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Powered by the Ducati 900SS motor from the early 1990s, the Bimota DB2 has swoopy, all-enclosing bodywork that gives this bike a rakish, ready-for-action style. Because of that Ducati lump, it isn't the fastest thing on the planet, but it also boasts a beautifully engineered chassis, with eye-popping Brembo brakes and top quality Öhlins suspension to make up ground on the corners. The sound from the twin under-seat exhausts is another good reason to check out a DB2 if you ever see one. Collectors with deep pockets will want to keep a lookout for the SR version. There wasn't a moment to waste. Misano racetrack shimmered, almost deserted, in the late-afternoon sunshine. The little Bimota sat waiting in the shadow of a pit-lane garage as I hurriedly signed the circuit's indemnity form, pulled my helmet and gloves back on, then set off to complete my test of the DB2 with a brief blast round the tight little track.
After a day in the saddle I was used to the Bimota's hunched-forward riding position, the beat of its V-twin engine, its taut and incredibly light feel.. But it was still strange to accelerate out of the pit-lane, flick through the first couple of bends, then bank left and change up through the gearbox as the long curve unwound - and suddenly to realise that I'd barely been conscious of riding the bike, so precisely had the DB2 obeyed every command. I shouldn't have been surprised, because instant response is the trademark of the DB2.
Few bikes have the style or the speed of this Ducati 900SS-engined sportster. Fewer still come close to matching the wired-to-your-nervous-system feel of a torquey V-twin weighing just 370lb.This isn't the first conventionally suspended Bimota with a Ducati engine, of course. Its predecessor, the DB1, is quite some act to follow. Launched in 1986, when the Rimini firm was facing financial disaster, Federico Martini's masterpiece hid an aircooled 750cc V-twin motor behind all-enveloping bodywork. It was uncomfortable and not particularly fast, but it was beautiful and sold so well that it put Bimota on the road to recovery. And now, with the company on a sounder financial footing but with worldwide recession putting their exotic specials out of the reach of more riders than ever, enter the second model of the DB series.
The DB2 won't be cheap, you can be sure of that. But it will be much less expensive than models such as the Tesi and Furano. It is intended to sell in big numbers, at least by Bimota standards. The format is simple, and similar to that of the DB1. Take a suitably charismatic two-valve V-twin from Bologna, in this case the air/oilcooled motor from the 900SS. Resist the temptation to meddle with its internals but tune slightly, with airbox mods and a new exhaust system, to give a couple of extra horses and a peak output of 75bhp at 7000rpm.Bolt the engine into a ladder frame of chrome-molybdenum steel, similar to the standard Ducati trellis but with racier steering geometry. Equip with high-quality suspension parts - innovative Paioli forks, a multi-adjustable rear Öhlins unit - plus top-notch wheels, brakes and tyres. Complete the package with striking bodywork and meticulous detailing. For my money this bike doesn't quite match the sensational looks of the DB1.. Perhaps there's a little too much Yamaha in the front end, which uses a headlight obviously sourced from an FZR. I wasn't keen on the maroon colour-scheme, either, especially the way it clashed with the scarlet frame tubes.
But bright red paint will be an alternative, possibly with a dash of patriotic green, and this too is an exceptionally handsome motorcycle. Unusually it's the rear of the bodywork that is most dramatic, particularly the way in which the swoopy fibreglass tank-seat unit cuts away to reveal twin silencers exiting horizontally either side of the tailpiece.Exhaust system is a 2-into-1-into-2 that snakes up in front of the rear wheel, the twin pipes meeting briefly below the seat and then splitting again almost immediately. Chief engineer Pierluigi Marconi says the design makes no more noise than Ducati's system. It's certainly more original and stylish, although one drawback, as I discovered the hard way, is that it's easy to burn your hand on a hot silencer.
The exhaust runs up past the Öhlins shock, which sits at a 45-degree angle and like the standard SS's Showa uses no linkage system; instead it gains some rising-rate from a dual-rate spring. The DB2 swing-arm pivots on the crankcase, in familiar fashion, although the swinger itself is made of steel instead of aluminium. Dimensions at the rear are unchanged, but at the front the forks are steepened from the 900SS's 25 degrees to just 23.5 degrees, Bimota's most radical roadster geometry yet. This trims trail from 103 to 95mm, and wheelbase is reduced by 40mm to just 1370mm. Weight distribution is evenly spread between front and rear wheels. Forks are 41mm Paiolis that look conventional but, like upside-down units, hold their damping mechanisms in the top part of each leg. Sliders are machined from billet aluminium, allowing a further reduction in unsprung weight. Each leg contains both compression and rebound damping, but adjustment is by just two fork-top screws: left leg for compression, right for rebound. The forks are held in a typical monogrammed Bimota top yoke, complete with choke knob in the centre. Alloy clip-ons are Bimota's own, too, and give a slightly lower, more aggressive riding position than the standard SS crouch.
