Bimota is back in the superbike arena once again. The small Italian specialist manufacturer's latest journey along the comeback trail-courtesy of pharmaceutical and agricultural magnate Roberto Comini-has seen the Italian boutique brand acclaimed for the DB5 sportbike and its DB6 Delirio naked spinoff model. Using the Ducati desmodue motor, the DB5 and DB6 are the modern counterparts of the DB1, the bike that saved Bimota from the brink of bankruptcy back in 1983.
But now it's time to take Bimota to the next level in terms of performance and allure, with the introduction of the Ducati 1098 Testastretta Evoluzione-powered DB7 unveiled at the Milan Show last November. Already in production, the first of the 200 examples Bimota plans to manufacture in 2008 (with another 500 due in 2009) will soon become available, listed at 26,880 in Italy (approximately $41,673 U.S.). The DB7 will come in any color you like so long as it's the traditional Bimota red-and-white livery. The first production test bike off the factory line was brought to the Magione track near Perugia in central Italy for me to try out.
With its ultra-distinctive styling by Enrico Borghesan clothing the equally individual chassis architecture designed by 40-year-old Andrea Acquaviva, Bimota's chief engineer (and my former race technician back in the early '90s when I raced the Tesi Superbike for Bimota), there's no mistaking the DB7 for anything ever built by Ducati itself, even if the stacked projection headlamps in the bluff-fronted nose of the bike resemble the 999.
"Our aim was to use the engine as an essential component of the chassis, much more than Ducati has done on the 1098," says Acquaviva of the DB7's composite frame. "So the front end is literally fixed to the motor via what amounts to a subframe while the swingarm pivots in the crankcases, so the rear end is completely unconnected to the front of the bike, except via the engine. Using a carbon-fiber subframe for the seat further assisted in delivering our key objectives, in reducing both weight and overall width to the minimum while creating as stiff a structure as possible. The oval-section tubing we've employed gives substantially greater rigidity than a round-tube format, even with the same 1.5mm wall thickness as a Ducati, and so an improved stiffness-to-weight ratio. This also allowed us to locate the engine 12mm higher in the wheelbase than on a 1098, as well as 8mm further forward. That in turn increased forward weight bias for added front grip, which is always a problem with an L-twin engine layout like a Ducati, while also improving the ease of changing direction-again, always an issue with such a format. We now have a static forward-weight distribution of 51/49 percent compared to a Ducati, which is the reverse; but with the rider in place the difference is even greater, because on the DB7 he's sitting further forward than on the 1098."
The composite design comprises a vestigial upper space frame fabricated from 50 x 30 x 1.5mm oval-section chromoly steel tubing. This is bolted to twin sideplates flanking the rear cylinder, which are machined from aircraft-grade Anticordal 100 aluminum. Weight savings are claimed to be 2.7 pounds compared with a Ducati 1098's trellis-type chassis, the DB7 scaling in at a claimed 375 pounds dry. Although that is just 6.6 pounds less than the officially claimed weight for the 1098, Acquaviva asserts that the difference between the two bikes on Bimota's scales is a rather more substantial 26 pounds. The fully adjustable, 43mm Marzocchi inverted fork with titanium nitride-coated tubes is set at a 25-degree rake offering 100mm of trail and 120mm of wheel travel. The swingarm is mounted in the crankcases but without any additional pivot support from the chassis as with the Ducati. Wheelbase is 56.5 inches. The very light, vertically mounted Extreme Tech 2v4 monoshock is operated via a progressive link with seven percent rising-rate ratio. It is not only fully adjustable for both high- and low-speed compression and rebound damping, but also for spring preload and-via a beautifully made eccentric upper shock mount-for ride height over a 20mm range, with 120mm of wheel travel.
