The Italians have gifted the world with many world-class street bikes – think the Ducati 999R. Every once in a while, however, a release will go sideways and leave buyers everywhere mortified. This is the story of the 1997 Bimota 500 V-Due, which retailed at $20,275 but drove Bimota to bankruptcy. After 20 years in business, Bimota announced and debuted a 500cc V-twin, direct-injected two-stroke powered street bike that was supposed to revolutionize the industry. It killed the company instead. Let’s look back at the 1997 Bimota 500 V-Due and what went wrong.
A Brief History of Bimota
Although the V-Due project only came to the limelight in 1996, its back story goes back several years. Bimota had made a name for itself in the national and international racing worlds with its bespoke frames and bought-in engines. It decided to explore GP racing in the late 1980s. Around this time, four strokes dominated 500cc world championships, but automakers were toying with the idea of twins. The consensus was that the lower minimum weight limit – 105kg – would make the bikes more competitive. In other words, Bimota's idea was in line with other companies at the time, even though it was highly ambitious. Bimota was a small company, but its skill at producing frames was renowned. The automaker now needed an engine to power its GP racing bike. Originally, the company used a Tesi-style chassis with hub-center steering and marketed the bike as Tesi 500. However, the bike was only able to enter the 1993 Italian Championship, although it was meant for grand pix. This led to the suspension of the GP racing project, and Bimota focused its efforts on creating a two-stroke using the Tesi 500 engine as a basis.
Release of the V-Due
The V-Due – Italian for V-two – was first unveiled at the 1996 Cologne Motor Show and amazed fans and critics alike. The excitement around the bike raged on as Nick Ienatsch, and Alan Cathcart gave it good reviews after riding it in Italy. The latter even declared that the company had reinvented the sport motorcycle. As development continued and the buzz around the V-Due grew, Bimota promised to release the bikes in 1998, promoting it as the "second coming of the two-stroke." The bike was going to be lightweight with the weight and power of a GP bike but the ability to meet the current emission laws. Ultimately, the first Bimota 500 V-Dues hit dealerships in 1998.
Problems with the Bike
Sadly, the release was like nothing Bimota had anticipated. The company had claimed that its fuel injection system would beat emission limits and revamp the two-stroke industry. However, it did not work as intended, and the bikes were unrideable. Even when they did work, customers complained that they were unreliable and an utter disappointment. Initial reviews from moto-journalists were positive, probably because they got to test the V-Dues in Italy, where the production team was at hand to solve any arising issues. When the bikes were delivered to the US, nonetheless, the feedback grew more negative. A report in the March 1998 Motorcyclist issue claimed that the V-Due "…stumbled and coughed between fits of explosive acceleration." According to Bimota, the problem was caused by poor production tolerances at the engine factory. The company was forced to recall all the bikes.
Replacement and Bankruptcy
Order books had initially suggested that the automaker would be producing 500 V-Due units a year, which was an ambitious number for the small company, but Bimota only produced 185. The company was then forced to stop production, withdraw the V-Due from sale and recall all sold units. Buyers were offered replacement models from the Bimota line. Bimota attempted to fix the problem and produced a carbureted, 91kW 'Trofeo' model of the V-Due – 26 units in total – as part of a one-make series. However, there were further problems and no hope of finding a solution soon. Bimota faced unprecedented losses trying to buy back the sold units. The automaker filed for bankruptcy in 2001 and went under, resurfacing under new ownership in 2003.
The initial prototype of the 500 V-Due used the hub-center steering Tesi frame configuration, but Bimota then shifted to more conventional aluminum frames. The engine maker Marconi produced a stressed member in the form of a lightweight aluminum trellis. Additionally, the unit was wrapped using carbon-fiber bodywork. Period tests stated that the weight of the V-Due would be as low as 145kg. However, official tech documents placed it at 164kg (dry) and 184 with everything included.
Weight aside, the biggest problem facing the Bimota 500 V-Due was the engine. Bimota had promised to meet engine emissions limits, and their solution was producing an injected two-strokes unit. Although this concept was not new, Bimota's idea had not been tried or tested before. Other companies had simply used throttle-body injection instead of carbs, but Bimota settled on direct fuel injection. Several companies had dipped their toes in direct-injected two-stroke units in the early 90s. These engines were considered more environmentally-friendly and efficient than their four-stroke counterparts. However, emission limits required injected units to add fuel to the mixture only until the very last moment after the closing of the exhaust port. This gave the fuel very little time to atomize and combine with air in the combustion chamber. By Bimota’s calculations, the fuel would have enough time to atomize and burn if it was fired from the injector and bounced off the piston before the spark plug ignited. Sadly, this proved to be both expensive and unattainable. Buyers soon discovered that, in addition to not working, the V-Due bikes would oil their plugs, misfire, seize, or randomly drop onto one cylinder.
Written by Benjamin Smith
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