“What the hell is that?”
That was the typical reaction to the Bimota Mantra, one of the craziest bikes ever made in Italy, which is quite an achievement.
Featuring an engine lifted from Ducati´s mid 1990s 900SS model, with Sacha Lakic´s weird chassis and bodywork wrapped around it, the Mantra was an exercise in designer chic which somehow never quite got off the ground. Bit like a gold plated Versace sandwich toaster really; interesting idea, but difficult to market.
The surprising thing was how good this four pipe, walnut-dashed weirdmobile was to actually ride on the road. It went, braked and handled OK and weighed as little as the average sporty 600. Good fun, but at an initial asking price hovering around £13,000 back in 1996, it was no surprise that Bimota struggled to sell many Mantras in the UK.
Bimota riders are used to turning heads, but nothing the Italian firm has previously produced matches the impact of the outrageously styled Mantra. During a day on the roads around Bimota´s base in Rimini, motorists stopped to stare, pedestrians stood open-mouthed and one scooter rider chased me through the resort town´s traffic for a closer look.
And it´s not just its controversial styling that makes the Mantra special. More importantly, this is the first visible result of Bimota´s recent policy to broaden its range. Traditional super sports bikes will continue to dominate, but Bimota also aims to move into new sectors of the market, to allow an increase in production. This year´s total is scheduled to reach a highest ever 1400 bikes, 300 of them Mantras, with the planned limit of 1500 due to be built next year.
Shaped by Frenchman Sacha Lakic and powered the sohc, two-valves-per-cylinder V-twin motor from Ducati´s 900SS and Monster, the Mantra is intended to be more at home in town and on country roads than on a racetrack. But with an oval-section alloy frame and a collection of classy cycle parts, it has been created to maintain Bimota´s reputation for demon handling too.
There´s not much doubt that Bimota´s first aim, to produce a futuristic roadster with a high-tech image and a strong identity, has been achieved. The bike is unmistakable all the way from its headlamp surround – inspired by an old-style racing Ferrari´s grille – to its pair of low-level mufflers on either side.
No bike as boldly styled as the Mantra will be every rider´s cup of vino rosso, and I´ll admit to doubts when it was launched last year. But the Mantra definitely grows on you, and the opinion of those in Rimini was overwhelmingly positive.
The distinctive feel continues after you´ve thrown a leg over a stepped dual-seat which is fairly low, at least for the rider. Up ahead, white-faced clocks are set into a fake wood surround with a neat carbon-fibre cover. Mirrors are pear-shaped and wide apart enough to be useful – possibly another first for Bimota. Fuel is held low, in the front bodywork area at each side, leaving room for a small glove compartment in the dummy tank.
Bimota´s trademark milled-from-solid aluminium top yoke is in place, but the clip-on bars are raised four inches above it. They combine with reasonably forward and low set footrests to give a roomy, almost bolt-upright riding position, with your legs pushed out slightly by the bodywork.
When Ducati´s 904cc air-oilcooled desmo V-twin engine fires-up, its familiar mechanical rustle blends with a fairly quiet exhaust note from those four mufflers – a set-up designed more for show than go. The powerplant itself is standard, producing a claimed maximum of 86bhp at 7000rpm. Like the Monster, its closest rival, the naked Mantra is well-served by the V-twin´s relatively modest top-end performance and huge reserves of midrange grunt.
In town the bike was a revelation after previous racy Bimotas, with none of the normal wrist-ache. Steering lock was pretty limited, but the Mantra´s light weight (just 381lb dry) helped low-speed manoeuvring. At walking pace the motor felt rather snatchy, making for erratic progress in heavy traffic.. But it smoothed out above 3000rpm, and midrange response was predictably brilliant. Cracking open the twin 38mm Mikunis sent the bike charging instantly forward, its front wheel coming up easily in first gear.
