No company has pushed the boundaries of contemporary chassis technology more than Bimota in terms of both materials and design. The company co-founded almost 40 years ago by the recently-retired Michelangelo della Moto, Massimo Tamburini, has done it again with the debut of its DB7 Oronero superbike. In creating the world's first production motorcycle with a structural carbon fiber chassis, Bimota retains its place at the leading edge of frame design. Even if achieving that entailed borrowing techniques and technology from another form of two-wheeled transportation.
All of this came as a direct consequence of Bimota technical director Andrea Acquaviva's personal involvement in another form of two-wheeled sport-one that doesn't use engines. "I've been a keen cyclist for many years," declares Acquaviva, "and because of my work at Bimota I've always been interested in the carbon-framed bicycles used by the world's top riders. So, after production of the DB7 got started, it seemed a good idea to look at replacing the steel tubes used in that chassis with carbon fiber ones, to reduce weight further without sacrificing rigidity."
Luckily for Acquaviva, the owner of B.R. Bike Research in Cesena (producing bicycles under the "Switch Bike" brand), a few miles north of Rimini, was an avid motorcyclist. B.R. owner Giancarlo Biondi was already exploring ways to adapt his bicycle technology to a motorcycle application when Bimota contacted him, and had constructed a Monster S4RS carbon frame weighing a remarkable 10 pounds, in contrast to the stock Ducati steel chassis scaling in at more than 30 pounds. Acquaviva commissioned B.R. to manufacture a composite equivalent of the DB7 frame, resulting in a weight savings of over 15 pounds from the already featherweight 375-pound standard DB7.
The Oronero chassis are manufactured at the rate of one per week, using a sock of woven dry-lay carbon/Kevlar fabric which is sleeved around previously formed, individually-shaped polyurethane patterns-some of which may be tubular, others not-before resin is added to provide stiffening, while also facilitating addition of the struts and fasteners to create a structure with an exceptionally strong stiffness to weight ratio, thanks also to internal carbon bracing via techniques which B.R. has led the world in developing.
The tubes are internally braced with a cruciform carbon fiber strut for added rigidity-a unique technology developed by Biondi-and are fitted at each end with inserts machined from solid billet Ergal 55 aircraft-grade aluminum, then bonded to the carbon tubes. This carbon/Kevlar spaceframe is bolted to twin sideplates flanking the rear cylinder, made of Anticordal 100 aluminum. The same treatment has been carried out on the 525mm-long swingarm, which is made from oval-section carbon/Kevlar tubing that's supported by Ergal inserts in meeting the rear axle-carriers, all machined from solid Anticordal billet. This results in a 1435mm wheelbase, and is actually stiffer as well as lighter than the DB7's steel-framed structure, says Acquaviva.
The first prototype Oronero-Italian for "black gold"-was completed in September 2008, and after initial testing proved encouraging, the decision was taken to launch a customer version at the 2008 EICMA Milan Show. "Really, only Bimota could produce such a bike for the street, because all our products are hand-built anyway, and a carbon fiber chassis can't be built on an assembly line," says Acquaviva. "Still, we were really surprised, and gratified, that we got so many orders for the bike after EICMA. It showed that our customers appreciated what we were trying to do."
Selling out the first batch of 20 Oroneros at the steep price of €39,900 (over $50,000 US)-compared to "just" €27,400 (approximately $34,800 US) for the steel-framed standard DB7- was quite an achievement. After production began in June this year, 11 of the bikes had been delivered to customers, alongside the 200-plus examples of the DB7 normale that Bimota had constructed so far in 2009. To be given the keys of the world's most expensive volume production streetbike for a day-spent riding it at the same Magione circuit in central Italy, where 18 months earlier I'd been the first to ride the stock DB7-was a pretty eye-opening experience...once I managed to tenuously forget how much it'd cost to repair such a bike if I managed to crash it.
ExtremeTech 2v4 shock with...
