For a brief moment in the early 1990’s, it looked like Italian company Cagiva was about to put one over the Japanese in the frenzied world of 500cc Grand Prix, as first Eddie Lawson, then John Kocinski won a few races on the firecracker red Italian bike.
Sadly neither Lawson or Kocinski carried on winning races and Cagiva were almost bankrupted by their GP effort and ended up flogging off Ducati to the Americans just to stay afloat. But this bike remains a souvenir of all that glorious Italian energy, passion and commitment.
Roland Brown rode the C593 Cagiva racer;
For a few brief moments, eight or so laps into the test, piloting the flame-red factory 500 doesn´t seem so difficult after all. This time the tight right-left chicane disappears in a rapid flick-flick of the Cagiva´s handlebars, and the next short straight is gobbled up by a blistering surge of acceleration from an engine that pulls crisply and strong from well below 6000rpm.
The little bike slips easily through the next long left-hand hairpin, feeling manoeuvrable and perfectly responsive as I feather the throttle through Misano´s penultimate bend. At last I´m really beginning to enjoy myself. This time, my confidence growing, I throw the bike harder into the final left-hander, finally summoning the courage to wind back the throttle as I exit onto the start-finish straight.
Suddenly all hell is let loose. The Cagiva rockets forward, its front wheel rearing up towards the Armco on the right of the track. Backing off, I tread down into third and the V4´s monster torque hoiks the front wheel high again as the bike accelerates down the straight with stunning force, my left foot barely able to keep up despite the convenience of the clutchless, electronic ‘kill-shift´ gear change.
The panic is not over yet. As on the last lap I hit the brakes well before the 100-metre marker but I´m travelling faster than before; entering the first bend too rapidly. I squeeze the brake lever harder, and the combination of ultra-light bike, sticky front Michelin and massive carbon discs seems to stop the Cagiva almost dead as I fight to prevent myself being thrown over the handlebars.
With forearms straining and heart pounding I manage to stay in the seat, and just as quickly the Cagiva is back under control. The bike´s impeccable handling poise means it recovers to make the right-hand bend with barely a complaint, and the phenomenal torque of its engine sends it screaming off again towards the next turn despite being in too high a gear.
But for this novice factory-bike pilot the point has been made, and I won´t be getting so over-confident on my remaining handful of laps. Riding this scarlet rocket ship of a 500cc works grand prix bike, with its superb chassis and new generation of ultra-torquey big-bang V4 engine, is one thing. Riding it hard, getting anywhere near the limits of its stupendous performance, is something very different again.
That mastering the Cagiva C593 should be impossible for all but a few riders should come as no surprise for this, after all, is one of the very fastest motorcycles on the planet. The last time I´d set eyes on a 500 Cagiva, John Kocinski had been standing on its pegs and waving on his victory lap after the US Grand Prix at Laguna Seca. Much of last season´s glory may have belonged to champions Suzuki but Cagiva, with their first ever dry-race 500 win, had announced that they were serious contenders at last.
It´s been a long haul for the Italian firm whose quest to build a race winning 500 was launched with an uncompetitive straight-four piloted by Virginio Ferrari back in 1981. A square-four and various different V4-powered 500s followed in the Eighties with limited success, although riders including Jon Ekerold, Raymond Roche and Randy Mamola – who managed a third place at the wet Belgian GP in 1988 – scored championship points without ever seriously troubling the Japanese factories.
During the last few seasons, though, Cagiva have been edging closer and closer. In 1992 they finally won a race, when Eddie Lawson – the four-times champ hired for mega-money a year earlier – made an inspired tyre choice at a drying Hungarian GP. Ask Cagiva technical director Riccardo Rosa or race-team boss Fiorenzo Fanali which one factor has done most to make the bike competitive, and they insist that it is a combination of little things: technical changes, better organisation, rider input. But the name Eddie crops up a lot.
Last season, with rapid American Doug Chandler and hot young Aussie Mat Mladin on board, promised much. But both riders struggled with injuries, and with the semi-active Showa suspension of the new C593 (also referred to as the V593, but Cagiva prefer the C designation). Changing to Ohlins suspension made a big difference but it was only when wild child Kocinski, desperate for a 500 ride after splitting with Suzuki, joined the team that Cagiva´s season took off with two fourth places and then that epic Laguna Seca win.
John´s name and number three plate are on the fairing of the familiar red machine that sits in the pit garage of a cold and windy Misano racetrack. The Cagiva looks small and muscular. Perhaps the C593 lacks the sleek style of some previous years, but it´s streamlined and supremely purposeful, from the big air intake in its nose to the twin carbon tailpipes exiting under the seat.
Pressurising the airbox gave an important mid-season power boost to a motor that now puts out a little over 175bhp at 12,500rpm, slightly down on Honda´s NSR and Suzuki´s RGV, but roughly level with Yamaha´s YZR. It´s an 80-degree V4, with twin counter-rotating crankshafts (like all but the Honda) and, naturally, a big-bang firing order. Carburation is by four 36mm Mikunis, with fuel-injection a distinct possibility for next season.
