A Bimota, a wind tunnel, the Tail of the Dragon and some Land Speed Record racing. Sounds like a fun week, right? Add in hitchhiking through the Deep South in summer and it can only be one man’s idea of the perfect holiday. That crazy person is JT Nesbitt. — Ed.
The difference between a good decision and a bad decision hinges invariably on the outcome. When I decided that there was room in the stable (and bank account) for a new sportsbike, the hunt was on. The budget was tight for a new bike. A new R1 perhaps?
But what about something a little more eclectic, a little more “JT?” What about a Bimota? Well of course it HAS to be a Bimota. What other brand has the limited production, the handmade feel, the history with Tamburini and the out and out weirdness?
I called my old friend Bob Steinbugler, just sniffing around you see.
“Hey Bob, Got anything in a Bimota for around ten thousand and change?”
“Hey JT, how about the last SB8R to come out of storage from the U.S. warehouse in 2009?”
“How many miles does she have on her?”
“Who do I make the check out to?”
And that was that. I bought one of the all time coolest motorcycles ever to see production, sight unseen, for less than the cost of a Harley-Davidson Sportster.
Bob and my new bike.
The SB8R was in fact the first “production” motorcycle to use structural carbon fiber. Designed by a friend of mine, Pierluigi Marconi, as his last work for Bimota, the SB8R has no subframe under the tailsection, the swingarm pivot/side plates in carbon dovetail into the alloy beams that curve their way to the headstock that adjusts for trail. The upper fairing is self supporting structural carbon fiber and those alien intake ducts through the gas tank are carbon too! Sergio Robbiano gets credit for most of the styling and Suzuki gets the whole thing moving with the TL1000R v-twin. Certainly one of the all-time greatest, yet underdeveloped engine programs ever to come out of Japan. A 916 beater without the Rube Goldberg desmo sillyness. Oddly, Bimota used the TL1000R headlight assembly, but developed their own EFI (a decision that while interesting…but, we will get to that later).
It’s late nineties wildness, sort of a Lamborghini Diablo on two wheels. And, when I saw one for the first time, it sent a shiver up my left leg. I vowed to own one someday. The realization of that dream was now secured, but how to get her back to my garage in New Orleans from Bob’s shop in Raleigh, North Carolina?
Just about everybody that is now reading this has experienced the eBay Motors shipping conundrum. You find that dream bike online, but it is always halfway to hell and back. The shipping costs almost always sour the deal. What to do?
Keith Turk is arguably the fastest man on earth. He holds more land speed records over 200 miles per hour, in more venues, than anybody. His collection of red hats is beyond staggering. He is also the race director for the East Coast Timing Association (ECTA) and a dear friend of mine. The meet at the Maxton Mile in North Carolina is a couple of hours from Raleigh and, with a little bargaining, he agreed to get me there if I would ride the Bimota from Steinbugler’s shop to Maxton and race it.
Keith’s garage is in southeastern Alabama, about 300 miles from New Orleans, and all I needed was a one-way ticket that didn’t cost a dime, having spent the last of my money on a set of leathers at Transportation Revolution here in New Orleans. So Max dropped me off on I-10 East bound at 7:00 AM.
I was drinking beers in Keith’s shop a mere six hours later, with only a little too much sun and sweat, but not ass-raped or worse for wear. Tim Collins of Alpinestars sent me a set of their Tech Performance Underwear, Summer Long Pants and Summer Long Sleeve Top for evaluation and ,honestly, I don’t think that I could have survived the ordeal without them. The underwear noticeably cooled me down under the suit and made getting in and out of the leathers slick and painless.
This guy stopped to pick up a fully-leathered hitchhiker.
Hitchhiking in full leathers through the South in late June is uncomfortable, but highly effective. The people who picked me up were as much curious as helpful. “Your bike break down?” was what I heard most, but from the owners of scores of pickup trucks festooned with Harley-Davidson stickers and license plate frames, I heard only the sound of gas pedals being mashed to the floor to speed up and get away from me. I was actually glared at by a guy with a Harley in the bed of his truck as he merged into the fast lane to put as much distance between me and his air-conditioned comfort as possible!
