MV Agusta F4 1000 Tamburini Superbike Review

If the designer put his name on it, it must be good

MV Agusta F4 1000 Tamburini on-road action

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MV Agusta F4 1000 Tamburini.Jeff Allen

Set aside normal concerns. Disregard your financial status, ignore your personal comfort, forget about your future goals and sacrifice your retirement. You must have this motorcycle.

Are we kidding?

Yes.

But only a little. There is a lot you can buy for $42,695. None of it is as beautiful or exciting as the MV Agusta F4 1000 Tamburini, a very special, limited-production version of the F4 1000 S, which itself already is a very special, limited-production motorcycle. Parent company Cagiva will no doubt make as many standard F4 1000s as can be sold, but only 300 Tamburinis will hit the roads of the world, with 59 coming stateside. If you want one, pick up the phone now. You may already be too late.

We who have been fortunate enough to ride this bike have seriously considered opening our wallets and busying Cagiva USA phone lines. Because not only is this bike exceptionally fine to look at, it is awesome to ride.

Named for MV design chief Massimo Tamburini, this bike is what the most exotic Bimotas should have been, and perhaps it really is the truest expression of what Tamburini (the "ta" on the end of "Bimo") was trying to do back in the old days. Or maybe it is the natural evolution of his last great work, the Ducati 916. You may have heard of that one.

Whatever the case, this bike that bears his name is, according to Tamburini as quoted in the brochure, “My dream. My bike.”

MV Agusta F4 1000 Tamburini static rear view

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Lovely quad-outlet exhaust, isn’t it? Okay, so the seat gets a little warm, but (hopefully!) you’ll never ground the pipes… Pictured are the RG3 track-only performance silencers included in the $42,695 purchase price. In the tradition of other super-expensive, limited-production Italian sportbikes such as the Ducati 999R, the Tamburini is homologated for World Superbike competition.Jay McNally

Mr. T, head of the Cagiva Research Center that acts as MV’s design house, continues: “The dream of every design engineer is to come up with the most beautiful sports motorcycle in the world, then turn it into the fastest, most exclusive, sought-after and powerful on the market.”

Few would argue its beauty. And even if you never rode the Tamburini, looking at it might be enough. Gold-toned mesh covers fairing vent holes, while forged-aluminum wheels are gold-anodized to continue the theme, just as with the six-piston billet Nissin front brake calipers. The low-friction titanium-nitride coating on the 50mm Marzocchi inverted fork sliders jives nicely with the gold-anodized uppers. Aside from the fuel tank, which is steel, the Tamburini’s bodywork is nearly all carbon-fiber, finished to a very high standard. A nice touch is the F4 and CRC logo work on the fairing sides that lets the c-f weave “peek” through the high-gloss paint. Who needs decals when the underlying material itself is so nice you simply leave paint off?

“Man, that bike looks good backlit,” remarked one staffer as the sun set behind the MV, to which another replied, “That’s because it makes its own light.”

Despite the pleasing shapes into which they are formed, the materials themselves have intrinsic appeal. Take the magnesium swingarm, frame sideplates and lower triple-clamp, or the TIG-welded chrome-moly trellis upper frame, the aforementioned carbon-fiber bodywork and machined billet aluminum pieces sprinkled around the bike. Net weight loss from use of these fine materials is 18 pounds, for a 428-pound dry weight.

MV Agusta F4 1000 Tamburini footpegs

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Footpegs are machined from billet aluminum and adjustable for height. Despite carbon-fiber heat shield, your right foot never will be cold.Courtesy of MV Agusta

The alcantara (suede-like) seat is in an appropriate brick-red hue, and when your ass isn’t smiling broadly from the thrilling riding experience, it will hate you for putting it in this seat.

