Bi­mota Mantra

Thought pro­vok­ing

Old Bike Australasia - - CON­TENTS - Story Nick Varta Pho­tos Jim Scaysbrook

There’s no half-mea­sures with the Bi­mota Mantra. You ei­ther love it or loathe it. The de­sign can only be de­scribed as rad­i­cal, and when you con­sider it car­ried the badge of Bi­mota, known for stylish and svelte rac­ing and sports mo­tor­cy­cles, this was a leap into the un­known. But the look of the Mantra is not sur­pris­ing once you con­sider that it was penned by Sacha La­kic; Ser­bian-born, Paris-bred; a de­signer who has pushed the en­ve­lope ever since he picked up a pen, or a lump of mod­el­ling clay. Back in 1986, La­kic co-de­signed the Yamaha-FZ750 pow­ered Axis 749, and there are clearly traces of what be­came the Bi­mota Mantra in that ex­er­cise. At the time La­kic was work­ing for Paris-based de­sign stu­dio Alain Carré; con­cepts that were trans­formed into metal by Boxer Bikes, based in Toulouse. One of the Boxer creations, the Triumph Day­tona-en­gined Gla­di­a­teur, was dis­played at the 1993 Paris Mo­tor­cy­cle Show, where it was heav­ily scru­ti­nised by Bi­mota’s Auriello Lolli, who be­gan dis­cus­sions with its de­signer with a view to tak­ing his tal­ents to Bi­mota, which he did. It was her­alded as be­ing the kick-off in an en­dur­ing re­la­tion­ship, which it wasn’t.

La­kic says his think­ing be­hind the Mantra con­cept was in­flu­enced by the early Ital­ian Rumi rac­ers with their all-en­velop­ing stream­lined fuel tanks (which were also a fea­ture of the mid’ 50s Gil­era 4 works rac­ers). Also in 1986, Yamaha took a ma­jor stake in the com­pany that had orig­i­nally been Mo­to­bé­cane, which was re­named MBK, with the em­pha­sis on ‚

