Massimo Tamburini

The Master

Massimo Tamburini

Rimini was a motorcycling enthusiast's town. It was near the Benelli factory and after 1969 it housed the Misano World Circuit that later became Misano World Circuit Marco Simoncelli. It was the site of many road races following World War II. And the milder coastal weather extended the riding season. Later, nearby in a small town called Tavullia a young motorcycle racer called Graziano Rossi was to have a son called Valentino. That story is history that is still being written. It has a thriving motorcycle culture today and for many, that's the way it has always been.

Massimo Tamburini was born into a farming family from Rimini on November 28, 1943. His family couldn't afford to send him to university, instead he attended the Istituto Tecnico Industriale di Rimini, a technical school in Rimini. He left the technical school early and not yet knowing how he could make a career from motorcycles, he began working at the age of 18 on heating ductwork.

Looking back, Tamborini said, "I have always had a huge passion for motorcycles—my mother used to complain about it when I was a little boy, calling it my obsession! I have never had any desire to design anything else". He was looking for an opportunity to express his passion.

One weekend Tamburini decided to go to Imola to watch the famous MV Augustas race. He was captivated by sight and the glorious sounds of these magnificent four cylinder machines. This determined his future career. He had started his own heating business in Rimini and the flexibility allowed him to work on his own projects. He was becoming known for his race tuning, improving motorcycles' power and handling, as well as making them lighter. The MV Agusta 600 four was Tamburini's particular specialty and he had completely re designed the styling as well as re working the mechanicals. Mick Walker, a prominent jourlalist said, "the transformation of what had been an ugly and slow touring bike into a sleek and fast sportster was truly sensational."

Tamburini's modified MV 600 four
Image: Thema

In 1973, Tamburini, Valerio Bianchi, and Giuseppe Morri founded Bimota. Previously the three had been designing and fabricating air conditioning ducts. The company name was a combination of the first letters of their last names, Bi, Mo, Ta. Tamburini was to become known as the world's greatest motorcycle stylist but he was more than that, he was also a gifted engineer.

The Bimota years

Bimota became known as an Avant Garde manufacturer of beautifully styled and superbly engineered machines. Those that have owned or ridden a Bimota have relished in the exquisite attention to detail in these bikes. The company would build a complete bike, less engine, and source their engines from the Japanese manufacturers as well as Ducati. This was a period when the Japanese manufacturers were having trouble building a good handling frame to house their excellent engines. Bimota was able to get it right and when the package included beautiful bodywork, many thought it to be the ultimate motorcycle. They produced such iconic designs such as the Yamaha powered YB series and the Ducati DB1.

Bimota first experienced international racing success in 1980 when Jon Ekerold, a true privateer, won the 350cc world championship on a Yamaha-powered Bimota. Successes were sporadic but Virginio Ferrari won the 1987 Formula TT title aboard a YB4 EI and Davide Tardozzi won five races in the inaugural 1988 world superbike championship, more than any other competitor, but inconsistent results relegated him to third place in the final standings.

A Bimota framed TZ Yamaha
Image: bikeurious

On to Ducati

After 11 years at Bimota, Tamburini had a falling out with his partners and left to join Roberto Gallina's 500 cc Grand Prix world championship team. Then, in February 1985, he joined Claudio Castiglioni's Cagiva Group. Cagiva had acquired Ducati that year, and Tamburini worked designing both Ducati and Cagiva motorcycles. Tamburini's first design for Ducati was the Paso. This bike heavily influenced the mainstream acceptance of full fairings for roadbikes. It was while working with Cagiva that he produced his most influential design.

The Ducati powered DB1
Image: Bimota

The 916 stunner

The Ducati 916 was released in 1994 and it floored the motorcycling public with its jaw dropping beauty. And it wasn't just beautiful, it was a brilliantly engineered package. Testers raved about the meticulous integration of all its parts and it won every magazine's "Bike of the Year" for 1994. The entire first year's production for the US was sold out before the first bike had arrived. Tamburini had blended sharp lines with sensuous curves, an approach that is not supposed to work all that well, into what was to become the most influential new styling direction ever.

Tamburini's masterpiece

The Bimota Spirit museum has many of Tamburini's designs
South African motorcycle designer Pierre Terblanche and Tamburini were working side by side at the Cagiva Research Center (CRC) on new designs, Tamburini on the 916 and Terblanche on the Ducati Supermono. The Supermono, shared several visual cues with Tamburini's 916. It was shown to the public before the 916, and many people gained the impression that Tamburini was influenced by Terblanche. In fact, the influence was the other way around, with Terblanche incorporating ideas that Tamburini shared with him in the design studio from his 916 design.

