By Tom White
British brothers Don and Derek Rickman, as both Bultaco importers and top Grand Prix riders, helped forge the Spanish company’s growth in the early ’60s. In early 1963, Don Rickman became the only British finisher at the British 250 Grand Prix (he was third). Don’s triumph was achieved with a 196cc Bultaco engine tucked into a Rickman frame.
Don’s 1963 GP bike would evolve into the 1965 250cc Petite Metisse. Unlike their popular frame kits for Triumph and BSA engines, the Petite Metisses were complete bikes.
In order to get Bultaco to supply engines, the brothers had to agree to allow Bultaco to copy their frame design for production in 1966. That machine was called the Bultaco Pursang Metisse Mk1, a crude copy of the Rickman’s beautiful Petite Metisse.
Demand was strong for the Rickmans’ new Bultaco-powered motorcycle. Though the Rickmans had promised Bultaco not to export the machine outside of England, a “black market” quickly developed for this machine. American champion Bud Ekins and motorcycle dealer Charlie Hockie imported 24 Petite Metisses (by having the bikes shipped to the USA unassembled). The America-bound Petite Metisses, which translates from French as Small Mongrels, were unique in that they were painted British racing green instead of the Petite Metisses’ OEM yellow.
The Rickman brothers’ relationship with Bultaco came to an end soon after the Multaco Pursang Metisse was introduced. To fill the engine void, the Rickmans forged new relationships with Zundapp and Montesa. Though there was no limit on how many Zundapp 125 and Montesa 250 bikes the companies could sell, the Japanese entry into the sport in the early ’70s limited the demand for the expensive Metisses.
1965 RICKMAN BULTACO 250 FACTS
Only five of the Petite Metisses that were imported into America are known to exist today. Expect to pay in excess of $20,000.
The approximately 70 English examples in yellow, and the 24 United States examples in British racing green, were all called Rickman Bultaco Petite Metisse.
Since it was possible to buy a Rickman frame kit and stick a Bultaco engine in it, there is a specific method to identify the 24 original American Petite Metisses. A real Petite Metisse has a “B” serial number stamped on the steering head, non-folding footpegs, Greeves rear hub, Spanish front hub and 22.5-inch Betor fork tubes with silver-painted sliders.
Replica Rickman frames are currently being made by two companies in England, and other components can be found by calling the many small U.S. vintage suppliers. Make your first call to Bultaco West at (760) 815-3970.
For more info on classic bikes go to www.earlyyearsofmx.com