News from the EICMA Motorcycle Show 2022 in Milan is coming in hot, and the motorcycles are absolutely fascinating. We have another new unveiling, and this one has a design so far out that it’s hard to gauge how big it even is. The Bimota KB4-RC is a café racer for the future, with massive ducts that look like they belong on a fighter jet. And it’s actually a production machine!
Bimota has always been a quirky name in the motorcycle industry. It was founded in Italy in 1966 by Giuseppe Morri, Massimo Tamburini, and Valerio Bianchi. As Fast Bikes Magazines writes, the three were all friends partnered up in their HVAC business and avid motorcycle riders. Tamurini even had experience in building a motorcycle. The name Bimota comes from the first two letters of each of their last names combined together.
As the story goes, Tamburini crashed his Honda CB750 Four at a race in 1972, notes Bennetts BikeSocial. Coming home with broken ribs, he came to the conclusion that Honda’s frame wasn’t good enough for the power. Thus, he decided to build a new frame set for the CB750. Tamburini’s new frame cut the CB750’s weight by a whole 110 pounds. This motorcycle, called the HB1, planted the seeds for Bimota’s future, and in 1973, Bimota opened its first motorcycle factory.
At first, Bimota was an aftermarket frame supplier. You’d buy the motorcycle of your choosing then buy the Bimota kit to convert your bike into a Bimota. The company’s machines were so good that in 1975, Bimota expanded into a factory ten times larger to satisfy demand. A couple of years later, Bimota launched the KB1.
This motorcycle starts as a Kawasaki Z900 or Z1000, then gets converted into a Bimota. The end result KB1 weighed 88 fewer pounds than the base Kawasaki, which is said to increase top speed by 10 mph.
During this era, Bennetts BikeSocial writes, Bimota provided frames and accessories for the Honda CB750 Four, Kawasaki Z1, Suzuki GSX750, and Suzuki GSX1100. In 1983, Tamburini left Bimota, getting replaced by former Ducati engineer Federico Martini. Martini reportedly designed two successful motorcycles and doubled production from 600 to 1,200 units, but there were headwinds ahead.
At the time, Bimota was working on another project. In the early 1980s, Pier Luigi Marconi and Roberto Ugolini had an idea for a new kind of a motorcycle front wheel. The front wheel in this concept is mounted to a swingarm with a shock and an internal pivot point. The idea of a hub-center steering is to split steering, braking, and suspension functions, rather than have them all together like in a typical motorcycle fork.
Bimota’s end result was the Tesi, the motorcycle that Bimota is perhaps most famous for. The prototype made its debut in Milan in 1983, but as Fast Bikes Magazines notes, it took Bimota until 1990 to get it on the road.
Unfortunately, the motorcycle was innovative, but expensive. Bimota eventually went bankrupt in 2001 after the company burned cash on new ideas like the aforementioned Tesi and the V Due. Bimota was saved a couple of years later, and has experienced a rollercoaster of events since.
It’s still around in part thanks to 49 percent ownership from Kawasaki. It’s still making crazy motorcycles, and there’s even a single distributor here in America. That brings us to the present day, when in 2021, Bimota unveiled the KB4.
This motorcycle doesn’t have any wild ideas going on like the Tesi. Instead, it’s a modern machine with classic, yet striking styling. The KB4 is a blend of modern and vintage touches from tip to tail. As Ultimate Motorcycling reports, it’s supposed to look like something from the 1970s while retaining the performance Bimotas are known for.
When that motorcycle was released at EICMA 2021, the company also showed off a prototype a café racer version. Now, the production version is here. The KB4-RC, which Bimota says means “Race Café” and calls a café racer, arrived at EICMA 2022 in the flesh, and it looks like nothing else.
Right out of the gate, you’ll probably notice the block that flanks the chassis and bisects the upper and lower portion of the motorcycle. This alone is something pretty far out that you won’t really see on other bikes. That’s actually a pair of massive air ducts.
Look at it from the front and these ducts somewhat resemble the intakes of a Lockheed Martin F-35 fighter jet. The ducts feed air to the radiator, which is located between the seat and the rear wheel. Those ducts go all of the way through, too, with exits at the motorcycle’s tail.
This design seems to be breaking my brain, because I can’t quite grasp its proportions. Without another motorcycle for scale, it’s hard to make out just how big or small it is. It’s sort of all over the place, and I actually love it for that.
Having the radiator back there is neat, too, as it makes the motorcycle look like it’s air-cooled. But there is modern power housed in its trellis frame. Power comes from a 1,043cc inline-four derived from the Kawasaki Ninja. It’s making 142 HP and 81.8 lb-ft torque in this guise. Performance data hasn’t been published, but given its 412-pound dry weight, I’d expect it to be properly fast.
