Bimota SB2

The beautiful silhouette of the Bimota SB2.

In the incredulous words of ‘Talking Heads’ ironically titled, “Once in a Lifetime” song, “Good God…….what have I done?” As I sit here trembling from nervous energy, I’m excited, ecstatic, nervous and bricking it, all at the same time in countering waves. I’ve just placed a deposit on a once in a lifetime bike. A bike that I was smitten with from the first time I clapped eyes on a picture of one…may soon be turning into a reality.

Supplied by Chris Mayhew of Lusso Veloce (est. 1973 as North Leicester Motors ‘NLM’)

It’s a totally impractical proposition and will be the most valuable bike I own, hard to justify on any logical level as a ‘motorbike’, but this truly is so much more. It’s not ‘just’ a ‘motorbike’ although it is that, and a fine one at that. It is not just ‘art, although it quite easily qualifies for this, it’s not just an ‘engineering masterpiece’ for it is also this too. It is the origin story of the greatest and arguably most influential motorcycle designer/engineer that has ever existed. A man that defined at least four decades of motorcycle creations. The genius behind Bimota, Cagiva, Ducati and MV Agusta’s finest models.

I am a huge fan of Massimo Tamburini. It runs much deeper than this though, there’s an aura of energy that radiates from his machines, one that ignites the kindred soul within, an affinity for what he set out to achieve and an admiration for his engineering execution to meet those big visions that he dreamed for himself. I share this empathic bond with the great man when in the presence of his works. It’s about having an appreciation for his engineering prowess, always pushing the envelope and breaking with convention for nothing more pure or sincere than a love for the pursuit of excellence and beauty on a granular level.

Massimo “Max” Tamburini carrying out evaluation work on his first production road bike…

His intense attention to detail pushes everything way beyond what was strictly necessary or commercially viable, driven by a true passion to create perfection in the process, channelled through an unwavering dedication and a focused determination. This is, motorcycle art! I admire the execution of the solutions he devised and find myself in awe of the detail evident in his creations. There are so many little touches, nuances, traits that strongly pervade all of his works, works that are defined by boldness, risk, courage, sacrifice, passion, intelligence, imagination, love, perseverance, energy, precision and excellence. It is engineered into the DNA of all of his motorcycles, only truly visible to those who truly appreciate.

It is widely claimed that 140 SB2’s were produced in both kit and factory form. The figure for factory bikes would be far less. How many remain today is unknown, 40 have been registerd in total on the Bimota owners register.

The Bimota SB2, is the first complete road bike designed by Massimo Tamburini, hot off the heels of his direct contribution to the Bimota framed Championship winning Yamaha powered motorcycle of Venezuelan Johnny Cecotto who won on the opening race of the 1975 350cc Championship and finished the year defeating the legendary and undisputed Seven time defending champion, Giacomo Agostini, providing him with his one and only 350cc World Championship crown.

The prototype featured underseat exhausts which ran above the engine and underslung fuel tank cited below the engine. Heat management meant that he couldn’t get this design to work suitably for production. Underseat exhausts would have to wait a couple of decades.

Having established his own company, ‘Bimota’ in 1972 with 2 other friends (Bianchi/Morri/Tamburini) initially as heating system engineers, it was soon renamed Bimota Meccanica in 1973 when they began producing race chassis frames for racers. Buzzing with the victorious energy and the confidence from his race success, Tamburini turned his attention to Bimota’s first road bike, the groundbreaking SB2. A ground up motorcycle which was exhibited to the world for the first time at the 1976 Rimini Motorshow.

The Rimini Motor Show 1976 where the SB2 was first exhibited. Far Right Giuseppe Morri, Second from right Massimo Tamburini sporting a fine 70’s moustache!

This model carried the pressures, the success, the hopes and dreams for the future of Bimota. This was Tamburini’s Genesis, his first true creation. As such, it is possibly one of the most interesting and exciting motorcycles produced in my timeline. Conceived and born at the same time as me, this fabulous creation is my motorcycle doppelgänger.

