Category Archives: Motorcycling

The Gilera Grand Prix racer.


The revolutionary Honda 750 Four. The roots of its engine architecture go all the way back to Italy.

 2019 celebrated the 50th anniversary of the launch of the Honda CB750, a ground-breaking motorcycle design that became the basic blueprint for other Japanese manufacturers to emulate. It was a breakthrough in its engine architecture – an across the frame single overhead camshaft four-cylinder four-stroke at a price that motorcyclists of the day could afford. When Kawasaki, Suzuki and Yamaha released their spin on the same fundamental concept, motorcyclists had a range of machinery to choose from that provided outstanding performance, reliability, handling and finish. During the 1970s, these machines were often referred to, perhaps somewhat unfairly, as UJMs, or the Universal Japanese Motorcycle. This same engine layout still dominates the model line-ups of the Japanese and many European manufacturers to this day. 

However, it was a design by Italian engineers Carlo Gianini and Piero Remor for a competition racing engine that cast the die for this configuration. After graduating from Rome University in 1923, the two engineers were resolute about producing a single overhead camshaft (SOHC) four-cylinder engine that, uniquely, would sit transversely across the frame for better cooling of the cylinders. 

Although Belgium company F.N. and American motorcycle manufacturer Henderson had already built four-cylinder motorcycles in 1905 and 1912, the designs placed the engine longitudinally in the frame. This configuration tended to overheat the rear two cylinders as not enough cooling air could reach them.

After acquiring a small workshop in Rome, the two young engineers came to the attention of a wealthy industrialist Count Bonmartini. In 1924 the Count formed a company called GRB using the initials of the trio’s surname. The prototype was a SOHC design, governed by bevel gears via a shaft in front of the vertical cylinders. It boasted a bore and stroke of 51 x 60mm for a capacity of 490cc and produced approximately 26 to 28bhp at 6000rpm. Nevertheless, the project was shelved for several years but was resurrected in 1927 when Count Bonmartini and kindred spirit Count Lancelloti injected capital into a new engineering firm called Officina Precisione Romana Automobili, or OPRA. 

The larger premises were equipped with precision tooling, and Gianini and Remor developed several different designs. By 1928 the engine was ready to be fitted into a chassis, and a rider was sought. Piero Taruffi was a prominent racer In Italian national events on his 500cc Norton and had recently finished his engineering studies. He was a natural choice to become OPRA’s development rider.

Count Bonmartini on the left and Piero Tafuffi middle.

The prototype had evolved into a mixture of air and water-cooling with the four cylinders cast as a single block with individual heads that sported double overhead camshafts. It utilised two valves per cylinder set at 90 degrees in a hemispherical combustion chamber. Engine power was believed to be 32 to 34 bhp at 7000rpm, which was exceptional for the era. Bonmartini

entered the machine in Rome’s Royal GP with former Italian National Champion Umberto Faraglia as the rider. Faraglia led the race for three laps, but ironically Taruffi took the lead, and the OPRA blew up chasing the Norton.

Taruffi went on to win the 1928 Italian National Championship on his Norton and finally got to race the OPRA in 1929 at the Belfiore circuit in Mantua. Piero led until the penultimate lap when the engine again blew up. The disappointment of the OPRA team saw the racer retired to one side of the workshop. 

Count Bonmartini by now was putting his energies into a new aviation company he had formed, Compagnia Nazionale Aeronautica or CNA, utilising the talents of Giannini to design experimental aero engines. Remor, however, fell out of favour with Bonmartini and left the company. The Count was still very much a racer, though, resurrecting the OPRA project with Gianini, and draughtsman Luigi Fonzi was brought into the project.

Supercharging was now seen as the best solution to boosting horsepower, and in 1933 the CNA design sported this technology. It borrowed little from the OPRA design as the cylinders now had a bore and stroke of 52 x 58mm and were canted forward by 45 degrees to allow a supercharger to sit above the crankcases. The cylinders were water-cooled while the cylinder heads utilised double overhead camshafts (DOHC) with two valves per cylinder again set at 90 degrees. Taruffi influenced much of the design and was considered responsible for using a car like supercharger.

By early 1934 the machine was ready for testing and was named Rondine (Swallow) by the Count. Taruffi was not available to test the Rondine due to a racing car accident, and a rider named Amilcare Rossetti was enlisted to perform the shakedown runs. 

Piero Taruffi onboard the CNA Rondine.

The CNA Rondine debuted at the 1935 Tripoli GP, with riders Taruffi and Rossetti claiming 1st and 2nd. Both machines sported revolutionary “dolphin” fairings as Taruffi was well aware of the benefits of good aerodynamics, thanks to his car racing experience. The next race was the Coppa Acerbo in Pesaro, and although CNA entered a three-rider line-up, Taruffi took the Rondine to a win. The Italian G.P. followed but was a disappointment for the CNA team as all three riders had mechanical problems, with the only consolation a 5th place and a lap record of 107mph (172.2kph).

Taruffi did capture several world records for the 500cc class over the Kilometre and mile at 152mph (244.62kph), but the racing days of the Rondine were over. Count Bonmartini decided to retire and sold the company to the Caproni aeroplane organisation. Gianni Caproni had no interest in the Rondine, and he charged Taruffi with finding a buyer for the machines. 

Not far from the Monza Circuit, motorcycle manufacturer Guiseppe Gilera based in Arcore received Taruffi with open arms. He insisted that Piero accompany the six Rondine machines and work for him. Gilera also knew from experience that publicity from success in racing sold motorcycles.

The first thing that Gilera wanted to address was the fragility of the design’s crankshaft. Taruffi and Gilera worked on a redesign together, solving the problem by adopting roller bearings in duralium cages. Taruffi refined the Roots-type supercharger, and a new frame replaced the sheet steel unit with a tubular steel design but retained the pressed steel front forks with a single spring and friction damping. At the rear, a triangulated swinging fork was used and controlled by springs carried in horizontal tubes at wheel spindle height that utilised large friction dampers.

It was 1937 when Giuseppe Gilera decided to test the water in international racing. Success did not occur immediately but finally came when their number one rider, Aldrighetti, won the Italian G.P. at Monza. Taruffi had by now decided to concentrate on automobile racing. However, in October 1937, he briefly became the holder of the absolute motorcycle land speed record of 170.37mph (271.18kph) on the A4 Autostrada with the supercharged 500cc Gilera racer. Although it only stood for over a month, until Ernst Jakob Henne on a 500cc supercharged BMW exceeded the mark in November, his record for the hour of 127mph (205kph) stood for many years.

By 1939 the blown Gilera 500 produced 92bhp at 8,000rpm, enough to put it on equal terms with the supercharged BMW flat twins while possessing superior handling. It was enough for Gilera to win the European Championship (the precursor to the World Championship) when Dorino Serafini triumphed at the Swedish, German and Irish GP. The racing department developed an air-cooled 250cc four the following year using the experience gained on the 500 but with the supercharger mounted in front of the crankcases. It never saw competition but became the basis for the post-war 500cc Gilera.

The 1937 Gilera Rondine.

After the hostilities of WW2, in November 1946, the Fédération Internationale des Clubs Motocyclistes (predecessor of the Fédération Internationale Motocycliste) banned supercharging from international competition. Without forced induction, the power of the 500cc racer dropped to almost half, from over 90bhp to 45bhp with negligible weight saving. The decision was quickly made to develop a new machine based on the technical advances of the Ing. Piero Remor designed pre-war 250cc four-cylinder. Taruffi had brought Remor into the team prior to the war, although he was initially pre-occupied in the prototype department before embarking on the new 500cc four-cylinder.

But the water-cooled pre-war CNA inspired racer had one last hurrah. With a pair of Weber carburettors replacing the supercharger, Nello Pagani managed to win the 1946 Italian National Championship. Sporadic appearances in 1947 and 1948 brought little success and saw the curtain finally close on the pre-war Gilera racer. 

Ing. Remor’s new design was ready by the end of 1947. The air-cooled engine had its individual cylinders inclined at 30 degrees. It boasted double overhead camshafts with two valves per cylinder driven by gears running between the two pairs of cylinders. Lubrication was by wet sump incorporating the four-speed gearbox with a wet multi-plate clutch. Weber supplied a new model carburettor for each cylinder, and ignition problems were solved by using a Marelli magneto mounted vertically behind the cylinders. Primary drive was taken between the first and second cylinders, transmitting the 55hp at 8,500rpm produced to the rear wheel. 

The engine was mounted in a steel tube frame which utilised a blade girder-type front forks with a central coil spring and torsion-bar swinging-arm rear suspension. What was impressive was the noticeable low weight of 125kg (275lb). And with the benefit of constant improvement, the design remained at the forefront of racing over the next decade.

But success was not to come immediately. At its race debut in May 1948 at Cesena, the experienced Nello Pagani could only describe the machine as “unrideable”. Much of 1948 was spent refining the Gilera by working on its high-speed handling and reliability due to its poor lubrication system. It didn’t stop Masserinni from winning the Italian G.P. on the Gilera, even though his teammate Bandirola blew up his machine without completing a lap.