From the thinly-padded pilot's seat the rest of the view is of a low screen, steering damper in front of the headstock, and a mixture of Yamaha switchgear and white-faced Ducati clocks. Hit the button and the engine fires with a raw 900-style blend of exhaust note and rustling from the desmo motor whose black cylinders peek out from inside the fairing. (Like the 900SS, the DB2 will also be available with a half-fairing.) The stock 38mm Mikunis carburet crisply, though the testbike's tickover was erratic. Its motor immediately felt loose and free-revving, juddering in normal Ducati fashion at low engine speeds, then smoothing above 4000rpm.Even after the standard 900, itself famed for agility and midrange performance, the DB2 is outstanding for just those attributes. It's only 33lb lighter than the SS and 18lb less heavy than Ducati's Superlight, but that slight advantage and the tiny horsepower increase give the Bimota an even more generous helping of what makes the standard 900 Dukes so good. Where a first-gear flick of the wrist sends the Superlight's carbon-fibre front mudguard skywards, the shorter, lighter-still Bimota produces a wheelie even more readily.
Where the 900SS surges thrillingly given a top-gear, 60mph burst of throttle, the DB2 pulls harder still, its exhaust pulse quickening and the hedgerows flashing past ever-faster. Perhaps some of the extra poke was in my imagination - the increase can only be slight. But the Bim does give a mighty boot in the back. By superbike standards the DB2 is nothing special on out-and-out straight-line performance, sharing the Duke's near-140mph top speed. Best I saw, with head behind the screen on Misano's shortish back straight, was an indicated 215km/h that probably equates to a genuine 130mph. But where the Bimota scores is in its midrange drive, its user-friendliness, the way it hauls ass coming out of a corner with six grand or so on the tacho. Ah, the corners. Given the DB2's origins and dimensions I'd expected a firmly sprung lightweight with ultra-quick steering, but there's more too it than that. The suspension certainly has a typically taut Bimota feel that makes for fine control on smooth surfaces, and jarred wrists on urban potholes. Its steering did not feel dramatically light, though, perhaps partly due to the hydraulic damper.
The Bimota went precisely where it was aimed but at slow speeds needed a reasonable amount of handlebar pressure to change direction. A few other bikes could perhaps have been turned more easily still, although I doubt they'd have matched the DB2's superbly balanced feel, either in mid-bend or when the power was wound on hard at the exit. In fact the rear Öhlins unit was a shade over-sprung until calmed with a few extra clicks of rebound damping, and both ends' race-ready suspension gave a harsh ride on the roughest local backroads. In contrast, the stone surface of one steep hairpin bend I rode round repeatedly for photos had been polished so smooth by heavy lorries' tyres that even the DB2's fat radials - 17-inch Michelin Hi-Sports, naturally - struggled for grip. But the Bimota came into its own on the sweeping road heading back towards Misano, where its blend of maneuverability and flawless stability could really be put to work. Here the racy riding position made sense, even if the narrow mirrors still didn't. The DB2 thundered repeatedly from 70 to about 110mph and back again, staying smooth until about 7000rpm, surging past traffic as though it didn't exist.
As a real-world sports bike it was magnificent. And at the racetrack it was predictably superb. No matter how late I left the braking after booming under the bridge across the back straight, the big Brembos always pulled the Bim up in time and with impressive control. Grip and ground-clearance round the next tight left-hander were immense; the sound and the surge of acceleration onto the next short straight totally exhilarating. I'd happily have circulated till the tank ran dry, but all too soon the chequered flag was being waved to end a memorable ride. Bimota's latest bike isn't their fastest ever, or their most significant. But its price will be similar to that of the FZR600-engined Bellaria, currently the cheapest Rimini model at £13,995. And in many ways the DB2's combination of light weight, easy handling and usable performance makes this the best and most enjoyable Bimota yet.
Bimota DB2 - Sign of the Times by Alan Cathcart (November 1992), with thanks
Buying a budget built Bimota is not only a alliterative, but also a contradiction in terms. I mean, even in these days of the soft Lira, 50 million vino vouchers for a hub centered Tesi on the home market is heady stuff. No wonder they have armed guards outside Italian banks. On the other hand, even in the recessionary times, Bimota sales have stood up well around the world, with turnover up to 16% over the past year acceptance of the Avantgarde Tesi - especially in the marquee's key sales market, Japan - was harming the companies financial position. However, Bimota boss Giuseppe Morri learnt his lesson the hard way a decade ago when the company was almost forced into liquidation as a direct result of having all its product eggs in one expensive basket.