A clean rear end utilising a monoshock design on a rocker linkage. No dual shocks at the rear end like most 70’s designs

1976, and here was this radically designed motorcycle that looked to have come from another planet compared to contemporary forms of the time; all swoops, curves and presence, patiently and lovingly sculpted, applying his all, the bike encompassed so much more than the beauty it’s bodywork exuded, for it contained within its wrapper many world firsts and concepts which remained a Tamburini hallmark throughout his career.

Faired in indicators, one of Tamburini’s stylistic penchants…

As anyone who has worked on one of Tamburini’s great designs will appreciate, the intelligence of his creations manifest themselves the very first time you begin to disassemble the components to carry out maintenance. The bodywork always comes apart incredibly easily. As an owner, it is highly rewarding to strip the motorcycle down to it’s frame and engine in moments.

The easily removeable fairings reveal the clean chassis with exceptional access to the engine workings.

Going even further, it’s not just ease of access to serviceable items; consider the frame for instance, which uses the engine itself as a stressed member, it is designed so that it can be detached from the frame in mere minutes.

A young Giuseppe Morri and Massimo Tamburini

Beautifully engineered conical fittings provide strength and precise mating of the components while providing a substantial visual statement of intention, not just providing supreme rigidity, but boldly making that point with a heavily engineered joint for reassurance.

The beautifully engineered and executed conical fixings, featuring three bolts each located on either side of the frame providing the incredible chassis rigidity.

The rear end, uses an eccentric hub to adjust chain tension. This features in so many of Tamburini’s designs, the original Ducati Paso had the same setup, along with the later 916 and F4 which both additionally featured a single sided swingarm with the eccentric hub.

The eccentric hub meant that as the chain is adjusted, the rear ride height will change. Of course Massimo Tamburini had allowed for this with a compensation rod connecting to a rocker in the rear linkage to adjust the ride height precisely back to where it needs to be.

The rear swingarm pivot point, was aligned with the gearbox output sprocket, this allowed the rear end to maintain a constant chain tension throughout the arc of the swingarm’s movement and more importantly, all but eliminated rear squat under power. The use of the rear monoshock is also one of the first road bikes to deploy this setup.

Suzuki electronics matched to the powerplant.

At the front end, there was another eccentric hub in the triple tree, this enabled the selection of two fixed positions by rotating it 180 degrees, allowing for two separate geometries to quicken or slow down the steering as desired. This design carried through to the F4 also. The forks were set in at an offset angle to the yokes (28 degrees from vertical) as opposed to the triple tree (24 degrees from vertical) to reduce rake/trail changes under braking for a more consistent geometry.

A young Tamburini works on an adjustable SB2 triple tree.

35mm Ceriani telescopic front forks and a Corte é Cosso rear shock absorber handled the suspension movement.

For deceleration, Brembo provided the braking power with twin 280mm rotors up front and a single caliper 260mm disc set up at the rear. These were married with Magnesium Campagnolo rims, fitted with the modern day equivalent of 100/90/18 to the front and a 130/80/18 rear tyre.

Suzuki provides the beating heart within the chassis. An 8v GS750 750cc inline 4 cylinder engine allied to Suzuki electronics and a 4 into 1 free flowing exhaust system are fitted as standard to the factory bikes.

As a factory upgrade option, one was able to specify a Yoshimura 850cc engine as fitted to this particular bike. Yoshimura were a renowned Japanese engine tuner, synonymous with Suzuki courtesy of the solid reputation they had earned from all their racing success with tuned Suzuki engines.

This reworked powerplant featured an overbored Suzuki block fitted with Yoshimura 69mm high compression pistons.

Yoshimura 69mm Pistons as fitted to the 850cc Option Engine. Photo credit: Made in Italy Motorcycles

Yoshimura Road and Track camshafts were installed with race valve springs complimented by a Yoshimura ported cylinder head which in turn was fed through a bank of Mikuni 29mm carburettors replacing the standard 26mm items. This upgrade brought power up to 100hp at the engine, a significant increase over the stock 75hp engine output.

