In this week’s Church Of MO feature, we pay homage to the legendary Massimo Tamburini, who passed away one week ago due to complications from lung cancer. Those who are familiar with his work need no introduction, but to those who don’t understand the significance of his passing, close your eyes for a moment and think of the most beautiful motorcycles you’ve ever seen. Chances are at least one of those is a Tamburini design. After creating Bimota with two friends, he moved on to Cagiva, then Ducati, and finished his career at MV Agusta. Along the way he designed, or had a say, in bikes like the Bimota SB2, Cagiva Mito, and of course the iconic Ducati 916.
Tamburini’s second masterpiece, the one he says brings him the most pleasure, is the MV Agusta F4. Tasked with bringing MV back from the ashes, Tamburini had a clean sheet to come up with whatever he wanted. He labored long and hard, designing every single piece of the F4. His efforts paid off, as along with the 916, the F4 is regarded as one of the most beautiful motorcycles ever built. Even today, iterations of the F4 are simply evolutions of Tamburini’s original design.
One of those iterations is the 2005 F4-1000 S, the bigger, stronger descendent of the original 750. Here, Yossef Schvetz tells us what it was like to ride it for the first time.
2005 MV Agusta F4-1000 S
By Yossef Schvetz, Nov. 26, 2004
“Italian sport bikes” oh yes, let’s talk about them.
For the last thirty years or so, that term had some pretty good connotations associated with it, but also needed a few “ifs”, “buts” and wishful thoughts of sorts. In spite of their total domination of WSBK, endless wins in the smaller GP classes and their outright sex appeal, Italian sportbikes had to rely on good excuses and intellectual apologies, for not being worthy opposition to Japan in the horsepower wars. Squids might not know this, but up to the early seventies, there was nothing on the road that could touch a Ducati 750SS or a Le-Mans in the twisties. However, that didn’t last long and Italy’s insistence on twin cylinder power surely didn’t help.First, the horsepower war was lost to tools like the Kawasaki Z1, Suzuki GS1000 and Honda CB900F.
Still, in the seventies-early eighties, if you wanted a four that handled, you’d be turning to Bimota and therefore Italy, for a replacement of the original “spaghetti tubed” Japanese frame. Bimota has a lot to do with the F4-1000 S you see here, especially one of the three musketeers that decided to switch from producing heating systems, to designing proper racing frames, a certain Massimo Tamburini. We’ll get back to him. In any case, by the nineties the sportbike war was truly over. Japanese bikes finally had the handling to match their prodigious power levels and Italy could only console itself with Ducati’s WSBK wins. Without wanting to take anything away from the prowess of the 916/998/999 series; it was no small thanks to a racing formula that favored the big Italian twins over the 750 fours.
So, where does that leads us? To the fact that nowadays, there are no more “ifs”, “buts” or any other apologies needed. Italy’s honor is back where it deserved to be for a very long time. The MV F4-1000 can confront the latest of the SS liter tools eyeball to eyeball and not even consider blinking. Actually, it can do so with the defiance reserved for someone who knows that he’s not only an extremely well equipped stud, but also an ultra cool looking dude with an IQ of 150.
After 700 miles of riding, I think that I checked the new MV 1000 pretty thoroughly and having fresh memories from a recent supersport literbike comparo I was involved in, surely didn’t hurt. When you leave stoplights with the front wheel pawing the air in first, then second, then third gear, when you throw the MV into 120 mph sweepers with abandon and experience the reassuring solidity of that steel trellis frame, when you catch a reflection of yourself on top of the F4 from a huge main street window, that’s when you grasp the notion that god might ride a Hog most of the time, but he probably takes the F4-1000 when he’s in a hurry. Yes, such is the feeling of elation while riding the thing. Add to these ingredients the blind admiration at every street corner or stoplight and the term “pride of ownership” gets a new meaning. A nice MV anecdote? I’ve never seen so many pretty girls stop dead in their tracks to admire a parked sport bike, as I saw with this MV. Yes, and that’s without me even sitting on the bike.
Our first 1:1 encounter leaves me somewhat puzzled. I have waited four years for this test ride (in its 750 guise), the very same four years that MV has been in the doldrums and test rides where nearly unobtainable. Finally, the moment has come. I meet another journalist in town, he hands me the keys and without any drama or fireworks, I am standing next to an F4 1000, key in hand. My colleague tells me: “Enjoy” and I nod knowingly, but somehow the first impact is not as strong as the one I felt in front of the brutal MV Brutale. Maybe it’s the visual familiarity from seeing the F4-750’s curves in shows and on the street what dulls my emotions. Without us noticing, seven years have passed since the F4 1997 introduction as a 750. Nevertheless, now that the bike is “mine” (even if only for a few days), it’s somehow different. I can take my time and savor the flavors and subtleties of the F4, roll them under my tongue, feast on their complexity.