ExtremeTech 2v4 shock with titanium spring has both high- and low-speed compression damping adjustment, as well as spring preload and rebound damping, plus ride height over a 20mm range via a beautifully-made eccentric upper shock mount.
The heavily oversquare 104 x 64.7 mm desmo V-twin 1099cc engine is completely unmodified in its Oronero application from use in the stock Ducati 1098, but the freer-flowing yet still Euro 3-compliant Zard exhaust gives the Oronero owner an extra two horsepower on top, taking power to a claimed 164 horsepower at 10,200 rpm. Bimota's Walbro ECU is matched to 12-hole Magneti Marelli shower-type injectors, one per cylinder. Coupled with the 2-into-1 exhaust using 52mm diameter stainless steel headers and a single dual-exit carbon-edged titanium silencer, this delivers an altered power delivery and flatter torque curve compared to the stock Ducati. And thankfully that performance is delivered via Bimota's own ramp-style slipper clutch, something that should come stock on all comparable Ducati models.
You immediately feel that improved power delivery on the Oronero once you take to the track, with an extra eight horsepower and a corresponding increase in torque between 6,000-8,000 rpm. Working with the smooth throttle response makes the DB7's engine even nicer to use than the Ducati 1098. The 1098 will go on building power to the 11,000 rpm mark, says Acquaviva, but on the Oronero you can feel it peak out at 10,200 rpm, and the revlimiter kicks in 300 rpm later, although by then the power has already tailed off. What you have here is a piece of exotica meant to be ridden as a real-world motorcycle.
No, those aren't carbon fiber...
No, those aren't carbon fiber fork tubes-the 43mm Marzocchi fork sports nitride-coated tubes for less stiction. Brembo racing billet monobloc calipers bite on 320mm Braking petal discs for serious stopping power.
The Oronero rockets out of a second-gear turns as if you'd just lit the afterburners-and then holds that extra performance a gear higher, all without the lack of any traction control becoming apparent. It just makes second and third gear powerwheelies a fact of life exiting any medium-speed turns hard on the gas, and you'll be glad the ExtremeTech steering damper soon irons out the inevitable shakes you'll get when you touch down the front wheel crossed up. The power delivery of the Ducati engine is clean, linear and progressive as you drive hard from 2500 rpm upwards towards the red 9500-rpm shifter lights running across the top of the GET dash, which among the plethora of data available, also clearly shows the gear selected. But, like the Digitek dash on a Ducati, the numbers on the tachometer readout are too small to read easily, though the digital speedo in the top left corner is easy to see.
I'm certain from having ridden so many Supersport bikes equipped with Braking's wave discs down the years that they are a key ingredient in the Bimota's improved agility compared to a Ducati. Lifting the Oronero from side to side to negotiate chicanes was easier than on the already good-handling standard DB7, and since steering geometry is unchanged, I'd have to credit it to the combo of that 15-pound weight savings, and the reduced gyroscopic effect of the wave discs. The two-pad radial-mount Brembos fitted to the Oronero are much less aggressive in response than the standard DB7's four-pad four-piston Brembo Monobloc radial calipers, thanks also to the slightly smaller swept area that the wave brake discs present. This results in more controllable braking, with the extra benefit of the slipper clutch allowing the use of a little engine braking to round off the edges, especially since you can alter the degree of slip by adjusting the spring rate settings on the ramps. Honestly, I've been riding and racing Ducati V-twins for the past 35 years, and short of a very few factory Superbikes (but by no means all), I never encountered a bike that stopped as well as the Bimota Oronero. Bologna could learn a thing or two from the braking package on this bike.
Beautiful carbon fuel "tank"...
Beautiful carbon fuel "tank" is actually just a cover for both the airbox in front and the real fuel tank (made from plastic). A very nice-looking piece nonetheless.
The GET multi-function LCD...
