Where were you when you first saw the trailer for Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga? If it hit you like it hit some of us, chances are good that you might remember.

We've covered some crazy radial engine builds on RideApart in the past. But the one given prominent screen time in that trailer, as ridden by Chris Hemsworth, is something else.

Lucky for us, some of the folks involved in bringing that absolutely insane creation to life were kind enough to answer some of our questions. 

Furiosa vehicle supervisor Laurie Faen and original creator John Levey of JRL Cycles took the time to fill us in on most of the pertinent details. So now, you can fill your brain with all the arcane bits of vehicular wisdom you crave before or after you head out to the theater to take in the latest installment of the Mad Max Saga.

Unless you consider knowing anything about the vehicles in the movie to be a spoiler, this piece is resolutely spoiler-free for any plot points that occur within the movie. 

Please note that Laurie Faen's conversation discusses the entire motorbike chariot's construction.

By contrast, John Levey's conversation focuses on his original build of the radial engine bike by itself, which is only one part of the motorbike chariot assembly that appears in the final Furiosa film. 

This talk was so long and in-depth, we had to split it up into two stories. The first will be about the Furiosa bike, with the second coming later this week about the other radial engine motorcycles John's built and the trials and tribulations he faced figuring everything out. 

Get some popcorn ready.

Laurie Faen's Furiosa Motorcycle Chariot Project

"The bike was originally built (in a different form) at JRL Cycles. I think John Levey was in charge. The shop built a few of them," Faen tells RideApart, adding a whole lot of backstory we absolutely didn't know.

"The motor is an Australian-made Rotec 7-cylinder aircraft engine. The forks and bars were made by Roger Goldammer who I think is based in Canada. I don’t know the ownership or early history of the bike, but it ended up in a steel fabrication shop in Alaska owned by Scott Hamann. The bike was known as BlackJack and was seen at various shows, but Scott never got it completely sorted. As you can imagine, a radial bike is very complex."

"We imported it into Australia and began extensive re-engineering," Faen says, adding, "The new panelwork was fabricated in our workshop by our bodywork master Mark Natoli. Colin Gibson was the production designer.

Most of the re-engineering was done in-house under the supervision of the head of motorbikes, Matt Bromley.

Some work, like gear cutting and shaft hardening, was sent out to Anthony Natoli (no relation to Mark) who also worked on Fury Road and built the Gigahorse gearbox(s)."

Faen then told us, "The radial, along with all the many bikes in the film, was tested at a race track and subjected to independent engineering inspection. It can be ridden in solo form or in the chariot formation with 2 modified BMW R18’s coupled to it.

A lot of work went into steering geometry and mechanical coupling. That involved the Special Effects team headed by Lloyd Finnemore.

The Chariot body was also built by Mark Natoli, and has a removable front shield that wasn’t in the film. Its chassis was the result of much CAD work and beautifully constructed from chrome moly steel.

We built a lightweight replica radial and purchased a spare motor for emergencies.
Chris Hemsworth loved the bike and is its custodian. The bike sounds great, and I think you’ll agree, it looks fantastic in the film."

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The Origin

John Levey, owner of JRL Cycles and the mad scientist behind the original design had even more to say about BlackJack, telling RideApart, "This goes, this goes back many, many years. It actually goes way back to 1989. I went to airplane school and it was always kind of a dream, from the first time I worked on a radial engine, to put one in a motorcycle."

He added, "But then, for years and years and years, it was in the back of my mind. And I tried to talk to my old school biker brother-in-law from the sixties and seventies who built motorcycles.

And he's like, yeah, these engines are just way too big and then in about the early 2000s, I came across the company that started building smaller radial engines out of Australia, Rotec Engineering, which is actually Rotec Aerosport now. And it's like, well that'll fit! So then, he's like, ok, let's do this.

We kind of jumped in, and that was how we started in 2005."

John then informed us, "It had been back in the back of my head for quite a while, and we did the very first one and invested a lot of money in it and it's like, well, I've got to build another one to pay for that one.

And that's how it all started.

So I built a total of five of these, in my spare time after my day job. With my friends from work, were the first four of them. And the last one, we just completed one a week ago. You know, it's kind of been in the background since 2005. [That first one] was a big deal. Did all the magazines, we did some television back then. And then, as you know, the custom motorcycle thing just kind of stopped.

And we were OK with that, because every time we built a motorcycle, we already had it sold. The second bike was the movie bike [used in Furiosa], which was originally built for a guy that built oil rigs in Alaska. We originally named that one BlackJack, and it was done in 2010.

And that was the one bike that always would show up under somebody else's name, showed up on a TV show with somebody else saying they were building it. But yeah, we had that bike, sold it to that gentleman."

The Furiosa Bike

JRL Cycles - Blackjack Radial Bike - Left Side

JRL Cycles - Blackjack Radial Bike

Photo courtesy of John Levey.

JRL Cycles - Blackjack Radial Bike - Right Side

JRL Cycles - Blackjack Radial Bike

Photo courtesy of John Levey.

Asked about the upcoming star of the movie, Levey told RideApart, "The second bike is the one in [Furiosa]. It was a hardtail; we were figuring things out by then. So that one was a little bit heavier duty. We had corrected a lot of the previous problems and we were just thinking, boy, OK, now we're getting this down.

So that one was sold up in Alaska."

He then told us, "Approximately two years ago, I got a call from the production company in Australia about the movie bike. It had been damaged in shipping. They were looking for parts. 

But they would not tell me which motorcycle they had. And I'm like, 'Oh, they all have Goldammer front ends,' and then that guy went. I don't know what happened to him. I've tried to contact him.

So then they were like, 'We'll try and work on something ourselves.' I had email conversations with him, back and forth for a few months, and then we kind of stopped. 

And you know, two years, it's a long time. It kind of gets put in the back of your head. It's like well, you know, I wonder if this motorcycle is just gonna make a one-second appearance in the background, or what it's gonna do. Until the movie trailer started coming out and I started seeing it in every one of the trailers!"

"Well, maybe it's gonna be in this movie a little bit bigger than I thought it was," he finished. 

Yeah, we'd say it's likely a little bit bigger than maybe he thought. Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga is out now in theaters and stars Anya-Taylor Joy and Chris Hemsworth, and directed by George Miller.

Oh, what a lovely day. 

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