1949 saw the newly named Fédération Internationale de Motocyclisme introduce the first 500cc World Championship series. The Gilera team riders consisted of Pagani, Bandirola and Arcisco Artesiani. The Championship was held over six rounds, with British rider Les Graham on the AJS E90 “Porcupine” twin beating Pagani and Gilera by a single point, which he gained from setting the fastest lap by a finishing competitor at Berne. Pagani had victories at Assen and Monza, taking second place in the Championship, while Artesiani claimed third place with consistent finishes in the top three at most rounds.  

The 1955 Gilera four.

Ing. Remor suddenly left the Arcore factory at the end of the season, taking rider Artesiani and chief mechanic Arturo Magni with him. It’s fair to say that relationships between Remor, Guiseppe Gilera and some of the riders had become strained to breaking point. Remor also took the drawings of the next phase of the Gilera’s development to rival manufacturer M.V. Agusta. The 1950 M.V. Agusta racer was unveiled during the offseason and was seen by many as a clone of the Gilera four.

After Remor’s exit, Guiseppe Gilera re-hired Piero Taruffi as team manager and engaged Remor’s former assistants Franco Passoni and Alessandro Colombo as combined technical department heads. The main changes made to the racer was the adoption of paired cylinder heads, larger 30mm carburettors, full hub width front brakes and a return to the pre-war rear suspension system of horizontal cylindrical spring boxes beneath the saddle and friction damping. The engine’s lubrication system was also improved, and the power unit was now making 52bhp at 9000rpm.

For the 1950 season, Umberto Masetti was brought in to replace Artesiani in the Gilera rider line-up alongside Pangani and Bandirola. As only four of the highest points scoring places counted towards the six-round World Championship, Gilera opted to miss the opening round at the Isle of Man. They returned for the Belgian round at Spa, which was also the scene of the MV Agusta’s debut in the hands of Artesiani. Geoff Duke riding for Norton led initially until tyre troubles forced his retirement, giving Masetti the win with Pagani second and Bandirola in fourth for Gilera.

The Gilera team repeated the same finishing places at the following Dutch T.T. in Assen. In poor conditions at the Swiss GP in Geneva, Masetti managed a second-place, although he could only achieve sixth at the Ulster T.T. on the Clady circuit behind winner Geoff Duke. Duke won again in the final round at Monza, but Masetti managed second place to claim the title by a point for the Acore factory.

Pasoni redesigned the Gilera’s running gear during the off-season, taking a page out of Norton’s book by utilising a tube duplex frame with swinging fork rear suspension and hydraulic telescopic forks of the Norton type. Also, smaller diameter 19inch (48.26cm) wheels were adopted with a wider rim.

Despite this, Duke went on to win both the 1951 500cc and 350cc World Championship, the first double title in a single season. The reigning World Champion, Masetti, could only manage third place while his new teammate Milani took second in the Championship.

1952 saw only minor modifications to the Gilera with the addition of a nose fairing and a redesign of the fuel tank for better ergonomics. Unfortunately, Geoff Duke put himself out of contention after an accident in a non-championship event at Schotten in Germany. Massetti went on to win the 500cc World Championship, the second title for himself and Gilera, with wins at the Dutch T.T. and Belgian G.P.

Team manager Taruffi broke with tradition for the 1953 season by signing Irishman Reg Armstrong and Englishman Dickie Dale alongside Masetti, Malani and Guiseppe Colnago as part of their rider line-up. But the bombshell came later when it was announced that the 1951 double World Champion Geoff Duke would be riding for Gilera as well after a falling out with the Norton management. 

500cc and 350cc World Champion Geoff Duke on the Gilera.

Ing. Pasoni carried out a number of modifications to the Gilera after extensive testing at Monza by the foreign riders, led by Geoff Duke. This brought about what many called the Nortonised Gilera, although the engine remained almost unchanged. The season opener was the Isle of Man T.T., and with the likes of Duke and Armstrong in its rider line-up, Gilera contested the event for the first time. Unfortunately, while dueling with Ray Amm, Duke crashed out on soft bitumen when accelerating away from Quarter Bridge. The best Gilera could manage was a third-place for Armstrong. But for the rest of the classics, Gilera dominated, with Duke clinching the World Championship.

Development of the Gilera didn’t stop, and Ing. Passoni instigated a major redesign of the cycle parts and engine for the 1954 season. Duke again dominated, winning five rounds in a row, Belgium, Holland, Germany, Switzerland and The Nations G.P. at Monza, out of the nine-round series. However, the Ulster round was not counted as it did not meet the FIM minimum distance as officials shortened it due to bad weather.

Apart from adopting a large air scoop for the front brake and enclosed dolphin fairings for all the factory bikes, the 1955 500cc Gilera was unaltered. Gilera’s first World Champion, Massetti, had left the team to join the MV Agusta squad. The Gilera rider line-up now consisted of Duke, Armstrong, Liberati, Milani, and Colnago. Martin, Monneret, and Veer also rode for the team. 

1955 was to be Duke’s final dominant season. Wins came at the French, the British, the West German, and the Dutch T.T. Geoff may have won more races, but the Gilera’s had suffered from a batch of improperly heat-treated valve springs. Armstrong finished second in the Championship and Colgano fourth. Gilera also wrapped up its fourth 500cc Constructors World Championship. But it was the privateer rider’s strike at the Dutch round that would undermine Gilera’s 1956 season. Duke and Armstrong supported the strike and were banned from the Grand Prix for the first half of 1956, while Colnago and Milani were suspended for four months. Piero Taruffi also quit the team as manager, and Giuseppe’s enthusiastic son Ferrucio Gilera took over.

The 1955 Gilera Grand Prix racer.

Ing. Passoni, however, had made more improvements for 1956 during the offseason. A new dustbin fairing with superior aerodynamics to that of the previous design. The frame was also beefed up, and the exhaust system now boasted four megaphones upping the power output to 70bhp at 11,000rpm, although the racer’s weight had increased to 150kg (330lb).

Due to the FIM ban on its riders, Gilera missed the Isle of Man T.T. and its Dutch equivalent. MV Agusta had signed another English rider named John Surtees, who romped home in first place at both T.T.’s. Duke built up a one-minute lead at Spa in Belgium on his return to the classics and set the fastest lap. Unfortunately, poor fuel quality destroyed a piston, and Duke retired two laps from the finish. Surtees won, his third of the six-round series, and had an almost unassailable lead in the Championship.

Some hope appeared for Duke when Surtees broke his arm during the 350cc race in Germany at the Solitude track. His Gilera teammates salvaged some pride with Armstrong winning the race with Pierre Monneret third. Again, misfortune came Duke’s way, and magneto trouble spelt the end of any Championship aspirations.

Duke came off at the next round, the Ulster G.P., and Armstrong suffered gearbox failure. This left the final round, The Nations G.P. at Monza. Gilera had given Liberati a more powerful and better handling machine in the hope of a popular Italian home victory. Much to the crowd’s dismay, Duke caught and passed his teammate. After a fierce battle, Geoff held on to win his first race of the season. Both Gilera riders had recorded the same time to claim the fastest lap. 

In October that year, Giuseppe Gilera’s only son died tragically of a heart attack while visiting a subsidiary in Argentina. Giuseppe lost not only his son but also his passion for Grand Prix racing. From this point on, the company went into an irreparable gradual decline.

The previous month Reg Amstrong had won at the Avus circuit in Berlin, Germany, and announced to Gilera that he was retiring. As a result, Bob McIntyre was drafted into the team on Duke’s recommendation for the 1957 season. But misfortune followed Duke into the season opener at Imola, where he crashed spectacularly and put himself out for most of the classics. Liberati won the opening 500cc Grand Prix at Hockenheim in Germany from McIntyre, who suffered electrical issues. Liberati “took the double” by winning the 350cc class riding the new sleeved down version of the 500cc machine. 

McIntyre struck back at the Isle of Man, winning the 500cc and 350cc Golden Jubilee T.T.’s. A new version of the 500cc racer had arrived midweek and featured a lighter frame with a removable bottom frame rail copied from the 350cc version and a neater “dustbin” fairing complete with built-in pannier fuel tanks. The end result was the first over 100mph (160.934kph) lap of the Island course. Aussie Bob Brown had been drafted into the team and repaid the opportunity with two fine third places.

At the Dutch T.T., McIntyre fell after stopping to change a faulty spark plug while pursuing the reigning World Champion, Surtees, on the MV Augusta. The result was an ongoing neck injury that would plague McIntyre for the remainder of the season. Liberati claimed second place to Surtees, adding to his points tally. At Spa in Belgium, the new team manager for the season, Roberto Persi, appropriated Brown’s Gilera when Liberati’s machine refused to fire. Liberati went on to win the race, although he was later disqualified after protests by MV Agusta and Norton. The race win was handed to Jack Brett on a Norton. A counter-protest by Gilera finally had the race awarded to Liberati in January 1958.

Liberto Liberati astride the 1957 Gilera Grand Prix racer.