Climbing aboard the Bimota reveals a very balanced, comfortable riding position that's relatively spacious. In spite of its more front-loaded weight bias compared with the 1098, there's little sense of the Ducati's tendency to put weight on your forearms and shoulders when riding the Bimota. You feel very much a part of the bike, which delivers intuitive, fluid handling-but only once you have it set up correctly for your own riding style.
The Bimota's multiadjustable chassis geometry and suspension were configured for factory tester Danilo Marrancone, whose day job happens to be racing (and leading, at press time) the Italian 600 Supersport championship. As I discovered later in the day by riding his prototype DB7 Superstock racer, Marrancone is a typical Supersport star who likes his bikes set up to be ultra-fast-steering-verging on nervous-with lots of rear ride height and a distinct tendency to tip into the apex of a bend. Just think about turning in and the bike's already done that, hopefully with you still keeping up. The base settings Marrancone chose for the street DB7 were an echo of his racebike's, which, while delivering exceptional agility and an easy change of direction from side to side through Magione's tight chicane, translated to twitchy handling elsewhere.
The other immediately noticeable characteristic of the Bimota was the phenomenal braking delivered by its 320mm front brakes and radial-mount Brembo four-piston, four-pad monobloc calipers. These are unquestionably the fiercest and most effective brakes I've ever used on any streetbike, and they deliver stopping power worthy of a factory World Superbike racer-almost too powerful. Even when well aware of their aggressive response, I twice locked the front wheel running up behind a slower rider in Magione's tight sequence of turns. Both times I just managed to avoid ending up on the tarmac, but luck had a lot to do with it, and I wouldn't want to ride the DB7 on a damp surface with these brakes. Unlike the versions on Ducatis that employ just two pads, Bimota has fitted the four-pad option, and the result in my opinion is overkill. "We don't fit four-pad calipers unless they're the cheaper bolted-up kind; otherwise for sure you lock the front wheel," revealed Ducati R&D; boss Andrea Forni at the 1098 launch. "The monobloc structure is so stiff you don't need the extra grip offered by four pads." Andrea Acquaviva has a response to this, though. "We've homologated the DB7 with both 310mm and 320mm front discs, not the 330mm ones Ducati uses on the 1098," he says. "The smaller discs are more controllable but improve the steering even more because of their reduced gyroscopic effect. Our customers can choose which they prefer at the time of order."
Although the superstrong brakes allowed me to begin slowing at the 150-meter mark at the end of the Magione main straight from an indicated 155 mph on the small but legible dash's digital speedo (also incorporating an analog tach, plus a 20-lap timer and three pages of digital data), I could feel the rear wheel lifting each time I did so. Using one gear lower to try to redress this with some engine braking to help stop the bike then revealed another drawback: The DB7 doesn't have a slipper clutch. So if you change down one gear too many by accident on the DB7, you better be quick on the draw with your clutch finger to avoid chattering the rear wheel. Ducati can get away with not fitting this to the base-level 1098 and S-model due to cost concerns, but its absence from the DB7 is unacceptable, especially at that high a price tag. And a large digital gear indicator on the dash would have been appreciated. Maybe it's no coincidence that when I came to try Marrancone's prototype Superstock DB7 at the end of the day, I found his bike had a slipper clutch fitted. And yes, it did complete the package very nicely.
Returning to the pits for a chat with Acquaviva after my first outing, we agreed that the hyperstrong brakes were the main cause of the handling woes. For my next session we cranked in more spring preload and dialed in five clicks more rebound damping (out of 32, with 13 clicks for compression damping) on the fork to prevent the front end from rising too quickly and unsettling the chassis when I let off the brakes. A single lap told me this had done the job; now the Bimota was much more controlled under heavy braking as well as considerably less nervous coming off the brakes, while still changing direction just as easily. We also removed the Extreme Tech steering damper, because you could feel there was stiction in the steering in slow turns, even with the damper backed off all the way. It's a sign of how well designed the DB7's chassis package is that it didn't misbehave in any way without the damper. That the Bimota reacted so immediately and positively to these suspension changes speaks volumes for the overall design of the new DB7. The result is a bike that has the same overall character as the Ducati 1098 S-difficult not to with the distinctive desmo V-twin motor-yet feels quite different in many ways. One example is the engine's shifting, which somehow feels slightly smoother and easier than stock Ducati. This was especially apparent upshifting under hard acceleration, where I only needed to close the throttle just a tiny amount to get a clean, crisp gear change. I presumed that was the result of the slicker action of the Bimota linkage, but Acquaviva insists that a key ingredient in this is the optimum mapping of the DB7's Walbro ECU by Bimota's electronics whiz Daniele Commandini.