Yoshimura Road and Track Camshaft as fitted to the 850cc Option Engine. Photo credit: Made in Italy Motorcycles.

Beautiful details abound, with aircraft grade aluminium featuring everywhere, from die cast footpegs and controls, to the front yokes, rear hub, sprocket, fuel filler cap with enough little machined ‘Bimota’ logos positioned to remind you just which company manufactured this fabulous motorbike, setting a whole new standard for chassis design and exquisite detailing.

The SB2 represented a cut above everything else commercially available, placing Bimota squarely into a boutique niche that it would occupy for decades to come with the Bimota SB2 providing the firm foundations for Massimo Tamburini’s illustrious career while simultaneously raising the bar for the rest of the motorcycle industry.

Home delivery available…

Honey, I’m just on the phone ordering a bike to go!

It’s not the preferred way to buy a motorcycle unseen over the phone. In these COVID-19 lockdown times however, there are few alternative options, particularly when something as rare as this comes along.

Thanks to technology, I did get to watch a you tube video of it running and was able to view some high resolution photos at least.

When you’re looking at a very special 43 year old bike, there’s a certain amount of leeway you’re prepared to grant. There is nothing in the way of service history with this bike, just a V5 and keys. That’s not a lot to show for 43 years but then as the type of bike that customarily sits on display for most of its life, there’s perhaps not a lot one should expect! I do the basic checking online, but it’s academic really, clearly this hasn’t been near a road since it was first registered, showing with DVLA as being registered in November 1993. 6 months minimum road tax would have been mandatory then, taking it to a tax expiry of 1st May 1994.

A phone call was made to Lusso Veloce and a lengthy chat had with Chris Mayhew, Managing Director. We thrash out what a deal would look like and away I went to have a think about it. There has been strong interest from a South African and Japanese buyer since the bike has been advertised. I daren’t think about it too long because in this game, if you snooze you lose. I call Chris back soon after and the deal is done over the phone, to include new front and rear tyres to replace the aged ones, an MOT and free delivery. They also indulged me in sorting out the missing fuel overflow fitting/line as well as supplying and fitting a replacement for the missing speedo cable, although it has not really turned a wheel in anger since the expired RFL of last century. The deal was done on the 3rd Feb with delivery aimed for either the 10th or 12th. Then it decides to snow hard all week!

Miraculously, Friday comes and the sun is shining, it’s not snowing in Leicestershire where the bike is departing from. Our drive is still snow covered though. Fortunately Chris arrived as planned and is able to make light work of the snow on the drive and with the main roads clear now it’s been a clear run. He seems surprised by the amount of snow and quite pleased with himself as he proclaims with a wry grin “It’s grim down South!!” Indeed, cold too!

Unbelievably I neglect to take a picture of my Bimota, it’s there, it’s nosecone just in sight at the top right…

With three bikes tied down in the back of the van, the Bimota was loaded last, so it’s first out, and it’s wheeled directly into the garage. Chris had informed me en route that he had found some goodies too that he thought I’d be pleased with. Having been a Bimota distributor once upon a time, and Chris’ Father a Bimota owner himself, it turns out a previous Tesi 1D his Dad had owned (the only factory red one in existence) was sold, leaving behind the cover, tools and an old Bimota stand which had all languished in a back room for a long time. It was therefore a wonderful surprise when he produces the most luxurious bike cover I’ve ever seen. It is stunning, as befits such a special bike, in an almost silk metallic red. A Bimota tool kit, documents wallet and paddock stand which rounds it all off perfectly.

The bike is sat on its side stand as we stand around chatting. I had noticed prior to buying that the engine start controls had paint flaking on them, with a NOS one sat on ebay I needed to verify which version this had. As I stood over the bike to peer under the controls and turned the bars, there’s an almighty twang, a thud and the next moment the bike is going down!!! Fortunately I’m on the right side to catch it and in a decent position to arrest it’s fall as it becomes very heavy, I panic for a moment, it’s happened so quickly before anyone can even react, I see a scenario playing out in my mind ending with a horrible graunching groan of crushed fibreglass being tortured, followed by a splitting and cracking sound, this snaps me into mustering up that extra strength and resolution to get it back to neutral balance. Phew, disaster averted, but my heart is in my mouth for about the next 2 hours. Chris and my wife come to my aid as I go off to get the paddock stand to the ready.

