southern Illinois University. He had never heard of Fuller before that day but the impact of the meeting would resonate through Vetter’s life. “This was one of those pivotal times in my life, he totally changed me. What I heard him say was that the key to the future was to do more with less.” “This was in an era where cars got 12 mpg and motorcycles got 40. I liked motorcycles. I already had motorcycles. I decided then that I would do things that made motorcycles better transportation.” If motorcycles were better transportation, Vetter reasoned, more people would ride them, less fuel would be used, and roads and parking lots would be less crowded. That’s doing more with less. In 1966, Vetter built his first fairing in the living room of a rented house in Champaign, IL. He carved the foam shape directly on his Yamaha 305 and produced his first fairing. By the end of the year, about a dozen were built with friends and Vetter booked ad space in Cycle World magazine. He showed a few fairings at Daytona. While that business would grow slowly, he continued to develop new improvements. He spent the winter of 1968 building his first seat/fuel/oil tank combo on his Suzuki 500. “I rode it to Daytona, grabbed everyone I could from Yamaha, Suzuki, BSA, Triumph, and said, ‘You guys need me to design your motorcycles,’” he laughs out loud. “One guy that took my card was Harry Chaplin from BSA.” Chaplin took that business card back to New Jersey to his boss, Don Brown, Vice President and Manager of BSA. This chance opportunity would prove to be a door-opener for Vetter. In 1968, the Brits released their new three-cylinder designs, the BSA Rocket 3 and the T-150 Triumph. “They were not what the American riders wanted in a design,” Craig says. “Well, Don Brown called me in April of 1969 and asked me to come out to New Jersey and discuss a redesign for the Rocket 3.” Brown figured that there was a demand for an American-style bike and wanted to give the upgrade nod to BSA; Triumph was already a well-established design icon in the US. However, he knew the old-school BSA men back in England had signed off on the unsuccessful current design and would never go for a redesign. Brown liked Vetter and gave him a Rocket 3. The project would have to be done in secret. Vetter would keep detailed records and report only to Don Brown weekly. “Years later, Don told me that this was the same bike that Yvon DuHamel and Dick Mann had set the 24 hour speed record on just a month before at Daytona,” according to Vetter. Craig rode the bike back to Illinois and went to work over the summer of 1969 morphing the bike into what he knew an American motorcyclist would want. Vetter liked the late-Sixties Triumph Bonneville; the smooth tear-drop tank and graceful exhaust system on the Bonnies was the antithesis of the newly designed triples. The slabby fuel tank and odd exhaust system never interested the American market in the Sixties-hippy-chopper lifestyle of California that was the epicenter of American motorcycling at that time. Craig planned a one-piece tank/seat combo that would gracefully slim the previously boxy, flat look of the original Rocket. He would Craig Vetter part 1 by Joe Michaud ALL PHOTOS © CRAIG VETTER LEGENDS OF MOTORCYCLING Top: A magazine ad from the time when Vetter’s Windjammer fairings were all but standard equipment on every new touring bike sold. Above: Vetter with the entire range of his fairing developments over the years. WWW.MCNEWS.COM // JANUARY 2015 37 lengthen the front a bit to give it a fresh chopperish vibe. Accent the big motor; add some West Coast polish and chrome. Give it the flash that the Small Heath factory BSA execs shied from. Vetter had built his version in three months and the New Jersey BSA/USA folks loved the bike. The conservative Small Heath folks in England loved it not so much. “Basically, I took off everything that didn’t look right to me and replaced those parts with stuff that would look good to an American motorcyclist. I enhanced the beauty of the engine; I