Bike Reviews

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Bimota Superleggera

The TB series of Bimota machines have an impressive pedigree stretching back to the early 1980’s, but the 1990’s YB11 is perhaps one of the more unusual models, in that it’s almost a sports tourer.

With an engine lifted from Yamaha’s Thunderace 1000, the YB11 has bags of midrange power. Match this to the usual high quality Bimota chassis and you would expect a racer for the road – but the YB11 has soft suspension and almost high-ish handlebars, (for a Bimota) making this a Latin lovely you can genuinely ride all day long.

Unique styling and stunning little engineering details make this one for the open road connoisseur.

The driver of the red Alfa Romeo probably thought he was about to witness a nasty accident. Most Italians drive pretty quickly, and this one was doing just that as he contemplated slowing for the approaching left-hand bend. Then a red, white and black motorcycle flashed past the car travelling about 50mph faster, and briefly carried on accelerating before suddenly braking hard, changing down a couple of gears and cranking into the turn.

In fact, the overtaking manoeuvre wasn’t risky at all. This was the best stretch of road I’d found all day, and I’d already fine-tuned my braking points with several previous runs before coming upon my unsuspecting four-wheeled prey. The YB11 sliced through the left-hander effortlessly, before howling off again with a force that would quickly have relegated the Alfa to a tiny spec in the mirrors, had I been able to see anything in them apart from elbows.

The driver would have been right about one thing, and that is that he’d been passed by a very rapid motorbike. Bimota’s YB11 Superleggera follows a format that has served the Rimini firm well for many years. Bolting Yamaha’s awesome new YZF1000R Thunderace motor into a bike weighing just 403lb is a recipe for rocket-like performance every time you crack open the throttle.

Superleggera means “superlight” in Italian, and the name suits Bimota’s exotic new flagship just fine. With its lean, aggressively sculpted styling, the YB11 looks like a more muscular, slimmed-down version of the Thunderace. (Although the two bikes’ fairing shapes are strangely similar, Bimota says the YB11’s design was finalised long before the YZF broke cover.) The Superleggera does have room for a pillion under its seat-hump, but this is a bike that gives every impression of being intended just for one.

That’s just how it feels on the road, too. The 20-valve Ace engine’s thunderous midrange torque is present and correct, just waiting to deliver wheelie-popping acceleration on the way to the Superleggera’s 170mph top speed. And while the Yamaha is a well-rounded superbike designed for stability and even comfort as well as speed, the Bimota is a singleminded sportster built to blow away all opposition on a twisty road.

The YB11 certainly has heaps of pedigree. It’s the latest of a long line of aluminum-framed, Yamaha-powered sportsters developed from the 750cc YB4 on which Virginio Ferrari (now manager of Ducati’s factory World Superbike team) won the Formula One world championship back in 1987. The YB6 roadster of 1988 was the first to use Yamaha’s FZ1000 powerplant, and since then the big-bore motor has powered a string of Bimotas with names such as Tuatara and Furano.

Those bikes and the most recent YB8 model all used similar versions of the familiar twin-spar alloy frame, which was big news in the late ’80s but looks unexceptional these days. Bimota’s main change for the YB11 was to relocate the main cross-member closer to the steering head, adding rigidity while slightly reducing weight. There are also a few modifications to the machining at the swing-arm pivot area.

Front suspension is completely new. Yamaha recently claimed the Thunderace’s
48mm front forks were the thickest in all motorcycling, but even they are dwarfed by the Superleggera’s gigantic 51mm diameter stanchions. The leading-axle Paiolis are adjustable for compression and rebound damping, and grip a strengthened, 25mm diameter front wheel spindle. Paioli also provides the YB11’s multi-adjustable rear shock, which operates a modified box-section aluminum YB8 swing-arm.

As usual Bimota makes no internal changes to the 1002cc, liquid-cooled Thunderace engine, which in standard form produces a claimed 145bhp at 10,000rpm. But the Rimini firm fits its own, larger-capacity airbox, fed via ducts running back from the nose of the Superleggera’s sleek glass-fibre fairing. Bimota says the airbox (which reduces fuel capacity to 15 litres, compared to the YZF’s 20) adds two or three horsepower in conjunction with a new four-into-one pipe and rejetting of the Yam’s 38mm Mikuni carbs.