True to plan, Keith got me to Raleigh and I arrived at Steinbugler’s shop, Bimota Spirit, Friday morning. Bimotagazm! To say that Bob’s shop is Italian exotica porn is an understatement. With my head reeling, Bob walked me through his collection. It’s all for sale, save for Valentino Rossi’s father’s racebike and the SB2. Bob is a self described Bimota “matchmaker.” If you can’t find what you are looking for in his collection, he has a running tab on just about every one in the country, its marital status and mechanical condition. Got a poorly running V-Due? Bob has an engine exchange program. Need body work for a Mantra? Bob is the sole importer for all Bimota parts in the U.S.
Bob with some of his Bimotas.
So I asked Bob “Why Bimota?” He answered “It’s motorcycle art that aligns with my philosophy. They build what they want and the design department is never overruled by the accounting department. The purchase price is the result of hand labor and the motorcycles are built by enthusiasts. The people who make them have the vision and values that I enjoy supporting.”
Me too! It was time for the first ride. I was all pumped up and pleased with myself for making a most excellent decision. Hook line and sinker gave way to the truly sinking feeling in my gut as the bike bucked and stuttered just twenty minuets after merging into traffic on Interstate 40. Oh fuck, what have I just bought? The sporadic surging of that Bimota-designed fuel injection rendered the motorcycle almost unrideable. Brahhhh, fitt fitt, poof, Brahhh, fitt fitt, poof…
Then the shifter linkage fell off.
Ah, that’s why this motorcycle has 1000 miles on it. Under the overpass, I found an old rusty nail that I was able to bend into shape to secure the shift linkage. With trucks blasting past I called Bob. He offered to come and get me right away, but also suggested turning the ignition off, and letting the FI sit for a moment, then re-starting. My appointment at the wind tunnel 170 miles away was pressing. I was running out of time. I decided to go for it. The FI was better after the re-start, but far from perfect.
I limped into Moorseville just in time for my appointment at the legendary A2 Wind Tunnel.
Dave Salazar secured the wheels to the load cells in the floor of the A2 while I got into the leathers.
The wind tunnel is a dyno for everything other than the engine, which as I learned, translates into a significant amount of power at speed.
Being on a motorcycle with 85mph wind blasting and not being able to see far into the distance is one of the most unnerving experiences I have ever had on a bike. My brain was saying no, and my deathgrip on the bars was cramping my wrists. I found it very difficult to re-wire the instinctive impulse to freak out at the sight of a wall in front of me with wind rushing by. More totally freaky shit was to ensue, as a very simple set of experiments were carried out. The wind tunnel is a magical, mysterious place of higher education.
“My job is to help people go faster, by providing the service of specific data and informed suggestion,” explained Dave. “No two riders are the same, no two suits and helmet combinations are the same and no two motorcycles are the same.” What that means is that to get real data, you have to get your junk to the tunnel. For example:
Experiment #1 Rider Position — The position of my feet on the pegs and my elbows relative to the gas tank. Worth 3bhp at 130mph.
Experiment #2 Mirrors — Removing the mirrors. Worth 4bhp at 130mph.
Experiment #3 Alternate Riders — Dave took a reading of the Bimota with no rider, with me on it (6’4”) and with him on it (6’ 0”). The motorcycle was less aerodynamic with me on it, but MORE aerodynamic with him on it by an astonishing 10bhp. Rider flexibility plays a big role here.
That’s a net gain of 17bhp, in under an hour. Cost? $460. As far as horsepower-per-dollar, it just doesn’t get any cheaper.
The next series of experiments called for the smoke wand. As you can tell by the tremendous amounts of turbulence in these pictures, there is room for improvement with the suit, helmet and windscreen designs. My takeaway from the tunnel was simple: If you plan on racing your motorcycle at speeds over 100mph, a visit to A2 is as critical as a visit to the dyno.
Sleeping with your Bimota is the only way to ensure its safety.
Next stop, the Maxton Mile, but not before a 150-mile wrong turn and blown out taillight. When I finally rolled the Bimota into the motel room at 2:00 AM Saturday morning, I had done a 500-mile day, on a sportbike that I had never previously ridden. Nursing a sick motorcycle through North Carolina (and South Carolina at times, due to my lack of good directions), took it right out of me, but I knew that she was the right bike for me. I just needed to get some dyno time to sort out the EFI.