Bimota SB4
Image: Carollo

Journalist Kevin Ash said that the roots of the 916's styling were found elsewhere, outside Ducati and CRC. Ash said that the timing of the public debut of Honda's advanced oval-piston, 32-valve V4, the NR750, in August 1991, indicates that the NR750 influenced the final shape of the 916, though Tamburini, Terblanche and others at Ducati would not confirm this, Tamburini only saying that he was influenced by "existing designs." Ash said that Tamburini showed a better understanding of visual weight than the NR750's designers, and the 916 design, "moved it forward, personalized, and Ducati-fied it, in particular the blend of sharp edges and sweeping curves, which, like most innovation, broke existing rules."

Tamborini at the MV factory
Image: Dueruote

Ducati was sold to the Texas Pacific Group in 1996 but Tamborini, out of loyalty to Castiglioni, stayed with Cagiva. After Tamborini's stunning 916, Ducati released the 999. It was not only Ducati fans that were waiting with baited breath to see what it looked like. The impact of the 916 had been so profound that the whole industry was on the edge of their seats waiting to see what sort of a gem Ducati would come up with next. It was a hard act to follow and they didn't have Tamborini. They released the 999 in 2003 and road testers went on about the performance aspects of what was a fine bike but very few of them expressed the disappointment with the styling that they were really thinking. The styling was a let down of monumental proportions.

The Bimota YB8
Image: Mecum auctions

Terblanche went on to style the modern SS bikes and although the bodywork would have would have probably been very well received had it been on a bike other than a Ducati, many felt that Ducati had lost the plot with the styling and were yearning for the true Italian style that had won them so many fans in the first place.

The F1 MV
Image: MV Augusta

New name, new masterpiece

Tamburini designed the Mito at Cagiva and Castiglioni had bought the then dormant MV Agusta name. In 1998 they released Tamburini's next masterpiece, the 750cc MV Agusta F1. It was to be followed later with the identical looking 1000cc F4. It was to influence styling direction in a similar way to the 916.

Claudio Castiglioni and Tamburini

Tamburini, like all great designers, was not immuned to outside influences and when the MV was first released it had double stacked round headlights like those on Terblanche's 999. Double stacked headlights just don't seem to look right and he changed them for the production version.

Ivano Beggio, then the owner of Aprilia, had dearly wanted Tamburini to go and work for him. He had drawn up a contract that included a substantial sign on fee and asked Tamburini to go away and fill in the monthly salary fee himself. He thanked Beggio and said, "but if I leave MV it will mean the company shuts down, and not only will I betray Claudio's trust in me which he has expressed by supporting CRC for so many years, but I will also be responsible for 400 families losing their means of living, which I can't do." He knew that the banks were only supporting MV because Massimo Tamburini was still working for them.

Harley-Davidson acquired MV Agusta in 2008 and Tamborini chose this time to announce his retirement. On Dec. 3, his parting words were, "I have dedicated a significant part of my career in motorcycle design to Cagiva and MV Agusta and am immensely proud of the beautiful and thrilling motorcycles we have created," said Tamburini. "While my decision to retire was extremely difficult to make, I am confident the highly-talented designers and engineers in San Marino will continue the tradition of excellence that is the hallmark of MV Agusta. I have been privileged to realize so many dreams during my years with Cagiva and MV Agusta and look forward to seeing more great things yet to come from the company,"

Tamburini planned to pursue design interests outside the motorcycle field and to spend more time on his other outside interests. Claudio Castiglioni said "Massimo Tamburini is one of the legends of the motorcycle industry and leaves a great legacy at MV Agusta,"

His final design

Tamburini's passion for motorcycles would not diminish with retirement though. For a long time he had been thinking about the type of motorcycle he would build if he was free from the constraints of mass production and could do exactly what he wanted, regardless of cost. When he left MV Agusta in December of 2008, he had agreed to a three-year non-compete clause and during this period, anything new that he would come up with had to be kept to himself. The bike he was creating was the T12, it was to be the culmination of more than fifty years of design and engineering excellence. In the early stages of the project his health was still good but he knew and perhaps planned that this would be his last project. He wanted it to be his ultimate expression of performance purity. The no compete clause expired on January 1, 2012 and Tamburini set about bringing his ultimate bike to fruition aided by his son Andrea, himself a talented designer who'd worked alongside his dad officially ever since 1988.