Duke returned for the final two rounds of the Grand Prix season at the Ulster and Italian Grand Prix. Liberati surprised many by winning the penultimate Ulster Grand Prix after Surtees, who was riding away, had machine failure. MacIntyre and Duke took second and third, respectively. In Italy, McIntyre had outclassed Liberati by winning the 350cc category but could not make the grid for the 500cc event ending up in Hospital with a bilious attack. Liberati sealed the 500cc Championship at Monza with a win while Duke finished in second with Milani in third. 

Monza brought down the curtain on the 1957 Grand Prix season, with Liberati 500cc World Champion and Gilera achieving a fifth manufacturers title. Unexpectedly, Gilera, Moto Guzzi and Mondial all pulled out of racing. The tragic loss of Guiseppe’s son and the increasing cost of racing made the decision easy for Gilera to make. But sadly, it also heralded the end of a golden era in road racing.

Words Geoff Dawes © 2022. Images courtesy of, and


The M 1000 RR

The first M 1000 RR.

The letter “M”. To European performance car officiandos, it is a magic letter that precedes the designation of some of the world’s finest high-performance vehicles.  BMW founded its famous Motorsport sub-brand way back in 1972 to facilitate their successful racing car program from the 1960s although the first official M car made available to the public was the 1978 BMW M1. It was not until 1993 that BMW officially changed the subsidiaries name from BMW Motorsport Gmbh to BMW M Gmbh. Over the years M variants of most of the car brand’s nameplates have been developed along with optional M performance parts and accessories.

In keeping with its sister companies’ tradition, BMW Motorrad’s S 1000 RR has now come in for the “M” treatment. Although BMW Motorrad had previously used the HP (High Performance) moniker for its performance motorcycle range, since 2018 the “M” logo has become more prevalent on the S 1000 RR, with M packages and accessories available for the supersport machine. It was clear the time had come for BMW to release a full M 1000RR to enhance their World Superbike racing program and create a new flagship for their sports motorcycle range. Only 500 of these special motorcycles are to be built with BMW’s eye firmly on FIM Superbike and Superstock glory.

Officially named the M 1000 RR, the motorcycle uses cutting edge technology and materials that lift the “base” model S 1000 RR to a whole new level. And the changes are quite comprehensive. Starting with the heart of the machine, the engine, the M RR is based on the S 1000 RR water-cooled inline four-cylinder unit still utilising BMW ShiftCam technology but with revised variable valve timing and lift. There are lighter rocker arms and machined intake ports with revised geometry enhanced with optimised camshaft timing. There are also new two-ring forged pistons from Mahle bringing an increase in compression ratio from 13.3:1 to 13.5:1 that are 12g lighter. The connecting rods are 85g lighter titanium components by Pankl giving a maximum engine speed of 15,100 rpm compared to the S 1000 RR 14,600 rpm. All the above spells out an increase in horsepower – 156kW (212hp) at 14,500 rpm and maximum torque of 113 Nm at 11,000 rpm compared to the RR’s 152kW (207 hp) at 13,500 rpm both sharing the same 113 Nm of torque at 11,000 rpm. A new titanium Akrapovic exhaust system was added to improve engine breathing and weighs 3,657 g less than the RR stock system.

Lightweight Akraprovic exhaust system.

Based on the S 1000 RR chassis, the M 1000 RR aluminium bridge frame comprises of four gravity die-cast elements that use the engine as a stressed member while tilted at 32 degrees. The rear subframe is constructed from lightweight aluminium tubing to support the rider. BMW refers to it as a “flex frame” due to its optimum interaction with mainframe, the rear frame and swinging arm, allowing the tires the best possible interface with the road. The primary objective though is to achieve winning lap times at the race track.  To add to this philosophy, BMW has also delved into aerodynamics’ new frontier by adding carbon fibre wings to the M 1000 RR’s fairing. Combined with a redesigned high windscreen for better air-flow over the rider’s helmet it has resulted in a maximum total downforce of 16.3 kg (36 pounds) at 300 km/h.

Winglets produce a maximum of 16.3 kg of downforce at 300 km/h.

Just as important as going fast is the ability to slow and stop the motorcycle with reliable controlled and consistent braking.  BMW has worked together with Japanese company Nissin to develop the first M brake caliper designed from World Superbike experience with the bonus of each mono-bloc four-piston caliper weighing 60 g less. The 320mm front brake discs though have been increased in thickness from the RR’s 4.5mm to 5 mm. The suspension has also come in for the M optimization. Just like the RR, the M variant uses 45 mm upside-down fork legs. The triple clamps though are machined from solid aluminium and are 20 g lighter than those fitted to the RR. Although front suspension travel remains the same as the RR at 120 mm, the M’s internals have been heavily modified. The rear Full Floater Pro kinematics rear suspension has revised compression and rebound damping with 1 mm more travel but the lever kinematics have been completely overhauled compared to the RR with a greater degree of mechanical adjustment and a new lighter blue steel spring is fitted.

M four-piston monobloc calipers developed with Nissin.

M carbon wheels are also a feature on the M 1000 RR providing the benefits of lower unsprung weight and a decrease in rotational mass helping acceleration and deceleration while aiding easier changes in direction for even more agility and driving dynamics. The carbon wheels are also 1.7 kg lighter in total than the RR’s cast aluminium items. BMW left no stone unturned to reduce weight with M RR using a lightweight lithium-ion battery. All in all the M 1000 RR weighs in with a DIN kerb weight of 192 kg compared the already lightweight 197 kg of the S 1000 RR

The M 1000 RR also boasts a 6.5 inch TFT display with an M logo starting animation. Through this interface the usual suite of electronic riders’ aids is available including:

“Rain”, “Road”, “Dynamic”, “Race” and “Race Pro1-3” riding modes and the latest generation of the Dynamic Traction Control (DTC) and DTC wheelie function with 6-axis sensor box.

Two adjustable throttle curves for optimum response characteristics. Engine braking with threefold adjustable engine drag torque in “Race Pro” mode.

Shift assistant Pro for shifting gears up and down without the clutch. Simple reversibility of the shift pattern for race track use.

ABS Pro settings for RAIN, ROAD, DYNAMIC mode, no ABS Pro in RACE and Race Pro 1-3 mode.

Launch Control for perfect race starts and a pit lane limiter for precise speed in the pits.

M animation on the 6.5 inch TFT screen.

If all of the above is not enough for you BMW also provides an M competition pack that includes high-quality components and exclusive M branding. The anodised aluminium billet parts, folding clutch and handbrake lever, M brake lever guard, M rider footrest system, and M engine protectors are high-quality components. Then there is a comprehensive selection of carbon fibre parts plus a DLC coated M endurance chain (no adjustment or lubricating needed here). To cap off this quite wide-ranging kit is a silver anodised aluminium swingarm which is 220g lighter than the standard swing arm.

The M pack also includes a pillion package and seat cover while an activation code is provided for the M lap trigger that makes it possible to automatically record lap times at the race track using the display.

In Australia the M 1000 RR is priced at $54,167.21 ride away with the M Competition package included in the ride away price is $61,447.20.

Words Geoff Dawes © 2020. Images and video courtesy of BMW Motorrad © 2020

Ducati Release Performance Parts For The Streetfighter V4 And V4 S

Ducati V4 Streetfighter.

It’s pretty hard to imagine that owners and potential owners of the Ducati Streetfighter V4 and V4 S would require more performance from the worlds most extreme naked bike. Ducati obviously thinks so and has released a comprehensive performance-enhancing kit that takes the Streetfighter to a whole new level from its opposition.

Available from the Ducati website in the dedicated section and at all Ducati dealers, the kit is truly comprehensive.

Akrapovic titanium exhaust system. and carbon fibre heel guard.

A full Akrapovic titanium exhaust system developed from racing experience lowers the Streetfighters already impressive low weight by 5.5kg. It comes with a special map which allows the freer-flowing system to integrate with the parameters of the Ducati Traction Control, Ducati Wheelie Control, Ducati Power Launch and Slide Control. The titanium exhaust system also improves mid-range power and torque by a healthy 6%.

Aerodynamics have become the new frontier of motorcycle development, not just in racing but now also on road bikes, and Ducati has been at the forefront of this technology. The performance kit enhances this aspect still further with the structural rigidity and lightweight of biplane carbon fibre wings.

Lightweight 9 spoke forged magnesium wheels, type-approved for single-seater use and type approval as original equipment, reduce the unsprung weight of the wheels by 3kg (-33%) compared to a conventional aluminium wheel and 0.7kg (-10%) of the S versions forged alloy wheels. Inertia is also improved by 40% over a standard wheel and 12% compared to the S models forged aluminium wheels optimising the motorcycle’s dynamics during a change of direction and enhancing rider feel.

Lightweight forged magnesium wheels.

A dry clutch is also available reducing internal engine friction compared to a wet clutch (a dry clutch is standard on the race orientated Panigale V4 R ) while also keeping the engine oil cleaner.  It’s an STM EVO-SBK unit made from billet aluminium and housing a 48-tooth plate pack. Benefits include a more effective “slipper” function during aggressive downshifts and greater fluency when off-throttle in corners. It also creates the sort of music Ducatisti dream about.