No, comfort wasn’t part of Massimo’s dream, nor should it have been. There is no doubt this is one serious performance motorcycle. The boss even yelped when he hopped on for his first ride. The seat is high at 32.4 inches, the clip-ons low, and even though the billet footpegs have a very trick eccentric height adjustment, they go only from high to higher, in infinite increments. The mirrors are not of much use. We can hear you tearing up your check now…

Certain people may need never to suffer the pleasure of riding, for the Tamburini is gorgeous enough at a standstill that they may be willing to buy, simply to be able look at it at their leisure.

But the real art is on the road, unfolding beautifully at speed.

This was somewhat of a surprise. To be honest, while we didn't expect disappointment, riding experience with "super-premium" sportbikes of the past has taught us to temper our enthusiasm. Honda's exotic and expensive RC45 felt special to ride and had some excellent qualities, but its performance in street trim wasn't particularly remarkable. The same went for the Yamaha YZF-R7 superbike homologation special. Race-kit parts were the only way to unleash the true glory and potential, but good luck having the required racing résumé or enough money to get them. Bimotas were always wonderful, but in our last full test of the Suzuki GSX-R1100-powered DB6 in 1996, we essentially called it a $23,000 kit bike, and that's exactly what it was.

MV Agusta F4 1000 Tamburini triple clamp

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Öhlins steering damper features wide adjustment range. Oval plaque above steering head is gold-plated and engraved with the bike?s individual production number.Courtesy of MV Agusta

What is so great about the Tamburini is that it is a finished motorcycle. There are no rough edges that need smoothing, no special parts for sale only to racers to uncork some hidden potential.

It’s got all the fancy bits, right out of the box. And even the box is fancy, a special reusable shipping crate that can be easily broken down and stored. Also included are a rear work stand, bike cover, workshop handgrip covers (don’t want any greasy fingerprints), and a numbered certificate of authenticity signed by Tamburini himself. Additionally, there are race-only “RG3” stainless-steel silencers, a titanium mid-pipe and ECU chip.

These latter pieces were naturally already installed on our testbike. We have come to expect nothing less from Italian companies. Despite being billed as racing parts, the quad-tip silencers have a mellow, good sound and are not overly loud. Fuel delivery from the reprogrammed chip is excellent, the best we’ve experience with an MV. There is a slight “fluffiness” just off idle, particularly when conditions are very hot, but other than that, this engine runs beautifully. Under most conditions, the four-valve-per-cylinder 996cc powerplant usually just “turns on,” as in lights after the crankshaft has hardly twitched a rotational degree.

The bottom end is the same as the 1000 S right down to the transmission gear ratios, while the cylinder head has hand-finished ports to ensure excellent flow. Valve sizes are unchanged, while intake and exhaust camshafts have more lift and duration than those of the 1000 S. The compression ratio is bumped a point to 13.0:1. But what truly sets the Tamburini’s engine apart is the manipulation it undergoes to improve both peak power and rideablility. The so-called Torque Shift System uses dual-mode intake runners to broaden torque and increase top-end power on acceleration (see sidebar on next page), while the Engine Braking System controls the engine on overrun.

MV Agusta F4 1000 Tamburini close-up action

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MV Agusta F4 1000 Tamburini.Jeff Allen

The latter works through an ostensibly simple air bleed on the engine side of the number 2 cylinder’s throttle butterfly. The ECU controls an air valve and also delivers a small amount of fuel via the standard injector on deceleration that gives the engine a throaty, staccato growl when you chop the throttle and provides just enough horsepower to overcome a significant portion of the engine and drivetrain’s internal friction and high compression. And while this technique does sound pretty simple, how well it works hints to some refined programming. Its function is better than a slipper clutch and stability while using the excellent brakes is superb. Even in normal street riding there are benefits–when you roll off the throttle, the front end doesn’t load as much in corners, keeping steering light and neutral. At the same time, there is “enough” engine braking, and the system works so transparently that the bike never feels like it is freewheeling.

