"Look around here," says Ascanio Rodorigo with a laconic wave of his right hand at the glorious array of priceless motorcycles inside the Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum. "Any of these bikes made in the past 50 years have all been built the same way, with the same design and the same faults. It's our objective to try to persuade people to take a fresh look at two-wheeled chassis design. Questa e la mia sfida--this is my challenge."
Rodorigo, 43, began working for Massimo Tamburini at Bimota back in 1983-'84, before Cagiva boss Claudio Castiglioni lured away the "ta" in the company name to create such works of art as the iconically beautiful Ducati 916 and MV Agusta F4. But if his former boss is the Michelangelo of motorcycles, Rodorigo is the Picasso, as one look at his latest example of deconstructed cubist two-wheeled sculpture, the Vyrus 985 C3 4V, will confirm. Like the Richard Rogers-designed Pompidou Art Center in Paris, which displays its pipes, drains, conduits and heating ducts on the exterior of its walls for all to see, the surreal Vyrus wears its technology on the outside. As the 21st-century evoluzione version of the avant-garde Tesi 1D streetbike that Bimota built from 1991-'93, the Vyrus is a technological tour de force that is even more minimalist and aesthetically appealing than the slab-sided Tesi.
Gaze closely at the Vyrus and every 10 seconds yields another trick part or artistic feature--the gold-anodized track rods operating the car-type hub-center steering, or the skeletal CNC-machined aluminum frame spars, the stress paths of which were carefully plotted by finite element analysis, then the metal around them removed to save crucial ounces. Or the heavily revised steering linkage with the bell crank positioned on the front of the right frame spar, and the gently curved alloy drag link operating the rod that activates it, helping to eliminate some of the copious change in direction the original Tesi design incorporated, and restoring some of the filtered-out road feel. Or ... you get the picture. This is an exquisitely conceived, finely detailed and brilliantly executed motorcycle, a genuine work of modern art.
Taking to the Barber racetrack aboard the Vyrus was, for me, a two-hour trip down memory lane. What memories? Why travel all the way from England to Birmingham, Alabama, to ride a motorcycle hand-crafted in Rimini, Italy? Because the museum holds the original works Tesi 1D Superbike I raced for the Bimota factory in '91 and '92. "My" bike may now be decorated in the colors of Cristiano Migliorati, who raced it for a season in the Italian National Superbike Championship after I was through with it. But the chance to compare and contrast two such radical examples of alternative thought was too good to miss--especially as this particular Vyrus was destined to find a home in the U.S.
Hopping aboard the Tesi brought the memories flooding back, and underlined just how much smaller and more purposeful the Vyrus is. Its riding position is comfortable and comparatively normal, without your hands being too close together as on some other hub-center bikes due to there being no fork or triple-clamp assembly. The absence of any bodywork other than the intricately designed headlamp fairing adds to the sense of minimalism, but not at the expense of adequate wind protection at the 140 mph achieved down Barber's short straights.
Though based on the Bimota Tesi, the Vyrus is built by a separate entity and there are at
Everything about the Vyrus seems refined, even delicate, and at first I struggled to reprogram my senses. But after a handful of laps gradually picking up speed, it suddenly clicked--and I remembered the mindset you must adopt to get the best out of a hub-center motorcycle: Hold the bars lightly and stay off the brakes until what seems suicidally late. The separation of steering from suspension is the biggest asset of such a front end. There's essentially no dive, and the suspension eats up bumps even when you're leaned over on the brakes. This bike is so confidence-inspiring and well balanced there seems no limit to how hard you can push it in corners. Well, there is one: Such treatment wears out the stock Pirelli Dragon Supercorsas very quickly. After around 50 laps, the front tire was well worn and the rear not much better.
Stability and ride quality are surprisingly good for a sportbike. The springless Double System air shocks are well set up in their standard settings, and are for sure more compliant than the stiffly sprung hlins we had to run to stop my Tesi racebike from weaving at speed. The Vyrus is easily flicked side to side, whereas the Tesi was hard work at speed. The radical steering geometry, with an 18-degree effective head angle and 3.8 inches of trail (adjustable 6 degrees upward from there, and from 3.1 to 4.1 in. of trail), allowed it to change direction faster than most bikes of comparable size. Yet that steep head angle hasn't resulted in significant instability, beyond one brief flick of the front wheel when I hit the only real bump on the otherwise billiard-table-smooth Barber surface accelerating out of the left horseshoe leading onto the back straight.