The machine Michael Dunlop used to take two consecutive Lightweight TT wins doesn’t come from Japan. It comes from a tiny, bespoke Italian company with a story to tell.
Winning any TT race in the Isle of Man is a significant achievement, let alone doing so 19 times, as Ulsterman Michael Dunlop has so far managed up until now. But repeating one such victory in successive years with the very same bike speaks volumes for that motorcycle’s qualities, too—and that’s what Michael achieved with the Italian-built Paton S1-R in 2018-19, in the closely fought Lightweight TT for 650cc Twins.
One year ago, Dunlop celebrated the historic Paton brand’s 60th birthday by winning the four-lap, 106-mile, 2018 Lightweight TT at a record average speed of 120.601 mph on the factory S1-R, 14 seconds ahead of Kawasaki-mounted Derek McGee, and in doing so set a new lap record on his street-derived 650cc twin at a remarkable 122.750mph.
In doing so, he headed home five Patons in the first six places from the grid’s 47 starters, a convincing demonstration of the sweet handling and reduced weight of the Kawasaki-powered Italian bike. But this year Michael repeated that victory on the very same motorcycle, albeit by a much tighter margin, finishing just 1.299sec ahead of Kawasaki rider Jamie Coward in a two-lap race shortened by weather conditions, with Italian teammate Stefano Bonetti—fresh from winning the 2019 North West 200 on his Paton—sixth. This time around there were five Patons in the top 12 finishers.
Michael’s two-time TT winner is derived from the appealing but pricey Paton S1-R Lightweight streetbike that’s literally a racer with lights, and is currently available in Europe for €24,900 ($27,960) + tax – yes, that’s more than a Ducati Panigale V4 S! This is derived from the lower-spec S1 Strada, production of which began back in 2014, since when “over 50” bikes have been sold to customers around the world, according to Paton.
However, the less costly older model I rode in prototype form five years ago had a conventional fork, non-radial brakes and wire wheels, and was powered by a totally stock Kawasaki ER6 engine. That’s now been discontinued in favor of the uprated S1-R Lightweight which the Paton race team brought to the 2.2-mile Cremona circuit south of Milan for me to sample alongside Dunlop’s two-time TT winner—still encrusted with Manx flies!
Paton S1-R Lightweight Track Test—SC Project To The Rescue
The latest S1-R Lightweight streetbike features a big step up in specification and performance from before, and is hand built in the Paton workshop within its owner SC Project’s massive performance exhaust factory to the west of Milan. Owned by partners Stefano Lavazza and Marco De Rossi, SC-Project www.sc-project.com supplies the exhausts for the world title-winning Repsol Honda RC213V bikes of Márquez and Lorenzo, and several Moto2 World championship winning bikes, too.
It also equips many WorldSBK and WorldSSP entries including the MV Agusta factory bikes, and provides a vast array of performance exhausts for many different street models. It acquired Paton in 2016, since when the historic marque’s involvement in modern-day racing has intensified, with two factory racebikes entered for Dunlop and Bonetti in all major 650 Lightweight races, in addition to the eight clones of Michael’s race-winning bike built and sold so far, prices for which start at €37,000 ($41,550) on up, depending on specification—same as with the €25K street version. Each bike is hand built to order, with a four-week delivery time currently quoted.
The S1-R was conceived in 2013 by Roberto Pattoni—son of the firm’s founder Giuseppe, who passed away in 1999 and his chief engineer, Andrea Realini, who also formerly worked with Roberto’s father on Paton 500GP two-strokes.
“The idea was to create a bike which incorporated Paton’s history and design ethos, but could be used on the street,” says Pattoni. “There was naturally only one engine we could ever use, because the Kawasaki ER6 motor is a modern version of the original Paton Bicilindrica, using the same parallel-twin eight-valve DOHC format, with a 180-degree crankshaft and cassette gearbox as the Paton Grand Prix racers—my father was the first person to feature extractable gear ratios on a motorcycle back in the early 1960s.”