The TSS worked similarly well. Torque delivery and bottom-end power is excellent, while peak output on the CW dyno was an impressive 154.4 horsepower, 3 more than the 1000 S. The 78 foot-pound peak torque was down 3 ft.-lbs., although the curve is more broad and peak comes 500 rpm sooner. Dragstrip testing conducted in extremely hot weather yielded a 10.22-second run with an excellent terminal speed of 142 mph. Road Test Editor Don Canet thought the E.T. could have been better, but there was some clutch slip in first gear, likely a result of the hard early life we gave the bike. Top-gear roll-on numbers were exceptional.

MV Agusta F4 1000 Tamburini static front view

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Sensual shapes and exotic materials set the Tamburini apart. Front axle carriers and brake calipers are machined from billet for maximum rigidity, while lower triple-clamp, frame sideplates and gorgeous single-sided swingarm are lightweight magnesium. And check out the carbon-fiber weave on the fairing panels.Jay McNally

An interesting side note: Acceleration wanes as the revs pass through 9000 rpm, then the engine comes alive again at 10,250 rpm. Testers felt this on the road, and the dyno revealed the transition during runs. Makes perfect sense, because the TSS intake horns lift at 10,000 revs, confirmed  Ingenere Andrea Goggi, chief engine man at the factory whose previous experience includes working on Cagiva’s 500cc two-stroke Grand Prix racebikes in the late ’80s and early ’90s. “Goggi is the one who puts the valves in the heart that powers MV Agustas,” said a company rep. He’s probably also the one who ensured that the six-speed cassette gearbox shifts like that of a lovingly prepared racebike.

As for the chassis, the Tamburini has the heartening stability of the best Ducatis, but with a nimble ease in direction changes that no Bologna bike can match. Feedback is unparalleled, and the adjustable Öhlins steering damper hardly seems necessary. Other than cranking it up as a security blanket during the 179-mph top speed runs, we kept it at the minimum setting.

Damping rates front and rear are what you would expect, as in firm. The suspension is fully adjustable, and even more fully adjustable than usual: The rear Sachs shock features high- and low-speed compression and rebound damping screws with numbered indexing for ease of use. Rear-spring preload features a threaded adjuster. Really, the only fault we can find with the spec is that the shock uses a steel spring rather than one of titanium…

MV Agusta F4 1000 Tamburini Sachs shock

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A signature piece is the Formula One-inspired Sachs reservoirless rear shock. Quartet of easy-to-access adjusters controls high- and low-speed damping on compression ("Bump") and rebound.Courtesy of MV Agusta

Other than this egregious oversight, the Tamburini is quite successful as an overall package–there are brief moments when the bike is leaned far over and you are rolling on the gas at 7000 rpm that $40K doesn’t seem an unreasonable price to pay.

So while a YZF-R1 is more plush, a ZX-10R more brutal, a CBR1000RR more polished and a 999 more visceral, the Tamburini brings more of each of these elements to the table in one highly integrated, purposeful-yet-beautiful package. Sure, you could almost buy all four of those bikes for the price of the MV, but it wouldn’t be nearly as convenient.

This is serious money for a motorcycle, yes, but the Tamburini excels in both performance and aesthetic terms in the same way that Ferraris do. The difference is that there are a lot more motorcycle enthusiasts who can afford this MV than car crazies who could make the $650,000 nut on an Enzo, the finest Ferrari.

Of course, you should factor into the Tamburini’s purchase price the cost of building a museum-quality garage in which to showcase it. Just promise you’ll never leave the bike parked for very long.

