The Cagiva Raptor 1000, the brain-child of Miguel-Angel Galluzzi, was quick, agile, and had all the necessary traits of a contender but extenuating circumstances kept it from challenging for the streetfighter crown.
Sometimes fate and history conspire against a motorcycle. It can be a brilliant piece of engineering, have stunning styling and customers who worship it. Yet, it will be in the wrong place in the space-time continuum and therefore slip on to the "C" list of motorcycling celebrities. The Cagiva Raptor is one such sad case.
The Raptor is the brain-child of Miguel-Angel Galluzzi, the man who began the revival of the naked super-sportster with his Ducati M900 "Monstro" in 1990. Galluzzi is a fanatically keen motorcyclist and built the M900 as a summer project to meet his own personal needs - a fun motorcycle which could be used around town but had sport-quality handling.
The Monstro, or Monster, which Galluzi created, was a real parts-bin special built cheaply from bits which Ducati already had in stock. Viewed at first with skepticism by the factory, the Monster went on to provide 65% of Ducati's sales: it was that important as a motorcycle.
To understand the Raptor, and Monstro for that matter, it is important to appreciate both the topographical location of the factories who made the bikes - and the psyche of the Italian customers who formed the initial backbone of the sales success.
In the case of Ducati, Bologna sits on the base of the Appenine Hills which bisect Italy. Swooping corners, hard braking hairpins and challenging surfaces were the test track for the Monstro. In Cagiva's case, the situation was even more radical. The factory is less than 30 miles from the Swiss border and the true mountains of the Southern Alps. This not custom cruiser territory. As for the Italian customers, despite their image of being the ultimate race replica fans, they much prefer naked streetfighters when it comes to actually buying a bike - rather than just looking at it.
In choosing the narrow, powerful, 90 degree V-Twin Suzuki TL1000 engine, Cagiva was looking for a motor that would square up to the Ducati Monster's eight-valve liquid-cooled Vee.
The best market in the world for hyper sportbikes is racing-obsessed England where customers will hand over large lumps of cash for exotic superbikes. This is a truly bizarre situation in view of the draconian enforcement of traffic regulations, but if you want to sell a premium-priced bike in Britain it had better be convincingly ready for the track. By contrast, the Italians love streetfighters - urban hyper sportbikes which look cool, perform extremely well and dovetail into Italian street life.
When the Cagiva Group sold Ducati, Galluzzi was free to source an engine for his new "Monstro" from wherever he wished. Rather than being tied to Ducati motors; he chose the Suzuki TL1000 V-Twin powerplant.
Mr. Galluzzi explains his reasoning: "We had engines from all over the world, but the best two were Triumph's Speed Triple Three and the Suzuki TL1000. Both engines had soul and character but eventually we decided on the Suzuki engine."
To many outside observers, the choice was a radical one because at the time, Suzuki's TL1000S was suffering from a barrage of press criticism in terms of the bike's handling and dramatic power delivery. Prototype Raptors looked like fanning the flames of controversy.
Galluzzi again: "The first Raptors had a wheelbase of 1390mm and a steering head angle of 23 degrees. The engine was just as it arrived from Suzuki and this meant that it was giving around 135 hp. We let six or eight Cagiva people, who ride very regularly, try the bike and they all came back terrified - the bike felt as if it was permanently out of control. It was fun!
The handling of the prototype was a little sketchy, so Cagiva extended the wheelbase and increased the steering head angle by 2-degrees.
"Then we started to work backwards to keep all that energy and excitement but make the bike more friendly and useable. Now, we have a steering head angle of 25 degrees and a wheelbase of 1440mm, which gives neutral handling but still has all the excitement of the original bike. "The engine is just as Suzuki designed it. It has the same compression ratio, the same cams and the same cylinder heads. But we have done a lot of work with the exhaust, air-box and especially the engine management unit, to make the power unique to the Raptor."
In practical terms, this means that Cagiva's variant of the TL1000 loses around 35 bhp when compared with the TL1000 but gains by having a huge amount of torque from tickover to 10,000 rpm. The Raptor takes the streetfighter/muscle bike genre in a new direction. It takes only a few miles to realize two things. First, the Raptor is a seriously quick machine in the realms of normal road riding. If you really want to go any quicker from a standing start to 100 mph you really ought to sign up for a drag-racing course and buy a nitro-burning Hayabusa. Second, the Raptor's handling is so good that it will embarrass most sportbikes anywhere, except a track day at a super-fast circuit like Donington or Silverstone.
