A history by Murray Barnard, Trevor Hedge and Phil Aynsley
While living in Rimini, Italy, in the early 70s, Massimo Tamburini could not help but be keen about bikes. His hobby of building special frames for road bikes soon caught the attention of local sporting enthusiasts and his hobby became a full-time passion.
In 1972 Massimo joined with Signors Bianchi and Mori to form the Bimota Motorcycle Company. The first frame kit, the HB1 (Honda/Bimota) was released in 1973 and the chrome molybdenum wrap around frame housed the common SOHC CB750 Honda Four. Ceriani forks, Marzocchi rear shocks, sporting tank and seat, cast wheels and cast iron brakes and Brembo calipers transformed the Japanese machine. These machines are now exceedingly rare. Few people could afford the price tag in those days.
Bimota’s real interest and passion was racing and in 1973 Amando Corecca rode a Paton engined Bimota in the Grand Prix. The 500cc Paton four-stroke twin produced 65bhp at 10,500rpm but it could not compete with the MV or racing two stroke Suzukis and Yamahas.
Bimota’s reputation was enhanced when in 1975 Johnny Cecotto won the 350cc World Championship on a Bimota framed Yamaha and also in 1976 when Walter Villa won the 250cc and 350cc World Championships on a Bimota framed Aermacchi Harley-Davidson (H-D).
Also attracting attention that year were Bimota framed mono-shock Morbidelli engined 250s. In 1976 a machine of this caliber was capable of 260km/h pumping out 64bhp from a water-cooled two-stroke twin.
Bimota built an Aermacchi H-D 500cc race bike in March 1976 which used a 500cc twin water-cooled two-stroke engine with 4 carburetors and 90bhp. The machine was extremely quick but very temperamental. H-D preferred to concentrate on its 250s and 350s with Walter Villa.
The same year Suzuki commissioned Bimota to produce 50 frame kits for its water-cooled TR500 twin. These attractive machines produced 83bhp at 9,000rpm and ran Bimota magnesium wheels, Brembo disc brakes and Ceriani forks. Dry weight was 121kg. Whilst rare one of these machines can still be seen at Governor’s Bridge Motorcycles in the UK.
The success of this machine led to the GS750 Suzuki powered SB2 which appeared at the 1977 Bologna show. It was the first Bimota available as a frame kit or as a complete machine. The road version featured a spectacular wrap around frame with swooping bodywork. Very expensive, probably fewer than 70 of this model were made. Although retailing at 3,800 UK pounds, at the time, the razor sharp handling and Japanese power made this a very desirable machine. One of the first real superbikes which handled as well as went like stink.
Next and the start of a long line of street machines was the 1977 KB1 which housed a 900/1000cc Kawasaki DOHC Four in a beautiful package.
Although Bimota again came to attention on the race scene, when Jon Ekerold won the 1980 350cc World Championship on a YB3 Yamaha, the company chose to concentrate on the road market. The result a string of high priced Honda, Kawasaki, Yamaha, Suzuki and Ducati exotica.
The likes of the Suzuki GSX-R1100 engined SB6R and the Yamaha YZF1000 engined YB11 were some of the highlights for Bimota. This was a period where the Japanese made incredible engines but put them in fairly average specification chassis. Bimota housed those Japanese powerhouse engines in stronger frames fitted with much higher specification suspension and braking components.
In 1988 the first ever World Superbike race was won by Italian Davide Tardozzi on the voluptuous YB4EI-R.
In a strange twist of fate, and some say the curse hanging over Bimota, Tardozzi crashed in the second race and due to a very strange scoring system in that inaugural year of WSBK forfeited his points from the round. If not for that strange state of affairs Tardozzi and Bimota would have gone on to win the 1988 World Superbike Championship but that honour instead ended up going to America’s Fred Merkel on the Honda RC30. Tardozzi and team-mate Stephane Mertens instead finished third and fourth on the championship points at the end of that first WorldSBK season.
The YB4 was powered by a 20-valve Yamaha FZ750 engine and Virginio Ferrari rode an early carburetted version to the 1987 TT F1 Championship crown. 1988 saw Bimota add Weber-Marelli fuel-injection to what was the time a pioneering sportsbike with its aluminium twin-spar frame that set the scene for what was to eventually become the new norm in performance motorcycles.
