Memorable Motorcycle: MV Agusta F4 1000

December 24, 2009
Frank Melling
Frank Melling
Contributing Editor| Articles|RSS

Our Memorable Motorcycles expert, Frank Melling also is the organizer of the British vintage motorcycle extravaganza known as Thundersprint. Melling began riding five decades ago and remains as much in love with motorcycles as when he drove his first bike into a cow shed wall aged ten. In the last 50 years, Melling has competed in every form of motorcycle sport and now declares himself to be too old to grow up and be sensible.

Memorable Motorcycle: MV Agusta F4 1000R
The MV Agusta F4 1000 is the perfect bike for those who don’t like their license photo, because you won’t have it any more by the end of your ride.

I am a very fortunate motorcyclist. Not only have I got all the bikes I need – I have also got all the bikes I want. Except one. Until I rode the MV Agusta F4 1000 I could not see the value in spending a lot of money on a bike which will, in half a blink of an eye, not only lose your driving license but will also get you a healthy spell in jail. Now I have ridden this utterly incredible motorcycle, I want one.

So let’s start at the end of the story and work backwards. On the track, and believe me this is the only place to fully experience the F4, distances are crushed. Not only does every single corner arrive at Star Wars’ speed but there is the overwhelming sense that the F4 is not even breaking into a sweat when going as quickly as a World Superbike race machine The top speed is somewhere around a genuine 185mph – that’s probably 200mph showing on the speedometer – but it is the dismissive way this velocity is achieved which is so impressive.

With 171 hp and 81 lb-ft of torque, the MV, logically, has to be blisteringly fast but it is the manner and style of its performance when compared with other icons of power, like the Suzuki Hayabusa or Kawasaki ZX-10R, which makes the bike unique. In terms of stats, loyal supporters of other hyper sportbikes will say, rightly and properly, that they can get 99% of the MV’s performance from an R1CBR1000RR or certainly a Ducati 1098R. The 1% which is missing is the contemptuous ease with which the MV reaches speeds only matched by a very fast light aircraft: that is the magic of the bike.

Memorable Motorcycle: MV Agusta F4 1000R
Designed by Massimo Tamburini, there is no denying the masterpiece that is the F4 1000.

The F4 1000’s bloodline began in 1998 with the first F4 – a beautiful, but flawed, masterpiece which came from the drawing board of Massimo Tamburini. There is no arguing that Ing. Tamburini is one of the world’s greatest motorcycle designers and the F4 is arguably an even more complete concept than his iconic Ducati 916.

In all Tamburini’s designs, two elements run side by side – and are of equal importance. One strand is the motorcycle as art – where form and function meld into one cohesive element which is quite simply breathtaking. Running parallel with the artist’s creation is a fully functional motorcycle. Tamburini’s bikes are not custom bike show pieces. They work in real life, and without any compromise.

Standing right alongside the master from the first design sketches was Claudio Castiglioni, the owner of MV Agusta at the time of the original F4 launch. Claudio quite literally worshipped, and still does today for that matter, Tamburini and gave him a blank check to produce the best sports motorcycle in the world.

I remember standing with Claudio in the then MV factory, on the banks of Lake Varese, watching whilst each piston in the F4 was individually measured and weighed to the same standards as would be applied to a hand-built race bike. Claudio beamed happily like a kid at Christmas – but I wondered what the Japanese would think of this obsession with detail, as their bikes flew off the production line by the thousand.

Memorable Motorcycle: MV Agusta F4 1000R
Frank powers the MV Agusta F4 1000 around the Anglesey race circuit.

The original F4 engine was inspired by the 1992 Ferrari F1 race car engine. Cagiva engineers (Cagiva owned MV at the time) soon moved it on but they did retain the Ferrari radial valve layout of the car racing motor. The result was a manically high revving engine which was hard work to ride on the road and was also slower than the larger capacity Japanese competition. The riding position was savage and the clip ons trapped your hand on full lock. This caused many F4 owners to feel the full pain of MV ownership in one of two ways. Hang on to the ‘bars and break your fingers: let go and have the F4 fall over, trash its fairing and consequently ram-raid your bank account paying for the repairs. MV ownership is never for the uncommitted!

Against all this was the absolutely unquestionable fact that the F4 was the most beautiful bike of the late 20th century and probably one of the most stunning of all time. By 2005, the original F4 was still breathtakingly beautiful but was beginning to look dated in terms of performance. The Japanese might not have been weighing every single piston which went into their bikes – but they were spending a lot of money on R&D.