With the bike now secure it’s time to assess what has just happened!

The side stand support bracket has snapped. 43 years of life and it snaps while I’m standing next to it. It’s difficult to be upset, the alternative doesn’t bear thinking about had it crashed down unattended into a pile on the floor!

It looks like it has broken before and been welded. Some aluminium doesn’t take too well to being welded.

Chris at work. Hopefully people will look back at this picture and wonder why he’s wearing a mask…living life in the midst of a global pandemic…

I set about removing the stand from the snapped stump while Chris removes the fittings from the bracket. He has a busy day with other bikes to deliver so we crack on so he can get on his way. Thankfully the bracket gave up the ghost in his presence, from his alarmed expression when the stand bracket snapped, he’s as relieved as I am that there was no other damage. Without quibble he offers to get it sorted, try and source a new one if available, fix it if feasible, or have a new one made.

A rather lonely set of foot controls. The same bracket holds this assembly so this bike is going nowhere for a while. It’s bitter cold and snowing so just as well.

Later, he calls Paolo at Bimota Classic Parts but these are long out of production, a repair wouldn’t give enough comfort and having been welded previously it just isn’t worth the risk. So Chris having taken the two pieces with him, hands it over to an engineering company down the road who CAD it up using the old template and will determine the best grade of aluminium for the job.

No mere breakage was going to dampen this experience. It’s an induction into life with a classic motorcycle, an initiation ceremony!! She will be waiting a little longer yet before those wheels start turning in earnest. There is deep cleaning to do and lots to go over and check through yet! Plenty of hours of tinkering ahead.

Follow the trail of breadcrumbs…

History. Provenance. It’s a big part of buying a motorcycle, knowing, where it came from, how it was used, how it was cherished, maintained and generally cared for. Although there was no history with this bike, there were some clues to follow. I had the details of the previous keeper and the V5 says 5 former keepers, making 6 recorded in all. There was also a hint that the bike had been supplied at some point in the past by Made in Italy Motorcycles.

I decided to make the start of my research with Made In Italy Motorcycles. This was the conversation that kicked off the whole history trail as I was given invaluable information by the very helpful Neil there. The conversation began when I asked to speak to the owner John (who had also just sold an SB2 out of his own personal collection to the USA) however he wasn’t about, so Neil asked if he could help. We got on to the Bimota that had apparently been supplied by them, and it looked like it might be a struggle, “we see a lot of bikes, I doubt John would remember that particular bike”, we persevere, it’s not like they’d have seen too many SB2’s given their scarcity, armed with the reg number and chassis number, Neil miraculously finds the information and suddenly it all comes back to him. Fair play to him for going the extra mile and actually making the effort to look on behalf of some random phone in.

He recalls the story; the bike had been traded in by the widow of a chap who had died under tragic circumstances. During a dog walk in freezing weather, the dog went through the ice of an icy lake, the owner removed some clothes and rushed to try and save it, he sadly didn’t make it, although the dog did survive. (I’m also told by Neil that he restored classic vehicles and apparently restored this and another SB2 side by side). Armed with the wife’s name who was the recorded keeper at the time of sale, I research that story and find the article, which leads to the owners name, Tim Waddingham, RIP.

He is a well known classic car restorer in the Jaguar world, I read as much as I can about him, the articles, the comments, the enthusiasts who entrusted their vehicles to him, he sounded like a wonderful person. He passed in 2012 tragically leaving behind a wife and 7 year old daughter. His wife parted with the bike in 2014 and in 2015 Made in Italy sold the bike on, as an almost complete restoration project to a buyer in Valencia, Spain. I find a picture on their blog…

The photo shows the bike with no exhaust, no rear indicator lenses, no rear master cylinder and other minor unfinished details. Tim had done most of the restoration work but the bike was clearly an unfinished project at his untimely demise.

