Saturday, July 15, 2006

MV Agusta: You've come a long way baby!

The MV Agusta F4 1000 - the most desirable motorcycle in the world
On top is, of course, the very beautiful MV Agusta F4 1000, a more powerful version of the earlier F4 750, which was, by far, the most mind-blowingly beautiful motorcycle to ever come out of Italy. And the 1000 continues to flaunt the same lines. It’s amazing, really – the 750 made its debut way back in 1997. Giacomo Agostini, who won multiple motorcycle roadracing world championships on MV Agusta bikes in the 1960s, unveiled the F4 Series d’Oro at Milan Show back then. And yet, the shape looks so terrific even now. I guess Tamburini has something special. He knows how to pen lines that stir our souls. Or maybe it’s something about Varese, in Italy, where the MV Agusta factory is situated.

To come to the bike itself, the 1000 has better ergonomics and is more comfortable than the old 750. Its 998cc inline-four revs to 11,750rpm, produces 166 horsepower, and the bike will do close to 290km/h. Plus, it’s littered with those desirable little bits which make it so lust-worthy – the exquisite chrome-moly chassis, 50mm Marzocchi USD front forks, beautifully machined alloys, and single-sided swingarm. Anything that can make a Japanese 1000cc superbike seem commonplace has got to be something really special. The MV Agusta F4 1000 S is that something. Italian motorcycles rock!

Below are some pics of an MV Agusta F4 in Rothmans livery. Yeah, Rothmans-liveried Fireblades we've seen, but an MV F4 in Rothmans colours? That's a first!  :-)

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Friday, July 14, 2006

Exotica: Benelli TNT 1130

The very stylish, funky Benelli TNT 1130

The first thing about the TNT 1130 is its styling, which is about as subtle as a bright yellow Lamborghini Countach. Everything about the Benelli – the chassis, with its mix of circular-section aluminium tubing and alloy bits, underseat exhaust, funky front fairing, minimalist bodywork with its organic shapes and curves and huge headlamps – shouts ‘look at me!!’ Lots of bits and pieces thrown together randomly, or a beautifully styled streetfighter? You decide. But one thing’s for sure - it’s a bike that’ll get you second (and third, and fourth…) looks, everywhere you go. Definitely not for the shy then.

The TNT’s talents aren’t, however, only skin deep. There’s that 1130cc, 141 horsepower engine for starters. Benelli have always chosen to go against established norms (the 1970s/1980s Benelli Sei, available with 750cc and 900cc six-cylinder engines saw to that…), the TNT continues the tradition. The bike’s 1130cc engine is a triple, based on the Benelli Tornado’s 900cc unit, but extensively modified and reworked for more power and torque.

Suspension and chassis parts are top-spec, with an inverted Marzocchi fork up front, and multi-adjustable monoshock at the back. Massive Brembos handle stopping duties, which is just as well because the TNT is capable of speeds of up to 250km/h. Italian motorcycles rule!

Engine: 1130cc, inline-three
Power: 141bhp@11500rpm
Top speed: 250km/h
In a line: Care to see my motor…?

The TNT (above) is one funky looking machine, and goes harder than it looks. Benelli is a legendary company and the mid-1970s six-cylinder 750 Sei (below) was a great motorcycle of its time

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Streetfighters: The Bruise Brothers

Show a clean pair of heels to full-on race-rep superbikes? Yeah, these streetfighters can!

Today, a Suzuki GSX-R1000 or a Kawasaki Ninja ZX-10R offer performance that’s almost unreal. With outputs of around 160-170 horsepower and dry weights of around 170 kilos, the power to weight ratio for some litre-class superbikes is already 1:1, which, for the road, is insane. Of course, given traffic conditions and speed limits in most parts of the world, you can’t really use the full potential of these machines most of the time. Plus, you have to endure race-inspired ergonomics, which often means aching bodyparts – knees, wrists, neck, and back can go through hell. A lot of pain for, sometimes, not so much gain. Is there a solution? Possibly yes.

Streetfighter-style bikes have higher handlebars (your wrists will be ever grateful) and saner riding positions than full-on sportsbikes. But they also have high-spec suspension and braking components, powerful engines, capable chassis and loads of style. Bring ’em on! These bikes aren’t a new phenomenon though. The streetfighter scene was born in Europe, back in the mid-1980s. Fully-faired sportsbikes were being bought in big numbers, being stunted, raced and then inevitably, crashed. What do you do with crashed GSX-R1100, with a totaled fairing that’s expensive as hell to repair? Why, slap on a set of high, flat bars, strip all the unnecessary plastic off, and run it naked. And that’s it, a streetfighter is born. Many riders back then took things to a whole new level, fitting turbos, nitrous kits, loud exhausts, and custom-built frames to their streetfighters, and then investing a lot of money, time and effort in trick paint jobs and polish and chrome. All show, all go!