added extra fins on top, repainted it, added some chrome and polished some parts. The new body work had the beautiful curves of a woman.” But it was the pipes that blew the minds of the viewers; three upswept megaphones on the right side left no doubt that this was a three-cylinder machine. Vetter lengthened the front end two inches using internal spring Ceriani forks in polished alloy triple clamps that Don had supplied. The rubber rolled on Akront aluminum rims, the brakes were cable-pull; the front brake perhaps missed a bet not going with the already available Lockheed disc. Handlebars and controls were standard ’60’s issue and welcomed by the loyal American buyers of British bikes. Paint was Camaro “Hugger Red,” the yellow stripe was reflective tape. The bike looked lithe, lean, and even a bit dangerous. Despite those spectacular pipes, it was an integrated whole. Brown would leave early in 1970 after yet another reorganization leaving Vetter without his inside guy. Internal factory politics proved corrosive to production and Vetter’s payment was delayed again and again. When Brown left, Don cut a deal with BSA management to produce the bike as Vetter built it, if it was ever built. Despite Vetter’s BSA Rocket 3 design being completed in September of 1969, it was ultimately badged as the Triumph X-75 Hurricane when it was rolled out in 1973. It was built in the Triumph plant in Meriden using BSA canted-cylinder motors, conical-hub front brakes, Borrani rims, and lengthened BSA/Triumph Ceriani-copy fork tubes. It was priced higher than the Honda 750 at $2300 and was not a perfect motorcycle; it had some handling problems and produced poor mileage, but it was gorgeous. Some dispute remains as to how many were built; serial numbers have a wide spread according to X-75 fanatics. Estimates range between 1200 and 2000 but Vetter believes that exactly 1172 were made. Because of the X-75, Triumph USA wanted a Vetter-styled American machine of their own and Craig built a bike he would build for himself and called it the Bonneville TT 750. Heavy with American flat-track influences, it used tubular air filters, old-school Bonnie exhaust systems and evoked the iconic Triumph racer mystique so influenced by fast US racers like Gene Romero. The British bike industry was in shabby ruins by this time and the TT 750 never reached production, although plenty of street-riders, myself included, built our own. The once great world-dominating British industry collapsed and was unable to produce a world-class machine again until the great name was successfully resurrected by John Bloor. Meanwhile, by 1970, Vetter’s other business was becoming successful. He was building five different fairing designs under the Phantom series. “At the time, I knew I had a good fairing but a bad product. The problem was the Phantom series designs were too specific. Dealers couldn’t order four or five and be assured they would fit whoever walked through the door.” The business expanded when Vetter designed the Windjammer, a new fairing that would fit multiple bikes and sales took off. He began mass-producing high-quality items for larger bore machines that incorporated headlights, storage, and exceptional weather protection. The Windjammer fairing was ubiquitous in the ’70’s. If you saw a bike in the ’70’s with a fairing, it was a Windjammer…or a knock-off. Such is flattery. “The fairings were popular. By the end of the run, dealers were ordering a thousand at a time,” he claims — all because Bucky Fuller put the germ of “more from less” into Vetter’s mind. When Craig sold the business in 1978, he had supplied more than 400,000 units and at that time in U.S. motorcycle history, he was second in annual sales only to Harley-Davidson. International politics were in flux, car mileage was improving while motorcycle mileage began to slip. Fuel prices were rising, petroleum imports soared, and America was losing its energy independence. Vetter’s goals began to change. How could people get more transportation for less money?

