Visitors to Te Papa will no doubt have seen the Britten V1000 – an iconic, world-beating motorcycle designed and built in Christchurch by John Britten and his team. At the moment the bike looks a bit different, as we are displaying it without its iconic pink and blue bodywork. History curator Katie Cooper gives an overview of Aotearoa New Zealand’s most famous motorbike.
When the Britten V1000 burst onto the scene in the early 1990s, it took the racing world by storm. In 1993 it set four world speed records for motorcycles 1000cc and under, clocking 302.705 km/h in the flying mile, and in 1992 Cycle World magazine described it as ‘the world’s most advanced motorcycle’.
Hand-built by designer John Britten (1950-1995) and a small crew, there was innovation in almost every element of the bike. Apart from one or two components, the engine was made from scratch, the suspension was a newly-designed ‘wishbone’ system, the radiator was tucked under the seat to improve aerodynamics, and almost all of the chassis was made from carbon fibre. Every element was thought about from first principles to make the bike as light and fast as possible.
John Britten had a very clear vision of how he wanted the Britten V1000 to look, from the sleek custom-moulded bodywork to the bright pink and blue paintwork. The bike has been lauded as both a racing machine and a work of art. As rider Loren Poole wrote, it is ‘a sculpture capable of 300kph’ (quoted in Price 2003, 42).
The vivid paint colours were carefully chosen. While on holiday in Australia John collected a starfish-shaped piece of glass in iridescent blue/violet, and upon his return he challenged painter Bob Brookland to match the colour exactly.
John tried out different shades of pink before settling on a colour he liked. Initially he was going to use a brighter shade but when he brought a sample in to the workshop the rest of the team said ‘get that out of here’, so he decided on a slightly darker hue.
A new paint job
The pink paint is very UV sensitive and has faded over time. In consultation with members of the Britten family and Britten Motorcycle Company, Te Papa decided to repaint the pink fairings and restore them to their former glory. This is standard practice for other bikes in the Britten series.
Bob Brookland has painted every Britten bike since John first gave him that piece of blue glass, and he agreed to do the work on Te Papa’s bike. He and Craig Roberts, who has been maintaining Britten bikes for the last twenty years, came to Te Papa in early August 2021 to remove the bodywork and give the bike a once-over.
The Britten bike stripped bare
The maintenance work gave us a rare opportunity to display the Britten V1000 without its carbon fibre shell, and give visitors a chance to see more of the unique features that made it such a revolutionary machine. The bike will be on display ‘naked’ until mid 2022, so zoom on in and check it out!
Bob and Craig will be back at Te Papa mid year to refit the fairings, and you’ll have a chance to meet them and hear more about the bike. Kirsteen Britten is also going to join us to tell us more about her late husband John – keep an eye out for more details.
View the Britten Bike slideshow – a collection of photos showing the deinstallation of the Britten V1000, giving you access to parts of the bike rarely seen.
References and further information
- Price, Felicity. 2003. Dare To Dream: The John Britten Story. Christchurch: Hazard Press.
- Price, Felicity. n.d. The Making of John Britten. Britten Motorcycle Company website.
- Te Papa, 1998. The Britten V-1000 motorbike. Collections Online.
- Taylormade Productions, 1994. Britten – Backyard Visionary documentary, NZ On Screen.