Deciphering the articulate sculpting language around the gas tank area can keep you occupied for hours. The cleanliness of the silver fairing sides oozes class. Although there is none of the Brutale’s busyness in the F4, there are plenty of details to appreciate when you get up close. I caress the front headlight and find to my surprise a tiny lip in the glass surface that I’ve never been aware of. Why is it there? Art for art sake. All this leads us back to that key man in Bimota’s triumvirate, Tamburini (He’s the “ta” in Bimota’s name). This guy -who never studied motorcycle engineering or design- is a real detail freak. This bike is so full of details treated and solved at the highest levels of composition, that you really can’t grasp the “why” behind it all. Because it’s more beautiful, because it’s more interesting, because it’s more sexy. Period.
Ode to Tamburini aside, someone who’s somewhat sensitive to shapes and design might claim that the F4 is starting to look a bit dated, seven years are an eternity in terms of automotive design. The F4 is a bit soft looking in today’s age of sharp, hard cut surfaces. Yet, being the masterpiece that it is, means that the F4 is not really susceptible to the passage of time. A 2004 Yamaha R1 passes in front of me and with the MV as a yardstick, it’s not hard to spot the tricks and shticks that the Japanese used in order to grab our attention. The aristocratic F4 doesn’t need all those pyrotechnics to show its class.
Throw a leg over the F4 and you realize that Tamburini’s genius goes far beyond psychotic attention to details and shapes. The thing is tiny, tinier than any of the current 1000 supersports that flaunt their newfound compactness so proudly. Think about it. Work on the F4 must have started in Tamburini’s atelier in the hills of the San Marino republic, some 8-9 years ago, yet he’s already been there, done that, the shrinking act. It’s time to take off my hat. No twin spar aluminum frame could ever match the waspish waist created by the corset-tight hug with which the myriad of tiny steel tubes follow the F4 mill’s contours. Sex meets engineering.
A push on the tiny starter button and the four machine gun barrels that stick out from the tail, turn into the grand organ of the Church of Speed Metal. It’s not the volume, but the sound quality that send shivers through my spine as I joyfully warm the thing with small throttle twists, in Milan’s morning rush hour. Perky, people around just smile with approval.
I’m on my way and it’s time for the first surprise. Tamburini is the man behind the inquisition machine named 916, so I fully expect a hard core, wrist punishing, sado session till I’ll get out of town, but no. The F4’s riding position is extreme but not excessively so, it’s certainly no worse than a GSXR-1000, maybe less. The seat is hard, but supports my lard well; handlebars are somewhat far away, but not very low. All controls work smoothly, Japanese like, engine doesn’t mind pulling from low revs, first gear is low enough for sprinting away from stoplights without drama. Clutch lever pull could be lighter but that’s about it. I arrive at my office, park the F4 underground and say goodbye till the evening, quietly hoping for some stretches of clear road on my way home.
Having an F4 waiting down there in the garage doesn’t make my day of desk flying easy. However, the moment I’m back on the thing and tearing up the north ring road, the wait becomes worthy. I let the engine speak and it has quite a lot to say. Strong, really strong, GSX-R1000 like pull from down low until mid revs. I am not pushing it hard just yet, but even at 5-6K it already supplies quite an intoxicating drive. Still, there’s too much traffic around and I limit myself to playing a bit of 100mph Nintendo between the cars that are crawling along at 70. I park the F4 underground, because this thing draws too much attention. Tomorrow is another day and I’ve got some big plans.
My photo session lands me in a really slow, super twisty mountain range and the F4 is still out of its element. Revving beyond 8K is well nigh impossible. The roads are too slow and narrow around here. That said, any 150-rwhp thing would be overkill, because this is supermoto country, but it’s a good time to learn the handling and suspension, while I pose for the camera. On my way here, I’ve already noticed the impressive steering accuracy and steely rigidity of the frame and even in a slow 45-mph turn, they show their worth. The clip-ons let you feel every pebble in the asphalt, every tiny ripple, feedback from the front is really amazing. Yet, I wouldn’t say that the F4 is as quick steering as a CBR 1000RR. Again, the F4 is much more like a GSXR-1000 in its response to steering inputs and surely, the extra dry weight it carries around doesn’t help. Yes, steering response needs some time to be learned and requires a decisive hand. While riding quick steering nakeds in this area I can often drag my knee pucks, whereas with the MV, I find it hard to approach the limit. So our foreplay is extending, but I have plenty of time.
