The recent news of Bimota’s shutdown wasn’t a surprise, but disappointing nonetheless. Remembered best for its horse jockey ergos and mechanized wizardry, a report by Bruno DePrato for Cycle World online chronicles the demise of what was once motorcycling’s brightest two-wheel star. Bimota took the art of special frame building to new heights in both chassis technology and commercial success. Using mainly proven and popular inline fours from Yamaha, Suzuki, Kawasaki and home market Desmo twins. Poor sales might not have been the only reason behind Bimota’s Italian exit, but tales of financial ills were common. Such is the environment for the special frame builder, yet even after repeated re-launchings Bimota endured.
1978 Bimota SB2 Owner: Bob Steinbugler
Designed and engineered by Massimo Tamburini
Engine: (as equipped) 810cc DOHC air-cooled inline four. 95-hp @8.700 rpm
Frame: Bolted and welded chrome molybdenum steel. Engine as stressed member
Suspensions: Ceriani 35mm front fork, one Corte & Cosso monoshock
Brakes: Twin Brembo 280 mm single discs (front) one Brembo 260 mm single disc (rear)
Wheels: Bimota/Campagnolo magnesium alloy.
Note: Aluminum fuel cell
Production: A total of 140 SB2's were built.1977/79 (Engine photo: Govert Herweijer)
Reading DePrato’s take on the decisions made by Bimota will be time well spent, but my personal focus worked to pinpoint the exact moment Bimota went from technological tour de force to boutique brawler. I’ve figured the bloom began to wither sometime in the late 1980s, which is also the approximate time Tamburini left the company. Mass produced exotica like Suzuki’s GSX-R and the V-Four Honda played a part then, cutting into Bimota’s exclusivity for thousands less. Continued advancements by the Japanese and Euro marketers caused Bimota to add more glitter to the jewelry, followed by running the works out of money developing the ill-fated vDue sports bike to bolster the company’s performance standing. The firm’s strong reputation attracted top designing talent (some even trained by Tamburini) leading to standout models like the Ducati-based DB5 in 2005. In the end, too many found it difficult to justify Bimota’s steep entry fee, and the exclusivity often meant owners were on their own for support.
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Displayed as period mechanical art, the SB2’s performance was not equaled by the mainstream makers until it was copied. That is how Bimota should be remembered, if indeed the name isn’t resurrected again. Much was accomplished at Bimota after Massimo Tamburini moved on, but even the most radical designs to follow failed to match the SB2’s hypersonic jump to the future. That kind of impact usually translates into premium value, making it unlikely you’ll find one on the cheap. Comparatively speaking Bimota continues to rate as undervalued, which is another financial trait shared with its special frame cousins. Cost be hanged, if it were mine, I’d ride it. Nolan Woodbury
Neilson and the rest of the Cycle staff went from skeptical to spell bound in one-half paragraph. So compact that the engine’s decorative cam covers were removed for frame clearance, the SB2’s diminutive dimensions were a big topic, as were its special features. Well braced on every side, the SB2’s steering tube is set at 24-degrees but offset clamps add an additional 4-degrees of rake at the forks. Held by set screws, concentric discs live in the center of the trees, offering two different settings for trail. More? The SB2’s bottom most triple tree also serves as a hydraulic splitter for the dual front brakes, converting the system from one, and Tamburini was far from done. The monoshock pivots on tapered roller bearings inside riggers welded outboard of the frame in-line with the gearbox sprocket. The benefit? Constant tension to a chain working independently of the suspensions. The Bimota’s impeccable finish covered a smooth, aluminum-reinforced fiberglass body secured to a lightweight subframe with rubber hooks on each side. “Nothing we’ve ridden, except Suzuki’s RG500 GP bike can touch it” wrote Neilson and his editors, who also described the SB2 experience as painful. “Its cornering clearance and the strength of its frame all work together to provide handling, response and stability that’s beyond our critical expertise.” By a wide margin, the SB2 was the finest, fastest sport bike of the 1970s.
Remembering Bimota: The SB2
Growing from an Italian air conditioning and heating business, Bimota mixed the talents of its three namesake founders: Bianchi, Morri and Tamburini, the engineering lifeblood. After Tamburini left the Rimini group he went to produce the Ducati 916 and MV Agusta F4 for Cagiva; two landmark models both showcasing the engineer’s design fundamentals. National acclaim (and presumably, some amount of funding) came after providing championship-winning frames for Johnny Cecotto (Yamaha) and GP ace Walter Villa (Aermacchi/Harley-Davidson). The work carried out on Villa’s racer for the 1976 season coincided with the development of the 750cc Bimota-Suzuki 2; the company’s first mass produced item.
According to Bimota’s official literature, the SB2 was available in three ways:1) As a rolling chassis less engine and electrics, 2) fully assembled at the Bimota facility with a refurbished GS750 Suzuki engine, or 3) all of the above plus a Yoshimura big bore kit. Tamburini didn’t invent the wrap-around perimeter frame, but the design figured heavily in the designer’s belief to have the shortest, strongest possible load path between steering stem and swingarm pivot. As reported by Cycle magazine in a test published September of 1978, the SB2’s 54.7” wheelbase measured over four-inches shorter and two-inches lower than the donor GS750, yet carries the engine 1” higher in the frame. New for 1976, Suzuki’s DOHC, 2v per cylinder 748cc four attaches to CoMo tubes as a stressed member, with the frame bolting together with aircraft type conical joints above the engine. Clamps machined from solid chunks of 'Arconal' (a high grade aluminum alloy) hold 36mm Ceriani forks. A single De Carbon unit fits inside the monoshock rear suspension and 280 (front) and 260mm (rear) Brembo cast rotors bolt onto pressure-cast ‘Speedline’ magnesium wheels from Campagnolo. At 472-lb wet the SB2 weighed sixty-pounds less than the GS750 too.
Catching an SB2 might be harder than ever now, as most of the 140 estimated built are stashed away in museums or private collections. This premium example, owned by Bob Steinbugler of Bimota Spirit is among the best anywhere. Nothing less than THE absolute authority on Bimota in the USA, Bob hosted renown journalist/humanitarian Neale Bayly for a riding interview, and these photos came from that meeting, Built from the kit, Steinbugler‘s SB2 features the 810cc (listed by Bimota as 850) Yoshimura-spec engine with 69mm hi-compression pistons in a bored Suzuki cylinder, Yoshi ‘Road and Track’ cams, racing valve springs, ported head and 4-into-1 Yoshimura exhaust. 29mm Mikuni ‘Super carbs’ were available at extra cost. Rated near 100-hp the Yoshi-equipped SB2 was good for 140-plus. Represented by Paul Puleo of Moto Sport in 1978, east coast Cosmopolitan Motors took over US importing with the release of the SB3.