Laverda Montjuïc Mk2

When you bought a Laverda Montjuïc Mk2, you got what it said on the tin. Well, on the side-panel, at any rate. Montjuïc Park was a mountain-based motor racing circuit in Barcelona, Spain. A street circuit, that is. Which told you most of what you needed to know about the machine you had just acquired. Conceptually, it modelled the Formula bikes Laverda built for their single-make race series.

Unfortunately, the racing concept was not entirely realised in the roadster. Laverda had enjoyed substantial success at Montjuïc – not least because of the sure-footed handling of their bikes. And – in terms of agility – the Mk2 came close to emulating the track tool’s prowess. That was mainly due to its light weight, tubular-steel frame and Marzocchi suspension. Likewise, Brembo disc brakes helped replicate the racer’s stop-on-a-sixpence precision. Even the high-speed weave – which had plagued the Montjuïc Mk1 – had been seen off by the Mk2’s frame-mounted fairing.

What took the edge off the new Montjuïc was its speed – or lack thereof. As mentioned, the Mk2’s manoeuvrability was razor-sharp. Straight-line speed – not so much. Throttle to the stop, the needle hovered around the 110mph mark. Whilst that was adequate, it hardly set the world alight. Though an ear-splitting exhaust note did what it could to redress the balance. To be fair, the Mk2 was powered by a 497cc parallel twin motor. Hardly cutting edge. Indeed, it ran without air-filtering – which may, in fact, have sped things up a bit! For all that, its racer’s crouch riding position signalled the Mk2’s intent. And the Montjuïc’s high price tag seemed to promise lots of whizz for your lire. Anyway, its relative lack of power was offset by other virtues. It looked Laverda lovely, standing still. And the lines it carved through corners would have made Michelangelo weep. Just that pesky top speed stat let the side down a tad. Other than that, the Montjuïc Mk2 made hay in the Spanish sunshine. Before flying back to Breganze, Italy … at 110mph!

Bimota DB1

The Bimota DB1 was a double dose of Italiana. It was the first Bimota to feature a Ducati engine. So, the DB1 combined a deliciously torquey powerplant with the kind of looks that could only have been modelled in Italy. Bimota was based in Rimini. Unsurprisingly, then, the DB1 sold well. It came at a critical juncture for the stylish Italian specials builder. Design-driven to its core, business was never Bimota’s strong suit. Indeed – prior to the DB1’s ’86 release – the firm was in financial decline. Thanks to the new bike, though, Bimota’s downward spiral was stemmed – and even reversed. Crucially – along with its long list of virtues – the DB1 was reasonably priced.

The Ducati factor in the DB1 was its desmo-valved engine. A sohc 90° V-twin, the 750cc motor made 76bhp. Built more for mid-range grunt than throttle-to-the-stop velocity, top speed for the DB1 was 130mph. In superbike terms, that stat was not too much to write home about. The way it was reached, however, most certainly was. Suffice to say, acceleration was fierce. As well as its long-stroke motor, the rest of the DB1’s tech-spec further fueled its free-revving fire. For a start, it weighed a skeletal 354lb. Plus, Federico Martini – Bimota’s lead engineer – blended the fairing, tank and seat into a single, streamlined shape.

Acrobatic handling was only icing on the DB1 cake. Suspension was by Marzocchi. Brakes by Brembo. Pirelli brought low-profile tyres to the DB1’s bend-swinging party. They were fitted to nimble 16″ wheels. The whole bike was comfortabe and compact. It is true that at peak revs, the new Bimota was not the most blistering bike on the block. But, for its overall strengths – and the Italianate cut of its jib – the DB1 takes its place at the Superbikes top table!

Honda VFR750R-RC30

In many ways, Honda’s VFR750R – better known as the RC30 – was the ultimate ‘race replica’. Visually, at least, there was little to distinguish it from the RVF 750 racer, on which it was based. Technically, too, it was along the same lines – allowing for the fact that no roadster is ever really going to compare with its competitive sibling. The RC30’s exhaust note, for instance, could never compete with that of the racer’s super-light, free-flowing set-up. Not if it was going to make it through the next MOT, anyway!

