First ride revisited: Lotus C-01

Published: 17 August 2016

People said the Lotus C-01 wouldn’t be built, but it has and we rode it

mad as A concept bike, as fast as a superbike

Monaco is awash with wall-to-wall money and supercars, and has a harbour rammed with
mega-millionaires’ yachts, so standing out from the crowd isn’t easy. Unless, that is, you’re riding the full production version of the Lotus C-01.

No one, no matter how many Ferraris they own, can stop themselves gawping at one of the craziest-looking bikes ever built. Long, low and clothed in outrageous carbon-fibre bodywork, the C-01 trumps everything else on the road.

Lotus shipped the bike from snow-covered Munich where the C-01s is manufactured, to the Principality of Monaco so that MCN could be the first publication in the world to test ride a full-production version.

This is C-01 number one, the first of 100 bikes to be produced, and the first Lotus to be ridden openly on public roads. It was always intended to be a bold statement, so bold in fact that when MCN revealed its design in January 2014 the images were greeted with derisory laughter from some quarters, while sceptics questioned whether such a radical design would ever make it into production and, if it did, predicted an evil-handling dog.

Neither of these prophecies have come true. The run of 100 bikes costing £70,000 each is effectively sold out (there are a few bikes still awaiting full payment but no more orders are being taken), and despite styling that looks more akin to a spaceship than a motorcycle, it’s an absolute blast to ride.

I’ve possibly written more about the Lotus C-01 than any other journalist in the world, so I’m completely familiar with the bike in terms of the way it looks. I was even lucky enough to ride an unfaired prototype last summer. Even so, seeing the finished production bike in all its metal and carbon glory for the first time still grabs me. Whether you’re looking at the styling or the quality of finish, it is stunning, and features the finest carbon-fibre I have ever seen. Although the Lotus C-01 is uniquely styled and has a bespoke steel-trellis frame with titanium and carbon-fibre sections, its 75-degree V-twin engine is borrowed from a KTM RC8R. Every piece of welding and fabrication is breathtakingly good, the carbon-fibre wheels are a work of art, and the overall stance of the bike is so different from the norm it’s hard to know what to think.

I have less than a day to get the test ride (and photography) done so I have no time to lose. The bike is being stored in a Monaco car showroom, where I am introduced to it and handed a key fob that activates the keyless ignition. I hold the fob to the top of the carbon-fibre panel near the headstock, press the starter and the engine comes to life. A couple of moments of idling to warm the fluids and we are ready to go. I tap the gear lever into first and the engine dies. I instinctively curse for not flipping the sidestand up and look down to discover that it is up. Oh...

I start it again, select first and the engine instantly dies again. It’s clear something is wrong. In fact it takes MCN photographer Ian Jubb and me ages to diagnose the fault, which we eventually trace to the magnetic pick-up on the sidestand kill switch. With a magnet pinched from a pinboard and duct taped into place on the back of the sidestand mount, we finally get up and running.

The riding position is fairly extreme, roughly similar to that of a modern sportsbike but with footpegs a little higher and further back, loading a fair bit of weight onto the wrists. Once out of traffic-clogged Monaco the C-01 starts to make more sense as the windblast lifts a bit of weight off my wrists. Up in the hills I’m able to give the throttle a bit of a twist for the first time and the brand-new Dunlop Sportsmart spins under the surge of instant torque before gripping and sling-shotting the bike forward. It’s brutal and enormously satisfying right up to the point where windblast makes it increasingly difficult to hang on.

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There are no electronics to worry about on this bike, no ABS, traction control or riding modes to trouble you – it’s a very pure experience. The Öhlins twin-shocks at the back and conventional Sachs forks up front are simple, but effective too. The road condition deteriorates as we head further into the hills, yet the ride remains controlled – plush, but firm and sporty when it matters.

With a wheelbase that could rival that of an oil tanker, this may look like a bike that shouldn’t work. But despite its unusual design and engineering layout, it gallops along roads at what seems like an unseemly pace. Add in the top-notch suspension and superb Brembo brakes up front, and the C-01 is also surprisingly easy to adapt to.

It’s not without issues, however. That keyless ignition is, frankly, a pain in the arse. Every single time you switch off the ignition you need to retrieve the key fob from a pocket and touch it near the receiver on the top of the bodywork. The 19in front wheel, which was always part of the design, cuts the choice of tyres down to a limited range, and while the Continental Trail Attack on the front is more than adequate for normal road riding, it doesn’t inspire you to push a little harder. Each C-01 will be tailored to its owner, so the gear lever that was way too long for me to comfortably use would fit its owner perfectly.

The day is running out fast, and I need to head back to the harbour to shoot the static images before darkness descends. With almost any other bike that would be a simple task, but not with the Lotus C-01, which instantly attracts a swarm of people in the way a pile of free money might. I’m having to act as crowd control as photographer Ian captures the C-01’s carbon curves. This truly is a show-stopping bike. 

Verdict

Many said this bike would never happen, and even if it did it would be hopeless. Well MCN is the only publication in the world to ride it and we can tell you this bike is real, it performs, and its lucky owners are going to have to get used to lots of attention whenever they ride it.

 

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