I could easily believe this, because rather surprisingly, the first thing you're aware of when riding the DB7 at anything other than all-out racing speeds is how clean, linear and progressive the Ducati engine's power delivery is in its DB7 application while accelerating hard to the point where the 9800 rpm shifter light on the dash blinks at you. This isn't to say that the 1098 in stock form is rough and unrefined, but it does suffer from that flat spot in the power curve between 5000 and 6000 rpm so many Ducatis display. The Bimota has no trace of that and, on the contrary, has a noticeably stronger hit of torque from 6000 to 8000 rpm. Coupled with a really responsive pickup from a closed throttle-strong, but not abrupt-this smoother but no less muscular delivery makes the DB7's engine even nicer to use than the Ducati it shares the powerplant with-even if that hit of midrange torque made second-gear power wheelies a fact of life exiting any of Magione's 90-degree turns while hard on the gas.
The weight transfer to the rear while accelerating didn't send the DB7 understeering off toward the kitty litter, another mark of how effective the chassis is. Only in the most aggressive situations would the handlebars briefly wobble in my hands, even without the steering damper. This is a very forgiving and responsive chassis design that once set up properly-as long as customers take the time to do it-holds its line well even under power.
The reason I haven't mentioned the DB7's rear end yet is because it hooked up perfectly from the very beginning. Marrancone had done a good job in setting it up, even for my extra weight compared with a whippersnapper like himself. The multiadjustable Extreme Tech shock delivered pretty good compliance over Magione's many bumps, with what could be considered a fine ride quality for such a hard-edged superbike. It was also the first time I'd tried the new-generation Race Attack tires from Continental, and I have to admit I was impressed. They appeared to have the same fast warmup time and excellent side grip under power as Pirelli Diablo Supercorsas, but customers should take care to inflate them correctly; 30 psi front and 28 psi rear was what we ran with. Any higher and they seemed to lose sensitivity and feedback, and I'd imagine this would be the case on the street, too.
Bimota has pulled off a very difficult trick in creating the DB7 by delivering much more than just a dressed-up designer desmo. This is a true alternative V-twin superbike that not only looks a lot different from the donor bike but is also quite different to ride and, once set up properly, equally (if not more) effective. And that's just with the base-level Ducati motor: Acquaviva confirms that Bimota is already trying to persuade Ducati to furnish supplies of the more potent 1098R engine for a future power-up model. This would likely be fitted with Walbro's own version of traction control, versus the Marelli unit on the stock 1098R. And then of course there's a Tesi 4D on the horizon as well.
Bimota is indeed back where it deserves to be. And let's hope this time it stays there.
'08 Bimota DB7
Type: Liquid-cooled, 90-deg., 4-stroke L-twin
Bore x stroke: 104 x 64.7mm
Compression ratio: 12.5:1
Induction: Marelli EFI, single-valve oval throttle bodies equivalent to 60mm, 1 injector/cyl.
Front tire: 120/70ZR-17 Conti Race Attack
Rear tire: 190/55ZR-17 Conti Race Attack
Rake/trail: 25 deg./100mm (3.9 in.)
Wheelbase: 56.5 in. (1435mm)
Seat height: 31.5 in. (800mm)
Fuel capacity: 4.2 gal. (16L)
Claimed dry weight: 375 lb. (170kg)