The S1-R Lightweight is available with three different levels of engine tune, up to and including the top spec which sees 112 hp at 10,500 rpm delivered to the rear wheel of the TT-winning Dunlop racebike. But between that and the 72 hp at the crank produced by the stock Kawasaki motor, there’s an intermediate level of performance for street versions of the S1-R, whose mildly breathed on DOHC 180-degree motor (so, one-up/one-down, piston-wise) produces 82 hp at 8,500 rpm at the rear wheel. That’s significantly more than the stock Japanese engine, thanks mainly to the exquisitely-made, freer-flowing SC Project 2-1 titanium exhaust.
But the kitted engine fitted to the test bike I rode also benefitted from Pistal pistons lifting the compression ratio to 12.5:1 from the stock 11.3:1, together with some light improvements to the cylinder head aimed at enhancing gas flow, and combustion.
The ER6’s twin 38mm throttle bodies are retained with a single injector per cylinder, together with the stock Keihin ECU, but this is fitted with a Power Commander to help get the best out of the SC Project pipe. Torque is up significantly, too, even with stock camshafts fitted, with 64 ft-lb available at 7,000 rpm. The standard Kawasaki six-speed gearbox is retained, but is now matched to a Suter Racing slipper clutch that’s fitted with stiffer springs to handle the engine’s extra punch, coupled with a one-way Dynojet powershifter for wide-open upward gearchanges.
Paton S1-R Lightweight Track Test—Handmade exotica
Boasting the slogan Hand Made in Milano alongside the badge of that city on the well-padded SIR single seat with a carbon-fiber base, the Paton’s lightweight chrome-moly tubular steel open-cradle chassis designed by Andrea Realini uses the Kawasaki motor as a semi-stressed member. This allows the S1-R to scale just 348 lb with oil/water, but an empty hand-beaten 4.2-gallon brushed aluminum fuel tank with classic-style cutouts for the rider’s knees.
That’s a hefty 35 pounds less than the bike its motor is sourced from, split 52/48 percent for a forward-weight bias aimed at helping the rider to max out turn speed, the number-one asset of the Paton’s chassis package that lets you make the most of the modest horsepower—well, by four-cylinder 600 Supersport standards anyway.
While slightly spreading the front downtubes to make room for the Japanese engine’s single gear driven counterbalancer—retained on the Dunlop TT-winner to reduce rider fatigue—Realini has slightly modified it compared to the original S1 Strada, while preserving the same identical steering geometry and weight distribution. This is to make space for the stock Kawasaki airbox and filter, the use of which has enabled Paton to homologate the S1-R by passing noise and emission tests both speedily and cost-effectively, thanks also to the SC-Project performance exhaust coming complete with a catalyst.
The Paton S1-R Lightweight carries fully-adjustable Öhlins suspension—including for both low-and high-speed damping—with a 43mm FGRT 204 fork set at a 25° rake with 4.13 inches of trail, via AEM Factory triple-clamps specially made for Paton, hence the firm’s badge on the upper face. This offers 4.72 inches of wheel travel, combined with twin TTX30 piggyback shocks delivering a surprisingly rangy (by twin-shock standards) 5.11 inches of hyper-controlled wheel travel. Wheelbase is 15mm shorter than the stock Kawasaki at 54.72 inches thanks to the beautifully fabricated Febur aluminum swingarm. The OZ Racing Piega forged-aluminum wheels carry Metzeler RaceTech RR K3 rubber—with the rear a 180/55-17 tire same as on Dunlop’s TT racer. This helps keep the Paton pretty agile and quick steering, while also delivering the grip to make good use of that nice revvy motor. The twin 295mm TK front discs now ubiquitous in Moto2 are gripped by four-piston radial Brembo Monoblock M4-108 calipers, via a 19mm RCS radial master cylinder. There’s a 220mm TK steel disc at the rear, with a twin-piston Brembo P34C caliper.
You’ll already have noticed that the Paton’s array of components reads like a wish list for Italian aftermarket hardware, and that’s added to by the quick-action Domino throttle and handlebar grips, the Rizoma mirrors incorporating front direction signals, the Valtermoto clip-on handlebars and foot controls, and GB Racing engine covers. Add in the twin ellipsoidal CEV headlamps set deep into the nose of the identical fairing to the Dunlop bike that’s likewise painted in Paton’s official 60th birthday livery, and you may begin to see some rationale for that sky high price.
