During the development of the motorcycle, the British manufacturers were renowned for their frames offering good, solid (predictable) handling. Their engineers were also famous for their innovative designs and quality engineering practices. Names such as Norton, BSA and Triumph were market leaders with their street bikes and the same names dominated international motorcycle races for many years.
As pressure mounted from the Japanese companies in the late 60s and early 70s for market share, all of the British manufacturers were forced to reduce costs. In many cases the sudden need to reduce costs resulted in substandard products. Poor handling frames and leaking engines were common at the time from the British manufacturers.
Improved Swing-arms and Frames
As the decline of the British manufactures continued, many cottage industries sprang up to offer improved components for the aging British designs. From improved swing arm bushes to complete frames, the motorcycle press would be full of small companies offering products.
Following the old adage ‘racing improves the breed’, many component and frame makers took to the track to prove the worth of their products. Some simply wanted a better machine to win races. Once a frame maker began to get consistent results, other competitors would request copies of the frames or swing arms for their racers. As more racers used the little known (at that time) aftermarket frames such as Dresda, Harris, Rickman or Seeley, the names became household names.
In addition to producing frames for race bikes, many street bike riders wanted to build their own machines, which created another outlet for Dresda. These ‘specials’ as they became known, typically reflected the technology of the time. In addition to the specials, a new type of bike was being built: the café racer. Based on the venerable Norton featherbed frame, the café racers would fit a Triumph engine and gearbox into a Dominator frame. But as the supply of Dominator frames dried up, the aftermarket companies began to offer their own (often improved) versions of the featherbed frame.
Dave Degens started producing frames under the Dresda name in the 60s. A competent racer, Degens initially built Tritons for the booming café racer market before building his own frame.
The Dresda Tritons became very successful in international motorcycle racing too, winning the Barcelona 24-Hour endurance race twice, 1965 and 1970. In addition, other companies began to show interest in using the Dresda frames for their race bikes. In particular, the French "Honda importers Japauto team contracted Degens to build a frame around the Honda 750/900 engines to use in endurance racing; the team went on to win the Bol d'Or race twice, in 1972 and 1973.
Interestingly, it was Degens’ engineering skills and pragmatic approach to motorcycles that saw the introduction of 4 into 1 exhaust systems. Realizing the endurance racers needed ground clearance to corner at the Bol d'Or in preference to straight line speed, Degens designed a system for the French team in spite of objections from Honda. “Everybody said it was no good,” Degens recalled. “It wouldn't work. Even Honda themselves said that they had tried it and it was no good.”
New Honda Street Bike Frames
As the Japanese engines became more popular in the 70s, Degens began to offer frames for many of the popular makes of the time. Honda was one such company, and building on his experience with the Japauto team, Degens began to offer frames specifically for the Honda power plant.
Dresda produced frames for most of the Japanese machines during the 70s and 80s but, ironically, a Dresda Triton brought the clock full circle when a Japanese rider won a prestigious race in Japan on one.