I then set about researching to see if Tim had been on any of the owners groups, that drew a blank, however a search on the Bimota UK facebook group up-turns some more clues. I read a couple of posts on the subject, and through this group get chatting to someone who turns out to be an old friend of Tim’s, he knew him from 18 years old as a local biking and drinking buddy. Peter, it transpires, was the owner of the other SB2 which Tim had restored. Peter has owned his from 1982 and has arguably covered more miles on an SB2 than anyone else in the world, being his only daily transport at one point!

This is Peter’s SB2 in Tim’s garage, Tim’s SB2’s front wheel can just be seen poking into the photo. A Jaguar D Type also being restored in front!

The above picture puts the two restored SB2’s together, albeit only the wheel of Tim’s is visible in the photo. Peter also informs me that my bike had had a race history and that Tim had found some clues on the bike that corroborated that but he didn’t have any further details as such.

I’m also in dialogue with another Tim, this one recalls seeing the bike in the workshop at Galleria in Cranleigh circa 96-97. He recalls it needed some work, according to the sales guy and that this was the first time he had seen one in the flesh and was impressed with it.

I then have correspondence with Bill, he had put a post on facebook asking if anyone had bought any of Tim Waddingham’s bikes. Tim had carried out work on Bill’s Jaguar and he had hosted Tim and his wife for dinner. He describes Tim as a “Kind and gentle man but also a real artist with cars and bikes” he informs me that his Son worked at Galleria in Cranleigh who were the Bimota distributors after the original importers who were Dixons. He recalls seeing the SB2 there and only remembers that it was an ex Dixons bike. He was there from 95-98. It would appear that Tim therefore purchased the bike around 1996-1997 ish.

I have a lengthy phonecall with Peter again and it’s wonderful to get such rich detail of the man and the way he came about buying it. He recalls the conversation where Tim tells him about the bike at Galleria only 10 miles from his home, they go to look at it. He tells me it was raced at some point and needed restoring. Tim then set about restoring both bikes side by side with Peter’s taking priority as a paying customer. Peter received his bike back around 2010. Tim never got to finish his own one when he passed in February 2012. This puts Tim as the longest serving custodian of the bike from circa 1997 to 2014 when his wife moved it on some 17 years after he first bought it. In that time, it had never really turned a wheel.

From the information so far, the bike was first registered for road use (according to online DVLA info) on November 1993. I had assumed when I bought the bike that it had been imported into the UK at that date. However having a race history and being a Dixons bike, it is possible it just hadn’t been registered for road use when it was initially brought in by Dixons. With it being registered in ‘93, there must have been an owner before Tim, making Tim the second owner and his wife the third owner. It then leaves for Valencia in 2015 where it must have been finished off, works included finishing off the rear brake master cylinder, fitting indicators, a new exhaust and painting the inside of the fairing uppers in black.

it must have arrived back to the UK in 2018 where it has the only MOT on file, this would have been required by the DVLA to re-register the bike. The mileage is noted as 6,693 miles however this should read km’s and not miles and will need to be corrected at the next MOT.

The bike is also on what is presumably it’s original plate. It is on a T plate which is 1978. Bizarrely the V5 has manufacture date stated as 1979 which would have put it on a V plate, I can only surmise that on re-import the wrong date was put on the dating certificate which DVLA would have required at the time, however it appears to have reassigned to it it’s original plate.

On arrival back to the UK it was apparently owned by someone on the South coast (Chichester?), before going to a Simon from Norfolk and finally Terry at Silverstone before ending up at dealer Lusso Veloce where I purchased it from.

This accounts for all owners on the V5, the only info I don’t really have is for the first registered keeper between 1993-circa 1997 and the 4th owner from 2018-pre 2020.