The dry clutch also has a carbon fibre clutch cover available that produces optimal cooling of the clutch plates while offering both lightweight and strength.

If you’re looking for more bling, there are adjustable Ducati performance billet aluminium footpegs by Rizoma that boast five different positions and are high quality anodised units incorporating a carbon fibre heel guard. A Ducati designed billet aluminium fuel cap with an anti-tamper system, again by Rizoma, is also on offer.

Dry STM EVO-SBK clutch and carbon fibre cover.

And yes, there’s more. A carbon fibre fuel tank cover compliments the overall appearance of the Streetfighter while a sturdy plastic passenger seat cover is a nice finishing touch and necessary if the forged magnesium wheels are to be used on the road. Ducati has thought of everything, including a pair of handgrips that provide excellent adhesion with gloved hands and also reduces engine vibration through the handlebars.

Accessorised Streetfighter V4

Words Geoff Dawes © 2020. Photographs courtesy Ducati Media House © 2020

The BMW Motorrad M Endurance Chain

A revolution in motorcycle chains.

I have to admit that as a motorcyclist, the occasional bit of tinkering to my pride and joy is generally an enjoyable experience.  But there are some jobs though, that do become a bit of a chore.  Frequent drivetrain maintenance is one of them – I’d sooner be riding my motorcycle.

Well, our friends at BMW Motorrad have come up with a solution that will put a smile on the face of most motorcyclists. The BMW M Endurance chain is a real breakthrough in final drive technology and promises very low maintenance.

Perhaps this is not surprising as the first BMW badged model, the flat-twin R32 of 1923, sported a low maintenance shaft final drive which has been a mainstay of its model line-up for the past 97 years. Now thanks to modern technology, BMW has created a chain with similar qualities.

Like all X-ring chains, the BMW M Endurance chain has a permanent lubricant filling between the rollers and pins, enclosed by X-rings. What is entirely new, however, is that additional lubricant for the rollers is no longer needed, or is any re-tensioning required due to wear.

This has been made possible by using a new coating material for the rollers: tetrahedrally amorphous carbon (ta-C), also known as industrial diamond. This coating is characterized by extreme hardness and places it between the well-known DLC coating (Diamond-Like Carbon) and pure diamond. The ta-C industrial diamond coating does not wear off, and at the same time, it also offers a drastically reduced coefficient of friction.

Thanks to the excellent dry lubrication properties and the elimination of wear, the tetrahedral amorphous carbon-coated rollers offer the maintenance equivalent to that of a shaft drive motorcycle. This includes eliminating the cleaning that is unavoidable with a conventional chain due to thrown off lubricant.

The M Endurance chain is available in 525 pitch, initially for the four-cylinder BMW S 1000 RR and S 1000 XR as an accessory or directly from the factory as an option. According to the German website the recommended retail price is 286.08 €, while a complete chainset including sprocket, chain wheel and small parts costs 425.59 €. If the M Endurance chain is ordered ex-works as an optional extra with a new motorcycle, only 100 Euro will be charged (RRP).

Words © 2020 Geoff Dawes. Photographs courtesy © BMW Motorrad.

Ducati Starts Production Of The Superleggera V4

Ducati V4 Superleggera.

In keeping with Ducati practice since 2014 with the Panigale L  twin range, the Italian company has produced a limited run “Superleggera” (Superlight) version of its flagship sports bike based on the race orientated Panigale V4R. Below is the official press release. Enjoy. 

Borgo Panigale (Bologna, Italy), 17 June 2020 – The first Superleggera V4 has come off the Borgo Panigale production line.  This is the #001 of the 500 units scheduled in a limited and numbered series; the only motorcycle in the world approved for road use with a frame, swingarm and carbon fibre rims, is finally available. A masterpiece of mechanical engineering, technique and “made in Italy” design, which sets a new benchmark in terms of performance, style and attention to detail.

The exclusivity of the materials and technical solutions adopted on the Superleggera V4 are also reflected in the maximum number of motorcycles envisaged: 500 numbered units accompanied by a certificate of authenticity . The progressive numbering of the motorcycles (XXX/500), coinciding with the chassis number, is shown on the steering head, and on the ignition key.

Number one of the limited run of 500.

The first of the lucky owners of this fantastic bike has been invited to Borgo Panigale for a delivery ceremony and, in the next few days, he will personally meet Claudio Domenicali, Ducati CEO, to receive his Superleggera V4 001/500.

The uniqueness of the Superleggera V4 project is underlined by the experiences that Ducati together with Ducati Corse has exclusively reserved for the owners of the motorcycle: the “Superbike Experience” – the possibility for all fans who purchase a Superleggera V4 to be able to try out the Panigale V4 R that takes part in the SBK World Championship on track at Mugello. Even more incredible and exclusive is the opportunity – limited to 30 owners of the Superleggera V4 – to purchase access to the “MotoGP Experience “, thus realizing the dream of every sports motorcycle enthusiast. For the first time, it will be possible to ride the Desmosedici GP on the circuit, followed directly by Ducati Corse technicians. Both “Experiences” have been confirmed for 2021.

The attention that completes the purchase experience of the Superleggera V4 also includes the possibility of personalizing the Superleggera V4 leathers with airbags from the “SuMisura Ducati” line, as well as completing the look with a carbon helmet, both dedicated to this motorbike, whose colours and graphics they replicate.

Each motorcycle is equipped with a Racing kit: complete exhaust for Akrapovič racing track use in titanium; open clutch cover in carbon fibre; swingarm cover in carbon fibre with titanium “slider”; headlamp and light replacement kit; license plate holder removal kit; side stand removal kit; mirror replacement aluminium caps from billet; Ducati Data Analyzer + GPS (DDA + GPS); racing fuel cap, brake lever protection, motorcycle cover; front and rear stand and battery charger.

The bike is delivered inside a wooden crate with specially made customization for the transport of this “made in Borgo Panigale” masterpiece.
Finally, all customers receive a sculptural reproduction of the Superleggera V4 in 1:10 scale, modelled in futuristic aerodynamic shapes. A real collector’s item personalized with your motorbike number.

Carbon composite rear wheel.

Superleggera V4
The Superleggera V4 is the only motorcycle in the world, approved for road use, with the entire load-bearing structure of the chassis (frame, subframe, swingarm and rims), made of composite material, obtaining, for these components only, a weight saving of 6.7 kg compared to those of the Panigale V4 MY20. To ensure the highest quality and safety standards, these components are 100% controlled by the most sophisticated techniques borrowed from the aerospace industry, such as thermography, ultrasound checks, and tomography.
The specific set-up of the chassis gives an unparalleled deceleration capacity, an extraordinary speed of descent when cornering and a marked tendency of the bike to close the trajectories when exiting corners.

Many components are made of carbon fibre, modelled in advanced aerodynamic shapes. These include the fairing, which reaches efficiency levels higher than those of today’s MotoGP bikes, which are limited in this by the current technical regulations. Thanks to the aerodynamic biplane appendages inspired by Ducati’s 2016 MotoGP bike, the most highly-performing in this field, it is able to guarantee a vertical load of 50 kg of “downforce” at 270 km/h, 20 kg more than that produced by the wings of the Panigale V4 MY20 and V4R. This downforce improves acceleration by counteracting the tendency to wheelie and increases braking stability.

The carbon fairings are embellished with a livery inspired by the Desmosedici GP19, with an alternation of lines and depths between the red colour of the GP19 and the visible carbon that highlight the shapes, the materials and the technical details. The red continues on the coloured sides of the OEM Pirelli Diablo Supercorsa SP tyres, specifically developed in the construction for the Superleggera V4.

Desmodromic cylinder head

The most powerful and lightest Desmosedici Stradale R engine is hidden under the carbon skin. The 998 cc 90° V4 unit of the Superleggera V4 weighs 2.8 kg less than the 1,103 cc V4 and, thanks to the Akrapovič approved exhaust, produces 224 hp of power in road configuration (EU homologation value), which becomes 234 hp by mounting the titanium Akrapovič exhaust for track use, which is included in the Racing Kit supplied with the bike.
The racing connotation of the engine is emphasized by the use of a dry clutch and by the timing of the Desmodromic system made manually by a specialist who, after checking, confirms the positive result by affixing his signature on the metal plate that embellishes the carbon cover of the rear cylinder bank.

Only on the Superleggera V4, by loading the engine calibration for the racing exhaust, is it possible to enable the display of the “RaceGP” dashboard. Intended for circuit use only, it derives from that of the Desmosedici GP20 dashboard designed on the indications of Andrea Dovizioso.

Thanks to the extensive use of carbon fibre, components made of titanium, magnesium and others from aluminium billet, the Superleggera V4 shows a dry weight of 159 kg on the scale (16 kg less than the Panigale V4), for a power/weight ratio of 1.41 hp/kg. A record value for a homologated sports bike. In track configuration, by mounting the Racing kit supplied with the bike, the power rises to  234 hp and the weight drops to 152.2 kg, with a power/weight ratio of 1.54 hp/kg.

