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Motorcycles: Low Rider

Fluto Shinzawa

Over the past 20 years, former racecar driver Dan Gurney has designed and built five generations of the Alligator, his dream motorcycle, and he speaks freely about the disappointments of earlier test models. “The A2 was an unmitigated disaster,” Gurney says. “It didn’t handle well. You couldn’t even ride it. You had to have both hands on the handlebars to keep it going straight.”

Other models spit fuel on riders’ clothes, were difficult to start, or had engines that buzzed and that echoed in Gurney’s ears long after he killed the ignition. Above all, the motorcycles lacked the character that would attract enthusiasts and set them apart from other bikes.

This time, Gurney believes he has solved every glitch. Earlier this year, Gurney introduced the A6, the sixth and seemingly perfected version of the Alligator. “I think we’ve finally improved on the original design,” says Gurney, the founder and CEO of All American Racers, the company that builds the Alligator, along with Eagle racing cars. “We’ve gotten it to the point where it’s much more quiet and civilized. It looks good, it’s much smoother, and it has a lot more protection from the wind.”

What continues to distinguish the Alligator—a 320-pound, single-cylinder machine powered by a 650cc Honda engine—from other production motorcycles is its unique design. At first glance, you might think something has chomped a U-shaped bite out of the bike’s body. That void is the machine’s centerpiece: Instead of sitting on the motorcycle, as with more traditional bikes, the rider sits low in the Alligator. “On many sportbikes, you’re perched on top,” says Gurney. “On the Alligator, you’re down in the bike, so you’re not torn by the wind as much. It gets you through the air with minimum resistance.”

According to Gurney, the Alligator is quite comfortable, almost like being in a reclining chair. You sit only 18 inches off the ground with your legs stretched forward, creating a look that says easy chair more than Easy Rider.

Gurney, who is 6-foot-2, developed the design while riding over hills in Southern California on his Montesa dirt bike. When he rode downhill, his high center of gravity (CG) made him feel unstable. “When you’re going downhill with a short wheelbase and a high CG, your rear wheel starts to lift off the ground,” explains Gurney. “Then you might go over the handlebars. I often had more trouble going downhill than a shorter rider.”

Gurney removed the seat from his dirt bike, draped a towel over the frame rails, and felt much safer. The ride was more stable uphill as well: Before discarding the seat, he was prone to popping wheelies at inopportune occasions. Gurney was thrilled by his discovery, and realized that transferring the low-slung design from a dirt bike to a motorcycle would make riding smoother and easier.

Actor Perry King, who purchased one of the 36 production models, plans to cruise his Alligator around Los Angeles. “The fun of the bike is riding it,” says King. “I’m not collecting the bike. I’m going to ride this thing into the ground.”

All American Racers, 714.540.1771, www.allamericanracers.com

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