The timeline looks a bit like this…

1978-1993 Manufactured 1978, brought in by Dixon Racing Limited based in Godalming who were the UK Bimota distributors of the time, but it was never road registered, this aligns with the racing history story as Dixon Racing prepared and tuned racebikes before moving into bike sales. They were also the distributors for Yoshimura’s tuning products. Peter’s SB2 featured above, was their press bike and also fitted with the 850cc Yoshimura engine. It is possible that my bike was their racing bike. It remained a racing bike or locked away in a shed or collection until…

1993-1997 Road registered in 1993 by the first registered keeper, this then went to Galleria to sell.

1997-2014 Purchased by Tim circa ‘97 and registered first to Tim and then his wife, accounting for the second and third keeper. Sold to Made In Italy Motorcycles in 2014.

2015-2018 Made in Italy sold to a gentleman in Valencia Spain, exported 2015. No keeper added to the V5.

2018-2019? Brought back into the UK in 2018. Re-assigned its plate, this keeper would continue the keeper chain as the 4th registered keeper on the V5. The only info I have is this was believed to be an owner on the South coast possibly Chichester.

2019?-2020 Sometime after, acquired by Simon from Norfolk who sold in early 2020.

2020-2020 He sold to Terry Keys of Keys Motorsport (Silverstone) early 2020 who then sold it around October time to dealer Lusso Veloce.

2021-XXXX Lusso Veloce sold it to myself in Feb 2021.

Not a bad investigative job to get the history trail to this point…but this is just the beginning, it gets far more interesting from here on out!!



And the breadcrumbs lead straight back home!

As I am checking over and deep cleaning the SB2 on the Sunday morning after having received it, I make a little discovery…

In the rear tail, things look a little odd and not what one would expect of a factory finish with an unusual array of pipes…my first thought was, why are there water pipes back there? It’s air cooled! Then I wonder if it’s housing the loom for the indicators…I also note that the base of the tail is not as thick as the rest of the fibreglass. It appears to have been moulded around the shape of the wheel and it is very thin, I can flex it with my hand, it’s clearly been modified as the lay up is of a different type to the rest of it. I’m thinking to myself, well that’s one job I’m going to need to get sorted, having the tail section reinforced…

I then check out the underneath of the arch, and this is where I make a discovery that resonates with an article I had read while researching as much information as possible regarding all things SB2.

There are what appear to be auxiliary fuel tanks neatly grafted into each side of the rear tail, connected with fuel pipes to the main tank and to each other via balance pipes.

This now explains what the pipes are for in the rear tail. It’s a balance pipe between the fuel tanks.

I recollect a posting I had seen on Facebook from fellow SB2 owner Peter, (which is why I made contact with him in the first instance), where he is telling someone about the bike that was at Galleria (this bike), saying his friend had bought it and that he thought it had a race history. That and the findings above brought this article below in particular to mind…

Source: Classicbikehub.uk Article written by John Nutting 1978

Could it be? There are a lot of coincidences there. Further investigation reveals a Lockhart oil cooler (for whom Dixon Racing where distributors for)…

And collapsed into the frame are the old rubber mounts for the seat unit.

A makeshift rubber grommet set up has been glued to the tail instead to occupy the hole where the recessed rubber bush would have been.

From the information I have gathered on the bikes history, I have an ex Dixon’s bike, bought by a classic vehicle restorer (sadly now deceased) who was told it had a race history. I have since found a trail of clues eerily matching a magazine article written in 1978 about none other than a Dixon Racing race Yoshimura Bimota Suzuki SB2 bike, campaigned by Bill Smith at the 1978 F1 TT no less.

My bike wasn’t registered for road use until 1993 which could mean that it was a race bike up to that point and possibly owned by a collector or just abandoned in the corner of someone’s workshop until it was finally road registered.

Source: https://www.imuseum.im/search/collections/events/mnh-event-692.html

It’s a fanciful thought and I need to remain grounded, but it fires up a new line of enquiry. I make contact with Bill Smith Motors, which gets me through to Bill’s son Mark who now manages the business. He very kindly passes an email with information and photos on to his father. If anyone can verify the bike, Bill would surely be the man!!

