In 2015 I was fortunate enough to travel to Europe and spend two very special days at one of the most iconic racetracks in the known world; Spa Francorchamps. The excuse for the pilgrimage was a round of the World Classic Bike road racing championships and the Spa paddock was awash with motorcycling exotica. More on Spa and all its delights to come, but for now it’s enough to know that on the same trip our Belgian friends and hosts took us to the Spa Motorsport Museum which is underground in the cellars of an historic church. The museum, as you might expect, is full to the cloisters with European motorsport wonders and includes the F/N (Fabrique Nationale) museum collection – but more on that another time. Of
relevance to this story are the beautifully presented motorcycles from Belgium’s oldest motorcycle marque, Saroléa. For those not familiar, Saroléa was the first Belgian producer of motorcycles, and one of the first producers of motorcycles in the world. Saroléa’s Belgian factory was established by Joseph Saroléa in 1850 as, like so many marques, a weapons factory. In 1892 Joseph started manufacturing bicycles, one thing led to another and around the turn of the century motorcycles were on the menu. But why the interest in Saroléa? As a hopeless road racing tragic, I was recently watching re-runs of the 2016 Isle of Mann TT when Mr. Steve Parrish presented a special on a TT Zero contender, a Belgian Saroléa, but one as far from the lightweight early post-war bike in the photo as it’s possible to get. As fate would have it, two Belgian brothers, Torsten and Bjorn Robbens, both engineering geniuses, acquired the Saroléa name and in much the same way that Triumph and Norton are back from history’s pages, so is Saroléa. But unlike Triumph and Norton, Saroléa is not back with fire-breathing internal combustion machines, but rather has developed a state of the art electric motorcycle designed specifically to take on the Isle of Mann TT Zero event, and to tackle the dominance of the Japanese Murgen bikes (to be ridden this year by TT legends John McGuinness and Guy Martin). Now I know you’re thinking ‘electric’ and therefore somehow ‘less’… and there was a time when I might have agreed, but with this year’s TT Zero expecting to see a 120mph average lap on the Mountain Course, and not a flat battery in sight, it may well be time for a re-think of what’s needed in order to be quick. The new Saroléa, known affectionately as the SP7 (well, even R2D2 caught on eventually), is designed and built by the Robbens brothers at their workshop in Belgium and is becoming a force to be reckoned with in the electric world. The team finished fourth in the 2014 TT Zero and backed that up with a fifth in the 2015 event with an average speed of 106mph. Unfortunately gremlins struck in 2016, robbing Lee Johnston and Dean Harrison of the chance to circulate with the very fastest electric bikes. But fear not, the Robbens brothers have recently announced they will be back at the 2017 TT Zero with Lee Johnston and Dean Harrison remaining on staff. Early indications look promising with speeds of 160mph in closed tests and preparation well advanced for tests at Spa and Nürburgring. How the new-look Saroléa will fare against the best motorcycle tech in the world, only time will tell; but I, for one, admire and salute the skills, dedication and vision of engineers like the Robbens brothers, attributes I’m sure were shared by Joseph Saroléa, an equally talented engineering visionary from another time.