This road test collides with an important work meeting I have near Stuttgart, so my choice is return it to MV after a couple hundred miles, or keep it and do the whole shebang, 700 miles in all on the F4. Although this bike fits the job at hand as well as a Hodaka 175, it’s a really no-brainer. Stuttgart, here we come! The autobahns and Alpine passes are waiting for us. After a quick jump back home, I grab a 13mm wrench and 6mm Allen key and move the footpegs to the lowest of their adjustable positions. This takes all of two minutes, brilliant! Some more legroom won’t hurt. I stuff some half-clean underwear, a toothbrush and a few tampons into my tank bag and off we go.
At last, sunshine and a clean, empty Italian Autostrada… gaaassssssssss it! The four cylinder mill likes gas, likes it a whole lot. A nice full roll-on of the throttle in third, right into the rev limiter at 12,750 or something RPM and the F4 kicks me with relentless drive, a drive that’s right there with the best of Japan & co. according to the seat of my pants. Those claimed 167 horses feel very real and it’s not just the top end, it’s the way the radial-valved mill climbs from low revs through the impressive mid-range to a top-end crescendo that buys me. Till 8-9 it’s GSX-R1000 like torque-country, while in the upper echelons, the engine’s lust for high revs is right up there with a ZX-10R or R1. Am I getting carried away here? Is it the best 1000cc mill ever? A quick glance at some dyno graphs from the Italian press says that this might be the case. At 5,000-6,000 RPM, it’s slightly below the king of torque, the GSX-R1000. However, while the Suzuki’s engine waves goodbye by 10K, the F4 continues to build on an extremely wide power plateau up to 12K, before it starts to taper off. Time to take off my hat again.
The Big Four have thirty something years of in-line four experience, and fat budget R&D facilities, nobody is supposed to compete with them while playing the higher high octaves (Ask triumph about their 600). Yet this engine’s development was begun in the mid nineties and kicks their collective butts, even though it has no cutting edge hi-tech. The up to date 55mm stroke (like the ZX-10R’s) goes part of the way toward explaining the good top-end breathing, but how come a tiny factory manages to develop such a mature power unit? Just in case you’re thirsty for numbers, on one of Italy’s most respected magazine’s dyno, the F4 put down a healthy 151.6 RwHp, 1.6 hp more than the mental Kawasaki ZX-10R. Beats me, could it be that those radial valves make the difference?
On the Autostrada, the F4 nonchalantly catapults me to 150 mph and I don’t have that much time to think about the issue, I am busy surviving the windblast. On paper, the F4 1000 should have better wind protection than the 750 version, thanks to a double bubble windscreen. I don’t know about that. I have trouble making my 6’4″ frame hide behind it and my head threatens to go its own way while my arms are quite stretched. It turns out that the riding position is more old school than I first thought. The high seat prevents me from tilting my head up without a lot of effort and I’m only 60 miles into the ride. Soon enough, I am getting nearer to the Alps and the roads start winding. Now, I’m absorbed with the feeling of riding a high precision tool that clings to the road perfectly and all discomfort is soon forgotten. Unsurprisingly, the refined high-speed manners and poise remind me of the 916/998 series. Of course, Tamburini engineered those bikes as well.
In speed camera plagued Switzerland (speed tickets are kindly mailed abroad as needed), I have no intention of helping to balance the poor country’s national budget, so off the highway I go. A nice Alpine pass, not too high, flowing roads, we’re home at last. I am approaching what seems like a 75mph turn, but I’m doing 110. The powerful and sensitive Nissin brakes slow the thing down in a hurry, downshift two gears accompanied by that heavy metal organ sound, tip-her-in, hard like. The solid suspension calibration swallows it all without a hassle, zip, nada.
The F4 comes alive at these speeds and those few extra pounds disappear as if by magic, while the Michelin Pilots hold the bind tenaciously to the road. The more I press, the more the F4 seems to like it, taking everything in its stride. Powering hard out of turns, there’s not even a hint of the headshake I’ve encountered on a ZX-10R at times. The only nuisance is a slight hesitance while giving those short throttle blips on downshifts. Unlike three of the 1,000cc Japanese fours (the Honda uses a double injector system), the MV has single butterfly throttle bodies and no servo controlled secondary butterfly to smooth things out at small throttle openings and this could be the culprit. However, it’s a really minor inconvenience.
The suspension, set up on the firmer side of firm, is way less harsh than that of say, a Duc. It might not iron-out the bumps at a Suzuki’s level, but it’s reassuring and the perfect poise lets you keep pushing on. The peace of mind that the cycle side supplies, coupled with the monstrous power from the engine, produces an experience to be savored. On long sweepers, steering is quite neutral, allowing you to concentrate on the line and not on corrections. When you exit those corners, the engine is all set to shoot you up to the moon.
By darkness, I reach the no-limits German autobahns. Unfortunately, it’s raining cats and dogs. Is it time to calm down a bit and be reasonable? Naaaahhh. The wet is when feedback from the tires becomes so important and the MV’s handlebars continue to transmit clear messages, as I bomb out the last 100 miles to Stuttgart at 130-140 MPH. After four hours of riding, my neck simply wants to fold back at anything beyond those speeds.