The Bimota feels lean and purposeful from the moment you throw your leg over the thinly-padded single seat. Its clip-ons are low and rather wide, the footrests high even by sports-bike standards, giving a more aggressive (and cramped) riding position than that of the Thunderace. The rider’s view is of a low screen and a chunky alloy top yoke holding those huge fork-tops, plus white-faced clocks set in a classy carbon-fibre surround.

Bimota’s exhaust note has a little more of a rasp to it than the Yamaha pipe, but as usual the big motor’s sophisticated feel and low-rev docility give little hint of the power waiting to be unleashed. On the road, it’s the Superleggera’s reduced weight that does most to boost straight-line performance. The YB11 is 33lb lighter than the Thunderace and exactly matches the less powerful CBR900RR, giving it the best of both worlds and an outrageous power-to-weight ratio matched only by Bimota’s own GSX-R1100-engined SB6.

Yamaha’s latest 20-valve motor, revised in this year’s YZF form with forged pistons and a lightened crankshaft, is a sophisticated and hugely powerful powerplant. The big 20-valve motor is smooth-running and responsive low down and provides massive midrange performance, sending the Bimota stomping forward given a flick of the quick-action throttle. The broad spread of power allowed fast riding with minimal use of the slightly notchy five-speed gearbox.

Like the Thunderace, the YB11 was basically smooth although it passed a certain amount of high-frequency tingle through to the bars and pegs. The motor felt unburstable all the way to its 11,500rpm redline, and the Bimota’s top-end performance was predictably blistering. On the longest straight I could find, the Superleggera shot to an indicated 160mph and was still pulling when I had to back off.

Not that I needed to slow too much. Bimota built its reputation by providing handling before the Japanese firms knew the meaning of the word, and the YB11’s light, rigid chassis is another gem. With 25.5 degrees of rake and 90mm of trail the Bimota was not radically quick-steering by modern standards, but its light weight helped make the YB11 a shade more manoeuvrable than the YZF1000R.

The racy Superleggera didn’t suit the rutted, gravel-strewn hairpins in the hills around Rimini, where its firm suspension reacted to every bump and I wished Bimota had borrowed the forks from Yamaha’s XTZ660 trail bike. Softening the suspension would doubtless have made the Bimota track better on those surfaces, but instead I headed off in search of the smoother tarmac for which the bike was intended.

And once I hit some more open, better-surfaced roads further south, the YB11 indeed showed its class, working better the faster it was ridden. The bike could be braked late and hard using Brembo’s familiar blend of four-pot calipers and fully-floating 320mm discs, with no danger of flex from the massive front forks. And it could be flicked into the following turn with light pressure on the bars, its steering remaining neutral at speed. For a light, agile sportster the Bimota was impressively stable when accelerating out of bends, too. This is one seriously grunty motorbike but, aided by a steering damper plus its taut Paioli shock, the Superleggera kept wobbles to a minimum when the power was unleashed through its sticky, 180-section rear Michelin Hi-Sport.

Bimota’s sportsters no longer leave the ultra-competent Japanese opposition floundering, of course, and like every Bimota the Superleggera is mighty expensive. But a prospective owner knows that this bike will be hand-built in numbers of only 500 this year. And that however hot the opposition, the YB11 Superleggera’s fearsome combination of power, light weight and handling ability will take an awful lot of beating.

Get Bimota motorcycle insurance for the Superleggera.


Vital Statistics
Engine Water-cooled transverse four Valve arrangement DOHC, 20 valves
cc 1002
Claimed power (bhp) 145bhp at 10,000rpm
Compression ratio 12:1
Transmission 5-speed
Cycle parts
Carburation Four 38mm Mikunis
Clutch Wet multiplate
Front suspension 51mm telescopic Paioli, 120mm (4.7in) travel, adjustable for compression and rebound damping
Rear suspension One Paioli damper, 130mm (5.1in) wheel travel, adjustments for preload, compression and rebound damping
Front brake 2, four-piston Brembo calipers, 320mm discs
Rear brake Double-action Brembo caliper, 230mm disc
Front wheel 3.50 x 17in; cast aluminum
Rear wheel 5.50 x 17in; cast aluminum
Front tyre 120/60 x 17in Michelin Hi-Sport radial
Rear tyre 180/55 x 17in Michelin Hi-Spo
Rake/trail 25.5 degrees/90mm (3.5in)
Wheelbase 1431mm (56.3in)
Seat height 770mm (30.3in)
Dry weight 183kg (403lb)
Top speed 160mph
Fuel capacity 15 litres
Buying Info
Current price £8500 (basic spec, on the road)

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