As the racing director, Keith is god at Maxton. Of all of his rules that are truly sympathetic to the racer, the one that stands out in my mind is tear down and inspection, to validate engine displacement for a record. There simply no impound at his race. “For me it’s about integrity. Either you have it or you don’t. If you have to lie to get your record, you lack integrity. That’s your problem and you have to live with the fact that you weren’t good enough to win honestly. I will put you in the record book regardless.”
For the motorcycle classes, only lock wiring the axles, proper speed-rated tires for the class and a kill switch are required. Keith allows the riders themselves to choose either an ECE or Snell-rated helmet which is very cool for those of us who prefer the softer standard favored by MotoGP riders. Keith sees himself as a facilitator of racing, not an obstacle, and that attitude is pervasive throughout the pits.
Land speed racers value mechanical creativity almost as much as positive and helpful attitudes. Everyone is there to have fun and go fast, in that order, and I was no exception. The guys I pitted with were having a blast running the 250ccclass and helped me get my bike prepped. I ran through the traps at 149.84666 miles per hour and called it a day. It was as fast as I wanted to go on a sick motorcycle.
Unfortunately, the ECTA has lost its lease at Maxton. Only two more meets are to be held there in September and October. Keith is actively looking for a track for next season, so if anybody knows of a stretch of smooth asphalt on private property east of the Mississippi, contact the ECTA and be that hero.
Next stop, the incredible Wheels Through Time Museum. Imagine opening the doors to that mythical barn and finding the motorcycle mother lode. Who hasn’t fantasized about being the motorcycle archaeologist that discovers the equivalent of King Tutankhamun’s tomb? Wheels Through Time is set up to recreate that sensation and its proprietor and active guide Dale Walksler can be found there every day, either sharing his encyclopedic knowledge or doing burnouts INSIDE the museum on a Crocker or an Excelisor or an Indian. The vast majority of the bikes are pre-WW2, with an emphasis on hillclimbers in as-raced trim.
None of the motorcycles are restored and they all run. It’s chaotic, unsanitary, and dank. Everything that the Barber museum is not, yet the collection is equally as impressive and definitely more fun.
If you’re up to it, Dale might even take you up the mountain on his Jackpine side hack, but be prepared to scrape the poo out of your pants afterward.
Dale getting ready to take me for a ride.
Wheels Through Time is close enough to the Dragon to make it a must see for anyone in the neighborhood and I can’t imagine doing one without doing the other.
The Tail of The Dragon, that legendary stretch of highway, is certainly one of the all time greatest motorcycle paths. If you haven’t ridden it, pay attention to what I am about to say. This was my first and last time to ride a high power sportsbike on it (especially one that stumbled and choked). It’s so tight that I never got more than 50 horsepower to the ground and never got out of second gear anywhere on it. To really enjoy the Dragon, take a 55 horsepower single-cylinder supermoto. It’s that technical, that cramped, that athletic and that scary. Really. No one in their right mind would design a motorcycle road racing course as claustrophobic.
Bimota on the Tail of the Dragon. Image: Killboy.
With the bikes loaded up in Keith’s trailer, we boogied through the night back to Enterprise, Alabama. Only one leg of the trip left. Backtracking the hitchhiking route to New Orleans. Even the punishment being dished out by Choc (it just doesn’t rain anywhere else in the world like it does on the Gulf Coast) couldn’t stop the Bimota form her date on the dyno at the Transportation Revolution back here in New Orleans.
So that’s it. The craziest motorcycle week of all time, filled with the most mechanical, logistical, and emotional excitement that I could pack into seven days. The Bimota is on the mend and will, when sorted, be the perfect sporting road bike for me. I wish that all of my bad decisions had such a great outcome as this one.
Special thanks to: Max Materne, The Transportation Revolution Tim Collins, Alpinestars Bob Steinbugler, Bimota Spirit David Salazar, A2 Wind Tunnel Keith Turk, ECTA Dale Walksler, Wheels Through Time Museum