The new F4 was just 249cc bigger than its older sibling but was night and day better. Peak power was now almost 2,000 rpm lower than the earlier motor and both the power and torque were hugely increased. The multi-point fuel injection system was all new and benefited hugely from a very trick Magneti Marelli 5SM ECU. Although superseded now by an even more sophisticated design, the F4 1000R’s ECU has two particularly clever tricks.

Memorable Motorcycle: MV Agusta F4 1000R
F4 has been made more rider friendly for those who are bigger than Dani Pedrosa.

The first of these is sequential fuel injection which allows the engine to deal with the problems of the lean running necessary to pass emissions’ regulations which now constrain all manufacturers. Just as useful, #2 cylinder is allowed to produce torque when the throttle is fully closed giving, in effect, all the benefits of a slipper clutch. On the track, the rider never knows this happening – except for the fact that the rear wheel never locks even under savage deceleration.

The riding position has been changed so that F4 owners bigger than a Lord of the Rings’ elf can now fit on the bike without dying of discomfort. The tank is shorter and the ‘bars higher and wider. And, joy of joys, full lock is available without the finger crushing.

But what does remain is sheer, utter, motorcycling beauty. I spent ten minutes just walking round the F4 before riding it because it really is gorgeous. The number of F4s which live in their owner’s lounge must be the highest of any motorcycle in the world – and you can see why.

The best thing is that the more closely the bike is scrutinized the better it becomes. From any angle, every line is perfect; every weld immaculate; every fitting impeccable. Yes, the F4s are a lot more expensive than their Japanese competitors but, if you love bikes, they are worth every cent.

Then the bike is fired up and the unique soprano wail emanates from the four underseat pipes. Somehow, MV has got this exhaust system homologated for road use world wide but how, with a noise like the F4 emits, is beyond me.

Memorable Motorcycle: MV Agusta F4 1000R
Despite being a high end 1000cc bike the F4 1000 manages to retain some “wiggle room” in its aggressive styling.”

The riding position is committed sports riding – and there is no argument about this. However, it is vastly more comfortable than the original F4. I am 5’ 11” and I can fit in between the sinuously sculpted tank and race style seat – and yet still have a little “wriggle room”. The clutch is light and progressive and so it’s a fuss free ride down the pit lane and out on to the magnificent Anglesey track.

The power isn’t aggressive, or difficult to use, but simply sits there like some huge pet tiger, obediently ready to leap into action. Open the throttle gently and the F4 will respond in a most mild mannered fashion. Truly, you could potter along in a supermarket car park, or a race paddock, in the most inoffensive manner imaginable. Five miles an hour and feet up, the beautifully balanced F4 is less trouble than a 50cc scooter.

Memorable Motorcycle: MV Agusta F4 1000R
The F4 features upside down Marzocchi forks and Sachs shock out back for amazing handling out on the track.

But wind open the throttle and suddenly the world becomes a different place. As I said in the introduction, it’s not so much the speed but the way that the performance is delivered which is so impressive. Coming out of the tight hairpin at Anglesey at maybe 30mph, the F4 simply scorched up to an indicated 120 mph in less than 200 yards. Had the F4 been a factory test bike, rather than the very precious personal possession of classic race enthusiast Peter Kent, I would have hung on for another 30 yards and certainly have seen 125 mph on the speedo before hitting the massive 310mm six pot Nissin brakes for the off camber right-hand sweeper of School corner.

The handling was absolutely sublime. The carbon-nitride coated, upside down Marzocchi forks and Sachs rear shock performed perfectly. I know, for certain, that a good British Superbike rider would find fault but I would question whether 99.5% of riders need anything better.

The race derived cassette gearbox is state of the art and, should you so wish, your mechanic can pop in an alternative gear cluster in less than 20 minutes – whilst you have a coffee and sign autographs. Regardless of the limited value of being able to swap gearboxes faster than you can grill a hamburger on the paddock barbecue, the ‘box works perfectly.

In fact the world “perfect” has appeared a lot in this story – as well it might. There is no more beautiful sportbike made in the world and the performance is so good that only major riding deities will be able to find fault with it.

Memorable Motorcycle: MV Agusta F4 1000R
It’s never too early to start mortgaging for next year’s holiday gift list…

So, is it worth tolerating MV’s erratic production and less than perfect spares backup? Is it worth taking a chance on the discounting which MV regularly undertakes at the cost of owners who have paid the full price for their very expensive machines? Is it worth spending 25% more than a Japanese Superbike costs for only a marginally better performance?

The answer to all three questions is an unequivocal, yes. Get saving now!

Our thanks to Peter Kent for the loan of his precious bike and the Anglesey race circuit (www.anglesey-race-circuit.co.uk) for their hospitality.

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