When I was asked if I’d like to road-test the new range of Bimota motorbikes, I thought I’d died and gone to heaven.
Bimota has been hand-building motorcycles since 1973, not long by British standards, but their philosophy has been about innovation. The company was set up by three great names in the Italian bike industry, Binelli, Morini, and Tamburini, the first two initials of their names contributing democratically to the company’s title. Tamburini is one of the greatest designers. His achievements include the Ducati Paso and the legendary Ducati 916.
Bimota designs motorcycles which put the best Japanese engines (Suzuki and Yamaha predominantly) in bespoke Italian frames. This makes sense as the Japanese engines benefit from huge development budgets allowing Bimota to shave off every superfluous ounce of weight and concentrate on suspension and ride quality. This results in styled, high-performance machines.
I had to start at the top with the SB6. What a ride. A full second quicker to 100mph than anything else on the road, this is sex on wheels. Powered by a humungous 1100cc, 156bhp Suzuki GSX-R motor with a very big personality, this bike is as cool as it is powerful. It does 190mph. The frame is perfect, the suspension awesome. The SB6 growls “harder, harder”, in your ear and the handling’s so good you really believe you can stretch your skills into unchartered territory.
Then, the Supermono. A 50bhp single cylinder thumper, light as a feather. It’s based on the same 650 motor as the BMW F650 and Aprilia’s Philippe Starck designed 6.5 Moto city bike. But the Bimota is an all out racer. The centre of gravity is inches from the ground and it just wants to be chucked around country roads, or even better, a track. It’s a feisty little gremlin and clatters through the gears, but unlike the BMW and Aprilia, it loves to be revved. The footpegs are high up, for racing rather than comfort. Apparently a previous rider, with more bottle and skill than me, had practically laid it on its side through a right-hander at Donnington. The little Supermono never flinched, and jumped to its feet on the other side of the bend, ready to dive into the next.
While all the other Bimotas are thoroughbreds, the Mantra is a yellow, Judge Dredd-styled hybrid. This is what Bimota does to the classic Ducati 900 Monster. It’s almost disrespectful to the Duc, but the truth is it’s utterly fantastic. It’s got all the familiar grunt and noise of a 900 v-twin, but it’s wonderfully free-revving and the upright position is comfortable, you get lots of feedback and control through the front end, and it will do a feet-up U-turn on a sixpence.
The essence of Bimota is a hedonistic minimalism. These motorcycles have as much in common with transportation as foie gras has to do with liver and onions. And where most transportation design is about mass manufacturing and the-lowest-common-denominator compromise stuff, not so Bimota.
Over the past ten years car manufacturers have become masters of compromise. They use the same research, technology and software to produce vehicles which are almost identical. They invest millions in advertising to contrive identities for these flabby marques. The flabby marques suit the flabby families of a flaccid Europe – and that’s why you don’t see too many Bimotas around.
These bikes do have a reputation for being expensive, but if you forget about the out-there Tesi, then the most expensive Bimota is 17 000. It’s about the same as a Ducati 916 SP, if you can get one. You could get a new Volvo XYZ (0 to 60mph in 12 seconds) for about the same, and that would be a sensible choice. Why fill your airbag when you could fill your underpants? What’s more, if you persuade your company to buy a new one then you can get the VAT back as well.
The future of motorcycling lies in continued innovation and diversity. Specialness is the key and that has to originate from the design of new materials, systems, geometries and aesthetics. It’s an increasingly rare thing in our consumer society, so it is refreshing to see manufacturers who stimulate our emotional responses through the quality of their products rather than the quality of their ads. We have to stop thinking of manufacturing as an old industry, and remember that when we make things we give something of ourselves. Bimota is definitely doing that.