The electronic controls have also been evolved in a purely racing perspective. By default, the operating parameters of these are associated with three reprogrammed Riding Modes with specific names (Race A, Race B and Sport). In addition, for the first time, five Riding Modes can be added, customizable with your favourite settings. The rider can monitor lap times through the evolution of the Lap Timer, which now allows you to store the coordinates of the finish line and the split times of five favourite circuits, so as to recall them every time you go out on the track without having to repeat the data logging procedure. By default, the system proposes the coordinates of the finish line and intermediates of Laguna Seca, Mugello, Jerez, Sepang and Losail. Added to this is a latest-generation electronic package that includes EVO 2 strategies for DTC and DQS up/down.

Öhlins lightened suspensions with a pressurized fork and lightened billet foot and shock absorber with titanium spring and GP-derived valves are part of the equipment, which improve the absorption of road roughness in the initial compression phase.

The braking system is the best of Brembo production with an MCS radial-pump equipped with a remote control for adjusting the distance of the lever and Stylema® R calipers, an exclusive of the Superleggera V4 that allows greater consistency of front brake travel in long runs on the track.

All this translates into a level of performance of absolute importance. Alessandro Valia, official Ducati tester, with Racing Kit and slick tyres, lapped the Mugello circuit in 1m52.45s, less than two seconds away from the time of the Panigale V4R SBK winner with Michele Pirro in CIV 2019.

An example of maximum attention to detail is the aluminium radiator cap machined from billet and the dedicated ignition key with aluminium insert on which the motorcycle number is indicated.

The completed article.

The Superleggera V4 is an extreme machine, devised and designed to achieve maximum performance on the circuit, but at the same time guaranteeing the reliability and ease of use requirements typical of a sports motorcycle homologated for road use. With this motorcycle, Ducati pushes the limit even further. The technical competence and knowledge developed and continuously evolved in MotoGP is made available to fans of technique and performance on two wheels.

Words  Geoff Dawes and courtesy Ducati Media House ©2020. Photographs and video courtesy Ducati Media House ©2020.

Ducati Panigale V4 Streetfighter.

The prototype Ducati Panigale 1100cc V4 Streetfighter.

After an absence of four years in Ducati’s model line-up, the Streetfighter name is to be resurrected for a 2020 model based on the 1100cc Panigale V4.  A prototype model has been revealed and is set to compete at the Broadmoor Pikes Peak International Hill Climb on the 30thof June 2019 ridden by the four-time winner of the Heavyweight Class, Carlin Dunne.

Dunne rode a Ducati Multistrada 1260 to the win in last year’s event beating Australian Rennie Scaysbrook riding a KTM 1290 Super Duke by mere hundredths of a second as both went under the ten-minute mark for the 156-turn flight to the summit.

With the entry of the 1100cc Panigale V4 Streetfighter, an escalation of potent machinery looks likely to follow with Scaysbrook for one changing to Italian machinery by entering an Aprillia 1100 Tuono Factory in “The Race to the Clouds”.

Ducati Panigale 1100cc V4 prototype and rider Carlin Dunne in action.

And the Streetfighter is something very special. In keeping with Ducati tradition, the Streetfighter is derived directly from the MotoGP inspired Panigale V4 but stripped of its fairings, and fitted with high and wide handlebars. The front wheel lifting high-performance of the 1100 cm Desmosedici Stradale engine is kept in check by the use of MotoGP type aerodynamic winglets specifically designed for this model.

The prototype will race with a “pixelated” livery, designed by the Centro Stile Ducati and unlike normal practice with prototypes, the livery does not hide the lines of the motorcycle but reveals how the bike will look.

MotoGP type winglets are used to keep the front under control.

“The Streetfighter V4 will be one of the stars of the Ducati World Premiere 2020,” stated Claudio Domenicali, CEO of Ducati. “The Streetfighter V4 is the Panigale for road riding; so there was no better stage than the Broadmoor Pikes Peak International Hill Climb for what will be the highest performance Streetfighter ever put into production.”

The bike will be presented to the public at EICMA 2019 and will be available in Ducati dealerships starting from mid-March 2020 onwards.

Words Geoff Dawes and Ducati Media House © 2019. Images and Video Ducati Media House © 2019

Mitsuo Ito Honoured

Mitsuo Ito, on the 50cc Suzuki RM63, at the Isle Of Man.

Mitsuo Ito, the first and only Japanese to win an Isle of Man TT  has been inducted into the inaugural Motorcycle Federation of Japan Motor Sports Hall of Fame. A lifetime employee of Suzuki Japan, Ito achieved this feat riding a Suzuki RM63 in the 1963 50cc Ultra-Lightweight TT.

Ito participated in domestic and international Grand Prix racing from 1959 to 1967 and competed in the 50cc and 125cc categories, claiming two 50cc Grand Prix victories 13 podiums and1 fastest lap from 29 starts.

In 1970 Ito also had a foray into car racing in Japan and won the only event he entered, the Japan Automobile Federation Junior Seven Challenge Cup held at Mount Fuji International Speedway driving a Suzuki Fronte RF single seater.

Mitsuo also famously partnered Stirling Moss in a Suzuki 360SS for a high-speed run on the Autostrada del Sol between Milan and Naples as a publicity stunt, with the 356cc two-stroke machine averaging 122.44kph (76.08mph).

After retiring from racing, Ito took part in Suzuki’s racing activities helping to develop racing machines and world-class technologies. In addition, Ito served as an engineering committee member of the MFJ for many years. He not only contributed to Suzuki but also the popularisation and development of motorcycle racing in Japan.

Mitsuo Ito.

Mitsuo Ito: “I am very honoured to be inducted into the first hall of fame. However, it couldn’t have been achieved without the teamwork of everyone, so I don’t believe that I was personally awarded. It is a result of a brave decision by our second president Shunzo Suzuki, who had the foresight to participate in the TT racing, and I am honoured and thankful that I was selected as a participant and was able to win the race.”

Words © Geoff Dawes 2018 and Images courtesy

From Russia With Love – The Vostok Racers

Endel Kiisa aboard the 500cc Vostok four-cylinder S-565.

At the end of the Second World War former allies, the United States of America and the communist Union of Soviet Socialist Republics entered into a period that was aptly described as “the cold war”. Both superpowers, armed with ideological distrust and a large arsenal of atomic weapons, knew that a direct confrontation would only bring about mutually assured destruction.

Each side fought the other indirectly by trying to influence foreign countries politically and economically while also aspiring to claim global prestige on the high ground of advanced technology – in particular, what became known in the 1960s as the “Space Race”.

It was no doubt a rude shock to America when in 1961 the Soviets put the first man into space to orbit the earth in the spacecraft Vostok 1. Vostok (meaning Orient or East) became a household name around the world and one that was adopted by the communists for a little-known foray into World Championship Grand Prix motorcycle racing.

Although the former eastern block countries of Czechoslovakia and East Germany are better recognised for their motorcycle production and Grand Prix prowess, thanks to CZ, Jawa and MZ, it was in the town of Serpukhov 99km south of Moscow that these not so widely known Russian racers were built.

In 1942 the Central Construction and Experimental Bureau were established in Serpukhov with the aim of providing research and development for the numerous mass production motorcycle factories dotted around the USSR, in a bid to help the Soviet war effort during the Second World War.

The single-cylinder engine of a 125cc S-157 racer.

At the end of the conflict German motorcycle manufacturer, DKW fell into the hands of the Soviets. In the1930’s DKW had been the largest manufacturer of motorcycles in the world. The Russians plundered the Zschopau factory confiscating its technology and taking it to the Serpukhov Bureau,

Unsurprisingly this spawned blatant copies of the two-stroke DKW racers. The S1B, the S2B and the S3B were all reproductions of pre-war DKW’s with capacities of 125cc, 250cc and 350cc while the “S” (sometimes referred to as “C” which translated from the Russian Cyrillic alphabet stands for “S”) in the acronym stood for the town of Serpukhov.

Motorcycle competition and record-breaking took place post-war in the USSR but there was no participation in international events. The Soviet motorsport governing body the URSS was not affiliated with the Fédération Internationale de Motocyclisme (FIM), but by 1954 the communists became interested in competing on the international stage. The Central Automobile and Motor Cycle Club of Moscow joined the FIM two years later on the 1st of January 1956.

But in 1954, in preparation for entry into international road racing, the Serpukhov Bureau designed (believed to be by Evgenij Mathiushin) a new series of four-stroke racers simply designated “S” for Serpukhov. The classification of these racers was quite simple. The S-154 had a 125cc capacity represented by the “1” and “54” was merely the year it was designed.

Its architecture was double overhead camshaft driven by shaft and gears on the right-hand side. The single-cylinder was slightly inclined with a “square” bore and stroke of 54 x 54mm giving a capacity of 123cc and an output of 12.5hp. The chassis resembled a smaller version of the Norton Featherbed frame while the overall weight was approximately 80kgs with a top speed around 140kph.

