RIDING DIFFERENT BIKES. RACING SOME
We don’t just stick to the Japanese brands for our Classic Crush-series. We extend our view to the gorgeous country of Italy as well. And just because we can, we start with an Italian brand and bike that might not so top of mind. Meet the Bimota YB4. A true Italian superbike from 1987.
Fans of exotic superbikes have probably heard of the Bimota YB4 before. But if you are not that into it, then the brand is a bit of an underdog. In 2020, the brand took the spotlight of the worldwide news with their new Bimota Tesi H2. This very futuristic sport bike looks nothing like the YB4. But both of them do catch your eye.
The Bimota YB4 was first seen in the R form, making it the YB4R. Again, that R states it is a superbike version. And was allowed to participate into racing championships. The Bimota YB4R debuted at the Bol d’or endurance race in 1986. Great names rode this exotic race bike in the 1987 World Championship. And did so quite successfully. Think of Virginio Ferrari and Davide Tardozzi. The latter being the current team manager of the MotoGP factory.
Bimota is a very, very Italian brand. In 1973, it was founded in Rimini by three companions, being Valerio Bianchi, Guiseppe Morri and Massio Tamburini. Tamburini won’t be an unfamiliar name to many. He is famous for his design work for many different motorcycle manufacturers, among which Cagiva, Ducati and MV Agusta. The brand name ‘Bimota’ is made up from the first two letters of the last names of the companions.
At first, the brand mainly focused on building a high-quality chassis around existing engines. The Bimota YB4 is no exception. The YB4 hosts an engine from a Yamaha FZ750. This turned out to be a successful choice. Virginio Ferrari won the Formula TT title with the Bimota YB4 in 1987. Tardozzi won five races in the World Superbike Championship of 1988. So this semi-Italian turned out to be a good race bike.
Engine: 749 cc transverse four cylinder four stroke
Power: 121 hp @ 10.500 rpm
Seat height: … mm / .. inches
Fuel tank: 20 litres / 5.3 gal
Dry weight: 180 kg / 396.9 lbs
Top speed: 154 mph / 248 kph
Like most of our Classic Crush subjects, the Bimota YB4 was made in limited numbers. Only 303 units were produced, making it a collectable and valuable motorcycle. At first, the YB4 was only made for track, so it was unavailable for road use. In 1988, the organization behind the World Superbike Championship decided to add the homologation rules. So Bimota was obliged to build at least 200 street legal YB4’s to be able to compete in the championship.
With the homologation rules, one could finally spot a YB4 on the street. But with a few changes compared to the YB4 Superbike that was raced in the Formula TT. The previous YB4 had carburettors, while the homologated YB4 was fuel-injected. It still had the five valve four cylinder engine of the FZ 750. Bimota wanted to give it a performance boost. So they installed the Weber Marelli electronic system.
But it wasn’t the power that let the Bimota YB4 stand out from the rest. It was mainly the brilliantly designed chassis. It was very ingenious, especially for that time. Keeping the power-to-weight ratio more than ideal and the overall weight super low.
Fun fact; the frame of the YB4 wasn’t designed by Tamburini. He left Bimota in 1983. He was replaced by Federico Martini, who was a former Ducati engineer. Although he was relatively young when he joined Bimota and had limited experience, he designed the two best selling bikes in Bimota’s entire history. He is the creative mastermind behind the Bimota DB1 and YB4.
The YB4 was one of the first sport bikes that used an aluminium frame and swingarm. Bimota was a true pioneer at that time, exploring the first steps of aluminium perimeter frame development. Nowadays, perimeter frames are commonplace.
It wasn’t such a surprise that the Bimota YB4 was so successful in racing. Especially since they were participating in big championship with huge competitors like Yamaha and Honda. The manufacturer Bimota was no match in size by any means. But the YB4 handled great. It was predictable, surprisingly forgiving and rode very smooth.
One could trust the front wheel of the YB4 to go exactly where you wanted it to go. The steering was very sharp and responsive. Combine that with the rather stiff suspension and you get a proper race bike. The excellent chassis allowed a short wheelbase, making it quick to turn without making it a nervous ride.
The Bimota YB4 was such a succes using the FZ750 engine in their bikes, they almost forced Yamaha to step up their game. And with the release of the Yamaha FZR 750 R OW01 and their newly designed FZR 750 engine, they did.
Whereas well-know brands of nowadays produce homologation models in units that fit a certain marketing perspective, Bimota just produced what was necessary to participate in the championship. So very few were made. This was no strange tactic in the 80’s. Yamaha and Honda did similar things with their OW01 and the RC30.
But where most OW01 models ended up in the living room to stare at, the Bimota YB4 was mostly bought by actual riders. Or better said; racers. The YB4 had by far the best frame of the superbike bunch of the late 80’s. And hosted the most advanced four cylinder engine, due to their electronic injection modification.
All in all, there are supposedly 303 YB4’s produced between 1988 and 1989. On top of that, 15 SP models were made. No one truly knows how many were really produced for the public. Rumors say the number of produced units was inflated just to meet the homologation rules of the Superbike Championship. Also, Bimota claimed that 200 units were destroyed during test rides. So it remains a bit of a mystery.
This whole mystery makes it not only a quite valuable motorcycle, but also hard to find. Want to buy one? They go for prices like 30.800 euros for a neat 1988 Superbike model, or 12.000 eu for a 1990’s very well used one that needs quite some TLC. Most collectors expect the prices to go up for this bike, since one is convinced there aren’t many left.
The Bimota YB4 is a proper Italian race bike. It hosted a very trustworthy Japanese engine, which they made even better by modifying it to be compliant with electronic injection. It stood out from its mainly Japanese rivals due to its superb frame, designed by Martini. It was the first bike to use an aluminium frame. Which on its part supplied a great power-to-weight ratio.
As a racer, you could rely on the front end to do exactly what you wanted it to do. Which might sound like something every superbike should do. But don’t be fooled. That wasn’t exactly normal in those days. And honestly, it still isn’t. So the Bimota YB4 – in some way – was ahead of its time. And that makes it more than worthy of a place in our Classic Crush series, if you ask me.