First Ride: 2009 Bimota DB7

Real Rimini Rocket.

2009 Bimota DB7 - First Ride

2009 Bimota DB7 - First Ride

I couldn't believe my luck. Having just landed in Bologna, after the long haul from Los Angeles, I was shocked to see that a driver holding a little placard reading "Bimota DB7 Press Launch" was actually on the other side of baggage claim waiting to cart me an hour away to Rimini. Let's just say that this level of organization is typically left to the Japanese and Germans, not the Italians!

It was all the more surprising because my Bimota visit a year earlier (to ride bikes that hadn't been built yet!) didn't exactly go to plan. But then again, you almost have to excuse a small company for not being able to "put on the Ritz" like the big players from Hamamatsu or Munich.

Bimota's recent history has been well chronicled in Cycle World (Tesi 2D, November '06 and Tesi 3D, February '08). Perfectly clear of late is that the motorcycles themselves have been the least of Bimota's problems. Organization, distribution, a consumer's ability to procure spare parts and expansion of the product line are key areas that needed to be addressed to ensure the survival of the company.

Just four years into its rebirth, Bimota has tackled these issues. Hiring American Dan van Epps away from Ducati to help reorganize the small bike-builder has already done wonders; the press launch went off without a hitch and the factory was buzzing with productivity.

An important step was development of the Ducati 1098-powered DB7 Superbike. What is amazing about the introduction of this motorcycle is that it was essentially put into production inside the span of one year! The bike was shown at the Milan show in fall of 2007, and many were doubtful that it would materialize in such a short period of time. Another concern was whether a boutique bike-maker as small as this one could actually improve on or even match the motorcycle that it shares a powerplant with. A tall order, to be sure, considering that the Cycle World Ten Best-winning Ducati 1098 is undoubtedly one of the finest machines to ever come out of terra dei motori (the land of engines).

Bimota was founded in the '70s to provide stiff, responsive chassis to cradle engines that overpowered the flimsy stock Japanese and Italian frames of the era. But the OEMs have more than caught up over the last three decades, leaving little opportunity for huge improvements from a small company. An exclusive artisan operation like Bimota—where two technicians build one DB7 per day—has an ace up its sleeve, however, because concerns over competitive pricing are chucked out the window. Generous use of carbon-fiber, machined aluminum and titanium is possible when hand-building bikes that cost almost four times what a Japanese literbike goes for.

A new chapter has been turned with the introduction of the DB7, which rounds out Bimota's model range of Supersport (DB5), Sport Naked (DB6) and Sport Special (Tesi 3D) with a no-holds-barred Superbike. The recipe was simple in concept but much more difficult in execution. Take one of the most exciting engines to come along in years, improve the output, then build an incredibly trick chassis with top-line components, reduce weight and give it a face of its own.

Even after all these years, Bimota's chassis are what sets it apart from everyone else. The exoskeleton of the DB7 is a hybrid-trellis frame that incorporates oval-section 2 x 1.2-inch chrome-moly tubing bolted to beefy, machined 6082 AC 100 aluminum-alloy sideplates. The swingarm is constructed with similar materials and pivots directly in the engine's case. The rear suspension features a GP-style rising-rate linkage similar to Honda's Unit Pro-Link. On top of the shock's upper mount is an aluminum eccentric allowing ride height to be adjusted by 10mm independently of the shock's spring preload. The final element in the chassis architecture is the structural carbon-fiber tailsection that eliminates the need for a separate rear subframe shrouded in bodywork.

Suspension consists of top-shelf Italian-made components. The fork is a fully adjustable Marzocchi Corse RAC43 (43mm) cartridge unit with nitride-coated sliders. In addition to beautiful brake-caliper mounts—machined in-house by Bimota—the upper fork legs are anodized red and held by milled aluminum triple-clamps. Rear suspension is via an Extreme Tech 2T4V shock with machined aluminum body. It is fully adjustable, with preload, high- and low-speed compression and high- and low-speed rebound damping.

Race-quality brakes are mandatory on a bike of this caliber. Brembo Monobloc M4-34 racing calipers machined from solid billet are fed by a radial-pump master cylinder of the same make. Discs are 320mm units up front, while a 230mm unit and two-piston caliper reside out back.

Details like adjustable-span machined billet aluminum brake and clutch levers, plus adjustable rearsets with brake and shift nubs that can be optimized for rider preference, are works of art and very functional.

Up until this point, all of the new Bimotas have been powered by Ducati's air-cooled DS1000/1100 two-valve engine. But you can't call a motorcycle a Superbike if the engine doesn't live up to its end of the bargain. Bimota buys crated 1099cc Testastretta Evoluzione motors directly from Ducati. Internally, the engine is left completely stock, sporting the same 104.0 x 64.7mm bore-and-stroke measurements topped by standard cylinder heads. Bimota focused its efforts to boost power on the intake and exhaust systems.

