Showing posts with label 1980s Italian Motorcycles. Show all posts
Showing posts with label 1980s Italian Motorcycles. Show all posts

Laverda Montjuïc Mk2

Laverda Montjuic Mk2 1980s Italian classic sports bike

When you bought a Laverda Montjuïc Mk2, you got what it said on the tin. Well, on the side-panel, at any rate. Montjuïc Park was a mountain-based motor racing circuit in Barcelona, Spain. A street circuit, that is. Which told you most of what you needed to know about the machine you had just acquired. Conceptually, it modelled the Formula bikes Laverda built for their single-make race series.

Unfortunately, the racing concept was not entirely realised in the roadster. Laverda had enjoyed substantial success at Montjuïc - not least because of the sure-footed handling of their bikes. And - in terms of agility - the Mk2 came close to emulating the track tools' prowess. That was mainly due to its light weight, tubular-steel frame and Marzocchi suspension. Likewise, Brembo disc brakes helped replicate the racers' stop-on-a-sixpence precision. Even the high-speed weave - which had plagued the Montjuïc Mk1 - had been seen off by the Mk2's frame-mounted fairing.

What took the edge off the new Montjuïc was its speed - or lack thereof. As mentioned, the Mk2's manoeuvrability was razor-sharp. Straight-line speed - not so much. Throttle to the stop, the needle hovered around the 110mph mark. Whilst that was adequate, it hardly set the world alight. Though an ear-splitting exhaust note did what it could to redress the balance. To be fair, the Mk2 was powered by a 497cc parallel twin motor. Hardly cutting edge. Indeed, it ran without air-filtering - which might have sped things up a bit! For all that, a 'racer's crouch' riding position signalled the Mk2's intent. And the Montjuïc's high price tag seemed to promise lots of whizz for your lire. Anyway, its relative lack of power was offset by other virtues. It looked Laverda lovely, standing still. And the lines it carved through corners would have pleased a maturing Michelangelo. Just that pesky top speed stat let Laverda's side down a tad. Other than that, the Montjuïc Mk2 made hay in the Spanish sunshine. Before flying back to Breganze, Italy ... at 110mph!

Bimota DB1

Bimota DB1 1980s Italian sports bike

The Bimota DB1 was a double dose of Italiana. It was the first Bimota to feature a Ducati engine. So, the DB1 combined a deliciously torquey powerplant with the kind of looks that could only have been modelled in Italy. Bimota was based in Rimini. Unsurprisingly, then, the DB1 sold well. It came at a critical juncture for the stylish Italian specials builder. Design-driven to its core, business was never Bimota's strong suit. Indeed - prior to the DB1's '86 release - the firm was in financial decline. Thanks to the new bike, though, Bimota's downward spiral was stemmed - and even reversed. Crucially - along with its long list of virtues - the DB1 was reasonably priced.

The Ducati factor in the DB1 was its desmo-valved engine. A sohc 90° V-twin, the 750cc motor made 76bhp. Built more for mid-range grunt than throttle-to-the-stop velocity, top speed for the DB1 was 130mph. In superbike terms, that stat was not too much to write home about. The way it was reached, however, most certainly was. Suffice to say, acceleration was fierce. As well as its long-stroke motor, the rest of the DB1's tech-spec further fueled its free-revving fire. For a start, it weighed a skeletal 354lb. Plus, Federico Martini - Bimota's lead engineer - blended the fairing, tank and seat into a single, streamlined shape.

Acrobatic handling was only icing on the DB1 cake. Suspension was by Marzocchi. Brakes by Brembo. Pirelli brought low-profile tyres to the DB1's bend-swinging party. They were fitted to nimble 16″ wheels. The whole bike was comfortabe and compact. It is true that at peak revs, the new Bimota was not the most blistering bike on the block. But, for its overall strengths - and the Italianate cut of its jib - the DB1 takes its place at superbikes' top table!

Ducati 851

Ducati 851 1980s Italian sports bike

The Ducati 851 was a slow burner. It took a refit for it to really kick into gear. Not that the first model did not have anything going for it. The 851cc engine was sound. Styling was suitably dynamic. Especially the three-tone paint job - in Italian red, white and green. The issue with the first version was its handling. Due to a supply-chain glitch, the bike had been released with 16″ wheels - smaller than planned. The problem was that they were too good! The handling was more nimble, but there was less room for error. When it came to quick cornering - without a high degree of accuracy - the small wheels were liable to 'tuck under'. A flexible ladder frame did what it could to keep the rubber side down - but there was a limit!

So, Ducati 851 - take 2! This time, a set of 17″ wheels were in situ. Things were looking up already … literally for some owners! The most obvious mod was the paintwork. Gone were the tricolore hues of the original. The new bike's livery was still Italianate - but now it was fire-engine red. While there had been cosmetic and cycle part changes, the motor was untouched. Indeed, it had been universally praised. It took Ducati a year to complete the makeover.

The 851 was the start of a new superbike era for Ducati. Its V-twin engine was now liquid-cooled - and came with 4 valves per cylinder. Desmodromic valves, in Ducati's case. Its unique set-up saw valves opened and closed by cams alone - as opposed to the standard cams and springs system. Springs are all well and good - but are prone to bounce and go out of adjustment. Its 'desmo' valve-train had long been a feather in Ducati's cap, powerplant-wise. Plus, Massimo Bordi - Ducati's lead engineer - added Weber-Marelli fuel injection to the mix. As a result, torque was significantly increased. At the top-end of the rev-range, 104bhp was now on tap. That meant the 851 maxed out at 145mph. Souped-up Marzocchi shocks sorted the suspension. With the road bike seen to, it was time to call the race department. Three WSB titles on the trot for Ducati duly followed - courtesy of riders Raymond Roche and Doug Polen. Truly, Ducati's 851 roadster - and its race-going counterpart - were on top of the superbike world!

Bimota HB2

Bimota HB2 1980s Italian sports bike

The HB2 was the second offering from Bimota - the radical Italian bike builder. The HB1 had set the template. Massimo Tamburini – Bimota's chief designer – totalled a Honda CB750, at Misano racetrack. Tamburini managed to salvage its four-cylinder engine from the wreckage. He then wrapped it in Bimota bodywork. The resulting HB1 - Honda/Bimota - hybrid became the first of the firm's stylish, trend-setting roadsters.

The HB2 upped the ante, power-wise, from the HB1. The new bike sourced its motor from Honda’s CB900F. 95bhp was duly available. And the Bimota was lighter than the big Honda CB. It weighed just 441lb. State of the art suspension was then fitted. At the front, Ceriani teles were synced with a progressive-rate monoshock at the back. A tubular steel/aluminium plate frame added still more stability to the mix. With a 138mph top speed – and high-class handling – the HB2 etched a technical benchmark. Bimota had taken the superbike fight to its Oriental rivals. Pretty impressive from a small-scale manufacturer - certainly as compared with the Japanese 'big four'.

Not that the Bimota challenge came as a surprise to Honda, Suzuki, Kawasaki and Yamaha. In no particular order, by the way! After all, Bimota had been around the GP scene a while by then. In the showrooms, their unique selling-point was super-cool Italian looks - plus a Japanese engine! Sadly - even for a bespoke builder like Bimota - less than 200 HB2s were sold. The HB3 came to the rescue - to some extent, at least. It sealed the deal on the Honda/Bimota alliance. Like the HB2, the HB3 upgraded the package. This time, the Honda CB1100R engine was used. By that point, the Japanese marques were leading the pack again, in terms of overall performance. Notwithstanding - with their HB2 - Bimota had blazed a trail for beautiful, brain-bending motorbikes!