There’s more good stuff, too. Front and rear suspension consists of an Öhlins 43mm FG R&T NIX 30 fork up front and an Öhlins TTX 36 monoshock in back. These parts are mounted to a billet swingarm, and the KB4-RC rides on forged-aluminum wheels. Braking is taken care of with twin 320 mm Brembo discs up front featuring Brembo Stylema four-piston calipers. A single 220 mm disc with a two-piston caliper brings up the rear. Braking is assisted with ABS.
Perhaps the most fascinating part is that Bimota does distribute its motorcycles in the United States through Bimota Spirit in Raleigh, North Carolina. Bimotas are highly exclusive motorcycles, so I wouldn’t expect getting one to be easy, or cheap. Pricing hasn’t been released, and since Bimota builds motorcycles for each client, will likely vary. To illustrate how these machines are more boutique than mainstream: the regular KB4 is known to cost about $40,000 in Japan. So, if you can get your hands on one, it’ll for sure be one of the most distinctive motorcycles in the entire country.
Usually happy to learn new things, always kind of assumed (hoped) a Bimota was some sort of exotic motorcycle with two motors. Feeling a little let down by reality today.
It looks like a Husqvarna Vitpilen slapped on with a bad body kit
If people think this is the ugliest Bimota or some affront to the name, I regretfully introduce you the the Mantra..
Hub centered steering is insanely clever and has a few tricks up its sleeve I think are worth mentioning.
1. The rake (steering angle) can not only be made adjustable but doesn’t affect trail, so you can have a front wheel with a low rake angle (fast turning) and “long” trail (straight line stability), two things that are mutually exclusive (or inverse) in traditional fork suspensions. Race replica bikes have low rake angles so the can be “flicked” but then can be unstable at high speeds or “twitchy”. Cruiser’s have long trail so very stable but are lazy in the corners.
2. Brake dive, hard braking compresses the front suspension causing all kinds of nasty effects, lots of things have been tried to prevent this, most common was using the brake fluid pressure to close damper valves in the fork. However in hub centered bikes the bike has a lower (or zero) tendency to dive because of the tie rod set up.
3. The steering geometry is stable, in fork type suspensions the geometry changes as the suspension compresses, 10/10th type changes to be sure but they are there.
4. Stiffness, no getting around it, even though USD forks made a huge difference in fork stiffness, the front swing arm pound for pound is better.
Down sides? yeah.. weight, over all weight can be higher, and I’m just guessing the unsprung weight is probably higher. The big one is usually the steering feel, since the input has to go through a few pivots and bushings you can lose some steering feedback.
I’m sure it’ll look great once my graphics card finishes rendering it.
If I was in the market for a Bimota, it would have to be the Mantra – a somewhat bonkers bit of styling where the fairing around the headlight flowed back around the forks to incorporate the tank in one long sweep of panel, quad exhausts despite having a Ducati V-twin engine, and a wooden dash (meant to be real burlwood, but swapped for fake timber veneer for production). I worked with a guy who bought one of the first generation Mantras when they were new, and it looked NOTHING like any other motorbike on the road at the time.
I remember at the time reading UK motorbike magazine articles on the V-Due and loving the idea of it, being addicted to 2-strokes (even though I could clearly never afford a V-Due), and then seeing article after article taking about all the trouble Bimota were having getting them to work properly.
“In 1983, Tamburini left Bimota, getting replaced by former Ducati engineer Federico Martini.”
But Bimota didn’t change their name to Bimoma? Ha.
Certainly a striking looking motorcycle, such a damn shame about all the narrow-minded haters ragging on its looks, as goodness knows it’s often worthwhile to try something new as otherwise we just stagnate…
Bimota has long been a (minor) heartbreak for me. When I first started reading about them in the 1980’s, they were clearly brilliant for addressing everything that was pretty inadequate about most motorcycles at the time – chassis stiffness, curb weight, weight centralization, braking, suspension quality, materials quality. And they did so using what was then cutting-edge technologies – trellis frames, parts milled from billet aluminum, full race-inspired fairings. And the resulting machines were astonishing for their time.
The thing that gets me is that, in many ways they were undone by teaching the big manufacturers how to do it right. With the first Suzuki GSXR 750 you start to see the major Japanese companies starting to implement the Bimota playbook, and then improve on it with things like large section aluminum frames, really sophisticated rear suspension, and increasingly powerful engines. Why spend a fortune on a Bimota when a stock CBR900RR does just as much for about a third the price. Having gamed the big players’ failures and then having seen the big players catch up, I think Bimota was forced into a tough space – which was to innovate well beyond its financial capacity in order to try to offer something new once their prior innovations were adopted by the big four. Hence the ultimately disastrous Tesi and VDue projects. Yet another one of those examples of a small, scrappy, brilliant underdog getting crushed by bigger older competitors adopting the underdog’s innovations.