That was the time you may recall when the only Bimota you could buy had a Japanese engine and a mega lira price tag. In an era of high interest rates, short money and even scarcer customers it was a passport to business failure. The bike that bailed Bimota out was the DB1, the Rimini companies first Ducati powered model (and the first designed by then-new chief engineer Federico Martini) which, with its relatively low tech. 750 Pantah engine gave an affordable entry into Bimota class biking. While establishing a new trend in swoopy, streamlined, fully enclosed styling that was inevitably copied by the Japanese. Look at the Honda CBR1000 if you don't believe me.
Beauty lies in the eyes if the beholder, of course, but I know I am not alone in thinking that the DB1 remains far and away the most beautiful Ducati ever made. Sorry Bologna, but magnificent as your engines are, your styling comes second - well at least until the debut, hopefully next year, of the 916, a stunning new design by former Bimota partner Massimo Tamburini. But the Db1 was not just a pretty face, the Martini designed tubular space frame chassis with its race track steering geometry and suspension set new standards for Desmo handling at the time, even if the then fashionable 16 inch rubber did entail some undesirable side effects. Still the DB1 was, and remains the best selling model in the companies' twenty-year history (DB1 = 453, DB1s = 63 & DB1sr = 153 total = 669). One that almost single handedly rescued the company from bankruptcy as well as opening up a relationship with Ducati. Ducati boss Gianfranco Castiglioni received some opposition from his marketing minions for selling Bimota motors, but, just to show the boss knows best, the products Bimota have developed with Ducati engines have never directly competed with Bologna-built bikes. Not just on cost, but also because Bimota's designs have either marched to a different technical tune (Tesi) or offered less compromise in a more hard edged two valve format (DB1). It was frankly surprising that, with the production demise of the 750 Pantah engine, Bimota did not opt to develop a DB2 at once, but apparently development of the Tesi took up all available resources, especially manpower. At last though, the time has come. "Our distributors and customers around the world have been asking for such a model for the past three years" admits Giuseppe Morri. "But while we did consider making the cost of Tesi ownership more affordable by evolving a 900ss engined version alongside the current eight valve range, the pressure from our customers was for a more conventional Moto Tradizionale, in the spirit of the DB1.
So we have developed this model
along those lines, with at the same time the intention to offer an entry
level motorcycle for the Bimota range, which is also 100% made in Italy.
As the chance to ride the IFMA show model in the hills around Rimini and San
Marino demonstrated, whatever your opinion of its styling, what really
matters is go, not show - and the DB2 goes superbly.
The 900ss has a fabulous engine, offering vivid acceleration, lots of torque, and if we are honest more than enough real world performance compared to its Japanese rivals (or eight valve sister) in spite of a relatively humble 73 bhp at the rear wheel. It is no wonder that not only is it Ducati's best selling model, there are waiting lists at Ducati dealers round the world, they sold out back in May. However, in order to broaden the models appeal Ducati have opted to make it a much less hard-nosed bit of tackle than the 70's era café racer its 900ss designation implies. For a start, it is a two seater, plus as I complained the riding position is not right. Bum too low, body too erect, feet too far forward and knees too high. Apart from that it's OK. But then it is not a lean mean café bike but a two wheeled desmo GTI in the spirit of a Golf or an Astra. A Lancia Delta Integrale, it is not. Well, nor is the DB2 I suppose. All wheel drive has yet to catch on in the motorcycle world. But what it does do is successfully recapture the traditional Italian hard edge without discomfort, and compromises. In spite of its compact 1370mm wheelbase, the DB2's riding position is spacious, for someone as long legged as I am, but more important is the relationship of the footrests to the seat to the (multi adjustable) handlebars, which is excellent. The high seat allows the twin exhausts to run underneath in a successful styling feature that also prevents them decking under the excellent grip from the Michelin Hi-Sports. It also puts enough of your body weight onto the front wheel to improve weight distribution in turns without being unduly tiring. Those exhausts by the wy deliver an extra 2bhp from the otherwise unmodified 900ss engine - 75bhp at 7000 rpm at the wheel - even though they actually make the DB2 a little quieter than the 900ss.
The serpentine path of the rear pipe in front of the rear swing arm is a work of art. Bimota have also opted not to use the Superlight's slotted cover for the dry clutch which being fully enclosed, is therefore much quieter, just like the stock 900ss. Worthy of note is the bulge in the exhaust system beneath the seat which allows space for fitting a catalyst in markets like the USA and Switzerland. This is a world bike.
Marconi's choice of suspension suppliers is interesting: no compromise at the rear, where a specially developed Ohlin's shock sits off set on the right. There is no linkage, meaning the design is basically a cantilever layout, but hand on my heart I have to say I was amazed at its performance, especially over the rough roads up in the hills which form Bimota test rider Gianluca Galasso's regular suspension testing course. Trying to follow Gianluca on a YB8 up and down switchback lanes sometimes little better than cart tracks, with dips and bumps and evil looking tarmac patches repairing the ravages of winter or the place where Luigi's cultivator bounced out of the back of his Fiat pick up, confirmed how well the DB2's rear end works. The Ohlin's shock is obviously pretty trick, because in spite of having no linkage, it has a really progressive action, which on a smooth surface allows you to whack the throttle hard open and use the Ducati's power and torque out of turns.