Paton S1-R Lightweight Track Test—On track
After throwing a leg over the 31.8-inch-high seat—20mm lower than on the Dunlop TT-winner I was riding that day—I found a really spacious riding position which nevertheless made you feel part of the bike, with relatively low footrests which didn’t however impact on ground clearance. The street Paton’s smaller, lower 4.22-gallon fuel tank also helped me tuck away even tighter behind its quite protective screen down the Cremona circuit’s 0.5-mile long main straight, than I could on the racebike’s larger 5.15-gallon one, just keeping the S1-R running straight and true with your fingertips. The steering is light but not nervous, and gives the Paton a responsive, involving personality. It also turns very easily, as you might expect from a bike weighing just 348 pounds, but it feels well-balanced and controllable at all times in doing so.
It’s a confidence-inspiring ride that encourages you to use lots of lean angle in pursuit of high turn speeds, aided by the grippy Metzeler Racetecs. And the Paton is super forgiving if, say, you want to turn a little tighter to cut inside a slower rider, or change your line mid-turn for an early drive out of the apex. Fast corners, slow corners, they’re all the same to this sweet-handling motorcycle, which is living proof that having fun riding a motorcycle hard doesn’t require 200 hp or even half that figure at the back wheel.
That came after thumbing the starter button to be instantly rewarded by the same distinctive, exceptionally stirring exhaust note as on the 1960s 500GP Paton twins, sounding both muscular yet high-pitched as I blipped the light-action throttle from its fairly high 1,600 rpm idle speed.
“A castrated Casanova of an engine,” was how a journalist once described the ’60s Paton GP bikes as sounding, and that seems about right even today! But the Paton S1-R Lightweight is a lot smoother and less tiring to ride, thanks to its Kawasaki motor’s gear-driven balance shaft, which completely removes any trace of tingles, even at higher revs. It’s a lusty motor with heaps of midrange grunt despite its 650cc capacity, yet packs enough top-end power to be fun.
Paton S1-R Lightweight Track Test—Wide Open Throttle
However, even with the motor’s ultra-linear power delivery, it really pays to rev what by today’s standards is a punchy little powerplant right out to almost the 10,900-rpm limiter, before hitting a higher gear wide-open on the sweet-action race-pattern Dynojet powershifter (pity there’s no auto-blipper, though, so you must still use the clutch for downshifts). That’s because both power and torque peak quite high up, but then hold their values without falling away the harder you rev the motor. So, short-shifting isn’t really a good idea, even though there are no steps to speak of in the power delivery from 4,000 rpm upwards—just a little bit of extra zest from 7,000 revs up. But fueling is smooth and responsive from low revs, without the pickup from a closed throttle being snatchy exiting a bend. On Cremona’s half-mile straight, the S1R pulled hard through the gears one after another via the crisp-action quickshifter, allowing you to clock around 125 mph before hauling hard on the Brembos for the second-gear hairpin. Braking performance is excellent, with outstanding lever feel from the radial front calipers via the RCS19 master cylinder.
It’s a pity there’s no shifter light on the Paton, not even one mounted alongside the stock Kawasaki tacho that’s the only instrument, as it would be really helpful if you’re constantly flirting with the hard-action limiter. A gear-selector reading would have been good, too. In fact, the cheapo instrument is the only complaint I have about this bike, which is such a joy to ride in something approaching anger. For a bike carrying such a high price tag, the Kawasaki ER6 dash simply doesn’t do it. It looks positively vintage and only delivers a fraction of the info I’d expect a bike of this caliber pricewise to offer.
Still, good as the tuned Kawasaki engine is, it’s the Paton’s wonderful handling that really makes it stand out. This combines an ideal balance of high-speed stability and agile though precise steering, coupled with ideal suspension from the Öhlins package which just soaks up any bumps you meet cranked over. The fork is set up to be quite soft in the initial part of its stroke, presumably to absorb all the minor road shock you get on a public highway like the TT Course, but then hardens up to prevent bigger bumps bottoming out the suspension, as well as countering front end dive on the brakes, which are excellent. I could hold off touching the front lever to stop for the second-gear left at the end of Cremona’s long main straight until after the 150-meter board, then clicking down four gears all together to find just enough engine braking left dialed in to the Suter slipper clutch setting to help with stopping, without sacrificing stability. Nice.