In the meantime, I’m working through the clues with the ever helpful Peter, whose SB2 is away having some carb tuning work done. When he gets it back, he kindly sends me pictures of his bike. I see that he too has saddle tanks, virtually the same as mine in fact. He explains to me that they all have these saddle tanks beneath the tail, however they had a weakness in that they can crack due to flex and leak fuel. His did exactly this, therefore Tim (my bikes old owner), who restored Peter’s bike also, emulated the tank setup that was on his own bike. Peter’s tank was removed and custom ones fabricated from the template of the original. His new setup involved the main tank and two separate saddle tanks joined via flexible fuel hosing with balance pipes matching the arrangements on my bike. I guess having been used for racing, mine would have exposed this weakness fairly early on, hence the modifications that were carried out. Very usefully, Peter sent me photos of his original tank which would be fitted to all SB2’s and a drawing schematic of the factory setup;

The above image shows the saddle tanks in the tail. Below is the original tank when de-bonded from the main fibreglass one piece unit. Interestingly, there are no balance pipes in the original setup and it is all one piece, not in three separate pieces as on mine and subsequently Peter’s bike.

It transpires that the auxiliary tank that was referred to in the magazine article, wasn’t the saddle tanks under the tail, but an extra one perched on the rear of the motorcycle with what look like bungee hooks around it.

Source: https://www.mortonsarchive.com/p/mortons-archive/5321761050/x1978-fi-1978-tt-isle-man-mortons from the Nick Nicholls collection.

My rear tail looks like it has had a different lay up and been modified around the rear tail light area in the inside, with some ply also showing there, and the T piece on the balance pipe has a hose at the top coming off it which leads nowhere. It is almost too coincidental because this could well have been the feed pipe from the auxiliary tank into the saddle tanks and not a breather as I first thought since the main tank already has a breather and the fuel level in the main tank is at a higher point than this hose anyway. Since no one has done any mileage on this to speak of, it’s possibly just as well, since I could well imagine that if the tank were brimmed fuel would come out of this!

So my initial thoughts were somewhat misdirected in thinking the saddle tanks were the auxiliary ones from the article, however had it not been for me thinking that and remembering the magazine article, it would not have led to the further observations and comparison with other SB2’s. At least the recognition of the non factory looking split tanks and hose array led me closer to getting to the bottom of it all, learning an awful lot along the journey.

All that really remains now before I can get any further is for someone familiar with the bike at that time to verify the setup. With this having been 43 years ago it’s a very tall order.

La “Morte Sussurrante” è viva…

It’s the 24th February, just a few days earlier I had written to Mark Smith, Son of the legendary racer Bill Smith, who has over 50 TT replica trophies to his name. I received a very nice response back informing me that Bill was very happy to see the pictures and had passed me his number so that I may call him. Feeling slightly nervous I call up and Bill’s Wife answers the phone, “Ah yes, he’s been expecting your call”. Then Bill comes on the line and it’s an absolute honour to meet him, albeit only through the telephone. That unwritten Biker code cuts straight through everything, immediately there is a feeling of comfort, like straight away we’re on that same wavelength and the conversation just flows naturally.

His first question before anything else is confirming my heritage. “Italian, I thought so, good Italian name that” he says. Meet Bill Smith…

Bill Smith (Bimota Suzuki) at Quarter Bridge; 1978 F1 TT (source: https://www.ttracepics.com/suzuki/smith-bimota-suzuki-quarter-bridge-11427939.html )

On the 3rd of June 1978, Bill Smith guided a Yoshimura Bimota Suzuki SB2 prepared by Dixon Racing Ltd around the Isle of Man for the Formula TT F1 race. The very same race where Mike Hailwood made his widely exalted ‘big comeback’. If it wasn’t for a pesky failed cam chain tensioner, history may have been somewhat different! For competing against Hailwood’s Ducati, was this slippery Bimota, and it was fast.