In 1990 Bimota released the Ducati 851 powered Tesi 1D. While the hub-centre steering worked very well it was reliant on careful set-up and constant maintenance. As a result most 1Ds had somewhat problematic handling, most of the time.
A Rotax powered Supermono came in 1994 with the release of the BB1. A €10,000 race kit was offered that included magnesium wheels, upgraded suspension, fuel-injection and other go-fast bits. Bimota campaigned a modified BB1 in the Italian Super Mono series which used a 725cc motor that made 75hp.
20 years ago Anthony Gobert took Bimota’s last World Superbike victory with a suprise win in the wet at Phillip Island. A story we recently ran on MCNews.com.au relives that memorable weekend (link).
Building their own fuel injected 500cc water-cooled two-stroke engined GP/road bike in the late 90s (the V-Due) led to financial collapse when the bike proved unreliable, predominantly due to problems with the fuel injection system which eventually saw the bike released with carburettors. A brilliant concept but one that essentially sank the company.
The company was then bailed out after going into receivership only for them to go belly up again a few years later.
The last remaining Bimota stocks in Australia were then sacrificed by up to $10,000 off their previous prices. Which caused major heartache for owners of later model Bimota machinery, who saw thousands knocked off the resale value of their motorcycles overnight. The market for Bimota models then subsequently rebounded somewhat in more recent years.
A new group of investors then purchased the Bimota name,. Scientologists Marco Chiancianesi and Daniele Longoni headed the company but again Bimota fell into trouble and in 2017 the Rimini factory was reportedly closed.
Late last year though Kawasaki took a 49 per cent stake in the company and Bimota is set to release the avant-garde Tesi H2 complete with a supercharged Kawasaki engine.
One would have hoped that the design influence of the Italians would have finally given us a good looking supercharged Kawasaki engined motorcycle, but unfortunately that does not appear to be the case…
What is the first new bike for Bimota in five years is then expected to be followed later this year by a KB4 model powered by the engine from the Ninja 1000 SX.
This time around is Bimota in for the long haul thanks to the involvement of Kawasaki? Time will tell…. But with Kawasaki on board the odds are probably better than they have ever been for this bespoke Italian brand.
Mr. Hiroshi Ito – Kawasaki Heavy Industries, Ltd
Motorcycle & Engine Company, Planning Division Manager
“I am Hiroshi Ito from Kawasaki Japan. I’m very happy and very excited to be able to share the revival of Bimota here with you all. Kawasaki has established Italian Motorcycle Investment here in Italy as a subsidiary of Kawasaki Motors Europe. IMI will be renamed Bimota S.P.A., with B and Motion S.A. (former BIMOTA S.A.) as 50.1%,and Kawasaki Motors Europe as 49.9% shareholders.
“The story has began three years ago. A small investment bank approached us inquiring if we were interested in an Italian motorcycle manufacturer. The company name was veiled, but when I checked the documents I instantly noticed. Oh it’s Bimota !!!. Yes, that Bimota. For motorcycle enthusiast at my age, Bimota was legendary motorcycles that we used to dream of with its incredible chassis, jewel-like parts and an unaffordable price tag
“I immediately flew to Milan and met Sig. Marco, CEO of Bimota S.A. November, 2016 — just three years ago. He talked he was so excited about his racing activity on Bimota, I thought “this project will be a success”. Because he is a real motorcycle enthusiast.
“Later, I had the chance to spend almost whole day with Bimota’s legendary designer Sig, Marconi. We forgot all about the time when we talked. “Combining this engine and that chassis… adding these parts… we can make a great bike.” I was convinced our project will make a great success and we can make new history.
“Bimota is Italian premium motorcycle brand born and grown in Rimini, Italy and has been Italian Motorcycle Investment S.P.A. Bimota is a jewel of Italy. So It must be based in Rimini, Italy. It must be designed by Italian designers. And it must be built by Italian craftsmen otherwise it will lose it value.
“So, our mission is clear, we will support Sig. Marconi and his team will make new legendary history of Bimota with Kawasaki’s legendary engines! We’d like declare now “Bimota is here as most premium motorcycle in the world. “