Every bike leaves a legacy, but few like the Bimota Vdue 500 are best known for bankrupting a manufacturer
The Bimota Vdue may have been a failure in most aspects of its life, however, it did achieve one notable accomplishment. So unsuccessful was this quite frankly ridiculous folly for parent company Bimota that it actually managed to send the entire company to the receivers. While recovering from some ‘financial issues’ in the mid-1990s, Bimota’s management decided it would be a great idea to build an ‘all Bimota’ bike. Up until this point the company had used engines built by other manufacturers in their products. However, as a new millennium approached, the bosses decided it was the perfect time to construct their own engine. What’s the worst that could happen? Bimota had been toying with entering 500GPs for a while, so they had the basic designs of a 500cc two-stroke already on their drawing boards that were done by two-stroke specialist TAU Motori, which they decided to modify for road use.
While some consider the Vdue a ‘GP bike for the road’, the fact was that Honda’s NSR500V V-twin was a failure in GPs and 2001 was the last year of the strokers before MotoGP four-strokes replaced 500s anyway, so it was never a GP bike, or more accurately a potential GP bike, rehashed for the road. But it was a 500cc two-stroke and a pretty cool one at that. There were to be 500 units made in total, each being powered by a 90-degree V-twin two-stroke motor that, unlike most other strokers of the era, ran a direct fuel-injected system. It was pioneering, clever stuff, up there with the moon landing, but in retrospect this was a bad idea and would ultimately cost the model its success. At the time Bimota claimed that injecting the engine made it cleaner running and more fuel-efficient, helping it pass tightening emissions regulation all over the world.
The Vdue was launched in 1997 and featuring a cassette gearbox, twin cranks, a dry clutch, electronic exhaust valves and a claimed 110bhp with 90Nm of torque, the Vdue was not only considerably lighter than its supersport rivals at just 176kg dry, but it also made more power. Add to this beautiful styling, the fact it was a stroker and an aluminium frame (the bit Bimota were very good at), and all should have been well. Even with a hefty price tag, the Vdue had all the hallmarks of desirable exotica at its best and well worth the investment. But then owners started to receive theirs… and things didn’t go quite to plan. So bad was the bike’s fuelling and general ill performance that owners started kicking off big time. They were offered their money back or an SB6R as an alternative. It was a catastrophe borne out of ambition, causing the brand to burn out with the uncontrollable ferocity of a wild fire and cease producing not just the Vdue, but all bikes altogether. But as with any good story, this one didn’t end there.
It was a friend who introduced me to Vdue owner Mick Capper. A successful racer and two-stroke connoisseur, who travelled all the way to Italy to collect his Evoluzione-spec Bimota in 2012, bringing it back alongside his wife in their car – much to her surprise. Mick had bought a brand new bike, assembled from box-fresh, old stock by ex-Bimota engineer Piero Carroni, who’d bought the job lot of Vdue components after Bimota’s collapse. He’d continued where the factory left off, building and developing the flawed stroker into a much more affable proposition, with the biggest single upgrade being the twin Dellorto carbs that’d largely remedied the original bike’s poor fuelling. The proof for this was very much in the pudding, as when it came time to fire Mick’s Bimota into life, it started with the urgency of a shoplifter being chased, before settling down on tick-over with the grace of a swan. The raucous exhaust note tickled my senses and the whiff of two-stroke took me back to my misspent youth. I hadn’t even straddled the thing, and already it felt like I was in heaven.
At 5’ 10” on a good day, I’d say I’m no hobbit, but even I could’ve done with a step-ladder to clamber on the one-piece, monocoque carbon seat unit that doubled up as the subframe without any supporting framework. That was a piece of art, and it drew my attention almost as much as the bike’s Jollymoto exhaust systems that nestled neatly beneath it.
The cockpit would’ve probably looked advanced for its time, with a track-friendly LED display that focused on the revs and water temperature, above all else. The clip-ons felt acute angled, the standard fitment gel seat felt tall and the pegs were sportingly placed; the writing was on the wall, this was no bike for international riding trips. Everything about the model’s design seemed minimalist and focused, like a race bike ought to be, giving off a featherweight feel as I slipped the dry clutch out and began my onslaught on the ozone. As luck would have it, I didn’t stall it, but quickly learned from the offset that a generous amount of revs were needed to get the Bimota rolling with gusto. The next thing I learned was how docile and awkward the motor felt below 5,000rpm.
