How far has the performance-fuelled Italian brand advanced in three decades?
These two bikes would look more than at home under spotlights on a rotating plinth at any bike show in the world, but don’t let looks deceive you. Both machines were hand-crafted to go fast with very little thought given to any secondary concerns. That’s the whole essence of the Bimota ethos; take what’s already there and make it better, faster and with sharper handling. Neither the YB4 nor the BB3 has been left wanting in that regard, with the pair arguably being among the very best motorcycles of their respective eras. But exactly how much has changed in the 30 years that came between these two exotic rockets?
To find out, Bimota importer and international road racer Ben Wylie stepped in and generously allowed us to cane the living daylights out of his pride and joy motorcycles on an Oulton Park trackday. Well, when we say cane, we’re talking racetrack abuse, as opposed to the normal thrashings both of these steeds are subjected to by Ben when he annually campaigns on them at the Isle of Man TT (BB3 – 202kmph lap) and Classic TT (YB4 – 188kmph lap). If you knew little more than those lap times you’d know these bikes aren’t just all glitter and high heels; far from it.
“It’s not the stuff that most of us associate with a classic motorcycle but that’s because back in the 80s, it was way before its time.”
As aged as the YB4 is, a glance at its spec sheet could get you thinking you’re looking at a model much more recent; aluminium twin spar frame, fully adjustable forks and monoshock, inline-four cylinder DOHC water-cooled engine, six-speed ’box. It’s not the stuff that most of us associate with a classic motorcycle but that’s because back in the 80s, it was way before its time. When Virginio Ferrari ended Honda and Joey Dunlop’s five-year TT Formula 1 World Championship winning streak on his YB4, it didn’t half make the Jap manufacturers sit up and take note.
It wasn’t long before they were all ripping off poor old Bimota’s idea and treating their sports bikes to ally frames, something we all ought to be grateful for. Pioneering, though, as it may be, it’s still a 30-year-old bike and there are a few giveaways to this fact. Unlike most modern bikes that all have aids, the YB4’s archaic nature shows in its lack of even the most basic of niceties.
“Running a full complement of BMW S1000RR electrickery the Bimota BB3 is cleverer than Stephen Hawking, his iPhone and his chair all put together.”
With 30 years of engine development (and extra capacity to boot) comes extra power; a whopping 80bhp extra in the case of the bikes in question. Another 250cc and 80bhp is a small step for man though, compared to the giant leap mankind have taken over the last 30 years in the electronics department. Running a full complement of BMW S1000RR electrickery the Bimota BB3 is cleverer than Stephen Hawking, his iPhone and his chair all put together. Couple that with a truly race-orientated chassis and trick Maxton racing suspension and you have got a weapon of a bike that any decent racer could do something special on.
All the decent racers here at Fast Bikes were busy so I took the opportunity to pop over to Oulton Park in Cheshire and pretend to be one for the day. Now, not only have I raced a BMW S1000RR, the engine and electronics donor for the BB3, but I have also raced an actual BB3 at Donington Park, so I had an idea of what I was in for when I cocked a leg over the modern TT racer for the kick-off session on track.
“On a lighter note, as soon as you spark up the motor there is a distinctive Beemer snarl that settles to a very linear sounding drone.”
The first thing you notice on this ’3 is the oversized and slightly square TT tank, the rear of which gently digs into the top of your legs when you’re perched on its high seat. The saddle is angled quite severely forwards so between rides when you’re just sat chewing the fat with your mates, you will find yourself holding onto the handlebars to hold your gonads from taking an unnecessary squashing. On a lighter note, as soon as you spark up the motor there is a distinctive Beemer snarl that settles to a very linear sounding drone. There’s no lumpy revving or burbling; it’s a constant hum, but a hum that rasps vigorously into life with each blip thanks to the granny frightening Pipewerx exhaust, fitted to Ben’s example.
The vigour of the exhaust note is a perfect reflection of the power delivery
On the full power ‘slick’ mode the drive is eye-wateringly ballistic. It’s not an engine that makes you feel as though you need to keep the revs sky high at all times because there just seems to be bags of torque whenever you need it; in fact quite often too much torque. There was more than one occasion on the ’3 when the rear tyre wasn’t quite ready for my ham-fisted attempts to drive out of Lodge, the last turn, and if it hadn’t have been for the super sharp traction control catching it just before it reached the point of no return I may well have been exiting stage top. I didn’t bother telling Ben I had almost written off his Italian stallion countless times, because I reasoned why worry him? And I’m sure I can get away with mentioning it now too, because I’m fairly confident he can’t read.
“Like my girlfriend, the more at one I became with the BB3 the less it tried to kill me and the more I was able to manipulate it into doing whatever I wanted it to.”
As well as saving your bacon the tech on this bike will make you faster. I suppose that’s why Bimota chose to utilise the Beemer’s electrics package. It’s ace. While a quickshifter is a massive benefit wherever or however you’re riding (not to mention trick), seamless down shifts and automatic throttle blips really start to make a whole lot more sense on track, especially on the BB3 because it feels like it’s supposed to be raced. The Bimota has such a different feel to the Beemer that it’s robbed the engine and loom from. Once the damp patches had dried out after the first session and I could start to push, I felt like the bike and I were becoming closer. Not romantically, obviously. I’ve got a girlfriend. Like my girlfriend, the more at one I became with the BB3 the less it tried to kill me and the more I was able to manipulate it into doing whatever I wanted it to.