S-254 was designed as a 250cc twin-cylinder four-stroke racer with the same “square” dimensions of 54 x 54mm as the S-154 and also used double overhead camshafts, this time driven by an inclined shaft on the right-hand side of the engine to the inlet camshaft which in turn on its left-hand end used gears and a pinion to turn the exhaust camshaft. Ignition was by coil while twin carburettors supplied the fuel and final drive was by a five-speed gearbox. Weight was 126kg, and with 23bhp available, at 8,200rpm it boasted a top speed of 150kmh. For the chassis, a Featherbed type frame with earls type front forks was utilised, and initially, it was equipped with a dustbin fairing.

Serpukhov’s 350cc machine was the S-354 and of the same design as the S-254 but with the bore and stroke taken out to 60 x 61mm for 348cc. Power was initially 33bhp at 8,200rpm and with a weight of 144kg was capable of 165kph. It used a duplex cradle frame was best described as a cross between a Manx Norton and a BSA Gold Star design and utilised earls type fork. A “bikini” fairing provided the aerodynamics.

The twin-cylinder engine of the S-254 250cc racer.

Then came the S-555, a bored-out version of the 350cc S-354 with a bore and stroke of 72 x 61mm giving the short-stroke engine a capacity of 498cc with a claimed power output of 47bhp at 7,400rpm and a top speed of 190kph.

There was also a 175cc machine simply designated the S-175. This was not a bored out S-154 or half of the 350 twin and had a bore and stroke of 64 x 54mm for 174cc. It utilised a vertical cylinder like the later version of S-154, the S-157, and also boasted a twin-plug cylinder head, which became a feature of the S range in 1960. Although it was not an eligible capacity for international racing, a 175cc category was introduced into Soviet national competition.

With no official factory based team running on a permanent basis the Bureau loaned the “S” racers to preferred motorcycle clubs in the major cities. These machines were made accessible to promising road racers as they were well in advance of the out-dated two-strokes and altered road bikes that were available to the majority of competitors in national events.

Although these machines competed with a certain amount of success in race meetings mainly in the USSR, it was the Czechoslovakian manufacturer Jawa that in 1957 appeared to have a Grand Prix machine capable of competing at an international level bringing a halt to the development of the Serpukhov factories middleweight DOHC racers the S-257 and S-358. Czech racer Franta Stastny had ridden a Jawa 250cc racer to 12th place in the 1957 Lightweight TT on the demanding Isle of Man Mountain Course. This brought about a closer collaboration between the Serpukhov Bureau and Jawa. It effectively saw replicas of the Jawa 250cc, and 350cc racers re-badged as S-259 and S-360 Serpukhov machines, although a number of components were made in Russia.

These two “S” racers used twin overhead camshafts driven by a vertical bevel shaft positioned behind the two cylinders, driving the inlet camshaft and a horizontal shaft across the top of the engine to drive the exhaust camshaft. The cylinders were inclined at 10 degrees, and a heavily finned wet sump held the engine oil. The cylinder head sported two valves per cylinder and twin spark plugs with a battery and coil ignition. A pair of Amal carburettors provided the fuel and final drive was via a six-speed gearbox.

The frame for the two racers was conventional tubular construction either diamond or Featherbed with 19-inch wheels. The 248cc version had a bore and stroke of 55 x 52 mm and produced 38bhp at 11,000rpm. With a weight of 128kgs, a top speed of 190 km/h could be reached. It’s thought the 350cc version had a bore and stroke of 62 x 57.6mm and approximately 46bhp 10,300 rpm with a weight of 130kgs. 210 km/h was believed to be the top speed.

Endel Kiisa aboard the S-360 350cc racer.

The Jawa replicas were a step in the right direction for the Serpukhov Bureau. Russian rider Nikolai Sevostianov on the S-360 claimed third place in May 1961 at the Djurgardslopper international race meeting held at Helsinki in Finland.

It should be noted that the Jawa 350cc “version” did considerably well over the course of the 1961 Grand Prix season with factory riders Franta Statsny and Gustav Havel claiming a double 1st and 2nd places in the German and Swedish Grand Prix’ eventually finishing 2nd and 3rd in the 350cc World Championship

More progress came when the Soviet team made their debut in the World Championships at the East German Grand Prix at the Sachsenring in August 1962. By now the “S” racers were sometimes entered as CKB or on occasion as CKEB in reference to the Central Construction and Experimental Bureau in Serpukhov. Again it was Russian rider Sevostianov that provided the results finishing fifth in the 250cc class and in the 350cc category a fine sixth place.

The team returned in 1963 to the East German Grand Prix taking fifth place for Sevostianov riding the S-360 in the 350cc class. Sevostianov accomplished an even better result at the Finnish G.P. held at the Tampere circuit coming home in fourth in the 350cc category, although there is a side story to this result as the outcome may have been a Podium. The following is the doyen of motorcycle journalists Chris Carter’s recollection of the event published in his book “Chris Carter at Large.”

Carter, “Mike Hailwood was there on his 350cc and 500cc MV Agusta’s, and there was a Russian guy on one of these Russian four-cylinder Vostoks (authors note: it was, in fact, a twin-cylinder S-360). Down the straight, he kept looking across at Hailwood, and he wouldn’t brake for the first-right hander until Hailwood did. Hailwood became furious with this man, so in the end, quite deliberately, he didn’t brake at all. They both shot up the slip road, and then Hailwood … put his foot on this man’s petrol tank and shoved. The poor Russian and his Vostok went crashing to the ground.” Hailwood went on to win the race. Sevostianov was also entered in the 500cc class and took sixth place on a bored out S -360 twin.

A cutaway drawing of the Vostok S-364 350cc four.

As the results of the “S” racers in the World Championship improved, the head of the Serpukhov Bureau, Ing. Ivanitsky, and the Deputy Director of Laboratories at the Vniimotopram Institute, V Kuznetsov, decided it was time to take on the European and Japanese factories at their own game with a completely new design. The 1964 S-364 was a 350cc four-cylinder four-stroke and the first from the Serpukhov Bureau to be entered as a Vostok. The ambitious project also included a 500cc version to challenge for the blue riband class but was still on the drawing board.

The Vostok’s engine architecture took its design cues from the Italian multi’s and the Honda’s with double overhead camshafts being driven by a central gear train. Bore and stroke were oversquare with dimensions of 49 x 46mm for a capacity of 347cc. Ignition was by magneto and coil while four 30mm carburettors supplied the fuel and the final drive was via a dry clutch and six-speed gearbox. The first Vostoks used the frame and suspension units of the Jawa/CKB racers. Weight was around 130Kgs with a top speed of 230km/h.

It was at the East German Grand Prix in July 1964 that the Vostok S-364 made its international debut, creating a flurry of interest, as these were the most technically advanced Grand Prix racers to come out of the Soviet Union. It was not to be the introduction though that the Serpukhov Bureau would have hoped for as both the entries of Sevostianov and Estonian rider Endel Kiisa retired with mechanical problems after holding third and fourth place behind Jim Redman on a Honda and Gustav Havel on a Jawa. Sevostianov also raced in the 500cc class on a bored-out version of the CKB S-360 twin and managed a fourth-place finish.

In August at the Finnish Grand Prix Endel Kiisa recorded the Surpokhov racers best result in the World Championship so far with a podium third place behind Redman and Beale on Honda’s. But it was not on the Vostok four but the CKB S-360 twin cylinder.

However, the Vostok four did appear again in September at Monza in the Nation’s Grand Prix. Unfortunately, Sevostianov and Kiisa both retired with mechanical problems, which was said to be with the ignition, but in reality, the S-364 was destroying its pistons as it had done on debut in East Germany.

A cutaway drawing of the Vostok S-364 crank conrod pistons and overhead camshafts.

The four-cylinder reappeared again in 1965 at the first round of the championship, the West German Grand Prix at the Nurburgring. The Soviet team arrived a day late and Endel Kiisa could only manage one practice session. On the starting grid for the mandatory push start the Vostok refused to fire, but once he got on his way, Kiisa managed to fight his way through a pack of privateers to finish in fifth place. In a field that included riders of the calibre of Agostini and Hailwood on factory MV Agusta’s, it was a promising result. Only a week later at the non-championship Austrian Grand Prix, he very nearly gave the Vostok its maiden international triumph only to retire a just a kilometre short of victory.

Before the East German Grand Prix later that year significant changes were made to the Vostok S-364. A new frame based on the Norton Featherbed design was employed, and the power unit was improved with a new cylinder head and an oil cooler mounted in front of the engine.

Unfortunately, both Vostoks retired from the East German race, but only a week later, at the Czechoslovakian Grand Prix in Brno, Sevostianov took the honour of a 3rd place podium behind Jim Redman on a works Honda and Derek Woodman on an MZ. It was the best result so far for a Russian rider on a Russian designed and built racer in the classics.

The Vostok did compete at the Nations Grand Prix at Monza in Italy in September with Kiisa finishing in eight spot, and again later that month for a meeting organised by the Automobile Club of Milan as an Italy vs USSR match race series. Italian riders filled the first six places of both races, and sadly this was also the last international event for the Vostok S-364.