Next day. Sunshine and an empty autobahn. What she’ll do? I’ve seen 180 for a few seconds but realized that I was getting near to the irreversible vertebral damage point. After all the complaints about the wind protection exaggerated by this way too long a trip, I must say that the other comfort parameters are rather good. Seat to footpeg distance is long, as large as that of the roomy R1, thus my long limbs are at ease. The seat is reasonably comfy after these long hours, although by now my buttock is a bit resentful of the stiff foam. At the end of the day, only the bend in my neck makes the last couple hundred miles till Milan a bit of a chore.
That’s it. It’s over. A most unsuitable test for a 1000cc Hypersport tool, yet nothing really went wrong. I stare for a few minutes at the red and silver bullet, that carried me through 700 miles and another colleague appears to pick the bike up. A shame really, I just wanted to enjoy the view some more. After riding the thing and seeing what this beauty can do, I was left with the “I want more!” sensation. Don’t know if I’d be saying the same about the 750cc version, a bike that couldn’t compete with the top of the crop because of its engine size. However, with this F4-1000, there is no need to turn to its beauty and lines to find a justification. Yes, it’s that good, right there with the other litre bikes and that’s before we talk about the MV’s sheer class. In an Italian track comparo, it finished tenths behind the R1 and ahead of the “other” three. Funny, in light of my historic skepticism towards Italian sportbikes, I find myself turning to lap times and numbers for reassurance. The F4-1000 convinced me without them. Italy’s honor.
|2005 F4-1000 S
** SPECS PROVIDED BY MV AGUSTA **
|Type||Four cylinder, 4 stroke, 16 valve|
|Timing system||“D.O.H.C”, radial valve|
|Total displacement||60.8 cu. in.|
|Bore x stroke||3.0 in. x 2.2 in.|
|Claimed Max. horse power – r.p.m.||(at the crankshaft) 122 Kw (166 HP) at 11750 – Lim. 12700 r.p.m.|
|Claimed Max. torque – r.p.m.||109 Nm (11.1 Kgm) at 10200 r.p.m.|
|Cooling system||Liquid cooled, water-oil heat exchanger|
|Engine management system||“Weber Marelli” 1,6 M ignition – injection integrated system; induction discharge electronic ignition,”Multipoint” electronic injection|
|Clutch||Wet, multi – disc|
|Gear Box||Cassette gearbox; six speed, constant mesh|
|Gear ratio||First gear: Speed* 13/38 76.4 mph at 12700 r.p.m.
Second gear: Speed* 16/34 105.2 mph at 12700 r.p.m.
Third gear: Speed* 18/32 125.7 mph at 12700 r.p.m.
Fourth gear: Speed* 20/30 149.0 mph at 12700 r.p.m.
Fifth gear: Speed* 22/29 169.6 mph at 12700 r.p.m.
Sixth gear: Speed* 21/25 187.0 mph at 12700 r.p.m.
|Final velocity ratio||15×39|
|Alternator||650 W at 5000 r.p.m.|
|Battery||12 V – 9 Ah|
|DIMENSIONS AND WEIGHT|
|Overall lenght||79.01 in.|
|Overall width||26.97 in.|
|Saddle height||31.87 in.|
|Min. ground clearance||5.12 in.|
|Dry weight||423.3 lb (F4 1000 S) – 425.5 lb (F4 1000 S 1+1)|
|Fuel tank capacity||4.6 Brit. gal. ( reserve fuel: 0.88 Brit. gal. )|
|Maximum speed*||187.0 mph|
|Type||CrMo Steel tubular trellis (TIG welded)|
|Rear swing arm pivot plates: material||Aluminium alloy|
|Type||“UPSIDE – DOWN” telescopic hydraulic fork with rebound-compression damping and spring preload adjustment|
|Rod dia.||1.97 in.|
|Travel on leg axis||4.96 in.|
|Type||Progressive, single shock absorber with rebound and compression (High speed / Low speed) damping and spring preload (hydraulic control)|
|Single sided swing arm: materiale||Aluminium alloy|
|Wheel travel||4.72 in.|
|Front brake||Double steel floating disc|
|disc dia.; caliper piston number and dia.||12.2 in.; 6 with 0.89 in. dia.; 1.00 in. dia.; 1.19 in. dia.|
|Rear brake||Single steel disc|
|disc dia.; caliper piston number and dia.||8.27 in.; 4 with 1.00 in. dia.|
|Front: Material / size||Aluminium alloy 3.50 ” x 17 “|
|Rear: Material / size||Aluminium alloy 6.00 ” x 17 “|
|Front||120/70 – ZR 17 (56 W)|
|Rear||190/50 – ZR 17 (73 W)|