Motorcycle History: Mistakes Of The 1990s and 2000s

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Category: Motorcycle History

Each week RideApart looks back to highlight key milestones in motorcycle history from innovations to significant model introductions to racing successes and, of course, some of the disastrous things we’d rather forget. This week it’s a look at three motorcycles that should never have made it to the drawing board, let alone production.

There have been some pretty awful bikes in the past but there have been a few that have stretched things just a bit too far and make you wonder, even today, what exactly the manufacturers were thinking.

Norton Nemesis
Norton Nemesis

The late 1990s early 2000s were a murky time for Norton Motorcycles. It wasn’t exactly clear who was in charge of the company and who was making the decisions. For the sake of legal issues, we’ll keep this short and sweet and focus on a bike launched in 2000 that best reflected the troubled times Norton was facing.

At an international press launch held in London that year, Norton pulled the wraps off a motorcycle called the Nemesis. It was the work of legendary British designer Al Melling. At this point it would be kind to say the Nemesis looked, err…somewhat unusual.

It was even harder for the assembled media to accept Norton’s performance claims. They told the motorcycle journalists that the 1,497 cc V8 developed 235 bhp and the bike had a top speed of 225 mph. There was also a push button semi-automatic gearbox and rim-mounted brakes. “Unconventional,” would be the best way to sum up the Norton Nemesis. As it turned out, it never went into production. There was a legal issue in using the Norton name and Melling left the company to build the bike as the “Melling Nemesis.” We’ve never seen one but we were told that eight were sold, maybe more, at $75,000 each.

Ducati 999
Ducati 999

The Italians are always praised for getting styling right and making beautiful motorcycles and cars too. But once in a while they screw up and, when they do, they do it big time. Ducati had a fantastic run with the 916. It was a great performing bike and looked fabulous. Its replacement was due in the fall of 2002 and the motorcycle world held its collective breath waiting for news and to see the Ducati 999 for the first time.

When it arrived it wasn’t what Ducat’s customers were expecting at all. Very futuristic looking and just a bit too radical. The 999 was even described by some hard-nosed critics as being plain ugly. Ducati tried a few tweaks to make the 999 look better but to no avail and, for the first year of production, existing 998 models outsold the then newly-launched 999.

Just five years later, the 999 was replaced by the Ducati 1098, which had a more conventional design and looked a lot more like an evolved 916. That decision probably saved Ducati, as dropping the 999 and launching the 1098 helped turn the company around.

Bimota V-Due
Bimota V-Due

Ducati wasn’t the only Italian manufacturer to miss the target with a bike. Do you remember the Bimota V-Due 500 in 1997? Chances are that you don’t, as no sooner had it been launched than it was recalled. Only 300 were ever produced and it was pitched as the nearest thing you could buy at the time to a Grand Prix bike.

The problem was, it didn’t work. It looked terrific, but had an awfully narrow power band thanks to a badly designed fuel-injection system and poor reliability combined with questionable build quality. It was also very expensive, with a price tag over $20,000 (in 1990s money). In the end Bimota had no option and was forced to take back every single V-Due and offer owners a replacement SB6R. Some owners refused to accept this bike and simply demanded their money back.

The V-Due had been launched to get Bimota back on the rails again. But, as it turned out, it sounded the death knell of the company and Bimota went bust (again) in 1999.

The motorcycle world has its fair share of disasters. This trio were just a few that we remember, do you have any memories of particularly bad motorcycles?

Related Links:
33 Years of Motorcycle Fuel Injection
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