This also encourages you to keep up turn speed which is the secret to success with any relatively underpowered bike like this one—momentum is everything on the Paton, and while its lighter weight compared to the hitherto dominant Kawasakis carrying the same engine is supposedly the reason for its current supremacy in the Lightweight TT, I don’t buy that – it’s a significant factor, of course, but the bike’s great handling is surely the key issue.
It’s a reassuring, predictable package, with the Paton instantly responsive to your riding input via the fingertip light but completely predictable steering—this is not a nervous bike, thanks to the fairly conservative steering geometry. However, it’s also forgiving, too, so that if you, ahem, misjudge your turn speed and have to finger the adjustable brake lever to lose a little momentum while cranked over in a turn, the Paton doesn’t sit up on you and head for the hills. It’s a bike you feel totally in charge of at all times, which turns so easily yet has a balanced, predictable response. There’s great feedback from the front suspension which inspires you to use lots of lean angle in taking advantage of the grippy Metzeler Racetecs in maxing out momentum in bends. Even turning a little tighter to avoid a slower rider won’t faze the Paton. This is a very sweet handling motorcycle.
Paton S1-R Lightweight Track Test—Out Into The Wild
With its trackday credentials firmly established, I had the chance to ride the S1-R briefly on the road, where the riding position is roomy enough. The wide bars are high enough for low-speed riding and the Öhlins suspension offers an ideal mix of good ride-quality and excellent compliance. The fueling works perfectly from low rpm, and the Rizoma mirrors are more useful than on any Ducati sportbike. The Paton S1-R is also a lot smoother and less tiring to ride than any four-stroke Paton GP racers ever were, thanks to the Kawasaki motor’s gear-driven balance shaft which completely removes any trace of tingles, even at higher revs. In fact, even though the ultra-linear power delivery continues to hold after it peaks at 8,500 rpm, there’s no real need to rev the punchy little motor anywhere near its 10,900-rpm limiter, only if you want to hold a gear between turns to save a couple of shifts. Short-shifting at 8,000 rpm gives you intoxicatingly satisfying performance, because even though the actual numbers may be small, the fact you’re now back in the fat part of the torque curve peaking at 7,000 rpm with 47.2 ft-lb on tap, gives you just the kind of sweet drive you’re looking for exiting a turn.
The Paton S1-R Lightweight is living proof that the sportbike world’s obsession with power is a blind alley, and that less can indeed be more when it comes to ultra-enjoyable real-world riding, with a handling package that delivers the goods, as this one does. It’s a sweet little bike, both to look at and to ride, and while it certainly isn’t cheap, the Paton order book shows that there are customers out there for a sportbike with accessible performance, capable handling, no concerns about engine servicing or reliability, that has heritage in spades, and looks a million dollars, but costs significantly less—just one-fifth of the price of the eight-valve Paton Classic racer which it in many ways closely resembles.
More manufacturers should make a road-going lightweight 650cc Supertwin – and with Paton, CFMoto, Kawasaki, Yamaha and Suzuki about to be joined by Norton and Aprilia in doing so, this looks like the kind of bike we’ll be seeing a lot more of in future.
And that’s a Very Good Thing….CN
Patton History lesson
For four decades from 1958 until he passed away in 1999, Grand Prix race mechanic Giuseppe Pattoni – aka “Peppino” – dedicated his life to constructing the distinctive green Paton racebikes, working long hours into the night in his small workshop on the wrong side of the tracks in Milan to craft them practically single-handedly for a select roster of customers, as well as his own race team—latterly with the help of his son, Roberto.
In the 1960s and early ’70s, a mere dozen of the Italian DOHC 500cc parallel-twins were built, whose high-revving motor with 180° crankshaft (so, one up, one down, piston-wise) delivered a distinctive exhaust note that sounded both muscular, yet high-pitched—“a castrated Casanova” of a racebike engine, as one journalist described it!
In due course, Pattoni followed the tide and switched to building two-stroke GP bikes—again, entirely creating both engine and chassis to his own design, leaving his swingin’ 60s four-stroke Paton Bicilindrica racers to compete in the fast-growing world of Historic racing, with some success.
