One says “South Africa” and often thinks of gold mines, safaris, driving on the “wrong” side of the road, and diamonds. Diamond is the purest and most precious form of carbon, but South Africa can work other wonders with carbon, such as creating the highest-quality and arguably most beautiful carbon-fiber motorcycle wheels currently in production.
Gary Turner, managing director of BlackStone Tek (BST), is a typical example of the adventurous Anglo-Saxon spirit that through the centuries inspired thousands of explorers to travel from one end of the world to the other. In the early 1990s, still in his teens, Turner moved from South Africa to Europe to pursue his passion for motorcycle racing.
To pay for his obsession, Turner started a company called Pro Carbon that manufactured motorcycle parts made from carbon fiber. At the time he was racing a Ducati Supermono that proved underpowered in respect to the Japanese singles enlarged to 750cc. His first contact with carbon wheels happened when another racer—whose own Supermono was fitted with the first carbon wheels, produced by Dymag—pulled him off every corner.
That triggered in Turner the determination to create his own version of that sophisticated component. Returning to South Africa in 2000, he discovered that a local aircraft-industry company, Aerotek (manufacturer of the Rooivalk combat chopper, which is largely made from carbon fiber), had tried to produce carbon-fiber motorcycle wheels but the business had gone sour. Crucial technology was available for free and this granted Turner a relatively smooth start.
BST started operating in 2002, at which point two major events took place to complete the picture: 1) Terry Annecke partnered with Turner, bringing her successful experience as a top executive at IBM and later Microsoft; and 2) Turner conceived a rational process to obtain immensely strong and reliable wheels featuring hollow spokes for a supreme weight-to-structural-rigidity ratio.
Appropriately shaped silicone-intensifier inserts are laid in the mold’s metal spokes and then wrapped in carbon fiber. The complete wheel is baked between four and five hours in one of BST’s two pressurized autoclave ovens at 257 degrees Fahrenheit with 87 psi of pressure. The silicone expands under heat and pressure to fill and shape the spokes but shrinks back to less than its original size when it cools so the insert can be easily extracted.
BST manufactures a broad range of carbon-fiber motorcycle wheels organized in six styles and diameters ranging from 12 to 23 inches for a total of 200 fitments. All are uniquely homologated for track and road use by the main certification institutes, from German TUV to US DOT and Japanese JWL. In addition, Ducati contracted BST to manufacture the carbon-fiber single-sided swingarm for the Panigale 1199 racer and 1299 Superleggera.
The latest addition to the range, unveiled at Milan’s EICMA this past November, are the seven-spoke Black Mamba wheels, coming in 3.5 x 17-inch front and 6 x 17-inch rear measurements. The new rear has an interchangeable sprocket carrier and brake adaptor fitments for greater versatility within a range of makes and models of bikes. Further, the rear wheel is available in both center- and offset-hub versions for standard and single-sided swingarm applications.
Another novelty, the five-split-spoke Rapid Tek wheels (seen at top of page), were also revealed at EICMA. BST expects that model to reach production in two or three months.