As for this bike, ….oy….. Sure it is great to ride and clever but, man…..where is the value added? It is just hard to see what space there is for a smaller manufacturer to meaningfully contribute when — on one hand — you have so many large, strong, sophisticated manufacturers who have taken on Bimota’s guiding principles for performance, and — on the other hand — the BikeExif inspired era of customs has pushed aesthetic refinement so astonishingly far. Especially if you are not moving into the EV space.
That’s an excellent take on their demise and makes a ton of sense. Their SB/YB frames focused on that straight line from headstock to swing arm pivot that the OEMs then followed. However I think Mercedes is also right in that attempting their own engine (a 2 stroke 500cc on top of it) probably bled more money than they could sustain.
Fastbikes Magazine back in the 90’s had such a record of crashing test bikes that the manufactorers started making them pay for them. They crashed and totaled and bought a Bimota Tesi
I want a YB4 just because Giancarlo Fallapa rode one.
That is the Ugliest Bimota I have ever seen
Picasso’s long-unfulfilled & seldom known dream of designing a motorcycle has now been accomplished…
Possibly more Salvadore Dali as I think this goes beyond Cubism and touches on Surrealism. But, great that you viewed this as art?
It was a toss-up between Dali & Picasso for the snark, but I chose the latter because the bike looks like two wheels put under “Guernica”. Sure, we can call it “art”, why not…
Ok it’s ugly.That’s one strike
And those duct edges will rub somewhere on the knees or shins, surely.
That part i want to know is why is this nessesary?Do they really gain anything aerodynamically?
I think it looks wonderful!
Signed, Bimota’s Mom.
It looks like they cut a canoe in half lengthwise and glued the pieces to the side of it.
The real Bimota use to make beautiful bikes. This rise-from-the-ashes collaboration with Kawasaki is an abomination.
That’s not a cafe racer
If you define “cafe racer” as an unfaired motorcycle with clip-on handlebars it is.
Sure, it doesn’t have a big fairing, but look at all the other crap bolted to it. It doesn’t fit the aesthetic at all.
The jet fighter-like intakes definitely throw it off, and maybe that tail, too. It seems like there are two themes going on at the same time, and neither is dominant. That’s why it’s puzzling (at least for me) to look at!
Cafe Racers were originally effectively street legal, unfaired race bikes or lookalikes with clip-ons or clubman bars. This fits that mold, not the one of minimalist coffee shop bikes with concealed components that seems to be popular for the last decade or so, they seem to have their own classification and idea of the necessary aesthetic, in my mind much like the folks that mod make “bobbers”.
BITD cafe racers were typically air-cooled, this is not, few bikes are these days, modern interpretations need a radiator, typically stuck behind the front wheel or split to each side. This bike takes another approach with radiator placement, it actually make a lot of sense. I’m not in love with the ducting, but I guess they figure if you’ve got it flaunt it.
There’s a reason why most consumers today would call a an R nineT a cafe racer, but not an S1000R. Same thing with a Thruxton and Street Triple.
This Bimota is not what most people would consider a cafe racer, especially since “naked” or “streetfighter” are much better terms to apply to the bike.
I see it as more of a Street Fighter style like a Triumph Speed Triple. I tend to think of Cafe Racer as an older style bike and often with a bikini fairing like a Dunstall Norton or a BMW R90S.
I reserve judgment on old Honda twins given the hipster treatment.
Agreed on street fighter, but then isn’t “street fighter” just “Café racer” in early 2000’s-ese? Just something to go ripping around cities and not much else?
I don’t think many people would define cafe racers that way, especially since “naked” and “streetfighter” became a bike terms/categories.
If we want to be pedantic; no, it’s not a café racer, nor is is a street fighter. it’s just naked, or standard. Neither café racers nor street fighters can come from a factory by definition, the period definition, but we lose control of these terms once the marketing teams find out about them. A street fighter is a full fairing motorcycle that was wrecked or damaged and rather than spending the insurance money on new bodywork (if there was insurance money), the owner upped the HP or suspension etc. maybe threw high rise handlebars on it, to improve low speed turning, generally some replacement headlight bucket. The French brought it to an art form in the early 90’s, like café racers, they could be simple or completely bonkers.
café racer is the motorcycle equivalent of crossover or SUV or plastic-clad wheel arches. Anything with bent-down handlebars at this point.