I soon learnt that it’s not a bike that responds well to less than committed riding. It likes strict orders to follow. Brake hard and late. Don’t ask it to turn; tell it to turn; make it turn. The more I rode it the more I could see exactly what Bimota had tried to do. Take an awesome motor and electronics system and put it in an awesome, race focused, handmade chassis, exactly like they did with the world beating YB4, 30 years previously.
Although a classic bike wouldn’t normally be my tipple, once I understood what Bimota were all about I was really looking forward to trying out the YB4. I knew it wasn’t going to be the fastest thing in the world, but that is because it’s 2017. Wind the clock back to 1987 though, and it was one of the fastest things in the world. So, eager to learn what a top racing motorcycle was like back before I was even born, I climbed on the immaculately prepped YB4.
Before you go anywhere on the classic bike the lack of refinement really hits you
The throttle is heavier than the BB3’s and doesn’t have as defined a ‘stop’ to it. The clutch doesn’t have as smooth an action either, unlike the modern bike’s hot knife through butter clutch, the YB4’s item is more like a spoon punched through lumpy mash potato. But it works to a usable degree. Not featuring an electric start, a set of rollers were needed to get the old girl barking into life, which it eventually did after a good few stabs. The fuelling wasn’t anywhere precise and there were noticeable lulls and peaks as the comparatively prehistoric flat slide carbs tried their level best to provide the 750 with the right amount of air and fuel to keep the thing ticking over with a modicum of decorum.
Give the throttle a twist, though, and the engine revs as cleanly as any modern bike, emitting a menacing roar. Suited and booted, I hauled the clutch lever in and had an attempt at clunking the thing into gear; a failed attempt. I hadn’t compensated for the extra play in the gear shift. No matter, I’ll have another go, I thought. A proper go. CRUNCH! There you go, we’re in. Lovely.
“The rev-happy nature of the engine was the first thing that surprised me. You don’t get much from the YB4 if you don’t rev it.”
Sat upright and gliding down pit lane the bike felt a bit odd, but I didn’t worry too much about that because the pit lane at Oulton Park isn’t very long. The first few laps were taken at a really sedate pace but once I dared to start opening the bike up it became clear I was in for a treat. The rev-happy nature of the engine was the first thing that surprised me. You don’t get much from the YB4 if you don’t rev it. It’s not like the ’3 which has more torque than Dangerous Bruce; you want to be up towards 8,000rpm if you mean business, and the exhaust note when you’re up there is something to behold.
“Once I concentrated on being a bit more positive with my up-shifts the ’box proved much more amiable.”
It sounds like a sheet of metal being torn in two, inside a brick tunnel… to be precise
It didn’t take me long to get carried away and forget that I was on a bike that could have been raced by John the Baptist so it took me rather by surprise when in reasonably quick succession the gearbox threw a couple of falseys at me. I put this down to my increasing exuberance and the sloppy gear selector that I had already identified. Once I concentrated on being a bit more positive with my up-shifts the ’box proved much more amiable.
The more I rode the ’4, the more I liked it. Like the ’3, it was a bike you had to hustle. It was heavy but its low centre of gravity made it super stable. It didn’t drop into turns like the ’3 and it wouldn’t change direction quickly or let you switch lines mid corner, but once you were settled in a bend it was planted and proved to be one of the most stable bikes I have ever ridden, giving me loads of confidence. Each lap on the ’4 got faster and faster until I was literally LOLing my way past other trackday boys and girls on brand new superbikes. It got a bit silly to be honest, but I didn’t want it to stop.
Eventually it had to stop and when it did I found myself really thinking about what I had just experienced. Two brilliant motorcycles separated by 30 years worth of technology. And it felt to me as though that’s all that separates them. Having ridden both the bikes, I can see in both instances what Bimota have done. And it is exactly what they intended to. They have taken the best engine available to them and invested everything into designing and building a chassis for the perfect race oriented production bike. They did it way back when with the YB4 and they have done it now with the BB3. Of course they’re very different motorcycles, but they both made me feel the same way. Not only did they give me the confidence to push myself and the bikes to their limits but they accepted everything I could throw at them without any protest.
The BB3 is a more focused race bike
I can see now why Ben chooses to race the BB3 at the TT rather than a more readily available BMW. It’s because it’s a more focused race bike. Perhaps the BMW is a nicer road bike; it’s certainly got a more comfortable seat and the lower foot pegs will probably stop you getting cramp so soon. Ben didn’t want a road bike though, he wanted a race bike, and that is what the BB3 is.
“After riding the ’4 it has become plain to see exactly why so many folk are so enthusiastic about the Classic TT and the classic motorcycle racing scene in general.”
Just like 30 years ago when Virginio Ferrari decided he wanted to win the World Championship, he chose the YB4 because it was the best bike for the job. Before this test I knew I liked the BB3, and I knew that it would be an awesome bike to race round the TT Mountain Course. What I didn’t expect though, was how deeply I would fall in love with classic Bimota YB4; I hadn’t realised a bike older than me could be so much fun and so very capable. After riding the ’4 it has become plain to see exactly why so many folks are so enthusiastic about the Classic TT and the classic motorcycle racing scene in general. The bikes don’t have today’s cutting edge technology but they do have the character to more than compensate. I never thought I’d be charmed by a bike like this but the YB4 has got me weak at the knees and wondering how I can wrangle my way into the 2018 Classic TT line-up. I’ll let you know if I find out.
Words by Mike Booth