Lazareth is known (in so far as anyone is really intimate with French exotic motorcycle specialists) for its sleek and sexy, super powerful motorcycles. Photos of Lazareths don't always look real; they sometimes have an otherworldly glow, like a particularly surreal piece of a movie set. Sometimes they are. Lazareths are so distinctive and superhero-worthy that the firm's been tapped to create bikes for a number of different films. The one most talked about is "Babylon A.D.," perhaps because Vin Diesel looks right at home riding or driving just about anything.
So how does such a sweet bike get made? Like many high-end motorcycle designers, Lazareth blurs the line between being a motorcycle builder and a motorcycle customizer. To some, there's no distinction between the two -- and as long as the end result is good (and customers are willing to pay for it), what difference does it make? Builder, customizer...when it comes to a company like Lazareth, the definition would really vary by product. Customizing implies that an existing vehicle is undergoing changes (though they can be quite extensive, involving upgrades to the body and to the mechanical components). Generally, a builder is understood to be creating a whole new vehicle from a pile of parts (the source of those parts doesn't really matter -- they can be off-the-shelf, pulled from other vehicles, or custom engineered and built). And if you're in the market, you're probably already aware that both approaches require deep pockets.
The Wazuma's particularly interesting because it's available in a handful of different configurations, and follows a fairly typical Lazareth formula: A vehicle frame is dolled up with a variety of really expensive and powerful parts. Lazareth isn't known for simplicity, economy or sacrifice. Everything is chosen because it is the best that can be had, and the Wazuma is the latest and most over-the-top example.
What is a Wazuma?
Doesn't the name "Wazuma" sound like it might be a real word? Something related to surfing, perhaps, or maybe an exotic jungle creature. After all, vehicle names usually have some kind of meaning -- often an animal or a place or some kind of anagram -- that might lend a glimpse into the minds and imaginations of their designers. And who wouldn't want a more intimate relationship, however superficial, with a six-figure investment?
We wondered about the origins of the moniker because, when staring down a Wazuma for the first time, any kind of insight would be welcome. "Zuma" comes from the Japanese word for "storm," and the "wa" part refers to the quad's "w-wheeled geometry" (which in turn refers to the way the front wheels are spaced far apart and the back wheels are situated close together, providing better stability than previous quad designs). So Lazareth's beast actually defines the term, which, it must be said, is pretty cool.
Any vehicle that's built from the choicest bits of high-end cars is going to be expensive. The Wazuma's no exception. Depending on your preferred blend of Euro-origin ingredients, for the price of your chosen Wazuma configuration, you could instead put together a stable of luxury cars ranging from impressive to flat-out incredible. But instead, those luxury cars will be taken apart, and the unpretty bits will be meshed together in a best-of-the-best configuration. In fact, there are several such best-of-the-best configurations, which is why the Wazuma name is flanked by model designations (like trim levels on a car or engine displacement on a motorcycle).
All Wazumas are quad-frame bikes, which, considering their size and power, are more like cars without cabins. The Wazuma's actually been around for several years, but it's the new V8F that made headlines for its chart-topping ballsiness.
The Wazuma platform is currently available in three versions, carefully configured to appeal to a range of customers. Behold:
The original Yamaha R1-based Wazuma is available in a 100-horsepower version in France and Europe (the United Arab Emirates version is tuned to 178-horsepower). It's basically a motorcycle that's been liberated from its origins, rearranged, and stuffed into a cartoonish custom fiberglass and carbon quad frame, anchored to the ground by four 18-inch wheels (8 inches wide in the front, 10 inches wide in back). Even the brakes are cribbed from the Yamaha R1. It has serious power, even if it looks like a ridiculously proportioned riding lawn mower, and can be had for about 50,000 Euros (about $65,000 USD).
The Bio V12 is composed of a Wazuma platform stuffed with a 500-horsepower supercharged BMW drivetrain. Yeah, we've seen this kind of thing before, and we'll see it again. What makes the Bio V12 a little more notable is the "bio" factor -- Lazareth engineered this quad to run on E85 ethanol instead of gasoline. It might seem like innovation purely for innovation's sake. The more cynical might suggest it's simply an excuse for self-righteous chest-puffery...but why bother? A few recreational vehicles running ethanol won't go far toward canceling out the damage of others. So maybe it's just a happy coincidence that ethanol has a higher octane rating than everyday gasoline, allowing Lazareth to tune the engine for higher compression, which results in more powerful engine performance. If you're in the market for a quad and want an excuse to feel a bit better about it, just write a check for 200,000 Euros (or about $280,000 USD).
And the latest Wazuma, the V8F, mates a Ferrari V-8 (hence the "V8F") engine to a 6-speed BMW M3 transmission. Push buttons in the handlebars control the shifting to help the rider make the best use of the available 250-horsepower engine mounted between the front wheels. (Would an actual clutch/throttle shifting setup prove to be too distracting?) A set of 12.8-inch Brembo brakes (the same kind found on many high-end sports cars) helps ground the corners to a stop. So what kind of machine does this add up to? Well, it weighs half as much as a Chevy Cruze but costs more than an Audi R8 Spyder (which of course also has the benefits of an actual car). For all that, you might think the Wazuma V8F should be able to top 150 miles per hour (241.4 kilometers per hour)...but Lazareth is clearly too smart to kill off its customer base. The V8F also comes in a Matt Edition, characterized by a flat black exterior. Flat black may be on its way out (at least in the sport compact world), but things work a little differently when it comes to exotics -- the distinctive satiny sheen of a flat black finish lends an interesting angle to the Wazuma, aggressive yet somehow elegant. The V8F also sells for about 200,000 Euros.
