First Ride

First Ride: 2002 Vertemati S501

Alex Hearn takes the exclusive Italian supermoto for a spin

Accepting that supermoto is a niche within motorcycling (they're perfect as a second bike for arsing about on) and not in any way a sensible, mainstream choice then it's fair - in my humble opinion - to class the Vertemati SM S501 as a niche within supermoto. And not because of the S501's £5,995 asking price either. Yes, that's a lot of money that'll buy you a lot of (normal) motorbike. But spec any dirtbike to the S501 - WP 48mm USD forks, WP PDS rear shock, Talon rims, Beringer brakes plus loads of other little goodies - and you'll have spent more than a fair wad.

The S501 is in a class of one - it is a handbuilt supermoto racer that started life (as they all do) as an enduro bike. To that end it is extremely focused, impractical and, at times, very frustrating. But it is also completely, utterly barking bonkers and, in short bursts, a proper laugh.

It's a quirky little thing. The eight litre fuel tank lives under the seat, which is held on with a Dzus fastener. The seat base also acts as the seal for the airbox - no problems there, it's a minor fiddle to fill up, but not so good for yer farmers' because you end up naturally perched atop the filler cap, and the foam ain't very thick. More awkwardly the right hand kickstart needs a forward prod, and a knack learning to tuck it away - again, slightly tricky but no real bother. And certainly not present in your mind when you twist the S501's tail - because for a 500cc single this thing really shifts. It's got good throttle response off the bottom, a tasty midrange wallop and it'll rev, and rev and... keep on revving, making power all the way 'til shut down. The gear driven cams help the engine spin hard, as do the titanium valves. Without a balance shaft, though, it vibrates. Bad. Bad enough to leave my hands really numb after a half hour back road assault. But then there has to be stuff missing for it to be so damn light...

It does weigh bugger-all (116kg wet, claimed) and pushing it around confirmed the lack of mass. It's like a bicycle (with over 50bhp at the back wheel). The chassis is top dollar - no converted dirtbike wallowing on too-soft springs. The S501 is taut, accurate and craves to carve country lanes. The four piston Beringer caliper mounted up front is razor sharp too. Add the potent, lusty motor to the right mix of well set-up chassis components and you end up with a supremely competent - and wickedly fast - urban/B-road assault weapon.

I spent most of my day with the Vertemati S501 wheelying the tits off it, and generally riding it like it was my last hour on earth. With the exception of a total of maybe 60 motorway miles, where the vibration forced me to plod along at 120kmh. Which may have been its undoing, because about 20 miles from Vertemati UK's Bradford base the S501 chuffed once, and died instantly, forcing a very quick whip-in of the clutch and a coast to the M62's hard shoulder. Rats. I couldn't remember the last time a test bike had let go on me, and considering the abuse the S501 is supposedly built for (as a dirtbike, too) I was slightly dismayed that it'd gone pop.

Mark Lovelock, of Vertemati importers V-Moto, was upfront: "It's not a motorway bike, there's just not enough meat on the engine to dissipate the heat of constantly running at fairly high speed. We've sold over 100, and the only other bike that's ever let go was again on the motorway, but only then because it was far too low on oil. We've had Dave Jefferies race one this year, and he couldn't break it..."

So there you are. The Vertemati SM S501 is, on one level, the ultimate supermoto - it's got the attitude and chassis to match a powerhouse of an engine. It's very exclusive. It wheelies like a bastard. It goes around corners. It stops. Hard. It makes you ride like a twat.

But.

It's expensive. It vibrates like a Kango. It's possibly too tightly focused for even the fringe-inhabiting supermoto massive and, if you need to use a motorway at all while riding it, maybe likely to lunch itself. Or not, perhaps I was just unlucky. Either way, the S501 is a rare breed. And, probably, only meant for a few.

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