As with any great creation,...
As with any great creation, Tamburini had a very clear idea for the 916 and was focused on getting it spot-on the first time, a single-minded attitude that saw him take on the majority of the workload. “I feel I am a motorcycle projector, not a designer, but with the 916 I ended up designing the bike as no one did it right! Well, not as I wanted it. I wanted a classical Italian bike — little, compact and easy to ride fast,” he remembers.
“When I was a small child I use to live about 60 kilometers from Rimini. It was the 1940s and at that time there were very few motorcycles on the road so they would only come past my house maybe once or twice a week. I would listen out for them and when I heard them coming I would get so excited and rush out to watch them ride past. I remember there were two brothers who lived near us and owned a Moto Guzzi Falcone. Close to our house there was a series of curves and I could tell which brother was riding by the sound of the engine, the way they changed gear and rode the bends. My passion for bikes started then, they are my first memories and still very special to me.”
Massimo Tamburini is quite simply a living legend whose list of accomplishments within the motorcycle world extend far beyond what even the most ambitious would ever aspire to achieve. Best known for his work with Ducati, few realize that the genius behind the 916 started his rise to the top from very humble beginnings. “My family couldn’t afford to send me to university as the best engineering university was in Bologna, which was a big expense. I would have loved to have gone there but it wasn’t possible so I went to a technical school in Rimini instead.”
Tamburini formed a small company in 1966 specializing in air conditioning units alongside his friends Valerio Bianchi and Giuseppe Morri, with the first two letters of their surnames creating the company’s name — BiMoTa. “When I started working with air conditioning I still had a great passion for motorcycles, I used to go to as many races as possible in Italy. My life was on two different roads — air-conditioning was my work, motorcycles were my passion.”
With this passion burning in his heart, Tamburini put his technical knowledge to good use, developing the skills that would lead to a future outside the world of air-conditioning. “I owned a twin-cylinder Moto Guzzi 700 at the time and Guzzi had just launched a 750cc version. I started to work on my bike, converting it to a 750 using Guzzi parts then going a stage further, expanding the engine to 840cc. The Guzzi wasn’t very sporty and after a bit I saw a ‘for sale’ notice in a magazine advertising an MV 600. It wasn’t a sportsbike but I saw the picture and thought I could turn it into one so I bought it.”
Tamburini wasted no time in converting the MV from a touring bike to something considerably sportier. “I worked on that bike every evening after work, Saturdays, Sundays, all the time, it took over my life.” But not everyone else in Rimini appreciated his skill. “In 1971 in the whole population of Rimini there were only three big-capacity motorcycles. I owned one and there was a Honda and Laverda. The police knew exactly who was who and they knew that I liked to alter my bike. Every time they saw me they would stop me and send me to the test station to get the bike rectified and returned to stock! It was so frustrating, I sold the bike and bought a Honda CB750 instead!”
It was this bike that lead to both Tamburini and Bimota’s big break, quite literally in the case of Tamburini. “The first thing I did was take the Honda to Misano, which possibly wasn’t a good idea as I fell off and broke three ribs. After the accident my two associates at Bimota were not very happy. Valerio Bianchi left the company and Giuseppe Morri and myself were forced to relocate Bimota in a new area. At that time I said to Morri, ‘Wouldn’t it be nice to open a company that would take the Japanese bikes — which had a good motor but very bad chassis — and make them good?’ He also had a passion for bikes and had seen what I had done to the MV and said, ‘OK, let’s try it.’” Bimota Meccanica was formed in late 1972.
Having initially started simply designing aftermarket items such as footpegs, fairing and suspension components for mainly Japanese motorcycles, Tamburini’s passion for racing soon led to the company creating chassis for race bikes. “The first chassis we made was for a Patton 500 but soon we made one for Harley-Davidson and its rider Walter Villa. He had seen how much better the Patton was with our chassis, but there was a problem. Harley didn’t want to use an Italian frame so Villa gave it to one of his friends who was also a very good racer. This guy ended up winning the Italian championship with our chassis! In 1975 he was riding fantastically and Villa was struggling to stay ahead of him on track and in 1976 at the Mugello GP, Villa was miles behind our chassis on the factory Harley. Our rider said, ‘Try my chassis, it works,’ and he returned it to Villa. Harley didn’t want this but the night before the race Villa decided to use it; he broke all the records and won the race. That was the same chassis we had designed for him two years previously. He continued to use a Bimota chassis for the next three years, something that convinced us to concentrate on making frames for private racers. In 1980 we were World 350 Champions with Jon Ekerold, beating Kawasaki.”
After this success, Bimota decided to concentrate on road bike development. The company quit racing at the end of 1981 and was soon developing and launching its own motorcycles. But despite the outward signs of success, all was not well within Bimota. In 1983 Tamburini left Bimota, a decision that at the time he cited was down to “personal reasons.” With all this water under the bridge, Tamburini is now willing to give the real reasons.
“I looked at the company in a certain way and Morri looked at it in another. The problem was the Japanese were developing bikes so fast that by the time we had developed our bike they would have updated the model, making our product seem old. This could have been solved as the Japanese were very happy with our work and had a great respect for what we were doing. We were going to have a pact that we would be advised if there was going to be an update so we could work towards it, but Morri didn’t see it this way, leaving me with no choice but to leave Bimota. It was a very hard decision, but I saw no future for Bimota without this pact.”