Single cylinder bikes are definitely an acquired taste, but paying ten grand for a tuned up Funduro probably doesn’t sound that exciting to a BSA Gold Star owner.
That was the fundamental problem with Bimota´s rather fetching looking Supermono. Despite the decent performance from the Rotax engine, the sleek bodywork, the demon brakes and fantastically agile handling, it was inevitably compared with bikes like an MuZ Scorpion, which cost about a third as much to buy. Doh!
Biking is all about celebrating individuality, but sometimes you can go a wee bit eccentric and if the Supermono starts to make any sense to you at all – you´ve crossed the line mate.
The road running alongside the beach at Riccione is much like that of any other resort town on Italy´s Adriatic coast. A fully-faired, race-replica motorbike looks a little out of place here parked among anonymous Fiats, at the side of a street that is flanked on one side by large hotels – some closed for the winter on this grey February afternoon – and on the other by a long line of multi-coloured beach huts.
But as you look up and down the Lungomare della Liberta road and listen to the reminiscences of a couple of veteran racers, it´s not hard to take your mind back 30 years. Suddenly the street is lined with straw bales and huge crowds of people; the sea air carries the smell of Castrol R and the sound of high-revving engines. On the corner of Viale Ariosto is a gridful of two dozen racing bikes, being warmed-up by black-leathered heroes including Agostini, Hailwood, Pasolini and Read.
For these narrow streets on the Riccione sea-front, along with others in neighbouring coastal towns including Cattolica, Pesaro and Rimini, were once the venue for hard-fought battles between some of the great names of motorcycle racing. On the narrow Riccione circuit, laid out between walls, kerbs and road-signs, they once diced on bikes ranging from tiny two-stroke singles to Manx Nortons and thundering factory MV Agusta fours.
Those days are long gone but the area´s proud motorcycling tradition lives on, most notably with Bimota, whose Rimini base is just up the coast. And if you had to pilot a modern sports bike around this unforgiving old course of just two miles in length, it would be hard to find a more suitable machine than Bimota´s supremely compact and agile Supermono, direct descendent of the single-cylinder racebike campaigned by works pilot Gianluca Galasso last season.
The Supermono roadster has much in common with the racer, not least its watercooled, four-valve engine – borrowed from BMW´s F650 – and its distinctive frame, whose main sections are fashioned from oval-section aluminium tubes. Created as a relatively inexpensive model, intended to broaden the marque´s appeal in the same way that the hugely successful F650 did for BMW, the Supermono is nevertheless an uncompromising, hand-built sportster in true Rimini tradition.
Unusually for Bimota, the twin-cam, 652cc Rotax/BMW-developed powerplant is left internally standard. Its exhaust system is all new, winding along the right of the bike then up to a silencer in the seat hump. But the F650´s pair of 33mm Mikuni carbs are also retained, although Bimota and fuel-injection specialists TDD have produced a competition injection kit that gives a welcome 10bhp boost to the standard Supermono´s claimed output of 48bhp at 6500rpm.
The chassis employs oval-section alloy tubes not just for the frame but also for the swing-arm, which operates a Paioli shock, situated horizontally on the left of the bike, via a simple cantilever arrangement. The swing-arm pivot area incorporates machined sections of alloy plate. Front end layout is fairly conventional, featuring 43mm Paioli forks with machined-from-solid sliders and floating bushes, similar to those used by the DB2 and YB9.
But there is nothing ordinary about the claimed angle of the fork legs: just 21 degrees, which in combination with the trail figure of 78mm gives this bike steering geometry that is radical even by current grand prix standards (and would have seemed incredible back in Ago´s day). Nor is there anything conventional about the location of the 16-litre plastic fuel tank, which sits below the engine in order to keep the bike´s centre of gravity as low as possible. That leaves space above the motor for a slightly larger than standard airbox, plus some electrical parts.
There is also room for a small glove-compartment in the dummy gas tank, which forms part of a styling package that is pleasant, if uninspiring by Bimota standards. The Supermono incorporates some typically neat details such as carbon-fibre mudguards and sidestand cover, plus numerous machined-from-solid alloy parts, but this model´s basic specification is epitomised by the forks, which are adjustable only for rebound damping unless fitted with an expensive optional-extra kit.
Despite its tiny, 1340mm wheelbase and low seat, the Bimota felt no more cramped and radical than most sports bikes, with generous steering lock, enough room to tuck behind the screen (in marked contrast to the last sports single I´d ridden) and a typical lean forward to clip-on bars. But if the Supermono felt much like any other Bimota at a standstill, it showed its distinct personality once the engine thudded into life, and the bike pulled away feeling every bit as light as its dry weight figure of 145kg had suggested.
That lack of weight is a key factor in the Supermono´s performance, because the advantage of about 25kg that this bike has over the F650 is the only thing (apart from improved aerodynamics) that makes Bimota´s single quicker than BMW´s in a straight line. The good news is that none of the F650´s crisp midrange response has been lost in the engine´s transplant. There was effortless power available everywhere above about 3000rpm, which equates to 50mph in top gear, and the competent five-speed gearbox was more than adequate for maintaining momentum at all times.
That made the Supermono easy to ride, and by Bimota standards it´s a fairly practical bike. The inevitable drawback was that, with a peak of only 48 horses to call on, this Bim felt flat at the top-end and simply wasn´t in the same league as its stablemates for sheer speed. With my head tucked behind the fairly protective screen on a downhill straight, the Supermono grumbled up to an indicated 110mph with a touch more to come. But there´s no escaping the fact that this bike is over 40mph slower than the YB9 and the best of the mass-produced Japanese 600s.