small ca­pac­ity scoot­ers. By 1988 La­kic was with MBK, and penned the Black Cristal, a scooter with an F1in­sired car­bon fi­bre mono­coque chas­sis which be­came much im­i­tated fol­low­ing its sensationa­l de­but at the 1993 Paris Sa­lon. The fan­fare led La­kic to branch out on his own, and one of the first cus­tomers to come knock­ing on the door of his Paris stu­dio was Bi­mota. The Ri­mini com­pany al­ready had the ba­sis for its new DB3 project, and La­kic’s role was to be limited to the styling of the body­work, while the chas­sis was the work of Bi­mota’s celebrated en­gi­neer Pier­luigi Mar­coni, who had the Bi­mota Tesi to his credit. This was to be the first Bi­mota not clothed in a fair­ing, so it was es­sen­tially a blank can­vass for La­kic. Pre­vi­ously, Bi­mota had spe­cialised in tubu­lar steel frames, but the model that be­came the Mantra was made from oval-sec­tion alu­minium, welded to­gether in trel­lis fash­ion and us­ing the en­gine/gear­box unit as a semi-stressed chas­sis mem­ber. The struc­ture tipped the scales at a scant five kg. The same ba­sic chas­sis was used for the Bi­mota BB1 Su­per­mono which used a 652cc Ro­tax sin­gle cylin­der en­gine, as also used on the BMW F650. The swing­ing arm, made up from square and round sec­tions, con­nected di­rectly to a sin­gle Paoli rear shock absorber that was off­set to the right in or­der to clear the rear cylin­der head, and piv­oted di­rectly in the crankcases of the 904cc Ducati en­gine. A 43mm Paoli front fork sat up front. The three-spoke March­esini al­loy wheels were Ducati 900SS stock, with Brembo Gold­line four-pis­ton cal­lipers act­ing on twin 320mm full float­ing cast iron discs (with braided brake lines), with a twopis­ton cal­liper on a 230mm rear disc. The Mantra’s en­gine was also plucked straight from the Ducati 900SS, the unit hav­ing also pow­ered the Bi­mota SB2. With twin 38mm Mikuni car­bu­ret­tors fit­ted, this pro­duced 86 bhp at 7,000 rpm, with 90 Nm of torque at 5,500 rpm – hardly scin­til­lat­ing stuff but ad­e­quate for the pur­pose. Dur­ing 1994, La­kic beavered away at the Bi­mota fac­tory, pro­duc­ing a mock up in mod­el­ling clay with the deadline set for Oc­to­ber of that year at the Mo­tor­cy­cle Show in Cologne, Ger­many. It’s true to say that the Mantra, when the drapes were pulled back on the Bi­mota stand, drew a mix­ture of sighs of ad­mi­ra­tion and gasps of hor­ror. Like the Rumi or Gil­era that had in­spired him, La­kic’s de­sign had the up­per body­work run­ning from the rec­tan­gu­lar head­light, which was re­cessed into the nose cone, all the way back to the seat, with the steer­ing head com­pletely en­closed. The fuel tank it­self was split into two ‘pods’, one half on each side plus a cen­tral chan­nel, with a small lock­able compartmen­t in the rear of the tank in front of the seat. Orig­i­nally this compartmen­t was scarcely large enough to hold a hand­ker­chief, but in pro­duc­tion form it was en­larged suf­fi­ciently to ac­com­mo­date a folded wet weather top or spare gloves. Shield­ing the twin in­stru­ments was a pair of car­bon fi­bre shrouds; the high-tech ma­te­rial in stark con­trast to the very Bri­tish dash­board fas­cia fin­ished in a plas­tic mock-teak that looked like it had come from a ‘fifties Rover. It’s the equiv­a­lent of a beige Terry Tow­elling steer­ing wheel cover on a Fer­rari. The dash­board it­self housed small rec­tan­gu­lar lights for in­di­ca­tors, neu­tral gear po­si­tion, oil warn­ing, low fuel level, bat­tery and high beam. In­deed, from a rider’s per­spec­tive, the Mantra pre­sented an odd view, with the han­dle­bars mounted high on cast al­loy ris­ers se­cured to the fork caps above the milled alu­minium top fork yoke. A de­tach­able wind­screen was listed as a very sen­si­ble op­tional ex­tra. Be­low the en­gine sat a wedge-shaped pan that en­closed the front ex­haust pipe header and di­rected air to the rear of the en­gine. Each of the ex­haust pipes split into two at the rear, with twin muf­flers and droopy out­lets. Given the weight penalty, the use of four muf­flers in­stead of two was ques­tion­able, but an im­mutable part of La­kic’s de­sign