Part 2 34 FEBRUARY 2015 // MOTORCYCLE CONSUMER NEWS Craig Vetter is best known for his famous Windjammer fairings and as the designer of the Triumph Hurricane. But he also has a solid claim as the person responsible for the invention of the modern touring motorcycle. In the ’70s, untold millions of miles were ridden on motorcycles equipped with Windjammer fairings, Floating Mount hard-bags and top boxes. If you wanted to travel long miles in comfort, you mounted Vetter equipment. In those early years, he continually pushed motorcycle design in an attempt to make bikes better… more usable, more convenient, and more popular. If more motorcycles were ridden, he believed the world would be a better place. However, Vetter began to change his design goals when he realized that motorcycle fuel mileage was becoming less relevant. In the late ’70’s, automobile manufacturers were responding to rising fuel prices while motorcycle designers did not. Bikes kept getting larger and heavier. Manufacturers simply upped engine displacement to produce more speed and acceleration. Vetter relates, “By 1978, the motorcycles that people wanted began to get less than 40 mpg and you could buy cars that got 40 mpg. Motorcycles were no longer doing more with less.” Gradually, he began to lose interest in the direction that the industry was following. In 1978, Vetter sold his business to concentrate “on being a husband and father,” but he never lost his love of motorcycles or his desire to make them better. Buckminster Fuller had implanted the germ of “do more with less” into Craig’s mind early in his design career. The oil embargo crises of 1973 and 1979 shocked the US economy, but America continued to import larger and larger amounts of its petroleum. Could he design a more fuel efficient motorcycle without straying from the basic tenets of what makes a motorcycle fun? He pondered what amount of horsepower or, more importantly, how little horsepower was really necessary to haul a rider down real-world roads at real-world speeds with a real-world load capacity. Do we need 100 horsepower? Can we do it with 20? Vetter wondered what could be done—and how? In 1980, no one could tell Craig what was the least amount of horsepower that would still do the job. In order to explore the limits, he organized a series of Craig Vetter Fuel Economy Contests. The events were to be run on real roads at real road speeds. He challenged designers to find out exactly what the minimum requirements were. By the second year, the best examples were already getting close to 200 mpg with less than 250cc power plants. Streamlining was the ticket and Vetter knew it. Streamlining uses less power and using less power uses less fuel. If you could keep the fun and functionality of motorcycles and use less fuel, that would be “doing more with less.” Bingo. Each year, Vetter tightened the rules, forcing the designs to stay functional in the real world. What was the point of “silly mileage if no one would ever ride that way?” The final event in 1985 was a two-part trial with the strictest rules yet. First, a road course through Carmel weeded the contestants from 50 down to the 10 stingiest fuel users. The second part would be ridden on the 2.2 mile Laguna Seca race track, complete with eleven including the infamous Corkscrew. Vetter explains, “The trick of this challenge was that contestant was give only a nickel’s worth of fuel. A worth of fuel is what is contained in eight inches of fuel The rules now required a LeMans start to exclude machines required assistants to seat the rider or the use of unrealistic such as duct-taping enclosed body work. Craig wanted world stuff. Vetter would lead the group at 60mph; another would follow the group keeping the pack together at speed. personally emptied every carburetor and filled the float bowls burette-measured amounts. Gas caps were sealed and the on. Use up your fuel and you’re out. Whoever rode the would be the winner. Matsu Matsuzawa, riding an 80cc Honda 10 hp, was the last bike running. He completed four laps Laguna Seca, and got an incredible 470 mpg, according to Interestingly, most of the top finishers used stock carburetion, stock jets, and stock cams. Some added additional transmission gears, lighter valve springs, and higher tire pressures but However, the common thread throughout was the streamlining. “Round in the front, pointed in the back,” says Vetter, a design law.” Over the five year series, all of the top finishers became ardent believers in streamlining. “What did it really take to push a man down the road mph? In the five years of the first Vetter contests, I figured had learned 90% of what could be learned. It was simple: and 3.5 hp. But we did not change the world.” The message, according to Vetter, hearkens back to his of Bucky Fuller. Perhaps, Bucky had missed the Something was missing from Fuller’s “Do more with less.” “Today, my master plan is different. Today, I want better on less energy.’” More is not always better, but better is always better. adamant about that distinction. It may be a subtle difference Craig knows it’s an important one in a world facing a future political fuel supply restrictions that Fuller hadn’t