Italy is reknowned for its art and innovation from masters like Botticelli and da Vinci, so it's no surprise the latest marvel of motorcycle engineering hails from Italian manufacturer Bimota.
Alan Wilson's mellow South African accent is narrating the unfolding Miller Motorsports racetrack inside my head with background music provided by the Bimota Tesi's
Desmodue engine booming through its Leo Vinci exhaust. As the bike flicks right, left, then left again through Turn 4, I finally find the courage to hold the throttle wide open.
I am following track designer Wilson's invisible line of perfection, and the Tesi is glued to this perfect arc. Totally in its element, the Bimota's electronic tachometer millimeters from bumping the rev limiter, I get it right, and using every ounce of power the air-cooled Twin can give blast out onto the straight. A brief speedometer check shows 178 kph, which is a good improvement on last session's 164 kph best. The trick is to charge out of Turn 2 and keep the throttle pinned, putting all my faith in the hub-center steering front end and the super sticky Pirelli tires.
Peeking up above the brake marker cones, the snow-capped Wasatch Mountains stand proudly and majestically an impenetrable wall of granite. And with the late afternoon sun lighting the brilliant powder white snow it is hard to remember riding in a more beautiful environment. The thought is quickly relegated as the brake markers arrive. Waiting till the last minute, I throw out the parachute, scrubbing speed for the tightest left-hand corner on the West track. With no dive from the front end, braking can be ridiculously late and held well into the turn, the transition to full lean little more than a thought. The Tesi has found the perfect line through here too, and no sooner than we are tipped in it's hard on the gas as the diminutive Italian beauty aces the technical corner sequence, thumping its 90 horses through the rear tire as we are catapulted toward Turn 7.
The satisfaction of getting this right has me positively beaming inside my helmet and lunging for the tight right-hander while taking full advantage of the Tesi's ability to tighten its line at will. I am also enjoying being able to hammer the throttle and lay all the Tesi's power to the floor with impunity. It just doesn't feel like it is going to spin the back wheel, and this sense of security alone has got to be worth a couple of seconds a lap, due to the ability to exit the corners so hard on the gas.
Between the two machined-billet plates of the Tesi's Omega frame sits a 992cc Ducati two-valve Desmo Twin that produces a claimed 90 horsepower at the rear wheel.
Getting a chance to ride the $60,000 Tesi is something akin to having a crush on an elegant, sophisticated super-model who for some bizarre reason elects to join me for a date. It's impossible to control my nerves. Every stammered sentence is a fumbled gear change, every awkward silence a bad corner entry, as each abrupt throttle response and botched brake application feels like a slurped drink or a sticky glob of food on my shirt. As the laps unwind, the fear of crashing this elegant, refined and stunningly beautiful assortment of components melts a little, the way it feels when you come back from the bathroom to find your date still sitting at the table. And, by the third session out on the Miller Motorsports Park, she is laughing at my jokes and it looks like we will be going out again.
Hitting the track for my fifth session, our rendezvous takes on a different dimension, as it all starts to come together. With my date's high level of sophistication there can be no ham-fisted throttle openings or hurried clutchless upshifts. Every action needs to be a precise and almost delicate maneuver on this handcrafted exotic beauty, and a gentle touch definitely yields the best results.
This is all fine but, as with any high-class date, you have to keep a firm watch on your manners, as they need to be impeccable. Chop the throttle too harshly and the front end reacts as the engine braking comes in too early. Find yourself in the wrong gear at the wrong moment, and all the drive and momentum you have built up is lost forcing you to downshift and apologize about your rude behavior. Attention to detail, as in the way the Tesi was so artistically designed and engineered, is king.
Getting it right, our dance steps are choreographed perfection as we moved together in total harmony, the urgent motor pulling through the meat of its mid-range with the Tesi railing at impossible lean angles through the liquid-smooth turns. Under the azure Utah sky, I am approaching my own personal Nirvana. Learn to please her, and the Bimota Tesi is absolutely and categorically one of the most rewarding partners to be found on two wheels. Get it wrong and it's going to take some patience and understanding to gain forgiveness. And maybe this is what is so alluring about the Bimota Tesi, and indeed the brand as a whole.
It took Bayly a few sessions to warm up to the handling characteristics of the Tesi, but before it was over he was following track designer Wilson's invisible line of perfection through the turns.
As star struck as it is possible to be when examining the quality of the components, there are a few real world concerns to think about: A $60,000 price tag, a tight, awkward steering lock, a solid committed racer's crouch, and the thought of needing to take a second mortgage if it falls over. It must be like owning a Ferrari, where these concerns are trivial to the overall excitement, experience and reward of being one of a handful of people in the world who will own and ride what has got to be the most beautiful, visually stimulating piece of motorcycle artwork on the planet. Especially when you can take it to a racetrack and thrash the living daylights out of it without having to worry about reliability issues thanks to the bulletproof Ducati Desmodue powerplant.
