Bimota-ring back! The most classic Bimota motorcycles of all-time

Bimota is back... again! Another change of ownership but this time with a much brighter future has got us all nostalgic about the storied Italian marque...

Bimota BB1 ‘Supermono’

With the recent news that the hugely-anticipated, all-new, Kawasaki supercharger powered Bimota Tesi H2 is about to enter production, there’s never been a better time to revisit the history of the iconic, Italian exotica brand, which, after all, has been responsible for some of the most ground-breaking and advanced motorcycles of the last 50 years.

And while the formerly Rimini-based concern seems to have commercially bounced from pillar to bankruptcy post in recent decades, with the brand having been bought by Kawasaki last year, it’s future now seems more secure.

But what can we expect from the new Tesi H2? For that, let’s take another look at some of Bimota’s greatest bikes for some clues. Here’s Visordown’s ‘Top 10 Bimotas of all time’ – in chronological order…

1974-1975 Bimota HB1 

Bimota was formed in 1973 by friends, business colleagues and motorcycle enthusiasts Valerio Bianchi, Giuseppe MOrri and Massimo TAmburini, initially building a frame kit for Honda’s CB750 (hence the HB1 tag) in 1974 following Tamburini’s crash aboard a standard machine at Misano.

Tamburini designed the new, lighter, stronger and better handling frame himself and the resulting bike (just one complete bike was made but a further nine frame kits were sold) was a revelation, transforming its handling and reducing weight by a huge 55kg. A business was born.

1976-1977 Bimota SB2

Bimota began producing similar kits for most of the Japanese superbikes, primarily for the track. Its first road going machine was the radically-styled, Suzuki GS750-powered SB2 (Bimota’s SB1 was a short-run racing frame for the Suzuki RG500) which was sold as a complete bike and was considered revolutionary for its styling (this was 1976/77 remember); underseat exhausts, rising-rate single shock rear suspension and top notch cycle parts –as such setting the exotic, exclusive template for all Bimotas to come. Just 170 examples were built of what, today, is one of the most collectable Bimotas of all. 

1982-1984 Bimota KB2

In 1978 Bimota built its first Kawasaki powered road sportster, the Z1000-powered KB1 which went on to become Bimota’s most successful machine so far with over 800 examples sold.

However, more technically interesting was the succeeding, smaller, GPz550-powered KB2 which was reputedly Tamburini’s favourite Bimota design and, following the modern idiom, focussed on reduced weight and nimble handling rather than outright power.

With dinky 16inch wheels it looked gorgeous, too, and was the last Bimota to be made available in kit form. 177 were built in total.

1985-1986 Bimota DB1

Tamburini left Bimota in 1984, initially to join Roberto Gallina’s Suzuki GP team, then, in 1985, to join Claudio Castiglioni’s Cagiva, which had just bought Ducati. There he would be responsible for not only the ground-breaking 750 Paso but also the Ducati 916 and, later, the MV Agusta F4.

He was replaced at Bimota by Federico Martini and the Pantah 750-powered DB1 was his first design. With its fully-enclosed bodywork it was years ahead of the similar Honda CBR600F and Tamburini’s own Paso and was also hugely successful with over 500 examples built – 300 of them going to Japan.

1988-1989 Bimota YB4 IE

Another ground-breaking machine by being the first to reject tubular steel trellis frames in favour of a radical, aluminium twin beam design of the sort later adopted by the whole industry.

Powered by Yamaha’s world-leading, five-valve FZ750 engine it essentially married the best engine currently available, added fuel injection (hence the ‘IE’) to produce 125bhp, held it in a pioneering frame and fitted it with the best Marzocchi and Brembo cycle parts. Oh, and it was gorgeous to look at, too.

The result may have been expenisve but it was fast, fine-handling and beautiful, enough to make it THE poster bike of the times. It was also good enough to win five races in the inaugural year of the world superbike championship. 303 were built.

More road orientated but similar looking versions using the FZR1000 and 1000cc EXUP engines, such as the YB6, YB8 and restyled YB10 were also built.

1990-1994 Bimota Tesi ID

Following significant success and impressive sales, Bimota went bolder still with the hugely ambitious, hub-centre-steered and Ducati 851 powered Tesi in 1990 but despite reasonable performance, design flaws, erratic early 851 powerplants and an exorbitant £20K price tag curtailed its commercial success.

Later revisions led to the 1991 Tesi ID 906 plus a radical restyle in 1993 but it was never a commercial success and Bimota ended production in 1994. It’s improved successor, the Tesi 2D, came in 2004, with the Tesi 3D in 2007 and which has formed some of the basis for the new Tesi H2.

1994-1995 Bimota SB6

Following the comparative failure of the Tesi ID and financially requiring a commercially successful model, Bimota went back to what it knew best in 1994 to create the SB6 – its first Suzuki powered machine in a decade.