MV Agusta F4 1000 Tamburini studio side view

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MV Agusta F4 1000 TamburiniCourtesy of MV Agusta
SPECIFICATIONS
GENERAL
LIST PRICE $42,695
MANUFACTURER Cagiva USA
WARRANTY 24 mo./unlimited mi.
ENGINE & DRIVETRAIN
ENGINE liquid-cooled, four-stroke inline Four
BORE & STROKE 76.2 x 55.9mm
DISPLACEMENT 996cc
COMPRESSION RATIO 13.0:1
VALVE TRAIN dohc, four valves per cylinder, shim adjustment
VALVE ADJUST INTERVALS 7500 mi.
CARBURETION fuel-injection
OIL CAPACITY 3.7 qt.
ELECTRIC POWER 650w
BATTERY 12v, 9ah
CHASSIS
WEIGHT:
TANK EMPTY 428 lb.
TANK FULL 461 lb.
FUEL CAPACITY 5.5 gal.
WHEELBASE 55.4 in.
RAKE / TRAIL 24.5° / 3.9 in.
SEAT HEIGHT 32.4 in.
GROUND CLEARANCE 4.5 in.
GVWR 736 lb.
LOAD CAPACITY (TANK FULL) 275 lb.
SUSPENSION & TIRES
FRONT SUSPENSION:
MANUFACTURER Marzocchi
TUBE DIAMETER 50mm
CLAIMED WHEEL TRAVEL 4.7 in.
ADJUSTMENTS compression and rebound damping, spring preload
REAR SUSPENSION:
MANUFACTURER Sachs
TYPE single shock
CLAIMED WHEEL TRAVEL 4.7 in.
ADJUSTMENTS compression and rebound damping, spring preload
TIRES:
FRONT 120/70ZR17 Michelin Pilot Power
REAR 190/50ZR17 Michelin Pilot Power
PERFORMANCE
HORSEPOWER 154.5 @ 11,250 rpm
TORQUE 77.9 @ 8700 rpm
1/4 MILE 10.22 sec. @ 142.32 mph
0-30 MPH 1.2 sec.
0-60 MPH 2.8 sec.
0-90 MPH 4.7 sec.
0-100 MPH 5.4 sec.
TOP GEAR TIME TO SPEED:
40-60 MPH 2.9 sec.
60-80 MPH 2.7 sec.
MEASURED TOP SPEED 179 mph
ENGINE SPEED @ 60 MPH 4029 rpm
FUEL MILEAGE
HIGH/LOW/AVERAGE 32/24/27 mpg
AVG. RANGE INC. RESERVE 149 mi.
BRAKING DISTANCE
FROM 30 MPH 30 ft.
FROM 60 MPH 126 ft.
SPEEDOMETER ERROR
30 MPH INDICATED 29 mph
60 MPH INDICATED 56 mph
MV Agusta F4 1000 Tamburini engine details

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MV Agusta F4 1000 Tamburini engine.Courtesy of MV Agusta

Torque Shift System

Variable-length intakes such as the MV Tamburini’s Torque Shift System make us think of Formula One or of the last of the racing Mercedes 300SLRs, but the concept is useful wherever engine torque must be maximized across a range of rpm.

First, some physics. When a piston drops on its intake stroke, a deep vacuum of about half an atmosphere is immediately created in the intake tract. This propagates from the piston crown toward the intake’s open end–the bellmouth–at the local speed of sound (fast!). When it reaches the end, atmospheric pressure rushes in to fill that partial vacuum, creating a reflected pressure pulse that crashes back down the intake pipe as a wave toward the valves. If our wave returns to the cylinder just before the intake valves close, the pressure in that wave will be added to the pressure in the cylinder, making a denser charge that equals higher combustion pressure and increased torque.

Often there is not room on a motorcycle for intake pipes of the necessary length, so the designer will allow the intake wave to make two or more trips up and down a shorter intake pipe. Each reflection of the waves loses some of its intensity, but compromises are the engineer’s stock in trade.

By using an intake pipe of ideal length for the desired rpm, a torque gain of the order of 10 percent may be achieved–but only across a limited rpm range. To have both a robust midrange (the Tamburini's peak torque on the CW dyno comes at 8700 rpm) and strong top end calls for having two different intake lengths. This is just what TSS delivers. The MV's four throttle bodies have short, permanent bellmouths suited to top-end power, but a set of moveable extension bellmouths is carried on a pair of linear bearings. Below 10,000 rpm, these extensions are in place, creating a longer intake tract that boosts torque. Above 10,000 revs, a Pierburg pneumatic actuator (run on engine vacuum) snaps the extensions up and out of the way, shortening the intake tract to boost breathing and thus power on the top end. This is a two-state system–it is not progressive–as the extensions are moved in or out of use within 0.15 of a second.