If you opened the throttle too much it made the bike even more spasmodic, instead requiring considered pulling on the cables connected to the carbs to get the motor singing sweetly. Between 5-6k the torque of the motor seemed to add to the mix, but it was only once you were over 7,000 revs that the twin really came to life. The Bimota felt wilder than a bull that’d just been branded, being quick to hoist its front wheel and show you its teeth, all the way to 10,500rpm where the pace eventually died off, even though the revs continued. The motor was very much tri-polar, being stuttery and incompetent down low, usable above 5k, and pretty much mental once you’d crested seven thousand. Up the top, the throttle connection was seamless, sharp and instantaneous, the fuelling was crisp and the motor was in its element. This was the sweet spot, the true definition of a powerband, supported by the dyno claims of peak torque at 8,000revs and peak power at 9,000. If it weren’t for speed limits, this is where I would’ve worked the engine all day long, indulging in its energy and the piercing exhaust rasp that came with the territory.
Everywhere I rode, that note would turn heads. Old people, young people, cows and cats, the Vdue proved irresistible, drawing more attention than a bikini-clad supermodel. Of course, it had the looks to go with its soundtrack, being effortlessly different to almost every other two-wheeler out on the streets. Aesthetically pleasing, the simple colours helped to accentuate the package and I quickly learned that wherever you parked it, people would soon descend to quiz you on the candy. I dare say that’s one of the key draws to this bike, the fact that it’s different and interesting. As for the actual riding experience, that proved unique, too. Of course, the motor is the salient appeal to this bike, but Bimota built its name on chassis first, and the aluminium masterpiece bracing this beauty did not disappoint.
The general feel of the bike was stiff and purposeful, with a lightweight disposition that made corner entries child’s play… unless the roads were bumpy. That’s when the Bimota struggled most, being overwhelmed by imperfections and unable to absorb their harshness through the carbon fibre forks and aftermarket BST wheels that Mick had fitted. I did a lot of ambling through towns and down dodgy back lanes, passing the time at a slower, harder pace, but it was on the open, smooth and fast sweepers that the Vdue really came to life. The bike felt surprisingly stable and tank slappers, despite the constant tendency to lift a front wheel out of corners, seemed non-existent. I felt like I was in safe hands and could only imagine the fun this bike would offer if you took it out on track. It offered a pure riding experience, rewarding the rider for their accuracy and mechanical aptitude. The gearbox wasn’t smooth, but riding smooth and changing at the right revs made a massive difference. In the same respect, a blip of the throttle before a downshift seemed to make everything sleeker. There was no traction control to worry about, no myriad of rider modes to select between, no parachute to save you if you got it wrong – which was far from impossible. It was a thinking man’s bike, the kind of machine that could easily be dismissed as dysfunctional by anyone unwilling to commit. But it was only through interpretation, adaptation and miles under the belt that the Vdue shone bright. As is the case with most performance-themed two-strokes, the Bimota proved something of an education and I lapped up its tutorage with the enthusiasm of a drunk at a free bar.
My day in the saddle proved a memorable one, learning the intimacies of the offering. I’ve never before had to learn a knack of cracking the throttle an eighth turn to ensure a motor fires when you hit the starter, or to take note of the audible wheeziness of the engine to work out whether it’s flooded or not. By today’s standards the Bimota could be considered hard work, unexceptional and surpassed by much more potent, better handling and technologically advanced motorcycles, at far more affordable pricing. But when it comes to charm, charisma and a taste of the exotic, very little else can hold a candle. The Bimota is a swansong to an era long lost, but well loved, and thanks to the enterprise of Piero and the passion of owners such as Mick, it is still very much alive to this day in a form of which any two-stroke lover would applaud. It might have been a flop at birth, but it’s very much thriving in its afterlife. If only I could afford one…