As standard issue in Ducati's Multistrada, Supersport 1000, Monster S2R and Classic series, the Dual Spark, two-valve Desmo Twin can trace its lineage back to the early bevel motors of the mid-'70s. Producing around 90 horsepower at the rear wheel with the addition of the Leo Vince pipe and an EFI ignition system, it is plenty powerful enough to propel the Bimota's feather light 340 pounds. There are times when the confidence-inspiring handling left me looking for more power, but this was more my lack of riding skills than a fault of the Bimota.
The Tesi is a real rider's bike and demands you pay attention to every aspect of the racetrack. Don't get into Turn 3 fast enough, and by the time you are exiting Turn 5 you are looking for more power. Where on a big horsepower machine you can cover up for a lot of riding deficiencies by simply twisting the throttle, the Tesi demands you take your riding to a higher level. Once I realized this, the Ducati engine just made perfect sense, as I concentrated on keeping up my speeds entering corners, before using the midrange to literally catapult out of the turns the way it was intended.
From its wild-looking carbon air snorkel out front to the way the header pipes twist and turn before exiting into the forward-facing pipe, the Tesi is as visually stimulating as it is fun to ride.
A major criticism of the first Bimota Tesi back in 1991 was the weight and complication of the engine. Carrying a price tag of over $40,000 at the time, Bimota was not content to leave the Ducati four-valve, liquid-cooled 888 engine stock. It came to Bimota from Ducati with a 904cc displacement, achieved from enlarging the cylinder bore by 1 mm. It was, and still is, a stunning motorcycle, but this new version of the Tesi with the much simpler two-valve powerplant makes a lot more sense.
With everything in view, so to speak, one of the biggest joys of ownership is going to be simply sitting and looking at the Tesi. From the tiny, perfectly formed gas tank, to the wild looking carbon air snorkel sitting out front, each and every component of this motorcycle is a piece of modern art. The way the header pipes twist and turn before exiting into the forward facing pipe, the seamless welds, the sumptuous aluminum swingarm, and always the wild looking front suspension which is going to be the first thing to strike anyone with the slightest interest or knowledge of motorcycles.
Looking more like a swingarm than the telescopic forks we are used to seeing, the Tesi's hub-center steering is going to be a conversation point for sure. The system is not actually unique to Bimota, with Honda trying a similar system back in the early '80s in 500cc Grand Prix racing. Piloted by British racer, "Rocket" Ron Haslam, it enjoyed some success but not enough to convince Honda to pursue the experiment. Touting the benefit of separating the forces that act on the suspension and brakes, any forces exerted on the front wheel now have a very short distance to travel to the frame. This is also completely untraditional, with the engine a stressed member that lives between two beautifully crafted aluminum plates that house the front and rear swingarms.
The Bimota Tesi rips apart the typical sportbike mold by bringing fresh thinking to frame construction and front suspension design.
The system is said to be 25% more rigid than a conventional fork, as well as lighter, the rake is fully adjustable, and the single Double System shock that controls the rebound, compression, and preload is also fully adjustable. From the rider's perspective it certainly feels a little strange at first, with the handlebars not transmitting much information from the front tire. I managed to lock the wheel in one of my early laps as the twin Brembo four-piston calipers are not the sharpest set up, so I initially underestimated the amount of pressure I needed. The only way to tell the wheel had locked was a faint chirping and forward pushing feeling, which was not as scary as losing the front on a conventional set up. It certainly made me cautious for a while, but as the day wore on I got deeper into the turns with out a problem, and by the last laps was well used to the system.
The way the front end works was actually most noticeable when I hopped on a DB5 Bimota for a session and tried to enter corners in the same way I had been on the Tesi. Feeling the forks compress, and then come back up at me as I got back on the gas was almost unsettling for the first couple of laps, and I had to re-adjust my riding style to smooth things out. Whether or not the Tesi's system will make for faster lap times I can't say, but it certainly isn't going to make you slower, and nothing on two wheels looks as wild.
A few other points came to my attention as I got back on the Tesi. The riding position is a lot more aggressive than the DB5, the gearing a tad lower as the bike has more acceleration, and I felt like I had been unfaithful. So, with the sun blazing across the sky and an empty racetrack in front of me, I decided to stay off the other bikes to better enjoy my sophisticated riding partner.
Ending the day with the shiny side up left me wandering round the pits like a love-struck Romeo. The chance to ride such a rare and exotic machine was the chance to finally accomplish a dream from my formative motorcycling years. Back in the early '80s, the word Bimota was always spoken with hushed reverence, as was the town of Rimini in Italy that seemed as far away as the prospect of ever owning such a machine. As the most unobtainable and arguably the finest hand-crafted pieces of motorcycle exotica in the world at that time, it is interesting to see 25 years have not changed what Bimota stands for one bit, and the Tesi is here to prove it.
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