Because the change of intake length is carried out at an rpm between peak torque and peak power, where the engine’s torque is less dependent upon intake length, torque at the “shift” point does not change greatly.

A similar two-state variable intake length system was used in Superbike racing by Honda on later RC45s, but this does not violate MV's claim that TSS is a first for a production motorcycle. –Kevin Cameron

EDITOR'S NOTES:

DON CANET, Road Test Editor
I've ridden just about every sportbike made for the last 15 years, including some pretty exotic models along the way. Perhaps all this exposure to the finest performance bikes has simply left me a little jaded. Not that I've come to believe that performance and style can't get any better; rather, I've built a wall around my heart to avoid becoming too emotionally attached, as these fine machines inevitably must be returned to their rightful owners.

In the case of the MV Tamburini, I'll be relieved to see it go. At $43 large, this Italian beauty is priced well outside my comfort zone and puts me on edge when simply rolling it around the garage or unloading it from the Cycle World box van–let alone actually riding it!

I’d say it really boils down to this: If you truly feel you’re secure enough to date a supermodel, then perhaps you’ve got the right financial and mental makeup to own and operate an MV Tamburini. I’m fine just flirting with the idea and lusting from afar.

MARK HOYER, Feature Editor
I have a hard time resisting anything at all outside of the mechanical norm, the less practical the better. Last week while visiting the March Field Air Museum, I stood looking an airworthy 1930 Consolidated PT-6A biplane once used by the Army as a trainer, and thought to myself, "I must have a biplane!" Been in a mental tailspin ever since. Never mind the '66 Jaguar Mk. 2 restoration, the forthcoming Laverda RGS project and many other exquisite oddities in my little garage.

Certainly this Tamburini is no oddity, but it has such beautiful form and fine materials that it is very much out of the ordinary. Riding it was amazing, looking at it pure pleasure.

I’m just heartily, happily relieved that Massimo Tamburini, Andrea Goggi and the rest of the MV crew did such a great job making the way the bike rides live up to its aesthetic glory.

The only reason I can resist the Tamburini’s exquisiteness is because it works so well, and doesn’t need an ounce of work.

DAVID EDWARDS, Editor-in-Chief
I first met Massimo Tamburini in 1985 in Italy. Bimota was going down for (I think) the first time and he'd just been hired by Cagiva to design bikes around the Ducati V-Twin. Yet in the corner of his studio stood a Yamaha FJ1100. "I love the sound of a Four," he said, and I could tell he'd already worked out what a proper four-cylinder sportbike should look like. Glad you got your wish with MV, signore. Problem is I don't fit your bike. Imagine a $43K, carbon-fiber, quad-piped wedgie on wheels and you'll understand my predicament. Not your fault. Between my broadening beam out back and my, er, business up front, it's just plain painful for me to ride your namesake, real bed-o'-nails material. As downsizing the dinkel is out of the question (believe me!), the diet starts immediately. Besides, by going on a strict bread-and-water regimen, I'll be able to set money aside for Dave's Tamburini 1000 Acquisition Fund, due to mature sometime in the year 2015. Hey, does MV take trade-ins?

MV Agusta F4 1000 Tamburini wheelie action

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MV Agusta F4 1000 Tamburini action.Jay McNally
embossed leather box certificate

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For your library: An embossed leather box opens like a book to reveal a certificate authenticating the bike as one of only 300 produced worldwide, signed by designer Massimo Tamburini. Material? Carbon-fiber, of course!Courtesy of MV Agusta
MV Agusta F4 1000 Tamburini studio side view

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MV Agusta F4 1000 Tamburini studio.Courtesy of MV Agusta