Mito Or Reality
Affordable, lightweight Indo-Italian sportbikes, coming right up
One bike that captured our imagination among the 100-point restorations and other gilded finery at the second- annual Legend of the Motorcycle Concours d'Elegance was the Cagiva Mito 500 prototype (Mito means myth in Italian). An inspired mash-up of the Euro-spec Mito 125 chassis with a Husqvarna TE510 four-stroke single, the Mito looks like a 7/8-scale Ducati 998 and, with a claimed 60 horsepower and sub-300-pound dry weight, promises to be pure backroad bliss.
Cagiva USA displayed the prototype at the Legend Concours as part of an ongoing opinion survey it has been conducting, beginning at select IMS consumer motorcycle shows this past winter, to gauge the viability of such a lightweight, small-displacement sportbike in the American market. The results of these impromptu surveys have been overwhelmingly positive, says Larry Ferracci, Director of U.S. Operations for Cagiva. "Everywhere we take the prototype we get a seriously enthusiastic response," he said. "At the IMS Shows we took in literally hundreds of comment forms saying, essentially, 'If you build it, we'll buy it.' It's been huge."
Of course, imaginary money is easy to spend on imaginary bikes, especially in the rarefied atmosphere of the Ritz-Carlton Half Moon Bay. Back in reality, recent sales trends for high-end European lightweights are hardly cause for optimism. MuZ's Skorpions (powered by 660cc Yamaha singles) were syrup-slow sellers and, following a few years of disappointing sales, that company fled the American market. Meanwhile, the $8960 BMW F650CS city bike was an unmitigated flop in '02. Even the mighty Japanese struggled to successfully sell sport-singles such as the Yamaha SRX600 and retro Honda GB500 a decade before. The harsh reality is that a relative lack of displacement doesn't correspond to any decrease in manufacturing costs, and these bikes are hurt by premium prices for the performance offered. The Cagiva Mito 500 would appear to be subject to the same fate. With a decent chassis spec and all-new motor (likely a dedicated version of the counterbalanced single in the recent Husqvarna STR 650 concept bike), it's difficult to imagine an Italian-made Mito retailing for much less than $9000-a stretch for the youth/female/entry-level market a product like this aims to reach.
Unless...this past April, Cagiva President Claudio Castiglioni announced a major restructuring of the company, one component of which was a strategic partnership with Kinetic Engineering of India to begin manufacturing select Cagiva models, including the two-stroke Mito 125 and, possibly, a four-stroke version as well. Cagiva's hope is to produce high-quality machines at more competitive prices, and as the manufacturing abilities of corporations in India, China, Korea, Taiwan and beyond improve, this becomes a more realistic goal.
Cagiva is not the only European manufacturer making such overtures. Piaggio, parent company of Aprilia, has transferred a significant portion of its scooter production to China in recent years, while Benelli is not only owned by a Chinese company, but has shifted much of its manufacturing there as well. Furthermore, BMW and Triumph have been outsourcing select production tasks to Far East outfits, in part to insulate from soaring exchange rates (the euro/dollar divide has grown 35 percent in the last five years). Expect to see more companies do the same.
Ferracci estimates that relocating production beyond Europe could cut costs by as much as 30 percent, which could make adventurous products like the Mito 500 less of a financial risk. But would enthusiasts buy an Indian-made Italian bike? Ferracci believes the answer is yes. "There're always going to be purists who turn up their noses, and for them, we've got MV Agusta," he laughs. "Our design will make the difference. Look at the Cagiva Raptor, powered by the Suzuki SV engine-Europeans still buy those, at a premium over the similar Suzukis, because the design is so much better. I think if we can offer a Mito 500 here for between $7000 and $8000, with a very high overall build quality and fresh design, I don't think it will matter to most riders if it's built in Italy, India or somewhere else."
Speaking of design, Ferracci confirmed that the 916-esque bodywork on the prototype is for placement only, and that the latest Mito resembles a cross between an MV F4 and the final-edition, 1994 Cagiva 500cc Grand Prix bike. And he hopes we will see it in American dealerships soon. "I've been asking for it since '97, people want it now and it's time. I feel confident that you will see a four-stroke Mito here soon. I would love to say you'll see it in '08, but you'll more likely see it in late '09 or early '10, with a unique-to-Cagiva motor." Sounds like this mythical lightweight, high-performance sportbike is closer to reality than we once believed.
The Bike That Changed My Life
1988 Honda Hawk GTRider:Craig Erion
Now:President, Two Brothers Racing
Then:Amateur Club Racer, Construction Contractor
"The bike that changed my life? That's easy: It had pedals and 10 speeds and I won it for selling newspaper subscriptions when I was 12. But that's a story for another magazine. As far as motorcycles go, the 1988 Honda NT650 Hawk GT ranks right up there as the most meaningful motorcycle for me. I had been club racing a Ducati 750 F1 at Willow Springs. I finished second in points in 1987 behind my brother Kevin [of Erion Racing fame]. He went on to win the 1988 AMA Battle of the Twins GP2 National Championship on his Ducati, while I went in a different direction and purchased a Hawk GT and began to develop that as a racebike. Ray Plumb of American Honda built the engine for me and I entered it in the Lightweight Twins class at Daytona in '89. I finished in 10th place-the top Hawk in a field dominated by Ducatis. The moment was pure magic. That Hawk eventually won the '89 AMA GP2 title with Kevin riding, besting all of the more developed and exotic Ducatis. The cult of the Hawk GT was born, and Two Brothers Racing was on the map. Now, nearly 20 years later, I realize that what made our experience with the Hawk so satisfying is that we were doing something that motorcycle was never intended to do-racing it-and we were having success, competing against the big boys and kicking their asses in the process. Oh, so sweet, that feeling!"