The under seat exhaust. The single-sided swingarm, the fully exposed wheel. Twin cat’s eyes for headlights. Tantalisingly revealing full-body fairing. Elements of the Ducati 916 that make it one of the prettiest motorcycles ever made – an opinion that’s hard to argue with even if you find pleasure in uncommon choices. It’s the motorcycle that put Massimo Tamburini on the map of every motorcycling enthusiast, and though his CV may be short and sweet, it’s one filled with hits that changed the course of the companies he worked for, from Cagiva, Ducati and MV Agusta to his very own outfit, Bimota. A company that started out making air-conditioning ducts. So, how did Tamburini come to be the ‘Michelangelo of motorcycles’?
The early years
Going by some of the breakthrough designs of the latter half of the 19th century, you’d think there was something in the water in Italy that made great automobile designers out of men. From Gandini to Giugiaro (read their Design Journeys in previous issues of OVERDRIVE) to Tamburini, who all lived in a 500km radius of each other, Italy seemed to be producing some of the most notable automobile artists, from humble beginnings. Tamburini, born on November 28th 1943 near the idyllic beachside town of Rimini, could’ve slipped into obscurity if he’d taken the family trade of farming. Lucky for the world though, the young Tamburini was smitten by motorcycles. As a child, he would run out of the house to catch a glimpse of a neighbour’s Moto Guzzi Falcone fly by, watching the big Italian single carve through the set of curves nearby. Going to an engineering university was too expensive for the family, and Tamburini instead studied HVAC design at a local technical school.
Tamburini kept the fire for motorcycling alive, attending every championship race he could, at the nearby Monza racetrack. The passion was well and truly ablaze, and watching MV Agustas and Nortons battle it out, would lead to something of a hobby later. In 1966, Tamburini and a few friends, Valerio Bianchi and Giuseppe Morri, started Bimota (using the first two letters of each last name), a company that specialised in fabricating air-conditioning units. Tamburini’s first tryst with fiddling with motorcycles came through taking his own Moto Guzzi 700 from stock to 750cc and then onto 840cc a few years later. A classified for an MV Agusta 600 got his gears turning, and he set about buying it and promptly turning it into a sportsbike from a tourer.
It’s said he owned one of a small handful of large capacity motorcycles around Rimini at that point, and the police would make a habit of flagging him down, and getting him to undo his modifications! It was enough to get Tamburini to sell the bike, and buy a Honda CB750 instead. Amazed at the Honda’s power and smoothness, its wooden handling gave him three broken ribs at some point, and some very big ideas. The seed was sown.
The Bimota years
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