Endel Kiisa at the 1965 Austrian Grand Prix riding the Vostok S-364 four.

There was to be however one last hurrah for the Vostok racers. A 500cc version of the four-cylinder machine had been built with the designation S-565 presumably making it a1965 design although it was based on the 350cc model. With a bore and stroke 55 x 52mm for a capacity of 494cc the engine produced a reputed 80bhp at 12,400 rpm. Weighing in at 155kgs it was good for 250 km/h. There were some minor visual differences to the 350cc version with more fins to the cylinders a deeper sump and more fins on the front of the crankcases.

In 1968 the Vostok team turned up for the Finnish Grand Prix just over the Soviet border at Imatra. With Honda and Mike Hailwwod’s withdrawal from the World Championship, it was assumed the race would be a cakewalk for Agostini and the MV Agusta triple. As expected “Ago” took the lead with Kiisa and the Vostok glued to the back wheel of the MV. Three laps in, and to the amazement of the crowd, the Vostok accelerated past the 500cc World Champions out of a slow corner. This was the first time a Soviet machine had led a 500cc Grand Prix. It was not to last with Kiisa experiencing ignition problems and retiring from the race. Sevostianov saved some face for the Vostok team by finishing in fourth place.

For 1969 some improvements were made to the S-565 Vostok, with a new four-valve head and huge drum brakes fitted that were developed originally for the Jawa V-four 350cc two-stroke.

Jewel-like Russian engineering of the Vostok S-365 four.

The upgraded machines were entered in the East German Grand Prix at the Saschenring. It was not to be a good meeting for the Vostoks. During the wet race, Kiisa returned to the pits to change a spark plug finally managing tenth place, while his teammate fellow Estonian Juri Randla had held third place but a misfire and carburettor problems forced him to retire. Seven days later at the Czechoslovakian Grand Prix, both Vostoks retired on the second lap. It was a humiliating conclusion to an endeavour that held so much promise but was defeated by lack of an adequate budget to fully develop these fascinating Grand Prix racers.

Words © Geoff Dawes 2018. Images courtesy,,, Twitter.

Santiago Herrero And The Amazing Monocoque Ossa

Herrero becomes airborne at Ballaugh Bridge on his way to third place at the 1969 Isle Of  Man 250cc Lightweight TT on the monocoque Ossa.

The 2017 MotoGP season once again saw Spanish riders dominating the Grand Prix grid. Ten of the regular twenty-four racers were Spanish, and for the past six consecutive seasons, a Spaniard has won the MotoGP World Championship.  The junior Grand Prix classes of Moto2 and Moto3 also have a healthy representation of Spanish talent, and it’s also a Spanish company, Dorna Sports, who hold the commercial rights and play a major role in shaping the series. So it comes as no surprise that the popularity of the sport is so high that four of the eighteen races are held in that country.

Although Salvador Canellas won Spain’s first Grand Prix victory in 1968 contesting the 125cc class at the Spanish Grand Prix, it was a 17 year Angel Nieto who competed in his first Grand Prix in 1964 in the 50cc class that would spearhead Spain’s assault on the World Championships. It was the beginning of a stellar career, one that ended with Nieto reaching an elite level with 13 World Championships., six in the 50cc class and seven in the 125cc class, a figure only bettered by the great Giacomo Agostini with 15 World Championships.

However, it was a rider by the name of Santiago Herrero that looked most likely to win Spain’s first World Championship. Born in Madrid on May 2nd, 1942, Santiago bought his first motorcycle at the age of twelve and in 1962 obtained a racing licence. Initially competing on a Derbi Gran Sport and acting as his own mechanic, Herero then started racing a 125cc Bultaco Tralla.  This brought him to the attention of Luis Bejarano the founder and owner of Spanish brand Lube motorcycles.

Bejarano offered Santiago a position in his competition department and in 1964 Herrero repaid that confidence by finishing in third place on a Lube Renn in the Spanish 125cc Championship and then backed up the result with a second place in 1965. Difficult financial times under Franco’s reign saw the Lube marque go out of business. Santiago decided to work for himself and opened a motorcycle repair shop in Bilbao.

Herrero continued to compete as a privateer racing the Lube Renn a Bultaco Tralla and TSS in national events.  At the end of 1966, he was approached by another Spanish manufacturer Ossa. Founded by Manuel Giro the company had survived the difficult times of the early 1960s and thanks to the engineering genius of Manuel’s son, Eduardo, the company had developed road racing aspirations having already tasted success in endurance events.

Some early shakedown runs on the monocoque Ossa. Note the Telesco forks and front brake from the 230cc Sport.

It was the dream of winning the 250cc World Championship that inspired Eduardo to start design studies for a new Grand Prix challenger in 1966, and he even considered taking on Yamaha’s RD05 with his own two-stroke V4, but the cost was beyond the budget at his disposal.

The answer was to build a simpler solution using the proven philosophy of lightweight, a small frontal area and engine reliability combined with outstanding handling.  Following company ideology, the engine would be a single cylinder two-stroke of 249cc with a bore and stroke of 70x65mm.  But unlike the piston port road models, a more accurate rotary disc valve was used for induction, which was fed by a massive 42mm Amal carburettor.   An equally enormous expansion chamber exited on the left side of the engine, and a beefy air-cooled seven-fin barrel and cylinder head gave the illusion of a much bigger engine. Ignition was by an electronic Motoplat unit while the gearbox used six gears and was engaged by a dry clutch.

But it was the chassis that moved away from convention. Unique for the era was its welded monocoque construction of magnesium and aluminium sheets that incorporated the fuel tank. The engine was mounted from a lug welded behind the steering head to another lug cast into the cylinder head, the chassis then swooped down and attached to the rear of the crankcases and incorporated the pivot point for the chrome molybdenum steel swingarm.  Initially, oleo-pneumatic shock absorbers were used with proprietary Telesco front forks while the front brake of the road going 230cc Sport model was utilised.

The 97.5kg racer produced 42bhp at 11,000rpm and boasted strong torque from as low as 6,500rpm. Nonetheless, it still gave away over 20hp to the Yamaha V4’s.

The innovative Grand Prix racer had its first trial by fire at the 1967 Spanish Grand Prix at Montjuich Park and was ridden by Ossa factory rider Carlos Giro. Although sixth place was encouraging, Giro was a lap down to Phil Read on the Yamaha V4. Eduardo knew that on a tight circuit that should have suited the Ossa, they really needed to be further towards the front.

Meanwhile, Herrero continued to help with development work on the G.P. racer while contesting the 250cc National Spanish Championship eventually becoming the 1967 Champion. However, politics were about to come into play with the Fédération Internationale de Motocyclisme issuing new regulations, which would limit the number of cylinders, gears and minimum weight for the different capacity classes from the 1969 season. The governing body of motorcycle sport was attempting to curb the costly technology war that was being waged between the Japanese factory teams and level the playing field for the European manufacturers.

Honda withdrew after the 1967 season followed by Suzuki although Yamaha continued on with factory team until the end of the 1968 season. This would give Ossa a better chance of Grand Prix glory although they still had to deal with the V4’s of Read and Ivy during the 1968 season.

A good view of the unique chassis, engine and dry clutch.

The first Grand Prix of the year was the German round at the Nurburgring, a high-speed circuit more suited to the Yamaha V4 of Ivy and Read. Herrero, though, managed a creditable sixth place a lap down. Next was the Spanish round at Montjuich Park where Herrero qualified 5thand actually led the race but was let down by the oleo-pneumatic rear shocks that failed causing him to crash on lap 8. These were discarded and eventually replaced with British Girling shock absorbers. Some consolation was found for Ossa though, with their second-string rider Carlos Giro coming home in fourth position.

Next was the TT at the Isle of Man with Herrero finishing in a commendable 7thplace for his first time at the island, with Ivy taking the win and Santiago named as the top rookie for the class. Ossa, however, tasted victory for the first time at the TT in the 250cc production race.  English Ossa importer Eric Houseley had entered a 230cc Sport for Trevor Burgess in the event, who rode it to victory over the demanding 60.7Km  (37.73 miles) mountain course.

Herrero scored another 6thplace at the Dutch TT at Assen, which was again won by Ivy on the V4 Yamaha, and followed this up with a 5thplace at the hi-speed Spa-Francorchamps circuit in Belgium. Herrero, unfortunately, suffered a DNF at the next round at the Sachsenring in East Germany and also missed the next three Grand Prix’, but returned for the final race of the season, the Nations Grand Prix at Monza in Italy. Herrero claimed an outstanding 3rdplace on another high-speed circuit, which was won by Read ahead of Ivy on their V4’s. Read pipped Ivy to the World Championship with Herrero a credible 7th place.  Ossa also secured a well deserved fourth place in the Constructors World Championship.

Development of the Ossa racer continued and by now sported Italian Ceriano front forks and four leading shoe front brake with British Girling shock absorbers at the rear. This increased the weight of the machine from 97.5kg to 99.6kg but the improved handling and braking more than made up for the additional weight.

The massive 42mm Amal carburettor. The fuel was inducted via a rotary disk valve.

