Bimota were once perhaps the most innovative motorcycle manufacturers in the world, with designs that inspired a dozen imitators.
Things gradually went sour in the 1990s however and the Vdue two stroke race replica was an error which practically bankrupted the Italian concern. Like most acts of flawed genius, the Bimota Vdue was inspired by a good idea; make a genuine GP replica for roadgoing use. A high performance two stroke V-twin engine, designed in-house and utilising direct fuel injection to both cylinder heads and barrels, to meet strict emissions laws. Set this inside a lightweight chassis and Bob’s your uncle. Except, the fuel injection and digital ignition set-up had some serious glitches, which made the Vdue almost unrideable in traffic. Oh well, it looked very nice…
Eight years in development, and Bimota´s clean green two-stroke is here at last – so what´s the most impatiently awaited motorbike for ages like to ride? The short answer is that it´s like a conventional two-stroke race-rep from Suzuki or Aprilia or Yamaha – just more so.
The 500 V Due (Bimota insist that this, not V-Due, is the bike´s correct name) is more powerful, more agile, more exciting and more demanding than any roadgoing stroker that has gone before. This bike simply delivers more of the sensations that make two-strokes – in the right circumstances, at least – so compelling.
So it´s ironic that the V Due is so significant not because of what it does more of, but what it does less of. Thanks to its direct-injection intake system, the Bimota´s 499cc engine uses less fuel and produces less pollution than any of its fire-every-crank-turn predecessors. The V Due, the first Bimota with a powerplant of the Italian firm´s own design, puts two-stroke sportsters back on the map.
If its technology is what makes the V Due such an important machine, after riding the bike it´s the way it moves that sticks in your mind. The Bimota is simply in a league of its own in terms of sound, performance and feel. Yet despite that, my main impression is not of how different to other strokers it is but, in many ways, how similar.
The V Due fires-up with a unique but distinctly two-stroke exhaust note. For all its impressively green credentials, the Bimota has that unmistakable two-stroke pong (and, say it quietly, also kicked out a very visible cloud of smoke when it was first started). Like any sporty stroker, too, it´s light, responsive and needs revving like crazy to give of its best.
And if you do just that, the Vdue will blow your mind. With a claimed 110bhp pushing a bike that weighs just 145kg and has a compact, state-of-the-art chassis, this bike comes closer than any other to putting grand prix performance on the street. (Compared to a works 250cc V-twin racebike, it has roughly similar power and 50 per cent more weight.)
The GP feeling starts as soon as you pull away. You´ve already been dazzled by Sergio Robbiano´s classy styling package; all gentle curves and flowing, wind-cheating shapes. You´ve thrown a leg over the self-supporting carbon-fibre seat unit, reached across the tank to the low clip-ons and felt for yourself that the Vdue is not just stunningly light but, with a wheelbase of just 1340mm, very compact too (although, with an 810mm seat height, not particularly low).
Unlike a racebike the Bimota has an ignition key and starter button, but the twin-crankshaft, crankcase reed-valve motor busts into life with the rattle of dry clutch audible above a distinctively low, almost harsh two-stroke exhaust note. You dial in a healthy handful of revs with the throttle (slightly stiffer than expected, because it has four butterflies to open), and slip the clutch. The bike leaps forward, flicking up an unprovoked wheelie as the revs hit 7500rpm and the motor comes into its power band.
Those first few yards set the tone for the rest of the ride, because the Vdue is one rev-happy, aggressive little bike. It´s not that the two-stroke doesn´t run properly at low and medium revs; it does. The Bimota ticks over happily, trickles along in traffic with 4000rpm on the clock, and even attempts to pick up speed if you crack open the throttle at six grand. But to find some serious action you´ve got to keep the revs between about 7500rpm and the 9400rpm limiter at all times.
Do that, and the Vdue is a hell of a weapon, its exhaust note rising in pitch as the bike streaks through its six close-spaced gears towards a top speed of over 150mph. Best I saw on the smaller of the Bim´s pair of white-faced clocks was almost 140mph, at which point there was still a bit to come. With “only” 110bhp this bike doesn´t kick you in the back at ton-plus speeds in the way that a 140bhp four-stroke would, but its lack of weight means it accelerates harder than its power output suggests.