Cagiva have tried a carbon-fibre frame in the past, but as usual this bike´s chassis is based around enormous twin beams of finely formed aviation alloy. Thick gold inverted Ohlins forks run down from magnesium triple-clamps to a Ferrari-built, carbon-fibre front wheel with carbon discs and four-pot Brembo calipers. Alongside the right fork stanchion is a rod to record suspension movement for the data-logging system; bolted to the top yoke is a hydraulic shock preload adjuster; on the right handlebar is a disconnected three-way switch that once worked Showa´s abortive electronic damping.
The bike drips with carbon-fibre, from small details like the tacho body and clip-on handlebars to the massive swing arm and all bodywork, including the self-supporting seat unit. Much to my relief, Fanali obligingly offers to cut down the seat-back foam to make Little John´s pocket rocket a better fit for my lanky 6ft 4in body. Then a red-jacketed mechanic removes the tyre-warmers, bumps the bike into life and warms its engine, sending the evocative smell of racing oil wafting through the garage.
Misano´s surface is cold and dusty, but another rider has the thankless task of getting the tyres – a treaded front, due to the conditions, and big 180-section rear slick – fully up to temperature. He comes in shaking his head at the slippery track, and making tucking-in motions with his hands. Just what´s needed before my first ever ride on a 500cc GP bike. But there´s no time to waste and shortly afterwards I´m off, being pushed down the pit-lane, the motor reluctant to fire at first, then rasping into life and thrusting me out on to the empty circuit.
I´m expecting a snarling, fire-breathing monster of a bike, and as Misano´s long, decreasing-radius left-hander gradually unwinds I discover that the Cagiva can certainly be that. I´ve ridden down Misano´s back straight many times on a variety of fast roadbikes. Now I discover that those bikes weren´t really fast, and that on a factory 500, Misano doesn´t have a back straight. So violent is the C593´s acceleration out of the last, 100mph-plus left-hand kink that almost instantly the bike is approaching the next tight turn at warp speed, and it´s time to get back on the brakes.
So I grab the lever and flick down a few gears, and the Cagiva sheds speed with amazing rapidity, tracking through the second-gear left-hander with marvellous stability and control despite my ragged approach and extreme caution with the throttle. For the first few laps I´m barely conscious of the handling; the bike simply goes where it´s pointed, steering easily, gripping surely, remaining stable despite my often less-than-smooth manoeuvring.
It´s supremely and surprisingly easy to ride reasonably fast, thanks partly to the wonderfully refined nature of the big-bang motor. Before the 1992 season, factory 500s were peaky beasts whose power came in with a rush. Even the non-big-bang Yamaha motor used by privateers last season is far less tractable than a modern factory V4 like the 593, which pulls as strongly and smoothly from 4000rpm as most roadbikes.
Considerably more smoothly than many, in fact. At a shade over 130kg, the C593 is barely heavier than Cagiva´s sweet-handling Mito 125 race-replica roadster. As well as being far more tractable than the 125, the 500 has a much stiffer frame, plus infinitely more sophisticated suspension and brakes. Provided the throttle was never opened far, a relative motorcycling novice could circulate Misano all day dreaming of dicing with Schwantz and Doohan.
The reality, as my brief burst of last-bend heroics illustrated so vividly, is very different indeed. Mentioning that the C593 is over five times as powerful as an unrestricted Mito doesn´t sound so outrageous if you say it quickly. But its phenomenal blend of poise and power-to-weight ratio ensures that this tiny racebike accelerates, stops and turns with a speed way beyond the nerve and reflexes of even most expert riders. Treat it right, and on a good day it would be the fastest thing on two wheels around this racetrack. One false move, and it would flick you into the trackside dust in a flash.
If proof were needed of the skill required to ride the C593 at grand prix pace, it was provided by Cagiva´s data-logging system. Never mind the fact that, after ten laps, my best time of 1min 56sec was over 20 seconds slower than Doug Chandler´s best at the pre-grand prix IRTA test-session. (Riders who´d attended both reckoned the difference in track conditions added 10 seconds to lap times.) More revealing was the throttle-position graph, which showed that while I´d held the Cagiva´s Mikunis fully open for a few seconds just once a lap, Chandler had been flat-out, at least momentarily, at five different points on the track.
It´s a humbling experience, riding a factory GP machine like the C593. The bike is so good that it can give you a momentary false sense of security. But try pushing it harder, using it in the way it was built to be used, and you´re very abruptly reminded that ordinary mortals can only hope to scratch the surface of its awesome potential. After riding the Cagiva C593, I have slightly more idea of what John Kocinski was dealing with when he won the US Grand Prix on this bike. How he did it is more of a mystery than ever.
Get Cagiva motorbike insurance for the C593.
Engine Water-cooled 80-degree twin-crank V4
Claimed power (bhp)
Transmission Six speed
Frame Aluminium twin beam
Suspension, front 46mm inverted Ohlins fork, adjustable for preload, compression and rebound damping
Rear Ohlins monoshock, adjustable for preload, compression and rebound damping
Brakes, front Twin 320mm carbon discs, four-piston Brembo calipers
Rear Single carbon disc, twin-piston caliper
Tyres, front 120/60 x 17in Michelin
Rear 180/67 x 17in Michelin
Wheelbase 1395mm (54.9in)
Dry weight 128.5kg (283lb) without fuel tank
Top speed 190 mph(est)
Current price not for sale