Rimini developed a new fuel-injection-management system that utilizes the stock Ducati elliptical throttle bodies and Magneti Marelli 12-hole injectors, but is controlled by an easier-to-tune ECU from American company Walbro. The unit is said to simplify diagnostics and tuning for both dealers and those modifying bikes for racing because it is accessed using a Windows-based PC. Getting rid of spent gases is an in-house-designed exhaust system featuring 52mm stainless-steel head pipes, an under-engine catalyzer and a gorgeous, angular titanium silencer.

Conveniently located just down the road from Bimota's factory is the Misano racing circuit, site of our test ride. The newly repaved and reversed circuit (now run clockwise) involves a wide variety of sweepers, hairpins and high-speed kinks perfect for evaluating the DB7's chassis. My first impression of the bike was that of compactness, but it had enough room for my 5-foot-11 body to wiggle around and get comfy. The first session was more or less a waste as I needed to learn the track. Additionally, the bike was set up a bit soft and felt like it was riding high in the front, causing understeer in slower corners. With three guys sharing each bike, track time was at a premium. I was able to sneak out with the second group on a DB5 to learn the circuit and discovered that the air-cooled bike was significantly quicker-turning than the DB7.

After I had a quick chat with the Marzocchi technician, he took a turn of preload out of the fork and slowed down the rebound. This allowed quicker turn-in response, as well as keeping the fork from extending too quickly when the brake was released on corner entry. Steering was much improved, yet midcorner stability was retained. Later, I made some minor adjustments to the shock and it, like the fork, showed impressive sensitivity to small changes in setting.

Once the bike was dialed-in, it handled impeccably. The DB7 steers much quicker than the bike it shares an engine with, while remaining composed and balanced front to rear.

Scrubbing speed with the Brembo brake setup was easy, with excellent power and feel, despite the 10mm-smaller-diameter discs than those on the 1098. In fact, about the only thing that made corner entries at all unnerving was the absence of a slipper clutch. Customers shopping for a $40,000 motorcycle are likely to want such a feature, and the DB7 doesn't have one, which seems a fairly major omission on a bike of this caliber and in this price range.

For our day at Misano, the standard Continental Race Attack tires were replaced with the softer "Comp" versions, but they were simply overwhelmed by the DB7's powerful engine. Having the rear end step out in the 140-mphCurvone(Turn 11) due to lack of grip had me praying I didn't get flicked into orbit.

Which brings us to the topic of the engine. We're already big fans of the Testastretta, but the combination of the DB7's light weight and the enhanced midrange torque provided by the intake and exhaust mods makes it even more impressive in the Bimota. My only area of concern prior to riding the bike was with the fuel-injection mapping. Ducati got it almost perfect, so we wondered if tiny Bimota would be able to match that seamless delivery. The answer is an emphatic yes: Mapping on my bike was spot-on throughout the test.

As for the power-to-weight ratio, if you look only at manufacturers' claimed dry weights, the DB7 (375 pounds) appears to be just 6 pounds lighter than the 1098 (381); but on the Cycle World scales, the Ducati actually weighs 422 pounds without gas. We won't know until we get a Bimota test unit in hand, but the DB7 feels much lighter than a 1098. The way it blasts out of second-gear corners, the 7 actually feels more like the $40K 1098R than a standard version. Top-end acceleration was also stout, and the 7s were blowing the bodywork off the DB6s and DB5s circulating the track.

This is a very impressive machine. In the end, there aren't too many people willing to spend this kind of money to buy a motorcycle, but those looking for something exclusive and unique will be highly satisfied with this machine. A proven engine that can be serviced at any Ducati or Bimota dealership (with a Ducati factory warranty), top-quality components, high-tech materials, beautiful styling, impressive performance and little chance of bumping into another one on Sunday morning almost make the DB7 seem like a bargain in the world of playboy toys.

Now, if I could only find a ride back to the Bologna airport...

2009 Bimota DB7

2009 Bimota DB7

2009 Bimota DB7

2009 Bimota DB7

2009 Bimota DB7

2009 Bimota DB7

2009 Bimota DB7

2009 Bimota DB7

2009 Bimota DB7

2009 Bimota DB7

2009 Bimota DB7

2009 Bimota DB7

2009 Bimota DB7

2009 Bimota DB7

2009 Bimota DB7

2009 Bimota DB7

2009 Bimota DB7

2009 Bimota DB7

2009 Bimota DB7

2009 Bimota DB7

2009 Bimota DB7

2009 Bimota DB7

2009 Bimota DB7

2009 Bimota DB7

2009 Bimota DB7

2009 Bimota DB7

2009 Bimota DB7

2009 Bimota DB7

2009 Bimota DB7

2009 Bimota DB7