What the 500´s peaky power delivery means is that to go super-fast you´ve got to come out of every corner in the right gear: great fun if you´re in the mood, but more difficult on an unknown road than on a racetrack. This was emphasised on the bike I rode because the gearbox, a racer-style side-loading cassette unit, wasn´t too clever, feeling notchy on downchanges and having trouble finding neutral. Bimota insisted this was because it was a faulty pre-production box. After my test they sent me round the block on a second Vdue with a production gearbox which, sure enough, worked perfectly well.
The test bike also gave a very occasional hiccup under hard acceleration, due to a fuel-injection glitch that Bimota said will be fine-tuned away before production of this year´s 600 units commences. The rest of the time the bike ran crisply, at least by two-stroke standards. Although the Vdue is certainly not the bike to choose for rush-hour commuting, it wasn´t too much of a pain in traffic.
The 90-degree V-twin is pretty smooth, too, its contra-rotating crankshafts effectively cancelling out most vibration despite the lack of a balancer-shaft. At high revs (and that´s where you´re going to want to spend most time) there´s a slight tingle through handlebars and footpegs, but at those speeds you´re likely to be concentrating too hard to notice it.
If the Bimota´s engine performance keeps its rider´s mind on the job, the bike´s ultra-responsive chassis hones reflexes to new levels. The engine is set well forward in the aluminium frame, putting 55 per cent of the weight on the front wheel. With its light weight, short wheelbase, top-notch cycle parts and uniquely racy steering geometry (just 23 degrees of rake and 89mm of trail), the V-due takes full advantage of the inherently light, compact two-stroke engine format.
Predictably, given those dimensions, the Vdue is supremely agile; the merest hint of pressure on the clip-ons being enough to make the bike change line with instant and effortless precision. What was more surprising was how stable and well-balanced it felt at higher speeds, too, even on less than racetrack-smooth surfaces. Aided by the steering damper on its left side, the Bimota tracked through fast sweepers without even so much as a twitch.
Suspension is a combination of 46mm Paioli forks and an Ohlins rear shock that, in SB6R style, is horizontally mounted on the right of the bike and worked by a linkage. Both ends are multi-adjustable and as standard are reasonably firm. You feel big bumps through the thinly padded single seat – from which narrow twin pipes emerge on the right, leading to carbon cans – but on normal roads I found the Bimota reasonably comfortable.
Not that the Vdue´s handling is perfect in all situations, because this is a bike that works better the harder it´s ridden and didn´t feel too good on the busy bends of urban Rimini, where I began the test. At less committed speeds the Bimota tended to drop suddenly and rather disconcertingly into corners, even though its front Michelin Hi-Sport is the 120/70-section cover that generally gives a more neutral cornering feel than the lower-profile 120/60.
The Hi-Sports gripped with their normal tenacity on tight hairpin bends and sweeping curves later on, but I was less impressed by the Vdue´s brakes. The combination of 320mm Brembo discs, four-pot calipers and this bike´s lack of weight should have meant eyeball-loosening stopping power. But Brembo are no longer able to supply Bimota with cast iron discs (for this bike or any other), and with steel rotors the system didn´t have quite the bite I´d expected.
Other complaints? Just that surprising cloud of smoke that the bike made on starting, due to a small amount of oil that drains into the front cylinder when the motor is switched off. Bimota´s engineering chief Pierluigi Marconi is working on a cure. The bike also used more oil than normal when warmed-up because for running-in its oil/fuel ratio was set at five per cent. Bimota say that as little as 1.5 per cent will be possible when fully run-in; the exhaust should be virtually smokeless.
I would have needed a longer test to confirm Bimota´s claim that this engine uses only 30-40 per cent as much fuel as a comparable traditional two-stroke, but even if the figure is close it´s a fantastic achievement. The Rimini firm say that they´re about to put the Vdue through the emissions tests that should allow it to be sold everywhere from California to Switzerland, confirming that an exciting new era in motorcycle design has begun. The high-performance two-stroke is back; leaner, greener and even crazier than ever before.
Get Bimota motorcycle insurance for the V Due 500.
|Engine||Liquid-cooled 90-degree V-twin|
|Claimed power (bhp)||110bhp @ 9000rpm|
|Maximum torque||65.5 lb.ft @ 8000rpm)|
|Front suspension||46mm telescopic Paioli, 120mm wheel travel, adjustments for preload, compression and rebound damping|
|Rear suspension||One Ohlins damper, 130mm 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|
|Fuel capacity||20 litres|