Tested: Cagiva V593 500cc Grand Prix Racer

Jeff Ware
by Jeff Ware

I think this is the first time I’ve been truly afraid of a motorcycle. And I mean fear. The bike is invaluable and has a lot of important history. Cagiva entered Grand Prix racing in 1990 and had to battle against the ultra-rich Japanese manufacturers with seemingly unlimited budgets, in a day when expenses and rider salaries were peaking. A cheap rider was at least a million bucks, and still the small factory with the big heart pushed on and, eventually, against the odds, rose to the winner’s podium. Had finances not restricted the forward progression, a world title might’ve been possible.

This Cagiva V593 belongs to huge motorcycle fan and avid collector, Steve Byrne. The bike holds a spot at Steve’s bar with Andrew Pitt’s world-title-winning Kawasaki ZX-6RR. Steve’s other 18 bikes live in the garage. When he heard that Paul Feeney, the then importer of MV Agusta in Australia, was selling the V593 that Kocinski won the U.S. Grand Prix on at Laguna Seca in 1993, and the Australian GP on in 1994, Steve just had to have it.

From any angle the Cagiva 500 looked better than any 500 in history.

Eddie Lawson gave Cagiva its debut victory on a drying track in the 1991 Hungarian Grand Prix. Lawson left Cagiva before he retired from racing, but other stars were drawn to the Italian team: Randy Mamola, Mat Mladin and Doug Chandler also rode the bike at one stage or another in their careers. But it was the determined and highly talented John Kocinski who gave Cagiva the most champagne, winning at Laguna Seca in what was to be the final grand prix in the USA for 12 long years. After completing the season on the updated V594, John finished the 1994 championship in third position. Sadly that was the end of the line and Cagiva was broke…

Having access to strip a factory 500 would never have happened in 1994. Now we can all admire the incredible engineering.

The Ride

As the bike gets warmed up by the legendary ex-Mick Doohan-GP-mechanic Dick Smart, my nervous pacing around is picked up by former GP racer Daryl Beattie.

Dick Smart warms the V-4 up prior to the test.

“Just stay relaxed and ride it normally,” he says. “It’ll just feel like a superbike, only faster and lighter. Watch those carbon brakes until they’re up to temp.” Beattie reassures me in that weird way a surgeon reassures you before cutting your chest open with a hacksaw, “Keep an eye on the temperature, too, and watch the power-valves, they seem to be jamming up a little at 9500 rpm.”

The Cagiva V593 accelerated faster than anything the author has ridden, including all of the World Superbikes.

The next minute I’m being pushed down pit lane by Smart. I let the clutch out and the V-4 fires into life. The racer comes out in me almost immediately. I’ve already got my knee down by Turn 2. The first run down the back straight of Queensland Raceway 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 9500 rpm. I can feel my shoulder joints pulling apart as I shift at 12,500 rpm before grabbing the brakes for Turn 3. They feel just like normal brakes at the moment. They must be cool.

Out of the turn, I feed the throttle on slowly to lean the engine out a little and get through that rough patch at 9000 rpm. Again, the engine clears its four throats and I’m struggling to hold on, let alone keep the front wheel down. Wheelspin, wheelstand, wheelspin, wheelstand. Faark. This thing hammers. I’ve never felt acceleration like it. Ever. Not even on a turbo or a World Superbike or anything.

The V593 was prone to overheating the rear cylinders despite every effort to provide cooling.

I’m cautious through the two left-handers first time around, but I feed it a little on the short straight before Turn 6, 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; shifting through the ‘box via the electronic reverse-pattern quickshifter delivers a feeling like no other. Nothing feels like this – no four-stroke could be this exciting. The 500 is amazingly quick.

Daryl Beattie had not ridden a 500 since 1997 but had the back hanging out in no time. These guys never lose it.

“That’s the most fun I’ve had since I retired in 1997,” declared Beattie as he tried to wipe the smile off his face after leaving blackies all over Queensland Raceway on the Cagiva. “As soon as I left pit lane, all the memories of 500 GP came back. Nothing beats a 500. I remember this bike well and always wondered what it would be like to ride. It feels similar engine-wise to the Yamaha I rode in 1994, but it handles better. It’s really sweet and the carbon brakes are just awesome when you haven’t used them for a long time. It feels really good to ride a race bike again. You just can’t beat the way they steer, stop or accelerate. The thing just wants to wheelstand in every gear. Unreal!”

I feel like the Cagiva has knocked 20 years off and I’m 20 and fearless again. 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.

The monoblock Brembo calipers are worth a small fortune.