Though it was mostly Suzuki GSX-Rs and Yamaha FZRs that were converted into streetfighters, Ducati were the first manufacturers who actually latched on to the concept of building streetfighter-style bikes. Miguel Galluzzi, Ducati’s Argentina-born designer, sketched a naked, V-twin-engined machine and went on to convince Ducati to put that bike into production. The Monster M900 was launched in 1993 and went on to become a huge hit for the Italians. It later spawned many Japanese me-toos, including the Suzuki Bandit and the Kawasaki Zephyr. In 1997, Triumph decided that they also wanted a slice of the action, and the T509 Speed Triple was born – one of the best, and the most successful streetfighters ever.

Today, dozens of streetfighter-style bikes are available from Japan, Italy, the UK and Germany. There’s no looking back for this genre of bikes…

Here's a streetfighter stunt video!

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Yamaha 750s: The memorable three

The mighty OW01 (above) packed 120 horsepower, revved to 14000rpm and cost a fortune!
Purists said the YZF750R (above) was heavy and underpowered
The R7 (above) was beautifully finished and handled well, but lacked power (in stock form) and was horribly expensive
The mighty Yamaha FZR750RR, also known as the OW01, was built to win races, niceties for the road be damned. With a 14,000rpm redline and 120 horsepower on tap, this wasn’t a bike for the timid. It was super-expensive, and laden with exotic bits like Yamaha’s very stiff and race proven Deltabox chassis, Ohlins suspension, six-speed close ratio gearbox and various titanium and magnesium bits for reduced weight and better handling.

The OW01’s successor, the YZF750R was deemed heavy and underpowered by purists and did not enjoy the kind of racing success which its predecessor did. However, the Yamaha YZF R7, also known as the OW02, redeemed some of the prestige which Yamaha lost, picking up a few race victories in WSB with Noriyuki Haga, and earning a name for itself as the best handling bike Yamaha’s ever made. The R7 was never a sales success though, as it only made 100 horsepower in stock trim (150 horsepower or more, when set up and tuned for racing…) and cost more than twice as much as an equally powerful, yet much more affordable R1.

A bunch of 1990s bikes - a Kawasaki ZXR750, Yamaha YZF750 and the original Fireblade - against a K6 model Suzuki GSX-R1000? Yes!

Striking Trike

My friend (and ex-colleague at CAR India) Jayesh, having a go on Timothy's trike!

Ex-motocross racer, ex-stuntman, motorcycle workshop owner and talented moto-craftsman he may be, but the most notable thing about Timothy Lewis is his ever-ready laugh and his infectious enthusiasm for motorcycles. And since he’s never satisfied with stock, he’s always looking at building something new, doing something nobody’s tried before. Money is not a driving factor for him – if he thinks he’ll enjoy building something, he’ll go ahead and build it anyway. Which is why this three-wheeled contraption exists. I asked him why he built this machine. He laughed and shot back, ‘why not?!’ Can I ride it? 'Yeah, sure!'

So we find ourselves on the Bandra-Worli sealink at six in the morning. As photographer Pratul sets up his photo equipment, there is already a crowd gathering around Tim’s trike. People want to touch it. Sit on it. Someone asks me when the machine is being launched in India. Another one wants to know how much it’ll cost. Timothy is standing on one side, smiling quietly. In the meanwhile, Jayesh (who’s now studying at IIM and is an MBA in the making…) has donned his jacket and helmet and is ready to ride the trike for pictures. And he actually manages to pull away without stalling the engine. Bravo! After a few runs up and down the sealink, security guards arrive on the scene to chase us away. We take the action to Bandstand, in Bandra. The crowds continue to gape and point. For those 30 minutes, Jayesh is Shah Rukh Khan.

But to come back to the machine itself, it’s no ordinary bodge-chop job. It’s been done with care and is finished quite well. The engine has been taken from a Maruti 800 and is fitted with a high-lift camshaft, resulting in a slight increase in power. Start the thing and it throbs quietly, while Timothy tells us it’s very reliable. I’m sure it is. The front forks are really long and the bottom legs are taken from a Honda CBR1000F. The front wheel is a 15-incher, clad in meaty Dunlop 170/80R15 rubber. Steering this thing takes some doing, believe me.