As with the YB4ie it blended the best engine currently available – Suzuki’s brutal 147bhp GSX-R1100 unit – with its latest, aluminium twin spar frame, sprinkled it with the latest, greatest cycle parts and clothed it in simply gorgeous bodywork. The result, although not race relevant, was gorgeous to looks at, sublime to steer and supersonic to open the throttle on.

It was also Bimota’s last hugely successful machine, as, with the arrival of the likes of Honda’s Fireblade, Japanese superbikes were now fine handling in their own right leaving limited opportunity for Bimota. 1144 were built

1995-1999 Bimota BB1 ‘Supermono’

Although they were Bimota’s stock-in-trade, the Italian firm didn’t restrict themselves to ‘reframed superbikes’ – as the exquisite but short-lived BB1 proved.

Powered by the punchy, lightweight Rotax single-cylinder motor from BMW’s F650 (hence the BB1 tag) it was housed in a typically exquisite aluminium oval tube trellis frame with quality Paioli suspension, Brembo brakes and full sports bodywork as before.

The result was a true sporting gem for the connoisseur – light, slim, incredibly lithe and nimble and respectably punchy thanks to having 48bhp as well. Although its appeal was inevitably more limited than Bimotas multi-cylindered superbikes over 500 were still sold.

1995 - 2002 Bimota Mantra

We know, we know... the Bimota Mantra isn't a classic in the traditional sense of the word here but we couldn't help but include it here becuase, frankly, it is one many of us come back to when we are describing the Italian marque.

There is something of a mystique around the Mantra and 99% of that surrounds its, shall we say, divisive styling. The brainchild (or perhaps gawky lovechild) of designer Sacha Lakic, we couldn't go as far as to say the framed-exposed, scuba-diver profiled naked Mantra's looks have mellowed as time has passed but when you're looking at it from this side of the Millennium it's hard to take your eyes off it. 

True, the same could be said for 1995 when it was first revealed but it's a bit of a quirk-turned-classic and, like many unloved machines of the time, it's become something of a collectors' favourite. That's partly down to its rarity, but even then that's down to the woeful reliability. It was daring, it was different... we don't want to see a Mantra of 2020 but we're sort of glad it happened once upon a time.

1997-1998 Bimota 500 V Due

With the demand for its reframed superbikes of the wane and the success of the radical Tesi hub-centre machine restricted to say the least, in the late 1990s Bimota made one final shake of the radical dice with its GP500 inspired V-Due (meaning Vee twin).

At its heart was Bimota’s own, ambitious fuel-injected two stroke V-twin which was held in an aluminium twin spar frame, the usual impeccable cycle parts and with its own GP-alike full bodywork promising to give a true GP experience on the street.

With 110bhp and jewel like handling it could have been brilliant. In truth, it never worked out – so much so that it eventually sank the company. The complicated fuel-injection system was so flawed Bimota eventually reverted to carburettors, production delays hampered things further and many customers asked for their money back, crippling the company.

Today, though, a sorted V-Due is one of the most collectable Bimotas of all.

1998-2000 Bimota SB8R

The one shining light during all the V-Due dramas was Bimota’s SB8R which, although looking slightly ungainly, actually followed Bimota’s traditional formula by making brilliant use of Suzuki’s punchy and powerful TL1000R engine.

Updated to WorldSBK 'K' form in 2000 the bike caused a sensation by winning, in the hands of local hero Anthony Gobert, the Phillip Island round of the Worlde Superbike championship, albeit aided hugely by damp conditions and a fortuitous tyre choice.

However, although giving Bimota a much-needed boost, the Italian company once again struggled. A range of Ducati-powered sports and naked machines (the DB6, 7, 8 etc)  had limited success, the firm was sold to a Swiss consortium to produce the BMW S1000RR-powered BB3, again to limited success - albeit a surprising amount of success on track - and the company was finally sold to Kawasaki last year. 

2020 --- Bimota Tesi H2

We're jumping the gun a bit to say the Bimota Tesi H2, which went on sale approximately five minutes ago, is a classic but we're confident this is a machine we'll be gazing at in years to come. Developed to relaunch the brand (again) with Kawasaki now controlling the majority of the purse-strings, as far as powering back with something that will make an impact, the Tesi H2 does an excellent job. 

The hub-steer front-end is intact and looks very fitting surrounded by slashes, curves and creases that take the Kawasaki H2 base and somehow make it even more striking, albeit with just that sprinkling of Italian 'passione' that is less Ninja and more lothario. In reality, this is essentially a Kawasaki H2 replacement because tightening emissions laws for mainstream manufacturers means we're unlikely to have the H2 available on sale for much longer.

We will have to wait to find out whether the Bimota Tesi H2 delivers on the road, but with 230hp promising it to be one of the fastest motorcycles you or I could buy tomorrow, if you're going to relaunh a brand, this is the way to get attention...