Nor, of course, was the RC30’s V4 engine going to be anything like on a par with the race version. That said, it still managed to output 112bhp – at 11,000rpm. Which gave a top speed of 153mph. More than enough for most wannabe GP stars! In like manner, the RC30’s handling was not going to get close to that of the apex-slashing track tool on which it was modelled. Again, though, optimal tuning of its suspension enabled a passable emulation of the race god of your choice!

American rider Fred Merkel took two consecutive WSB titles on the RC30 race bike – in ’88 and ’89. Briton Carl Fogarty did the same in motorcycling’s Formula One series. Endurance racing, too, was meat and drink to the RVF 750. So far as Honda were concerned, the RC30 was first and foremost a racer. There was little doubt, though, that the roadster benefited hugely from it. Certainly – with its low-slung front end, aluminium twin-spar frame and single-sided swingarm – the street bike looked seriously stunning. Honda’s commitment to the project, then, had paid double dividends. On both road and track, the VFR750R-RC30 did the business – in every sense of the word!

Kawasaki Z1100R

Over the years, many a motorcyclist has had a special place in their heart for a Kawasaki ‘Z’. None more so than the Z1100R! No flimflam or finery – just straightforward, sit up and beg-style solidity. Highish handlebars, stepped-down seat and anatomically-correct footrests. In other words – a normal riding position. ‘The way bikes used to be’, you might hear it said. And – after a hundred plus miles in the saddle – who could argue?

Not that that should suggest any kind of staidness! There was little sober or solemn about the 1100R. It was, after all, inspired by a US Superbike racer. The one on which Eddie Lawson won consecutive titles in the early Eighties. Hopefully – from a Kawasaki marketing viewpoint – some of the spirit of the race bike rubbed off on the roadster. Certainly, it was far from unknown for an 1100R rider to feel like Eddie Lawson! And – to be fair – the Z’s 140mph top whack was more than enough for most mere mortals. Especially when the high-speed wobble kicked in – on account of the bike’s bikini-type fairing. The R’s 1,089cc engine made 114bhp. Thankfully – with all that power to play with – the bike was blessed with good roadholding. Squat dimensions helped – as did Kayaba remote-reservoir rear shocks.

Albeit in a no-frills way, the Z1100R was still a stylish motorcycle. Few paintjobs are as emotive as those of Kawasaki’s ‘green meanies’. Of course, green bikes are considered unlucky by some. That said, owners of spanking-new 1100Rs were obviously prepared to take a chance. For the superstitious, though, other colours were also available. Launched in ’84, the Z might be said to have straddled classic and race-rep. To wit, comfortable ergonomics – plus searing speed and cute handling. Fans would argue, then, that with a lime-green Kawasaki Z1100R, you got the lot. Now, that can hardly be considered unlucky!

Ducati 851

The Ducati 851 was a slow burner. It took a refit for it to really kick into gear. Not that the first model did not have anything going for it. The 851cc engine was sound. Styling was suitably dynamic. Especially the three-tone paint job – in Italian red, white and green. The issue with the first version was its handling. Due to a supply-chain glitch, the bike had been released with 16″ wheels – smaller than planned. The problem was that they were too good! The handling was more nimble, but there was less room for error. When it came to quick cornering – without a high degree of accuracy – the small wheels were liable to ‘tuck under’. A flexible ladder frame did what it could to keep the rubber side down – but there was a limit!

So, Ducati 851 – take 2! This time, a set of 17″ wheels were in situ. Things were looking up already … literally for some owners! The most obvious mod was the paintwork. Gone were the tricolore hues of the original. The new bike’s livery was still Italianate – but now it was fire-engine red. While there had been cosmetic and cycle part changes, the motor was untouched. Indeed, it had been universally praised. It took Ducati a year to complete the makeover.

The 851 was the start of a new superbike era for Ducati. Its V-twin engine was now liquid-cooled – and came with 4 valves per cylinder. Desmodromic valves, in Ducati’s case. Its unique set-up saw valves opened and closed by cams alone – as opposed to the standard cams and springs system. Springs are all well and good – but are prone to bounce and go out of adjustment. Its ‘desmo’ valve-train had long been a feather in Ducati’s cap, powerplant-wise. Plus, Massimo Bordi – Ducati’s lead engineer – added Weber-Marelli fuel injection to the mix. As a result, torque was significantly increased. At the top-end of the rev-range, 104bhp was now on tap. That meant the 851 maxed out at 145mph. Souped-up Marzocchi shocks sorted the suspension. With the road bike seen to, it was time to call the race department. Three WSB titles on the trot for Ducati duly followed – courtesy of riders Raymond Roche and Doug Polen. Truly, Ducati’s 851 roadster – and its race-going counterpart – were on top of the superbike world!

