Praise the lord for biking heroes like Ascanio Rodrigo and his company Vyrus. Based in Rimini, the very heartland of the Italian motorcycle industry, Vyrus create high-tech, one-off, hand-built motorcycles that are unapologetically impractical, unconventional and expensive. The latest is the Ducati 1198R-powered 987. For most of us a Vyrus is an irrelevance, but the world would be a far duller place without them.
We’re standing outside an outwardly plain workshop in an innocuous industrial estate on the outskirts of Rimini, Italy, a place where bikes are as popular as football is here. We're here primarily to ride the new 987 for MCN, but – while we're here – also to snoop behind the doors of a place where motorcycling as cottage industry has reached heights undreamt-of back home.
There’s no clue what may lurk behind closed doors, but a modified Yamaha XT500 on 17-inch wheels and racing wets and a streetfightered Ducati 900SS sat outside give us a clue to the leftfield biking brain working inside.
I’ve only ever seen one Vryus before (the machine Phil Read Jnr raced to second place in the Bemsee Thunderbike championship last year), so to be honest I was only expecting to see one or two bikes and for the workshop to be modestly-equipped. But it’s like a factory race workshop. It’s fastidiously clean and packed with a good dozen-or so road and race-spec Vyrus machines, in various states of build and destined for customers all over the world. One machine is about to be shipped to one of the Prada dynasty in the US.
Vyrus owner, Ascanio Rodrigo used to work for Bimota. He says, “Bimota is my life, Massimo Tamburini was my first teacher, all the people who work for me now are ex-Bimota. “
He also has a passion for the hub centre-steering design. He explains, “In the 1980s Pierluigi Marconi created the Tesi project in Bimota. They produced the bike for ten years, it had a lot of potential but they always had problems. I left Bimota in 1984 to run my own workshop. I had a lot of experience with the Tesi and helped owners set their bikes up as well as producing the Tesi 2D for Bimota.
“Vyrus started in 2002 and we built a Ducati-engined hub-centre steered prototype to show off our business to the many motorcycle companies in this area at a trade fair. 80% of all the companies here produce the parts for the Italian motorcycle industry. Here in every workshop there’s some frame or mould being created. We had a lot of requests for the bike and decided to be a constructor.
“We’ve produced 120 bikes since 2002 and now make around 20 a year. In the beginning it took 90 days to build a bike, but we plough all the money back into buying stock. We have £350,000 worth of parts on our shelves now, so we can now build a bike in two weeks. We are very happy with our business but when the money comes we don’t take it out, we always put it into another project.
“We get our parts from 260 local suppliers, but do all the design drawings and manufacture the specialised shapes and moulds here like the front swingarm and exhaust.
“We will always encourage the customer to visit us when they order a bike, so they can choose their exact specification. We make sure everything fits them, from the handlebars to the footopegs and seat position. The setting of the air suspension has to be perfect within a 5kg range too, otherwise it doesn’t work properly.
“We have a web cam in the workshop, so customers can log on to our website and see their bike being built at any time”.