On the open road the Mantra´s instant urge made for rapid progress and effortless overtaking, without need to cane it to the 9000rpm redline or make too much use of the six-speed gearbox. Riding a Bimota gently has never been so much fun. Revved harder, the V-twin stayed fairly smooth as it rumbled towards a top speed of about 125mph. Neither the top-end delivery nor the riding position encouraged ton-plus speeds, although a detachable windscreen is available as an optional extra.
Unlike many naked bikes, the Mantra felt rock-solid at speed. This is a Bimota, after all, and that oval-section alloy frame looks massively rigid. But handling was less quick-steering than previous Rimini bikes. Presumably that was intention, as the Mantra is aimed at city dwellers and sports-touring types who wouldn´t normally consider a Bimota.
Not that you´d suspect a thing from a glance at the spec sheet. With 24 degrees of rake, trail of just 92mm and wheelbase of 1370mm, this bike´s vital statistics are almost identical to those of the super-sports DB2. Geometry can be altered by adjusting the length of the Paioli rear shock, though, so those steering geometry figures are only approximate. The bike I rode was set up to turn fairly quickly and easily, but required noticeably more effort than the ultra-flickable DB2.
The multi-adjustable shock sits diagonally on the right of the bike and is worked directly by the oval-section alloy swing-arm. Front suspension is similar to that used by other Bimota models, with 43mm diameter Paioli forks whose sliders are machined from solid billet.
Both ends were softly sprung, at least by Bimota standards, and superbly controlled, making the bumpy hill roads south of Rimini feel deceptively smooth. Either that, or they´d all been resurfaced since my last visit. If anything the forks were slightly soft for aggressive riding, using up much of their travel under hard braking. In the absence of spring preload adjusters (optional kits are available for both preload and rebound damping), winding on a little extra compression damping helped slightly.
The Mantra certainly stopped as fiercely as any race-replica, too, thanks to its light weight plus a front brake combination of twin 320mm floating discs and four-pot Brembo calipers, backed up by a 230mm rear disc. Its 17-inch wheels wore fat Michelin Macadams, which gripped well although they´re not pure sports tires. Ground clearance was excellent, with just a corner of the belly-pan touching down under extreme provocation.
Despite its relaxed riding position and slightly slower steering, there´s no doubt that the Mantra is a seriously quick machine that, if well set-up and ridden hard, could keep up with most sports bikes. It´s a true Bimota, even if it doesn´t look anything like any of the others.
All of which, of course, is pretty much what its creators intended. The Mantra achieves Bimota´s aim of broadening the marque´s appeal, providing great performance and handling in a stunning visual package that some riders will love, others will hate and few will ignore.
Naturally it´s also expensive, costing considerably more than Ducati´s similarly powered M900 Monster. But for riders who´ve always appreciated Bimota´s dedication to high performance and engineering excellence, and prefer a more rounded bike to the normal Rimini diet of racy sportsters, the Mantra could just be the answer.
Get Bimota motorcycle insurance for the Mantra.
|Engine||Air/oil-cooled 90-degree V-twin|
|Claimed power (bhp)||86bhp|
|Front suspension||43mm telescopic Paioli, 120mm (4.7in) travel, adjustments for compression damping (preload and rebound damping optional extras)|
|Rear suspension||One Paioli damper, 130mm (5.2in) wheel travel, adjustments for preload, compression and rebound damping|
|Front brake||2, four-piston Brembo calipers, 320mm discs|
|Rear brake||Double-action Brembo caliper, 230mm disc|
|Front wheel||3.50 x 17in; cast aluminum|
|Rear wheel||5.50 x 17in; cast aluminum|
|Front tyre||120/70 x 17in Michelin Macadam radial|
|Rear tyre||180/55 x 17in Michelin Macadam radial|
|Rake/trail||24 degrees/92mm (3.6in)|
|Seat height||780mm (30.7in)|
|Dry weight||173kg (381lb)|
|Top speed||approx 125mph|
|Fuel capacity||16 litres|