“As soon as I saw the fuel system I knew it was the bike, it’s definitely the one I rode around the Isle of Man”… just like that…Wow! I feel relief wash over me with those words, it’s been a roller coaster journey, from buying a bike with no history whatsoever to piecing together the most interesting back story of any bike I’ve owned, it has been fascinating for many reasons and spooky at the same time with so many coincidences along the way. It has been an emotionally draining and yet rewarding journey and this is the absolute icing on the cake. The SB2 has always been the “unicorn” bike for me and this one’s provenance has gone from zero to hero, going from a lovely bike with an unknown background to quite possibly, one of the most significant SB2’s on the planet as Chris from Lusso Veloce (who sold it to me) nicely put it upon finding out. Sat here speaking so casually with such an experienced racer, a man who was racing this bike around the Isle of Man almost to the day after my second birthday is awesome. He is such a personable, interesting and genuinely down to earth man with a fabulous sense of humour and so many tales. He has lived through the golden era of motorcycling and racing and stood shoulder to shoulder with all the greats, himself the TT F3 champion in that same year.

Even the slightly wonky front mudguard is evident both in this picture and the TT one above. Taken 43 years apart!!

According to Bill it was “Very very fast but it was a bloody handful that’s why it got the name “Whispering Death” because there was a bloody big ‘if’, that ‘if’ you came off it, you’d kill yourself.”

It’s like a motorsport water colour painting which I shall call “The blur”, a freeze frame from the Mike Hailwood documentary video produced by Duke “One day in June”
https://www.dukevideo.com/prd1118/One-Day-in-June-DVD

Having just turned 86, there is nothing at all wrong with Bill’s memory. He continues, “I took it easy on the first lap to make sure it was all working ok and limited it to 11,000rpm, I was running fourth on the road at the time and it came in at just under 106mph average. On the second lap I wound it up to 13,000rpm and went for it, I was running third on the road then and I reckon it would have been a 112-114mph average lap if that chain tensioner hadn’t gone, leaving shrapnel everywhere, I had some very bad words to say to Mr Yoshimura, told him it was unreliable. It was a shame for David Dixon, he was a great man and a good friend too.” I ask if he felt his and the bikes pace could have challenged for a podium… “It would have been a top three for sure”. It was an opportunity wasted for everyone, David Dixon, Fujio Yoshimura (who had flown from Japan to work on the bike and fitted the experimental camchain tensioner the night before), for Bill and the whole team and of course for Bimota and Suzuki. Bill’s pace was strong and the bike had fantastic speed. The drama’s with the fuel system meant he only ended up with 2 laps of practice while they messed around rectifying the fuel range. To demonstrate Bill’s pace at the event, he won the TT F3 race and the Championship later that week.

Source: https://www.mortonsarchive.com/p/mortons-archive/5321760250/x1978-fi-1978-tt-isle-man-mortons from the Nick Nicholls collection.

To emphasise the speed the bike had, Bill goes on to tell me that the next race was at Silverstone. There he took the lead on the first lap passing everyone down the long straight it was that fast. He wasn’t so fond of the riding position though, “It was like sitting on the edge of a bathtub”!

An extract from the Dixon Racing brouchure from back in the day

Bill has been working on his autobiography, he tells me that he has written a paragraph on the Bimota and chuckles as he tells me “I put you were a wealthy Italian”. It’s a wonderful touch for him to mention something about our exchange in his autobiography and I feel truly privileged to have had the opportunity to have this conversation. It’s a difficult time in this Covid world but he would love to see the bike again and I would love to facilitate this once things settle, in the meantime there is an open two way invite between us should either of us be in the others vicinity.

Bill Smith (Suzuki Bimota) and Tom Herron (Honda) 1978 Formula One TT
(source: https://www.ttracepics.com/honda/smith-suzuki-bimota-tom-herron-honda-12398732.html )

Now that the history is more or less settled and the bike reunited with its past, I owe it to all of the custodians and those whose hands the bike has been through, those who have worked and toiled on it and of course Bill who pushed it so convincingly around the TT, to make sure I restore the bike to it’s full potential and keep the legend of “La Morte Sussurrante” (that’s Italian for the “Whispering Death” Bill 🙂 ), alive and kicking for many more years to come!!!

This is a huge “Thank you” to each and every one of those who have helped me to get to this point in uncovering the story behind this SB2 #00094.