The gearbox is from a Maruti Omni, and transfers power – through an Omni differential – to the rear wheels. Which, by the way, have been taken off a Mazda Miata. You operate the clutch with your left hand and shift gears with your right, using a Premier Padmini’s column-shifter. Of course, shifting gears requires the rider to let go of the handlebar, which is a bit disconcerting. As this… vehicle gathers speed, it becomes increasingly disconcerting to let go of the handlebar and shift up another cog. Thank god for the M800 engine, because with anything more powerful, things would have been terrifying. Especially given that the only brakes here are from a Bajaj autorickshaw. ‘These would have been sufficient for a Bullet 500 engine, which I was planning to use earlier,’ explains Timothy. Oh, well.

We’re hungry by now, so we troop into an Irani joint for a spot of breakfast. Over Keema Pao, masala omelettes, bun maska and tea, we ask Tim what’s next on his list. What’ll he come up with next? ‘That,’ he says with a twinkle in his eyes, ‘is a secret! But I can assure you that nobody in India has tried anything like it before.’ And he laughs.

Timothy, the builder of this three-wheeled special, can be reached on +91-9820241057

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Honda V4s: Racers for the road

The Honda RC30, with its single-sided swingarm and hugely competent chassis, is one of the most lust-worthy Hondas ever made

The 1989 Honda VFR750R (the fabled RC30) was the very pinnacle of racing technology made available for the road. Based on Honda’s RVF750 endurance racer, the RC30 was powered by Honda’s smooth and powerful V-four engine, which was unique in its class – all other Japanese 750s had inline-fours. The bike was laden with exotica – aluminum frame and fuel tank, single-sided swingarm, titanium rods, magnesium engine covers, and hand-laid bodywork made it extremely desirable. The V4 made only 100PS in street trim, but that number went up to 150PS in race trim. The RC30 was expensive, costing the equivalent of about Rs six lakh, back in 1989. But then it delivered the goods, what with Carl Fogarty winning the Motorcycle F1 championship aboard an RC30 in 1989.

Honda upped the ante in 1995, launching the RVF750R, also called the RC45. Also a homologation special like its predecessor, the RC45 utilised ram-air and fuel injection, developed more than 175PS in full race trim and was capable of more than 280km/h on the track. The RC45 did enjoy success in WSB, but really excelled in AMA Superbike, with Miguel Du Hamel taking dozens of memorable victories in that series.

The RC45 was a worthy successor to the RC30, though it didn't acquire the same kind of cult status among enthusiasts

Also see:
V4 revival: 2008 Honda VFR1000!

Campagna T-Rex: Three-wheeled madness

It costs US$50,000, has three wheels, and looks as dramatic as a Lamborghini Diablo. And, oh, it almost goes as hard as one too!

The Campagna T-Rex is powered by a Kawasaki ZZR1200 inline-four, which makes 152 horsepower. It's Canadian creator, Daniel Campagna, spent more than eight years designing and developing the T-Rex. Daniel has done time as mechanic to Formula 1 legend, Gilles Villeneuve, so he'd know a thing or two about high-performance machines. And indeed, the T-Rex goes from zero to 100km/h in 4.1 seconds and hits a top speed of 240km/h. It weighs only 408 kilos, so acceleration, while not in the same league as the newest litre-class superbikes, is still tremendous. Plus, it seats two people in comfort. One more addition to my dream garage...!

Monday, July 10, 2006

Kawasaki ZXR750: The Real Deal

The late-80s/early-90s ZXR750 - one hell of a Kawasaki!

The Kawasaki ZXR750 was perhaps the most brutal, most mental of all the Japanese 750s ever. While the bike was launched way back in 1989, its blue/green/white colour scheme and hoover-tube air-intakes are instantly recognizable icons in the world of high-performance motorcycling even now. There was about 100 horsepower on tap. Top speed was around 250km/h. And the chassis/suspension combo was tuned with single-minded focus – to get you around corners as fast as possible.

The ZXR750 was replaced by the ZX-7R (and the more race-oriented ZX-7RR) in 1993, and these bikes remained in production till 2003. The ZX-7RR was raced successfully by riders like Scott Russell and Doug Chandler, whose combined efforts resulted in four AMA championships for Kawasaki, over a period of seven years. Russell also took the 7RR to World Superbikes, where he won the 1993 WSB championship.

The ZXR750 and the ZX-7R were significant superbikes of their time and kept Honda VFRs, Suzuki GSX-Rs and Yamaha YZFs on their toes!

This is what the ZXR750 finally evolved into - the ZX-7R. Brutish, hard, heavy and very memorable

Can a bunch of old bikes - the ZXR750, YZF750 and the original Fireblade - keep up with a modern-day GSX-R1000...?