Although Yamaha withdrew works entries for the 1969 season they had been developing the parallel twin cylinder TD2 two-stroke production racer that was made available to privateers. Dutch Yamaha importer, Yamaha NV entered the talented duo of Rod Gould and Kent Anderson on TD2’s. The East German MZ factory was also a threat with their fast but fragile rotary disc valve two-stroke twins, while the Italian Benelli factory had their works four-cylinder four-stroke racers to compete with, in a last-gasp chance to win the title before the rollout of the new regulations made them redundant for the 1970 season.  The pundits favourite for the championship that season was Benelli’s Renzo Pasolini who had won seven races in the Italian season openers. This would in no way be an easy campaign for Herrero and the Ossa.

The first race of the 1969 season was the Spanish round held for the first time on the tight and twisty Jarama circuit near Madrid.  In wet and drizzly conditions, and much to the delight of the partisan crowd, Herrero won his and Ossa’s first Grand Prix. It was Spain’s first win in the 250cc class – Herrero becoming only the second Spaniard to win a Grand Prix.  Sweden’s Kent Anderson finished second on his importer supported Yamaha twin nearly 25 seconds behind.

Next was at the West German Grand Prix at Hockenheim.  Pasolini, unfortunately, suffered a crash in practice, which was severe enough to put him out for three Grand Prix’.  Kent Anderson went on to notch up the first win for the TD2 while Herrero suffered a DNF with ignition failure. Santiago bounced back at the French Grand Prix at Le Mans, winning the race and leading home second place man Rodney Gould on his Yamaha twin by nearly 42 seconds with Kent Anderson third.  Benelli by now had drafted privateer, Australian Kel Carruthers, and Phil Read into the team for the next round at the Isle of Man.  It was Herrero’s second visit to the TT and experience no doubt helped him to an outstanding third place behind Carruthers on the Benelli and Frank Perris on a Suzuki.

Meanwhile, the Ossa factory continued development of the 250cc racer by water-cooling the head and block of the engine, which reputedly enabled it to produce 48bhp at 10,500rpm. This version made an appearance at the Dutch TT round; Herrero though chose to stick with his tried and tested air-cooled engine.

The water-cooled version of the 250cc Ossa.

Pasolini returned at Assen and duly went on to win the Dutch TT.  His new teammate, Kel Carruthers was second with Herrero an excellent third place 26 seconds behind the two works Benelli’s.  Up next was the Belgium Grand Prix at the ultra-fast Spa-Francorchamps. Santiago underlined that he was a real contender for the championship, winning by a mere half a second from Rod Gould on his Yamaha but almost ten and a half seconds ahead of Carruthers on the Benelli. In fact, Herrero’s average race speed was faster than second placed man Percy Tait in the 500cc category!

Things were hotting up with Pasolini winning again in East Germany at the Sachsenring with Herrero in second place a mere three-hundredths of a second behind with Rosner on an MZ in third. Czechoslovakia was next at the Brno circuit, and it was here Santiago’s championship campaign began to falter.  Herrero’s Ossa suffered engine failure while Pasolini won again with Gould in second and Carruthers in third.

Two weeks later the “continental circus” moved on to Imatra for the Finish Grand Prix. Pasolini had the misfortune to crash again putting himself out for the rest of the season. Herrero, however, could only manage sixth place, but more importantly, Carruthers finished fourth, and Kent Anderson took his second win of the season. The pressure was starting to mount on Ossa’s challenge.

The trip to Northern Ireland for the Ulster Grand Prix at Dundrod must have been a pensive one for Santiago. He knew only the best seven results would count towards championship points and he needed at least one more good finish. It may have been self-imposed pressure to do well in the wet and rainy conditions that caused Herrero to crash, sadly breaking bones in his left hand.  Carruthers notched his second win on the Benelli with Kent Anderson on the Yamaha third.

Three weeks later at the Nations Grand Prix at Imola, Herrero, with his hand and forearm in a splint, could only manage fifth place. The championship was slipping away. Yamaha had drafted Phil Read on a factory-supplied twin to help Anderson in his title bid and duly won the race from Carruthers on the Benelli with Anderson in third place.

Only one week later was the final race of the season; the Yugoslavian Grand Prix on the Adriatic street circuit of Opatija. For Herrero to have any chance to take the championship it had to be a win or nothing and poor results for his adversaries.  Unluckily it ended with another crash for Santiago. To help Carruthers in his title bid Italian rider, Gilberto Parlotti was brought into the Benelli team.  It would prove to be a masterstroke as Carruthers won the race followed home by Parlotti with Anderson in third.  The final tally on adjusted Championship points was Carruthers, in first place on 89, Anderson, in second place on 84, and Herrero,  in third place on 83.  Ossa also claimed third place in the Constructors Championship.

Arm in a splint, Herrero is distraught after crashing out of the Yugoslavian Grand Prix.

Nonetheless, 1969 was a season of accomplishment for Herrero and Ossa. Santiago had won his third consecutive 250cc Spanish National Championship. He had also been drafted into the Spanish Derbi team in the 50cc class of the World Championship finishing 7th in Holland, 2ndin Belguim and 2ndin East Germany. His results helped his friend Angel Nieto to his first 50cc World Championship and Spanish manufacturer Derbi to their first constructor’s title. Although only entering three 50cc Grand Prix’, Herrero finished 7thin the championship.

Herrero and Ossa entered into the 1970 season with a certain amount of optimism. Pasolini and Benelli would concentrate on the 350cc class due to the regulation changes that only allowed machinery with a maximum of two cylinders to compete in the 250cc category. Santiago still faced stiff competition from an armada of private, dealer and importer supported Yamaha’s and MZ could still be a threat, even though the OSSA was by now making 45bhp in air-cooled form.

Herrero’s season got off to a shaky start with mechanical problems causing his retirement from the West German Grand Prix at the torturous Nurburgring. Santiago then put in one of the rides of his life in the French Grand Prix at Le Mans.  Herrero crashed while pushing too hard to try and make up for the speed differential between the Ossa and the Yamaha’s.  He remounted his battered machine and in a superhuman effort fought his way up to second place setting the fastest lap of the race.  Next was the Adriatica Grand Prix at the Yugoslavian seaside town of Opatija. Santiago once again proved he had the makings of a World Champion winning the race by four seconds from Kent Anderson with Rod Gould in third.  Herrero led the Championship by two points as the “continental circus” headed once more to the Isle of Man.

Santiago Herrero.

Although Yamaha’s TD2 had proven fragile at the TT the previous year, a season of development and the sheer number of competitors racing them put the odds against success for Herrero and the Ossa.  In the early stages of the race he could only manage fifth place and while pushing too hard took the slip road at Braddan Bridge. Santiago dropped the bike breaking the screen. He restarted and by the last lap had clawed his way up to third place. As Herrero tried to take the fast but difficult double left-hander at the thirteenth milestone before Kirkmicheal, a section of melted tar put the OSSA into a wobble and a slide that he was unable to recover. Stanley Woods was following Herrero and witnessed the accident before becoming entangled himself trying to avoid man and machine, ending up with a broken ankle, leg and collarbone.

Santiago suffered severe head and internal injuries and was airlifted to Douglas but passed away two days later.  Manuel and his son Eduardo withdrew Ossa from racing; his death had devastated the factory.  The impact of his accident saw Spanish riders and the Spanish Federation, the RFME, boycott the TT for twenty years. Spain had lost one of its pioneer’s of Grand Prix racing and an outstanding developmental rider. Few would disagree that Herrero could have one day been a World Champion.

Word Geoff Dawes © 2018 Images courtesy,, and

Vale Angel Nieto 1947 – 2017

Nieto on the 125cc Garelli.

2017 has been a sad year for the sport of Grand Prix motorcycle racing. The passing of the incomparable John Surtees in March and the tragic road accident that unexpectedly claimed the life of Nickey Hayden in May have left a void in the eras these two great former World Champions represented.

Now the recent death of Angel Nieto, again to a tragic road accident, has created another significant loss. His achievements paved the way for a sport that is now dominated by his countrymen.

Nieto passed away as a result of brain damage caused by a car that hit his quad bike on July 26th. The 70-year-old hit his head on the ground while travelling at low speed while traversing a roundabout on the Island of Ibiza. He was placed in an induced coma, but his condition worsened, and he died on the evening of Thursday the 3rd of August.

Nieto was the first Spaniard to compete in the motorcycle Grand Prix. Over a career that spanned 22 years from 1964 to 1986, he achieved 90 wins and 139 podiums from 186 starts. He won six 50cc World Championships and seven 125cc World Championship for a total of 13 titles, second only to Giacomo Agostini with 15 championships in the 350cc and 500cc class. Nieto won his six 50cc World Championships with Derbi, Kreidler and Bultaco. His seven 125cc world titles came with Derbi, Kreidler, Minarelli and Garelli.

Nieto was also awarded the Knight Grand Cross in the Order of Civil Merit in 1982 and the Knight Grand Cross in the Order of Sports Merit in 1993.

Words © Geoff Dawes 2017. Images courtesy and