The GET multi-function LCD dashboard is equipped with GPS (Global Positioning Satellite) function, which will enable it to record GPS-based lap time data (25 of the world's top racetracks are already in its memory) and other functions (such as active suspension monitoring) in the future.
The exquisitely-formed carbon...
The exquisitely-formed carbon fiber swingarm (with the hugger fender built in) uses machined bolt-on end pieces for the axle holders/adjusters.
Another benefit of the slipper clutch is that you no longer need to blip the throttle on downshifts. I even tried doing a Troy Bayliss and kicked it down a couple of gears without using the clutch, and while the Oronero didn't protest, it didn't feel mechanically sympathetic without a variable idle-speed program in the Walbro ECU. But by the next time I ride a DB7, it'll apparently have one of those fitted too, says Acquaviva. "There are advantages to being small and doing everything ourselves by hand," he says, "and the Oronero is one consequence of that. But because we are so few, it takes a long time to incorporate new developments into our models, and especially electronics that take such a long time to map and program. But by installing the GET dash with inbuilt GPS, we've put the hardware in place for a series of electronic advances that will become available on all versions of the DB7 in the future, not only the Oronero. I must just ask our customers to be patient-but the benefits will follow, I promise!"
With the same ultra-distinctive DB7 styling by Enrico Borghesan, there's no mistaking the Bimota for anything ever built by Ducati-even if the stacked poly-ellipsoid projection headlamps in the nose of the bike still shout "999" at you when you first glance at the bike. Another aspect of the Oronero that's quite different from the equivalent Ducati is the riding position. On the Bimota, you feel a part of the bike, sitting lower and further forward within it, rather than perched on top as on the Ducati. This balanced and relatively spacious riding position is very comfortable, and gives a greater feeling of connection with the bike in spite of its more front-loaded 51/49 percent forward weight bias compared to the Ducati-there's little sense of excessive weight on your forearms and shoulders when riding the Oronero. Plus the Bimota has fully adjustable footrests, foot controls, handlebars and levers.
Employing essentially the same suspension package as the DB7, the Oronero is sensitive and responsive to adjustment, which means a customer should be able to dial in a good setup to suit his or her riding style for any kind of road or track conditions. Once you do so, the result is a bike that has the same overall character as the Ducati 1098 it's related to engine-wise, but feels quite different in so many little ways. From the more comfortable riding position, to the deeper, more sonorous, exhaust note from the single Zard titanium-wrap silencer, to those benchmark brakes, to the very sweet gearchange that's somehow lighter and more positive than on a Bologna-built bike. This was especially noticeable changing up under hard acceleration, where you only close the throttle just a tiny amount to get a clean, crisp upshift that's almost as effective in maintaining drive as a wide-open powershifter. Andrea Acquaviva insists that a key ingredient in this is the optimum ECU mapping by Bimota's electronics wiz, Daniele Commandini.
Beautiful hardware abounds...
Beautiful hardware abounds on the Oronero DB7, including the open carbon cover for the 1098 engine's dry clutch, and associated hardware for the footpeg assembly and swingarm pivot.
This drawing of the Bimota's...
This drawing of the Bimota's chassis design shows its stark simplicity, with the engine forming a complete member of the chassis. The swingarm pivots directly in the crankcases with the shock linkage the only other attachment; the top shock mount floats as part of the carbon swingarm assembly.
The Oronero DB7 isn't just mouth-watering to look at. It feels light and agile, flicking from side to side much easier than any desmo V-twin yet made, and it accelerates like a scalded cat in the lower gears, thanks to that combination of reduced weight and the fat midrange performance. It's an extremely satisfying motorcycle to ride in something approaching anger, and it already sets a new benchmark for desmo V-twin streetbikes that's likely to be advanced still further when the GET electronics package is dialed in and installed, bringing the benefits of traction control, active suspension and GPS technology along with it, among others.
The creation of the DB7 Oronero-and the fact that so many of the bikes built have already found homes-confirms that after a lost decade of near-oblivion, Bimota is now headed back to where it belongs.