Cagiva's version of the TL1000 is a brilliant piece of budget engineering. Even today it would be superb in a sportbike, make a wonderful sport-touring powerplant and the definitive muscle bike engine. From 2,500 rpm all the way up to 10,000 rpm, it's just like having an enormous magnet in front of the bike pulling you forward. See a gap in the traffic, tweak the throttle and a fraction of a second later you're there. I've been riding bikes all my life and I've never come across anything to touch the Raptor in terms of roll-on acceleration.
The decision to use a TL1000 powerplant serves the Cagiva Raptor well, providing roll-on acceleration that impressed even an old-school rider like Melling.
Reaching 100 mph is available, instantly and everywhere. Just after the bike's launch, I rode the Raptor for a TV crew filming at the Three Sisters race circuit. This is effectively no more than an upmarket go-kart track with a 220-degree hairpin leading into a 200-yard straight. Two-thirds of the way down the straight, just before the braking point for the right-hand climb, there was a solid 110 mph on the speedo. That's as fast as any racebike can manage.
Best of all, the power is silky smooth. Forget your big Fours, this motor is turbine smooth with the sweetest gearbox imaginable and a featherlight clutch. Unfortunately, the media critics were ready to slaughter Galluzzi's creation because of its lack of top speed. The Raptor has the aerodynamics of a brick and this means that it is stuck at only 140 mph. But, honestly, how many people in real life, riding on real roads, with real police radar, regularly manage more than 140 mph?
At first glance, the bike looks as if it shouldn't, or couldn't, handle but remember this is a motorcycle conceived and developed by an ardent enthusiast, not a committee. The Raptor turns in beautifully, aided by the Bridgestone Battlax tires. The tire profile on the front Battlax is reminiscent of the old Dunlop triangular race tires - narrow in the centre and falling away sharply to the sidewalls. They don't suit every bike but they are perfect on the Raptor and enable the bike to be flicked around like a 125.
The Raptor's front end is anchored by a 43mm inverted Marzocchi fork with 4.72-inches of travel and 320mm Brembo discs that are powerful but not overdone.
There is no denying that the bike is frisky. Give it a big handful and the front wheel will pick up easily and the steering is very loose in the first three gears. The good thing is that this lightness never gets out of hand nor is it an essential prerequisite of Raptor riding. The 1000cc motor is so flexible, so controllable and so willing that you could go trail riding with it. So, if you want a peaceful life, use the throttle sparingly and pull high gears and cruise all day long at 50 mph.
The brakes are well up to the bike's performance - as well they might be. 320mm Brembo discs are powerful but not dramatic. The secret is that the set-up is so good that Cagiva detuned them by fitting hard pads. Fit some softer race pads and you've got anchors well up to superbike standards.
The only downside to the bike for me is the saddle height. I have damaged my knees so often in racing accidents that I just can't manage extended periods in the cramped riding position caused by the ultra-low saddle. Galluzzi, at 6' 6" tall, has the same problem. Against our difficulties is the simple fact that the market demands a low-saddle height. There is the added advantage that the bike is attractive to women and this market was of growing importance to Cagiva during the Raptor's design. In fact, the Raptor sold extremely well to skillful female riders who wanted real performance and handling - but with a saddle height which allowed them to be comfortable.
The detail touches on the bike are wonderful. The Raptor emblem pops up everywhere from the speedo/tachometer unit to frame castings. The overall finish is excellent, too, with neat welds, good quality plastic mouldings and nicely finished fasteners. The Cagiva is not yet up to Honda standards in terms of fit and finish but it beats Suzuki comfortably.
Who's to say what the future of the Cagiva Raptor 1000 would have been if Claudio Castiglioni hadn't purchased MV Agusta and channeled time and money in its direction instead of Cagivas.
So now the big question. With a bike so good, what went wrong? The problem is two letters and one word: MV Agusta.
From the Cagiva marque being the jewel in Claudio Castiglioni's motorcycling crown it became a bit player the moment the charismatic Italian millionaire got hold of MV. Instead of the Raptor taking on the role of Ducati Monstro, launching Cagiva into the motorcycling super league, the bike was a distraction from feeding the enormous new baby in the family which was MV Agusta. MV gobbled up investment, factory space and engineering time whilst Raptor production lurched on inconsistently with poor supplies of bikes and spares to dealers.
Now, the last few Raptors are being discounted from dealers' showrooms - a sad end to what should have been one of the legendary motorcycles of last decade.
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