Rather more disappointing was the Supermono´s vibration, particularly when approaching its 8000rpm redline. Singles are always likely to shake, of course (with the possible exception of Ducati´s innovative but sadly elusive example), and this motor makes its presence felt above 4000rpm when on F650 duty. The trouble with putting the same lump in a sports bike, apart from any additional vibes coming through the lighter chassis, is that you´re tempted to use higher revs more of the time – or would be, if it wasn´t for the tiresome drumming on your thighs through the sides of the dummy fuel tank.
If the Supermono was handicapped on the straights, its revenge came in the twisty stuff, where the Bimota´s compact dimensions, lack of weight and classy chassis combined to excellent effect. From the first bend there was no doubt that this was a wonderfully responsive bike, able to flick from side to side almost by telepathy. Equally importantly, the Supermono remained impressively stable both in a straight line and when cranked hard over, displaying none of the front-end instability I´d half expected given its radically steep head angle.
Suspension was reasonably compliant at both ends; rather too much in the case of the shock, which worked better when firmed up with a few clicks extra of both compression and rebound damping. I suspect that maybe the multi-adjustable rear Paioli had been shortened slightly to slow the steering from its radical nominal angle. But however steep the forks, the frame had enough rigidity to cope.
The Supermono´s ability to change direction gained lots of time on the windy hill roads south of Riccione, where the Bimota could be ridden fast into the many blind bends, safe in the knowledge that a flick of the shoulders or a brush of the brake lever would deal with any unexpected obstructions. My only real doubt concerned a slight twitchiness over some raised tarmac seams, and that might have been eliminated given more time to fine-tune the suspension. The non rising-rate rear layout was presumably specified mainly to cut costs, but bikes including Bimota´s own DB2 prove it can work very well indeed.
There was certainly no doubting either the grip from the ever-superb Michelin Hi-Sports, or the stopping power from this bike´s braking set-up of twin, semi-floating front Brembo discs and four-pot calipers. The basic Supermono in fact comes with single disc, which may well be adequate on such a light bike, but personally I´d pay the extra £300 for the pair. A long list of optional accessories, any of which can be incorporated in bikes ordered from importers Galleria Bimota, also includes a steering damper kit, five-spoke magnesium wheels, carbon-fibre bodywork, dual-seat, and engine tuning parts including 725cc big-bore kit, cams, valves, close-ratio gearbox and exhaust.
All those would have come in useful if blasting the Supermono around the old street circuit at Riccione – but not the day I was there, when the traffic and numerous road junctions made attempting a fast lap impossible. That didn´t stop me tracing the course on the Supermono, though, after meeting up with a couple of former competitors, Italo Forni and Nereo Masini. (Forni now runs the Italian police bike-racing team; Masini owns the local Honda and Yamaha dealership.)
We began by lining up the Supermono on the old grid, in the shadow of the Atlantic and Roma hotels, before Italo, riding a borrowed SB7, led the way to the first couple of sharp left-handers by the marina. Another left and then a right by a big ice-cream parlour led us onto the back straight (known to locals as the Lungomare della Republica), which ended in a hairpin bend at the Piazzale San Martino.
Then we accelerated back along the main sea-front straight, passing a couple of dawdling motorists before pulling up at the Piazzale Roma, scene of a chicane in the old days. It was here, Italo and Nereo told me, that factory MV Agusta star Angelo Bergamonti crashed in the rain in 1971, while chasing Agostini, who was in the lead. Bergamonti died, after hitting his head on a kerb, and shortly afterwards street racing in Italy was officially ended.
Bimota´s modern Supermono had little chance to shine during our traffic-hampered lap, but on a closed circuit its agility, cornering speed, braking power and engine flexibility would have made for an exhilarating and respectably quick ride. The single would still have struggled to stay with more powerful bikes, of course and that is equally true on normal roads. Although the Supermono´s basic price is competitive by Bimota standards at £8500, there are many cheaper ways of buying more outright performance.
Adding tuning parts would soon eat into the £2250 difference between this bike and the YB9, too, and most riders would be better off with the considerably faster FZR600-engined model. But for singles fans and riders who value light weight and agility over outright speed, the Supermono provides a classy and reasonably practical alternative.
Get Bimota motorcycle insurance for the Supermono.
|Engine||Watercooled DOHC 4-valve single|
|Claimed power (bhp)||75hp @ 7000rpm|
|Bore and stroke||100 x 83mm|
|Carburation||2 x 33mm Mikuni CV|
|Transmission||Gear primary, 5-speed box, chain fina|
|Frame||Oval-section alloy tube|
|Front suspension||Paioli 43mm telescopic, adjustable for rebound damping|
|Rear suspension||Paioli monoshock, adjustable for preload, compression and rebound damping|
|Brakes||front, 2 x 320mm discs with 4-piston Brembo calipers (single disc standard). Rear, 230mm disc, twin-piston caliper|
|Tyres||Front, 120/60 x 17 Michelin Hi-Sport radial Rear, 160/55 x 17 Michelin Hi-Sport radial|
|Weight||145kg dry, claimed|
|Top speed||approx 110mph|
|Fuel capacity||16 litres|
|Current price||£8500 (basic spec, on the road)|