anticipated. After two decades, Vetter came back with a new series challenges in 2010 in which he opened the ranks to alternative Now, the bikes would be judged on both distances ridden per fuel and fuel costs per mile, this allowed bio-diesel and electric to be entered. An important adjunct is the new load capacity. Each machine competing now had to carry four full groceries that could be loaded successfully by one person less than one minute. Vetter kept his contestants firmly real world. The routes would be real-world, too. The toughened rules and scoring were designed to accurately judge what Craig Vetter part 2 by Joe Michaud Vetter’s recent have been pushing the envelope fuel efficiency. Or, in the of this streamlined electric energy efficiency. LEGENDS OF MOTORCYCLING WWW.MCNEWS.COM // FEBRUARY 2015 35 eleven turns that each nickel’s fuel line.” machines that unrealistic chicanery wanted real another official speed. Craig bowls with race was furthest, Honda with laps around to Vetter. carburetion, transmission but not all. streamlining. Vetter, “that’s finishers road at 55 figured that I simple: streamlining his paraphrasing the boat. less.” to ‘Live Vetter is difference but future of anticipated. series of fuel alternative fuels. per unit of electric vehicles capacity. full bags of person in firmly in the toughened what it costs exactly to travel per mile using a vehicle that could be, or should be, your first choice in the garage. Each year, from 2010 to the present, the Vetter Fuel Challenges were run on open roads and in traffic. The routes would change through the years and events were held at the Quail Gathering, Vintage Days at Lexington, Ohio, on the road from Las Vegas to Barstow, and the recent Bonneville Challenge. What are the common factors of all the latest fuel challenges? Distances were all over 100 miles, speeds were 65-80 mph, over normal roads with common elevation changes and often with headwinds approaching 30 mph. Drafting was not allowed. Falling behind the tailing rider was a disqualification. Plus, remember the grocery bag factor. The 172 mile 2014 Bonneville Challenge from Wendover to Tooele, Utah covered 75 miles of I-80 at 70-80 mph, 37 miles of back country roads at 60-65 mph, and some tight mountain curves. Terry Hershner was the electric winner on his Vetter/ Hershner Zero. He used 20 kW-hrs. at a unit cost of $0.11579 for a total cost of $2.92 or 0.017 cents/mile. Electric bikes were assessed an additional $.512, to match the amount of road tax the diesel fuel winner was required to pay at the pump. The diesel winner was the Hayes Diesel Streamliner. Fred Hayes burned 1.047 gallons of bio-diesel at the Utah-mandated price of $3.819/gallon, costing $4.00 or 0.023 cents/mile. The gasoline winner was Alan Smith. He rode his Vetter-faired 2005 Kawasaki 250cc Ninja over the 171.7 mile course using 1.233 gallons of $3.60/gal. pump gas costing $4.41. That pencils out to 0.026 cents/mile. I pondered those results while I drove my 2000 Ford F-150 that, on its best day, would barely travel 16 miles on that amount of gasoline. 171.7 miles at $3.60/gal. would cost me $46.48, or 27 cents/mile—one tenth as efficient! Streamlining is the solution to using less fuel. This was proven again by the cost/mile of the best four finishers in the 2014 Bonneville Fuel Challenge. They all rolled the 172 miles than 3.6 cents/mile. The diesel contestants that faired so well the early contests have begun to suffer as diesel prices began rise. Cost/mile was the new proof-of-concept. “If it wasn’t for electric motorcycles, I would believe had learned the 90% already. I can’t quit now. We are just beginning of electric bikes.” Craig Vetter’s dream involves enhancing the mileage of electric vehicles with streamlining; his fairings have already produced a 100% increase in battery-distance traveled. His vision optimum energy future is one where personal energy production is sourced and produced directly from the sun. Charge your electric vehicle with your own solar panels and eliminate reliance on energy produced and controlled by others, domestic or foreign. That’s real energy freedom. Fancy a chance to build your own Vetter streamliner and the Fuel Challenge? Craig can supply the basic three-piece bodywork. You provide any additional parts locally. your own low-profile chassis, an engine of 20-25 hp and build safe and roadworthy machine and you have a contender. Contact Craig to learn more, and find out more about the Fuel Challenges at www.craigvetter.com

 

Vetter’s Fuel Economy Challenge quickly proved that aerodynamics are the key to big mpg numbers. With production bikes averaging around 40 mpg, Challenge entries are getting 140 mpg on pump Fuel economy may not be the sexiest aspect of motorcycling, but modern 4000 lb. cars actually outperform many bikes. Vetter thinks we can do better. ALL PHOTOS © CRAIG VETTER Vetter’s recent years been spent envelope of the case electric Zero, efficiency.

 

The Bonneville TT from 1972.

 

 

Above: Magazine ad for the beautiful 1973 Triumph Hurricane X-75. Below: Compare the standard BSA 750 triple with Vetter’s Hurricane X-75.

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