The Dunlop hoops are up to temperature now, and with more confidence in the tires, 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 or 600. Wind it on mid-corner on this thing and I’m going to be flying pretty high.

The steering-head area of the V593’s alloy frame looks to be extremely stiff.

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 tires and knowing how far to push them at this moderate pace.

The rear Öhlins 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 weight 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 ultra expensive Ohlins remote reservoir shock sits between the titanium rear expansion chambers.

The session is coming to an end and my dream is almost over, just as I start to get smooth and comfortable. I put in what I feel are a few half-decent laps. 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 13,000 rpm, 1000 rpm short of redline.

The carbon-fiber swingarm is reputed to have cost $100,000 to build in 1994.

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’ during my racing days. No bike has made me feel like that since I stopped racing, and I don’t think anything else ever will. 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 a cold beer. Man, this is the best day of my life.

The 1994 Cagiva 500 represented the pinnacle of the Italian firm’s 500cc Grand Prix competitiveness, and all the passion and drive that got them there. Too bad they ran out of money the following season.

John Kocinski Interview

The amazing yet temperamental John Kocinski won the Australian Grand Prix on this bike in 1994.

Jeff Ware: It has been said that this was the bike that turned Cagiva from also-rans to almost wins and if you didn’t take the ride in ’94, Cagiva would have pulled the pin. What is your take on that?

John Kocinski: Yes, it is probably true, but a lot of my greatest memories have been when I rode for Cagiva. It was a company of great passion.

JW: When you think back on the V593 and the results, particularly the wins you achieved on the bike, how do you feel?

JK: It is one of my greatest accomplishments to win on a machine that no one else other than Eddie Lawson had won on. It was heartbreaking when Cagiva could not continue in 1995, because we were so close to having a machine that could win a World Championship.

JW: How much of the work, in development terms, was already done when you arrived at the team?

JK: Obviously, there had been work done, but it was far from complete.

JW: What were the strengths and weaknesses of the V593?

JK: The strengths were the agility and steering. The weakness was the powerband.

JW: Was this motorcycle capable of winning the title?

JK: Yes, most definitely.

JW: Were you keen to stay on for 1995 if the team had survived?

JK: Absolutely. I loved the team, the engineers, I had great mechanics. It was just a matter of making some small improvements to the power delivery and handling.

The amazing yet temperamental John Kocinski won the Australian Grand Prix on this bike in 1994. I was 19 and was there to watch.

JW: Daryl Beattie said that overall he rates the bike well and that both yourself and Eddie Lawson proved that it is a reasonable motorcycle. But were you guys over-riding to compensate for lack of performance or was the bike really that good?

JK: No matter what machine you ride there are always issues. But definitely in 1994, the machine was the best it had ever been. I think the results say the same.

JW: What did it for you with 500s – the challenge, the acceleration, the adrenaline or the fear?

JK: That’s exactly what does it, I think, for everyone. The challenge, the acceleration, the adrenaline and fear.

JW: Give us one word that sums up the Cagiva.

JK: Passion.

Cagiva V593 GP500 Specifications

EngineLiquid-cooled, 80-degree V-4, twin crank, two-stroke, 56.0 x 50.6mm bore x stroke, 498cc, two twin-choke 36mm electronic power-jet flat-slide Mikunis, crankcase reed-valve induction, pressurised airbox, titanium expansion chambers with carbon-fibre mufflers, electronically controlled cylindrical power valves – five transfer, three exhaust, electronic ignition with programmable advance curve linked to throttle opening, exhaust power-valve and carburetor power jet, single plain piston ring pistons, needle roller small-end and roller big-end bearings, straight-cut gear to clutch from right-hand end of lower crank
Power185 hp at 12,600 rpm
Torque75.5 lb-ft. at 12,000 rpm
Clutchsix-speed cassette-style, ten possible ratios for first and fourth, seven for second and fifth, nine for third and sixth, drum selection, electronic quick-shift, dry multi-plate, seven friction and six steel plates, six springs
ChassisTwin-spar aluminium with adjustable steering angle, carbon-fibre swingarm
Rake23°± + 1 degree
Wet Weight130 kg (287 lb)
Fuel Capacity21 litres
Front SuspensionFully adjustable inverted carbon-fibre Ohlins forks
Rear SuspensionOhlins fully adjustable shock
Front BrakesTwin 320mm carbon-carbon front rotors, Brembo four-piston monoblock calipers and Brembo radial master-cylinder, Brembo pads
Front Brakessingle 190mm carbon-carbon rear rotor, Brembo twin-piston monoblock caliper, Brembo pads
WheelsFerrari hollow-section carbon-fibre wheels, 3.5 x 17in, 6.0 x 17in
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