Yet it never bottomed out on even the hardest bump, and nor did it skip or hop about in the air. I hopped of the bike halfway through our ride to check if there honestly wasn't a rising rate linkage system hiding away somewhere. This is the best handling bike with a cantilever rear end I have ever ridden, and a testament to Galasso's development work in conjunction with the man he insists should get all the credit - Ohlin's tester / technician and former Superbike ace Anders Andersson. Mind you I should not have been surprised, after the huge improvement in Tesi handling after Bimota fitted Andersson-developed Ohlin's shocks. Even if Bimota's budget for the DB2 permitted them to fit Ohlin's upside down front forks like the ones on the rest of their tele-forked range, it is highly unlikely the Swedish company would have had the capacity to build them in sufficient quantities for a relatively high volume bike like the DB2. Production of the first 150 units will begin in the last week of September, with 1993 production likely to be twice that. Which meant Bimota looking for another supplier for the front fork, and their choice will come as a surprise: Paioli. Better known for supplying the cheap "n" cheerful high volume small capacity market. Paioli have moved up a step lately, the conventional 41mm forks on a DB2 are proof of that. Unlike the Marzocchi M1R Bimota might have been expected to use, the Paioli's are proper forks with compression and rebound damping in both legs, and an impressively smooth action.
There is some detectable stiction when you brake
hard into a turn, but to be honest this was not enough to freeze the
suspension or affect response. Even when panic-stopping downhill into a
tight hairpin corrugated with bumps which Gianluca had lured me into at what
felt like the speed of sound they were fine. Bet he also arranged for the
Alfa 75 driver that headed round the bend halfway over the white line just
as I got there, necessitating a quick tug on the bars and a swift change if
direction. Yes I know - it is the show bike, right? The only one in
existence, I wonder how quickly the truck would have arrived to pick up the
Tesi if I had decked the DB2?
He seems to have maximised the inherent advantages of a lengthways V Twin by concocting a slim agile machine that just flows through turns without undue rider effort. To me, the DB2 is more a descendant of the Pantah engined generation than the 900ss in the sense that it does not have so many inherent compromises. Hard nosed yes, even narrow focused, in the way the old 900ss or even the DB1 and Ducati F1 were. The DB2 is actually a very practical motorcycle for everyday use though, not a term one has been able to apply for a long time, apart from the two-seat Bellaria. No chance of a pillion pad on the DB2, look at those exhausts!
There is an undeniable Japanese look to the front of the DB2 - perhaps a product of the Yamaha FZR headlamp? But the rest of the styling is distinctive, even innovative, especially the rear end. I cannot say the colour of the prototype really turns me on, but the beauty lies, etc. and what really counts is what the bike is like to ride. On the basis of a short run, Marconi has really got his sums right. The mirrors look good (and work), there are lots of Bimota type good bits, like the footrest hangers and upper yokes, hewn out of solid metal, the prototype feels extremely integrated and taut to ride, a comment you could also apply to the bikes general construction, and the lithe build and suspension make the DB2 a joy to hustle through winding country roads.
Where Galasso's YB8 was evidently a handful which needed an expert rider like him to master, the DB2 was more user friendly over our impromptu test track. Only losing out to the bigger engined bike in a straight line. The superb torque of the 900ss motor (which has been slightly improved from 5000 rpm upwards say Bimota due to their exhaust system) allowed me to get out of turns and up hills as quickly as the YB8, and the six speed gearbox has a smooth change that almost makes up for the usual stiff Ducati clutch action. The combination of the Ducati engine and Bimota chassis in DB2 form represents the epitome of Italian sporting motorcycling, one that if Bimota can only get it into the market at an affordable price will have every one from born again to cynical Japanese riders smiling with appreciation after a test ride and checking the level of their bank balances.
This is how it should be - the Italian way. Not a Gti an RS.
Review of Ducati engined Bimota's against their Ducati counterparts - by Ian Fallon with thanks.
The front forks were 43 mm Paioli, while not
being upside down they were high quality and provided compression and
rebound damping adjustment. At the rear the cantilever suspension was
controlled by a single Ohlin's shock absorber, offset to the right to allow
for the routing of the exhaust. The white painted wheels were 17 inch shod
with Michelin 120/70 ZR17 TX11 and 180/55 ZR17 TX23 tyres. Front brakes were
320 mm fully floating cast iron discs with the usual street specification
Gold P4 30/34 Brembo calipers. At the rear was a 230 mm disc and Brembo 05
caliper. Surprisingly, the brake and clutch master cylinders were the
standard Ducati budget items.