Someone gives you £25k to spend on an Italian bike, and you buy a Tesi. You're INSANE, right? | MCN
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Someone gives you £25k to spend on an Italian bike, and you buy a Tesi. You're INSANE, right?

Published: 27 December 2015

Eccentric, expensive and exclusive, Bimota’s hub-steered Tesi 3D is as rare as road bike gets. But it would be criminally insane to drop Panigale R or Ariel Ace money on one, wouldn't it? We spent five days living with one to find out.

t’s that name. Bimota. No brand is as cloaked in mystery, creates such a sense of exquisite design and the exotic. Or has had such an up-and-down existence. Their history is dotted with snow-capped highs: winning a GP world title, making 1000 bikes a year in the 1990s and a shock WSB win in 2000. But they’ve bottomed out too, with duff bikes and bankruptcy. 

Bimota is now a dozen blokes, one building each bike by hand. They flog enough – 150 bikes a year – to survive. Their traditional method of exotic chassis for a proven engine seems outdated when mass-produced bikes are so able, but there’s still something special. And they don’t get any more special than the Tesi 3D Naked...

7.26am, Wednesday

As someone who’s always late, it feels odd to be at work so early. I’m the only person here. However, there’s a very good reason – last night something extraordinary was dropped off, and my child-like excitement is too much to bear. We’ve got a hub-steered Tesi.

Sunlight flashes off alloy and dances across deep pearlescent paint as it’s wheeled into the morning. I begin a slow, deliberate digesting of its beauty. This isn’t conventional allure, like that young brunette in Doctor Who. Nah, it’s splendour from function influencing form in a medley of machined alloy and fabulous design. Look at the cunning steering, compact headstock, carbon bodywork. The multi-adjustable suspension, bespoke Arrow pipe, hewn hunks of solid alloy gripping the motor… 

8.07am, Wednesday: Bike’s lock-up still

…matt-finished OZ lightweight wheels, subframe tubes wrapped oh-so-close to the engine, the neatness of the numberplate hanger. Just when you think you’ve soaked it all, the Tesi reveals another of its sweet details or crisp pieces of design. Can’t. Stop. Looking.

5.43pm, Wednesday: B676, Lincolnshire

Slipping out of the office early, the Bimota gives three surprises. It’s tall for a start. Bimota claim a seat height of 780mm but the Tesi is higher than our Yamaha Tracer (845mm seat) and has a taste of supermoto to its riding stance. Second unexpected discovery is it feels quite normal bimbling about – there’s weight to the steering at low speed, otherwise the only sign it’s different is the missing top yoke. And third, it’s utterly acceptable on a dual carriageway. Bimota’s own injection gives wonderfully smooth fuelling, and the air-cooled Ducati 1078cc V-twin purrs at 4000rpm cruising at 75mph. Smooth too – you feel subtle combustion, but not vibes.

However, now I’m on proper roads the Tesi starts to sparkle. The light feel the steering adopts at 30mph remains at three-figure speeds. The motor punches hard out of tight second-gear corners and has thrumming roll-on drive. And how the chassis switches direction is amazing. Diving into Leicestershire the road undulates and tightens, and the Tesi slips between hedges with ease I’ve not experienced before. I could steer with a little finger on each bar end. It’s a tad frisky, but not unstable; it reminds that you’re riding a light eager sportsbike, without a desire to jump into the scenery. 

8.22am, Thursday: stuck behind a car 

Mrs Armitage was out in her car when I got home last night, so I rode up our short, narrow drive, down the path at the side of the house and oh-so-carefully slipped the Tesi into the shed (instantly increasing the value of its contents by ten times). This morning, after a cuppa, I need to wheel the Tesi between the car and the house. No sweat – I do this every day, with all sorts of bike.

Two minutes later it’s wedged. I’m pinned to the building, front wheel teetering on the edge of deep gravel, exhaust threatening to gouge the car’s bumper. It seems hub steering doesn’t offer much lock – I feel like Austin Powers doing a 37-point turn on a luggage cart. Leaning as far as possible, using the last 1mm of space, I tease forward... and remove paint from the car. Arse. Sorry the wife. 

3.55pm, Thursday that ruddy great bump 

My favourite commuting route is a quiet, squirming back road. The best corners are approached at speed, and you go down a gear and brake before peeling in. However, there’s a huge bump – hit it while braking heavily with regular forks and the lack of remaining suspension travel feels horrible, unsettling the bike. So usually I brake early and get off the lever before hitting it.

The Bimota doesn’t care. The hub-steered front end separates steering, suspension and braking forces; grab the front lever hard and the bike only dips by the smallest amount, leaving suspension to do its job. It soaks up the bump despite the front Brembos biting hard, then turns to a deliciously light touch. It’s such a revelation
I turn round and ride the section a few more times. It’s brilliant.

