In the days before razor-sharp big-bike handling, Bimota were the torch-bearers for brilliant chassis. This YB8 is a piece of (almost) affordable exotica that makes the most of the FZR1000 EXUP’s 20-valve motor
imota entered the 1980s as one of the world’s leading chassis designers, making up for the handling shortcomings of the offerings of the mainstream manufacturers, but by the end of the decade the Japanese in particular were close to matching their brilliant engines with decent frames. Bimota were facing redundancy.
But while Japan’s big superbikes were stupendously fast and handling better each year, but they were also big and weighty. The Honda FireBlade had yet to arrive to show that fast bikes could be light and nimble.
The YB8 appeared in 1990, and was to be one of the last opportunities for Bimota to build a better bike than the donor machines supplying the engines. The 1002cc engine from the FZR1000 EXUP powered the YB8, but free of Yamaha’s self-imposed 125bhp limit, and boasting a claimed 149bhp.
The chassis is heavily based on Bimota’s YB4EI, which used an FZR750 motor for race homologation. That’s a good start in life – Davide Tardozzi won the first ever World Superbike race in 1988 at Donington on one, taking four more wins and almost claiming the championship over the rest of the year.
Away from the race track, the YB8 combines the best bits of its glorious WSB sibling, but with the sledgehammer power of the EXUP motor. Bimota retained the EXUP butterfly valve in the exhaust from the Yamaha and therefore its low-rpm benefits.
Unlike the Weber-Marelli fuel-injected YB4EI, the YB8 stuck with the EXUP’s 38mm Mikuni CV carbs. That’s good: niche Italian firms and pioneering electronics are rarely a happy match in reliability terms.
Much of the electrical componentry is Yamaha-sourced too – underneath the funky white/red/black clock facias is the EXUP instrument cluster. The switchgear is Yamaha (albeit with the lightswitch blanked off and the lights wired on permanently) and even the headlights, brake mastercylinder and clutch lever are purloined from the Yamaha spare-parts shelf.
The bits that define Bimotas are all Italian though. The huge beam frame and the aluminium swingarm and eccentric chain adjusters are as rigid as they are beautiful.
Marzocchi suspension is fully adjustable front and back, and black Brembo calipers are race-derived parts allied to 320mm discs on alloy carriers from the same firm.
But at £14,000 new in 1990 (the EXUP was £6149), you’d demand that level of kit. And you’d want it to look sensational too. Not something Bimota always achieved – witness the DB3 Mantra – but the YB8’s aerodynamic shape looks the way handbuilt exotic machinery should. It isn’t beautiful in the way a Ducati 916 or an MV Agusta F4 is, but it’s a handsome machine with clear purpose.
It’s helped by the simple, clean Tricolore graphics that adorn the bike in these pictures. We spotted this 8500-mile minter in MCN’s online classified ads, on sale at Ilkley dealer Route 65 Motorcycles.
And we really mean mint – it’s a word often used without justification in the used bike market, but you’d believe us if we said there was under 1000 miles on the clock. There’s not a mark on the irreplaceable panels, the Micron can is undamaged and the craftsmanship of the chassis is unblemished by damage or corrosion. There’s some small evidence of clumsy use of a security chain through the front wheel, leaving a couple of small nicks in the alloy, but for a 21 year-old machine that’s not worth talking about.
Typically for expensive machinery with few miles, it hasn’t been used in a while, and in preparation for our ride, Route 65 have given the carbs a clean. Wise, as this isn’t an engine to ruin with spluttery fuelling.
Although the Micron silencer is stamped ‘Race Use’, the Bimota makes a subtle noise around town. But there’s limited steering lock and my knuckles grind on the glassfibre fairing when turning, plus it’s really too cramped for low speed work. Nothing less than you might expect, though surprisingly the Yamaha-sourced ‘Mickey Mouse’ mirrors actually provide rear vision on the Bimota – something they don’t do on the FZR.
The EXUP motor is as great as ever. Modern 1000s have nothing on its low-end grunt – throttle openings from anything above tickover result in being shoved back against the single. Bimota claimed 29kg less dry weight than Yamaha too, and that helps.
The handling is taut as you’d expect, meaning every input is direct and rewarded with a predictable response. Steering isn’t quick, and the legacy of 1980s design is evident but it is confidence inspiring. More rear ride-height would make it more nimble.
The brakes are powerful, and could still be judged good by modern standards.
Like the EXUP upon which it’s based, the Bimota still has relevance today – but even more so. To modify an EXUP to cut it against newer machinery would require lots of cash and elbow grease. The Bimota needs the eccentric chain adjusters moving for more ride height and new tyres. That’s all.
OK, so it isn’t cheap (Route 65 had this bike up for sale at £6500, and have since taken a deposit). But you’ll struggle to find a bike that’s more satisfying to look at when you open the garage door.
Words Chris Newbigging Photography Mark Manning