Andrea Tamburini

Andrea had founded Tamburini Corse in 2009 and when his father was officially free to work on new projects, Tamburini Corse sourced parts for two Tamburini T12 Massimo prototypes, and took care of the assembly of them – but he said that Massimo was entirely responsible for conceiving them, down to the smallest detail.

The Tamburini T12 Massimo chassis has the hybrid design which Tamburini typically favoured, with a BMW S1000RR engine used as a fully stressed structural component. The frame combines a welded space frame section and cast magnesium side plates and steering head. It has a single sided swingarm in what seems to be cast aluminium with cast in magnesium pivots and the Marchesini wheels are both forged magnesium made to Tamburini's design. The chassis is fully adjustable in terms of steering geometry and suspension settings, as well as having a variable height swingarm pivot.

Massimo's last bike. The Tamburini T12 Massimo
Images: massimotamborini

The Tamburini T12 Massimo was designed to be able to control the chassis resonance in such a way that it enhances the motorcycle's behavior. He also developed – and patented – a means of altering the transverse rigidity of the chassis. He did this with a system that subtly allows you to vary the stiffness of the chassis. All the components on the Tamburini T12 Massimo are the best available in their sector. MotoGP spec forks are used along with MotoGP wet weather braking components with Staubli quick release connections. The Öhlins rear shock also comes from MotoGP, but has a higher specification! This is because of a modification which Tamburini persuaded Öhlins to make to their race shock. It entailed fitting a counter-spring within the body of the shock – which was very difficult for them to do, but they succeeded. Yamaha released Luca Cadalora from his duties with Valentino Rossi to test the bike as was Tamburini's wish. He was mightily impressed and refused to take any payment for it saying that it was an honour to be asked to test such a bike.

Tamburini was diagnosed with lung cancer in November 2013 and underwent chemotherapy near his residence in San Marino. His health continued to decline and he died on April 6, 2014 at the age of 70.

The project was revealed online on March 6, 2016, and the response was incredible. After the website had been online for just 20 mins it had 20,000 hits! A Facebook page had been opened the day before, and by the end of the first week that had 850,000 friends.

Andrea said "When people termed him a genius, he found it flattering but frustrating, because he genuinely believed he was an extremely ordinary person who was passionate about design, who believed in what he was doing and had the ability to concentrate his mind on achieving his goal, and then work on making it better. He also recognised that it took someone like Claudio Castiglioni to provide him with the means to achieve these objectives, which without him could never have been realised. He had a great respect for Claudio."

Motorcycle design is not a science, it is an art, a difficult one. Motorcycle designers don't have the luxury of all that extra real estate to work with like car designers. A designer has to focus on a very small area and try to come up with something that hasn't been tried before. The motorcycling world would wait for Massimo. They would wait eagerly for his next masterpiece because they knew this would be design's next direction. He broke boundaries and he set trends, his works of art will be with us forever. He was the master.

Written by Paul Harmon. 20-1-18
References and additional reading: Alan Cathcart, Motorcycle Magazine
Ducati 916 and 996: 916, 916SP, 916SPS, Biposto, 955, 955SP, 955 Corsa, 991, 996SPS, 996 R (Road Test Portfolio) Paperback – July 1, 2011 by R.M. Clarke (Author)
Ducati 748, 916 & 996 V-Twins '94 to '01 (Haynes Service & Repair Manual) Paperback – December 1, 2014 by Matthew Coombs (Author)
Ducati Desmoquattro Twins: 851, 888, 916, 996, 998, ST4 1988 to 2004 (The Essential Buyer's Guide) Paperback – November 1, 2013 by Ian Falloon (Author)
Ducati Superbikes: 851, 888, 916 Paperback – January 1, 1996 by Paolo Conti (Author),‎ Antony Shugaar (Translator)
Ducati 916: Updated Edition by Ian Falloon (2016-11-05)1814 by Ian Falloon, Hardcover
The Art of Ducati Jul 1, 2014 by Ian Falloon and James Mann, Hardcover
The Complete Book of Ducati Motorcycles: Every Model Since 1946 Jul 1, 2016 by Ian Falloon Hardcover

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