However, this highly scientific playing confirms that the front and rear shocks are too firm. I back compression damping off to try and let the Tesi absorb bumps – it’s better, but at the slight cost of steering sweetness, and still the firm side of sporty. Maybe softer springs would be nice. A softer seat would definitely help. 

10.39am, Friday: fussy buggers sucking wind

I’ve clocked a bracket. It’s nondescript, just a sliver of metal, but has marks from where it’s been finished with a file. It’s imperfect, yes, but is a snapshot of the bloke who hand-built this bike. There are also machining marks on all the alloy, which are intentional: people see straight away that the Tesi is ‘CNC’d from billet’. But as an ex-engineer I don’t think these finishes are good enough.

My mate Nathan agrees. He’s a machinist for Rolls-Royce and worked on the Eurofighter, developing techniques for producing the turbine compressors. Machined from solid, almost a metre in diameter, the aerofoil profile tolerance was 0.008mm. So he’s not overly impressed by the Tesi. ‘I like the clean suspension upright, as you see the manufacturing marks but only if you really look closely,’ he says. ‘But I reckon visible tool paths look tacky. It’s a shame on a bike at this price – for me, it should all be perfect.’

12.15pm, Saturday: unexpectedly effective

Four days in and the desire to ride is still overwhelming. Let’s play. Unfortunately everyone else has the same idea, and my route to good roads through Melton Mowbray is solid. I’m not the only frustrated rider– swarms of bikes are filtering. It takes them a while to spot the Tesi. Most need to double take, but then really stare. The more they gawp the more conscious I feel. Heck, I’ve stalled it.

But threading this hubbub is enlightening. Bimota’s first Tesi prototype was shown in 1983, and they’ve made three previous road bikes (1D, 2D and 3D) plus a few racers (1993’s two-stroke GP tool never raced but its V-twin ended up in the V-Due). All focus on speed, with clip-on bars and tight riding positions. This 3D Naked is the first with upright seating and high bars, and it works in town – hitting the steering lock is alarming, true, but the super-slim build, bars and upright stance let it filter with the abandon of a scooter. Blimey. This is exotica you can genuinely commute on.

9.29am, Sunday: works on the road

A proper ride. Quiet roads, dry weather. I’ve read plenty of old tests that grumble about a lack of feel from the Tesi’s front. It’s not something I’ve thought about so far, as generally it feels... well, like a bike. Focus, and there is feedback. However, it’s from the centre of the bike, not the bars. The only slight disconnect is turning in, just before picking up the gas – the Bimota can be a little vague. However, it’s when riding harder than I know is good for me, and I’ll take it in return for the ability to brake and turn over bumps.

The chassis is about clever engineering solutions, so having a 100bhp instead of 160bhp and an absence of fussy modes, traction lights and ABS adds to the purity. Pity about frequent stops. The Tesi does 35mpg, and the low fuel light is on at around 70 miles. By the time you find fuel it only takes ten litres, so there are six litres and 40-odd miles left. But the lamp is so small you worry about missing it, and fill up when you spot it. Other idiot lights are small and dim too. And the mirrors are blurred. And the key feels cheap.


7.52pm, Sunday: all over too too quick

After days it’s hard to say the Tesi is better than a regular bike. But it’s certainly different, both to ride and own. You also need to appreciate what it is to really ‘get’ it. But if you do the package is little short of sublime. Yes, it’s expensive. Yes, your BMW S1000RR is way faster. But after five days I’m smitten – if my six numbers plop out the tumble drier a Tesi will be a fixed feature of my shed. 


Verdict

The Tesi 3D is too firm, with awful steering lock and a hard seat. It also looks amazing, is beautifully made and sends tingles through your being even at standstill. Crucially it works too, with an experience that’s just different enough. Engaging, inspiring, eccentric – it’s all you want a Bimota to be.

Bimota Tesi details

Contact

bimota.uk.com
01630 655720

Price

£25,450

Engine

8v desmo air-cooled V-twin

Capacity

1078cc

Fuel system

fuel injection

Transmission

six-speed, chain

Power

100bhp @ 7750rpm (claimed) 

Torque

69 lb.ft  (claimed)

Frame 

steel tube, alloy engine plates

Wheelbase

1380mm

Rake/trail

23°/100mm

Seat height

780mm

Tank size

16 litres

Front suspension

monoshock, adj. preload, rebound, compression

Rear suspension

monoshock, adj. preload, rebound, compression

Brakes
(front/rear)

2 x 320mm disc, 4-pot radial calipers/220mm 2-pot

Dry weight

167kg (claimed)

Economy

35mpg, 123 miles

Words Mike Armitage Pics Jason Critchell