Jeff Ware rides the most beautiful two-stroke racer ever.
Iwon’t tell you what it cost me but it wasn’t cheap. More than my house! Anyway, what price can you put on a piece of history like this? It is a very rare and beautiful machine. Don’t fall off it!” This Cagiva V593 belonged to huge motorcycle fan and avid collector Steve Byrne when I rode it. The bike held a spot at Steve’s bar with Andrew Pitt’s world-title winning ZX-6RR. Steve’s other 18 bikes live in the garage. Like I said, Steve is a bike nut. When he heard that the then-mv Agusta Aussie importer and distributor Paul Feeney was selling the V593 that John Kocinski won the Australian GP on in 1994, Steve just had to have it. Naturally, when Steve offered me a ride and a private day to do it at Queensland Raceway, I didn’t hesitate in saying yes! I think this is the first time I’ve felt true fear from a motorcycle. And I mean trouser-filling fear! The bike is invaluable and has a lot of important history. Cagiva entered Grand Prix racing in the late 1970s and was fighting the ultra-rich Japanese manufacturers that had seemingly unlimited budgets. To compete, Cagiva often had to copy what the Japs had built (officially, they received help from Yamaha in the late 1980s) and had to get riders who were perhaps a bit past their best or young up-and-comers. Rumour has it Barry Sheene was approached in the early 1980s;
they employed the likes of Alex Barros (young) and Ron Haslam (old) in 1990, but perhaps their most famous riders were Randy Mamola (who took their first podium finish at Spa in 1988) and Eddie Lawson who rode in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Eddie gave Cagiva their debut victory on a drying track in the 1992 Hungarian Grand Prix before he retired. Then, in came some younger guns, the likes of Aussie Mat Mladin and Doug Chandler for 1993, but at the end of that year, the Italian factory managed to get hold of John Kocinski, who had been dumped by Suzuki’s 250cc GP squad. He took Cagiva’s first dry-weather win at his home circuit of Laguna Seca. Things looked good at the start of 1994, too. Johnny K won at Eastern Creek at the season opener and backed this up with pole position and second at the next round at Shah Alam, Malaysia. At the end of the season on the updated V594, Kocinski finished the 1994 championship in third position but sadly that was the end of the line for Cagiva in the series, apart from a one-off return by Pierfrancesco Chili at Mugello in 1995. The firm – which was owned by Claudio and Gianfranco Castiglioni – also owned Ducati and by the mid1990s they were ploughing more money into the World Superbike series, where they were winning races and championships. But let’s get back to the bike… I’m pacing around nervously as the bike gets warmed up by the legendary Dick Smart (he’s a former Grand Prix mechanic) and the even more legendary Daryl Beattie (former 500cc star, race winner and series runner-up) obviously picked up on this! “Just stay relaxed and ride it normally,” he says. “It’ll just feel like a superbike, only faster and lighter. And watch those carbon brakes until they’re up to temperature!” Daryl is along for the day and having a spin with us. He’s trying to reassure me in that weird way a surgeon who knows his stuff reassures you before cutting your chest open with a hacksaw. “Keep an eye on the temperature too and watch the powervalves, they seem to be jamming up a little at 9500rpm.” Oh Jesus… The next minute I’m being pushed down pit lane by Smart, just like the racers on telly! I let the clutch out and the V4 two-stroke fires into life. The racer comes out in me almost straight away. Every threat that my wife Heather has made on my life has been forgotten and I’ve already got my knee down by turn two. Steve must have put extra soft tyres on for a bit of extra ‘journo’ insurance! First run down the back straight I short shift and load the bike up. I hold the throttle open in third gear to clear it and after a few coughs the digital tacho suddenly screams past 9500rpm. I can feel my shoulder joints pulling apart as I shift at 12,500rpm before grabbing the brakes for turn three. They feel just like normal brakes at the moment. They must be cool. Out of three I feed the throttle on slowly to lean the engine out a little and get through that rough patch at 9000rpm. Again, the engine clears its throat and I’m struggling to hold on, let alone keep the front wheel down. It goes like this: wheelspin, wheelstand (wheelie for you Brits) wheelspin, wheelstand. Faark! This thing hammers. I’ve never felt acceleration like it: ever. Not even on a turbo or a superbike or anything. These 500s truly are the beasts they were made out to be. I’m cautious through the two left-handers first time around but I feed it on a little on the short straight before turn six, just to get a feel for the power delivery. Onto the chute for the first time the engine coughs again but once it clears, the bike explodes in a surge of acceleration and shifting through the ’box via the electronic reverse-pattern quick-shifter delivers a feeling like no other. Nothing feels like this, no four-stroke could be this
exciting. The 500 is amazingly quick. Everything feels like it’s happening faster than I can deal with… I squeeze the Brembo front brake lever at the end of the straight. One finger is all it takes but I have this picture in my head of the rotors suddenly getting up to temperature and locking the wheel before I can modulate the pressure. But soon I’m trail-braking into corners with confidence and I’ve got the hang of feeding the power on progressively out of the turns. I just can’t believe how much concentration this bike is sapping from me. Not to mention the physical drain of just staying on and dealing with the braking and acceleration forces. Those black hoops are up to temperature now and with more confidence in the tyres I’m pushing the Cagiva further and further on its side every lap. But I’m more than aware that I need to stand the bike up as much as possible before opening the throttle. Make no mistake, this ain’t no proddie bike or 600. Wind it on too much or at the wrong millisecond mid-corner on this thing and I’m going to be flying. The chassis is ultra-stiff and the bike is so light. You’d really have to have an intimate relationship with the machine and a lot of laps under your belt to decipher confidence-inspiring feedback from it. Once you knew the bike, though, it’d be a brilliant talker: in my short session I’m just relying on my past experience with slick tyres and knowing how far to push them at this moderate pace. The rear Ohlins Gp-spec shock is predictably stiff and, to be honest, probably in need of a service after sitting around for so long, especially with my 88kg on it. The front suspension action is firm but nowhere near what I’d imagined. In fact the machine is riding the nasty bumps at Queensland Raceway quite well, with the exception of getting air over the bumps at the end of the main straight. The session is coming to an end and my dream is almost over, just as I start to get smooth and comfortable. Not surprisingly the V593 feels better the faster I go and on the last lap I do just what Daryl said. I ride it like I’d ride a normal bike running into the turns fast, standing it up and winding it on harder and taking it right through to 13,000rpm, just 1000rpm short of redline. On the last lap I feel like I’m detached from the world. Like I used to feel when I was on a hot lap and in my ‘groove’ in my old racing days. No bike has made me feel like that since I stopped racing. I think I’m in love. I ride back into the pits and hop-off the bike feeling eerily calm and sedate. Steve walks over and hands me an icy cold beer as soon as I have my lid off. The sweat is pouring off me. Daryl is having a good old laugh. Man. This is the best day of my life. And the best beer I’ve ever had. I’m sad it is over but oh so glad the bike is in one piece and I am around to tell the tale about the ride. I hop off the bike and hand it back to Dick Smart. In one of the funniest scenes I’ve witnessed, Dick jumps on in jeans, trainers and a hoodie (and helmet), and goes out for laps on a million dollar machine. Talk about casual… cheers to that!
ABOVE:Dick Smart warms the V4 up prior to the test.
1 2 IN DETAIL: 1/ The twin crank V4 is very similar to the YZR500 of the era. 2/ The powervalve servomotor located on the headstock. 3/ Huge alloy frame is extremely stiff. 3
ABOVE LEFT: The bike accelerated faster than anything I have ridden, including all of the World Superbikes.