Bimota HB2

The HB2 was the second offering from Bimota – the radical Italian bike builder. The HB1 had set the template. Massimo Tamburini – Bimota’s chief designer – totalled a Honda CB750, at Misano racetrack. Tamburini managed to salvage its four-cylinder engine from the wreckage. He then wrapped it in Bimota bodywork. The resulting HB1 – Honda/Bimota – hybrid became the first of the firm’s stylish, trend-setting roadsters.

The HB2 upped the ante, power-wise, from the HB1. The new bike sourced its motor from Honda’s CB900F. 95bhp was duly available. And the Bimota was lighter than the big Honda CB. It weighed just 441lb. State of the art suspension was then fitted. At the front, Ceriani teles were synced with a progressive-rate monoshock at the back. A tubular steel/aluminium plate frame added still more stability to the mix. With a 138mph top speed – and high-class handling – the HB2 etched a technical benchmark. Bimota had taken the superbike fight to its Oriental rivals. Pretty impressive from a small-scale manufacturer – certainly as compared with the Japanese ‘big four’.

Not that the Bimota challenge came as a surprise to Honda, Suzuki, Kawasaki and Yamaha. In no particular order, by the way! After all, Bimota had been around the GP scene a while by then. In the showrooms, their unique selling-point was super-cool Italian looks – plus a Japanese engine! Sadly – even for a bespoke builder like Bimota – less than 200 HB2s were sold. The HB3 came to the rescue – to some extent, at least. It sealed the deal on the Honda/Bimota alliance. Like the HB2, the HB3 upgraded the package. This time, the Honda CB1100R engine was used. By that point, the Japanese marques were leading the pack again, in terms of overall performance. Notwithstanding – with their HB2 – Bimota had blazed a trail for beautiful, brain-bending motorbikes!

BMW K1

Back in the day, BMW bikes were borderline staid. That all changed with the K1. Design-led flair and panache were dripping off it. The K1 looked the absolute business – and BMW did plenty of it, as a result!

In engineering terms, the K1 was straight out of the top drawer. That said, BMW know no other way! Suspension was set up per the Paralever system – specially formulated for shaft-drive power trains. The K-series engine featured four horizontally-opposed cylinders – the flat layout having been a BMW trademark since the year dot. This time around, though, it was fuel-injected. Cue 100bhp. And a top speed of 145mph.

The K1 was stylistically stunning. Paint and bodywork blended into a cool mélange. Cool was not a word which had been overused for BMW, in the past … at least, not so far as its motorcycle department was concerned! The K1, though, was a visual harbinger of ‘Beemers’ to come. Indeed, BMW would go on to produce some of the best-looking bikes on the planet. Of course, Teutonic technical class came as standard!

Yamaha FZR1000

Genesis is one heck of a tag to give a motorbike. But, that is what the the Yamaha FZR1000 was dubbed, when introduced in ’87. No pressure, then! In the beginning, there had been the FZR1000 race bike. That begat the Genesis roadster … which multiplied in great profusion. The first follow-up model was the Exup – or Exhaust Ultimate Powervalve. By that point, the FZR1000 was already selling in shedloads.

The FZR topped out at a dizzying 168mph. Output was 140bhp. It tipped the scales at a scant 461lb dry. Upside-down forks, on later models, reduced unsprung weight – and thereby improved handling. A 17″ front wheel – and radial tyre – helped raise the roadholding bar. At the back, a rock-solid swingarm pivoted on an aluminium twin-spar Deltabox frame. The engine’s electronic Exup system extended the FZR’s powerband into the middle of the rev range.

The FZR was one sweetly-styled sports bike. The twists and turns of its bodywork went every which way. Rather than being a cause of confusion, though, in the case of the Genesis, it worked. With the FZR1000, then, Yamaha gave a blank sheet to its engineers/designers. They seized the invitation to move motorbikes into new territory!

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