The first Paton—pronounced as spelt, so Pah-ton, NOT Pay-ton!—appeared in 1958, a spinoff from the demise of the works Mondial GP team at the end of 1957, when after winning the 125cc and 250cc World Championships, the Italian marque owned by the aristocratic Boselli family pulled out of racing. Peppino had been chief mechanic for the Mondial team, responsible for preparing the bike with which Britain’s Cecil Sandford had won the 250cc world crown. Out of a job, Pattoni was bankrolled into building the first-ever Paton by Count Boselli, who gave him free access to the Mondial parts shop and the services of former Mondial engineer Lino Tonti, the man later responsible for creating Moto Guzzi’s family of shaft-drive V-twins still in production today. Together, the men produced a 125cc twin-cam racer for the 1958 season, which was essentially a production SOHC Mondial engine in a one-off frame with a specially-made double-knocker cylinder head conversion. This was the first Paton, and though PAttoni and TONti later went their separate ways, the name stayed with Peppino for the rest of his life.
One of the first Paton customers was a certain Stan Hailwood, whose 18-year old son Mike made his Isle of Man TT debut on the little Italian bike in the 1958 125cc TT, finishing 7th in spite of being at least six inches too tall to be comfortable on the tiny machine. Though some other bikes also found customers, there wasn’t enough in it to make a living, so by the dawn of the swinging Sixties, Pattoni found himself working for a Lancia dealer in Milan, in charge of the service department. But fate was kind to him, for the firm was bought by Giorgio Pianta, a car racer who recognized Pattoni’s passion for racing, and let him set up a Paton race workshop in the back of the Lancia garage. There Peppino worked after hours on his motorcycles, after completing the day job, moonlighting his way to the Grand Prix starting grid with bikes created in his spare time.
But it was only after his sad death in 1999 that Giuseppe Pattoni’s dream of seeing his bikes become serial race winners actually came true. This happened after son Roberto, now 57, dusted off the designs for the eight-valve version of the 500 Bicilindrica that Pep had penned in 1968, in order to resume manufacture of further examples of it for use in Classic racing, which had by now expanded globally.
The first of the 34 examples constructed to date of these re-creations (not replicas, since these are simply a continuation of manufacture of the old Paton 500cc racebikes!) was built in 2004, since when the green Italian twin costing upwards of 90,000 euro ($101,000) depending on specification, has replaced the ultra short-stroke modern-day Manx Norton and Matchless G50 ‘Supermonos’ as the weapon of choice at the highest level of Classic racing worldwide, repeatedly victorious in the Classic TT in the Isle of Man in five out of the past six years from 2013 onwards, most recently with TT legend John McGuinness aboard. The Kawasaki-engined Paton S1-R has now allowed the small Italian brand to step into the modern era with both road and racing versions, and in doing so has won a hat-trick of Lightweight TT races, thanks to Michel Rutter in 2017, and Michael Dunlop in 2018-19, each time on the same motorcycle.
Paton S1-R Lightweight Specifications
||Liquid-cooled, DOHC, eight-valve parallel-twin four-stroke with 180-degree crankshaft, offset chain camshaft drive & single gear-driven counterbalancer
|Bore x stroke:
||83 x 60 mm
||82 hp at 8,500 rpm
||64 ft-lb at 7,000 rpm
||Keihin electronic fuel injection with dual 38mm throttle bodies, and single injector per cylinder
||6-speed with multi-plate oil-bath clutch
||Tubular steel open-cradle spaceframe with engine as semi-stressed member
||Dual 295mm TK steel discs with four-piston radial Brembo Monoblock M4-108 calipers and 19 RCS radial master cylinder
||220mm TK steel disc with twin-piston Brembo P34C caliper
||Fully adjustable 43 mm Öhlins FGRT 204 telescopic fork with 4.7 inches of wheel travel
||Febur fabricated aluminum swingarm with twin fully adjustable Öhlins TTX30 shocks offering 5.1 inches of wheel travel
|Front wheel and tire:
||120/70-17 Metzeler RaceTec RR K3 on 3.50in OZ Racing Piega forged aluminum wheel
|Rear wheel and tire:
||160/60-17 Metzeler RaceTech RR K3 on 5.00in OZ Racing Piega forged aluminum wheel
||Over 135 mph