ex­er­cise. Car­bon fi­bre shields en­closed the front of the muf­flers and gave some heat pro­tec­tion for the pil­lion pas­sen­ger’s feet. The rear mud­guard was of the hug­ger type, closely fit­ted around the rear tyre and colour matched to the main cowl­ing. Car­bon fi­bre touches abounded; around the seat, on the front and rear mud­guards, and in the lower reaches of the fair­ing. There was also a car­bon fi­bre clutch cover avail­able as an op­tion. When it came to pro­duc­tion, La­kic was dis­ap­pointed that some com­pro­mises were nec­es­sary, such as the sub­sti­tu­tion of the small front head­light with a much larger unit, sourced from a Yamaha FZR600, in or­der to more eas­ily sat­isfy US reg­u­la­tions. The use of twin fuel tanks also made filling some­what of a chore. The front end of the Cologne dis­play model also came in for some re­fine­ment, with the full-float­ing cast iron discs re­placed by semi-float­ing stain­less ro­tors sourced from Ducati stocks. By late 1995, pro­duc­tion was un­der way, and the first road tests were gen­er­ally com­pli­men­tary, es­pe­cially for the han­dling, which of course had lit­tle re­la­tion­ship to the styling. In fact the vi­tal specs of the chas­sis; 24 de­grees rake/92mm trail and wheel­base of 1370mm, came from the sweet han­dling DB2, so there was no sur­prise it did the job very well. The ge­om­e­try could be al­tered by length­en­ing the rear shock for slightly quicker steer­ing. The non-adjustable Paoli front fork came in for some stick, to the point the Bi­mota soon of­fered an op­tional unit with spring preload and adjustable com­pres­sion damp­ing. While the seat pad­ding looked min­i­mal, it was gen­er­ally given the thumbs up for com­fort, at least for the rider if not for the pas­sen­ger, and the over­all re­la­tion­ship be­tween the seat, han­dle­bars and footrests was deemed quite sat­is­fac­tory for gen­eral rid­ing as well as carv­ing up twists and turns in the coun­try. The en­gine, whilst do­ing its job rea­son­ably well, copped some flack for its in­abil­ity to rev, and to run out of puff at the top end, which was put down to the use of the ex­tended in­let mounts that came straight from the 900SS and the Mon­ster, and which max­imised low speed torque at the ex­pense of out­right power and speed, which topped out at around 200 km/h on a good day. And al­though the six-speed gear­box drew plenty of praise, the stiff, grabby and noisy dry clutch did not. If there was one univer­sal criticism, it was the price. In­vari­ably, the Mantra was com­pared to the Ducati 900SS, and af­ter all, much of its com­po­nen­try orig­i­nated from Bologna, and the dif­fer­ence, nearly double the price, was dif­fi­cult to swallow – even more so when the Mantra was com­pared to the Ducati Mon­ster. In its orig­i­nal form, the Mantra was pro­duced from 1995 to 1997. The 1998 model was un­veiled at the Mi­lan Show in Novem­ber 1997, fea­tur­ing mi­nor body­work re­vi­sions and the same en­gine. Gone were the un­usual high-rise clip-on han­dle­bars, re­placed with con­ven­tional (Mon­ster style) tubu­lar bars, with the orig­i­nal March­esini wheels re­placed by sim­i­lar An­tera items. The rear end and rear tyre hug­ger were re­shaped, and a tinted wind­shield avail­able. Most of th­ese items could be retro fit­ted to the ear­lier model. By the time pro­duc­tion con­cluded in 1998, only 454 had been built, all but 50 of th­ese to the orig­i­nal spec­i­fi­ca­tion. Still, Bi­mota pro­claimed it­self well pleased with this re­sult, given its limited re­sources and fa­cil­i­ties which was also cop­ing with the pro­duc­tion of the pop­u­lar SB6 and the not-sopop­u­lar Tesi. Af­ter the dis­con­tin­u­a­tion of the Mantra, at­ten­tion turned to the DB4, which was a sim­i­lar mo­tor­cy­cle with far less po­lar­is­ing body­work.

De­spite ear­lier in­di­ca­tions, La­kic was not called upon by Bi­mota for fur­ther de­sign work. How­ever he re­mained un­fazed by the Mantra ex­er­cise and went on to de­velop a se­ries of less con­tro­ver­sial de­signs for the French Voxon v-twin mo­tor­cy­cle, as well a num­ber of con­cepts for Ven­turi’s elec­tric mo­tor­cy­cles. More re­cently, he has ap­plied his tal­ents to de­sign­ing fur­ni­ture, watches, bi­cy­cles, and cars such as the zero-emis­sion Ven­turi Eclec­tic. The Mantra is a rare bird any­where, and al­most myth­i­cal Down Un­der. Orig­i­nally, just ten came into the coun­try, all in yel­low. At $25,500 plus ORC ($8,505 more than the Mon­ster M900 in 1996), you have a fair idea why so few made it here. You will also ob­serve that our fea­tured Mantra is red, which makes it not one of the orig­i­nal ten, and is in fact a 1996 model owned by Ital­ian mo­tor­cy­cle ex­pert and afi­cionado Ron An­gel, who knows more about Bi­mota (and in­deed Ducati, Moto Guzzi, Mon­dial etc, etc) than just about any­one here or else­where. Thanks Ron.

ABOVE A Mantra in the for­mer Aus­tralian Mo­tor­cy­cle Mu­seum in Queens­land. BE­LOW In­spi­ra­tion? The works 500cc Gil­era 4 rid­den by Geoff Duke at Mount Druitt NSW in 1955.

The re-styled Mk2 Mantra of 1998.

In­stru­ments and warn­ing lights en­cased in the mock­tim­ber dash­board.

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