We know where Wazuma came from, but what about Lazareth?
The other half of the name had to come from somewhere, of course. And it came from the firm's founder, an actual person: Ludovic Lazareth.
Intrigued by vehicle design, he studied automotive prototyping at the Espace Sbarro School. As a result of this background and experience, there are notable differences to Lazareth's approach. According to Lazareth's site, most vehicle designers start with computer software that allows them to tweak their desired shape. Lazareth, by contrast, prefers to dive right in and start working with materials. Refinements are applied directly to the rubber, plaster or clay -- not to a monitor. Once Lazareth is satisfied with the vehicle's body, molds are made for the actual production process. Only then are computers brought in to ensure the engineering and mechanical elements are in harmony with the body. This approach, according to Lazareth, celebrates the artistic side of vehicle design, even though it eschews the traditional sketching and drawing steps.
Though Lazareth earned his street cred by modifying Yamaha VMAX motorcycles, churning out one after another, his prowess isn't limited to bikes. His shop has been around since 1998, and has racked up a solid portfolio of other automotive projects. Customers with more mild tastes (or with less courage) can get the Lazareth flair on a vehicle of their choosing. Lazareth also provides complete restoration services to classic vehicles. If a clean, straightforward refurbishment is too sterile for your tastes, you can give Lazareth the all-clear to get a little liberal with your restoration project.
The Lazareth Web site tends toward the grandiose (especially the English translated version, which proclaims solemnly of the Wazuma, "Everything is enormous." The factory in Annecy-le-Vieux, France, hand-builds each vehicle and each one is made to order. In other words, when you order your Wazuma, you're told when it'll be done, usually a few months from the order date. In the meantime, your vehicle's parts are assembled (including the custom-made body) and your Wazuma will be built by hand. Wazumas are also given individual serial numbers.
The Lazareth Web site states (as translated), that a Lazareth vehicle provides "a pleasurable and exclusive ownership experience." Leave it to the French: even what was once thought of as crass can be turned into couture. ATVs aren't just for trail riding anymore.
Earlier in this article, I referred to high-end mechanical components as "unpretty bits." That might have been a bit facetious.
I like high-end car parts, especially when they're clean. I love the sight of a freshly-built engine on a stand or a hoist (and even though my own automotive tastes trended toward the humble, I must admit, the larger the engine is and the more ornate its stampings, obviously, the more impressive the view). I don't believe I've seen a spotless, gleaming BMW transmission, but I'd imagine I'd feel the same way.
Back in the day, I was lucky enough to drive a few concept cars and one-offs, cars that were designed for manufacturer publicity, to show off a tuner's skills, or simply for testing. Such cars often contained components from other cars, but the reasons were logistical: for something like a SEMA show car, there wasn't enough time or money to design and build drivetrain parts from scratch. But even then, borrowed parts were usually sourced from within the manufacturer's family of vehicles.
But it takes a special kind of clout to choose high-end parts like putting together brunch from an a la carte menu. And that means a high-end vehicle like the Lazareth Wazuma, something that will sell in numbers high enough to create an established model lineup but exclusive enough that they aren't built on a factory production line (at least in the way we think of them), is crazy. The logistics of building such a vehicle are crazy. I've driven a few cars that were built in numbers smaller than the Wazuma, and they didn't come close to this level of craziness. If they had, I probably wouldn't be here. I'm no Vin Diesel.
- Bikeglam.com. "Lazareth Wazuma V8F: The World's Most Expensive Quad Bike." Dec. 24, 2011. (May 5, 2012) http://bikeglam.com/lazareth-wazuma-v8f-the-worlds-most-expensive-quad-bike/
- Bowman, Zach. "This is a 250-horsepower, Ferrari-powered quad." Autoblog.com. Dec. 22, 2011. (May 1, 2012) http://www.autoblog.com/2011/12/22/this-is-a-250-horsepower-ferrari-powered-quad/
- Korzeniewski, Jeremy. "Lazareth creates a 500-horsepower e85-powered quad." Autoblog.com. Aug. 11, 2009. (May 1, 2012) http://www.autoblog.com/2009/08/11/lazareth-creates-a-500-horsepower-e85-powered-quad-w-video/
- Lazareth. "Lazareth auto moto custom." (May 8, 2012) http://www.lazareth.fr/
- Ridden, Paul. "Lazareth's 250 hp, Ferrari-powered Wazuma V8 quad goes up for sale." Gizmag.com. Dec. 27, 2011. (May 1, 2012) http://www.gizmag.com/lazareth-wazuma-v8-quad/20931/
- Yamaha Motor Europe. "Yamaha VMAX Hyper Modified motorcycle: Ludovic-Lazareth." (May 3, 2012) http://www.yamaha-motor.eu/eu/products/motorcycles/vmax/hyper-modified/ludovic-lazareth.aspx