Being English, and of an age where modesty was not only expected but actually demanded by my elders, this story begins with a rather blush, blush, blush – no, really, I couldn’t possibly say that – preface because it’s not often that a journalist can claim to be on first name terms with the designer of the bike he is writing about but also a personal friend of the bloke who owned the factory which built it. Yet, in the case of the Cagiva Raptor I can honestly claim both of these coups. In fact, it gets better, or maybe even worse, in the posing stakes, because I also owned a Raptor – and loved the bike.
Now, the Raptor is one of the great “what if…” bikes in motorcycling history.
Sometimes, fate and history conspire against a motorcycle. It can be a brilliant piece of engineering, have stunning styling and customers who worship it. Yet, it will be in the wrong place in the space-time continuum and therefore slip on to the “D” list of motorcycling celebrities. The Cagiva Raptor is one such sad case.
The Raptor was the brain-child of Miguel-Angel Galluzzi, the man who began the revival of the naked super-sportster with his Ducati M900 “Monstro” in 1990. Galluzzi is a fanatically keen motorcyclist and built the M900 as a summer project to meet his own personal needs – a fun motorcycle which could be used around town but had sports bike quality handling.
The Monstro, or Monster, which Galluzzi created, was a real parts bin special built cheaply from bits which Ducati already had in stock. Viewed at first with skepticism by Ducati insiders, the Monster went on to provide 65% of Ducati’s sales: it was that important as a motorcycle. It was the Monster, and not the iconic 916 Ducati, which saved the factory from extinction and that is fact.
The Monster only went into production because Ducati was owned, and controlled, by Claudio Castiglioni who I was later privileged to call a friend. I both liked, and admired, Claudio but he often took my breath away at the audacity of what he was doing. Every molecule of common sense and industry knowledge would point in the opposite direction to the decision Claudio was making and yet, time after time, he was proved to be right.
The Monster was just one such bold act. All the experts at Ducati said that Galluzzi’s new creation wouldn’t sell but Claudio backed his young designer’s idea and hit the Mother Lode: that’s the difference between visionaries and ordinary people like me.
To understand the Raptor, and Monstro for that matter, it is important to appreciate both the topographical location of the factories which made the bikes – and the psyche of the Italian customers who formed the initial backbone of the sales success.
In the case of Ducati, Bologna sits at the base of the Apennine Hills which bisect Italy. Swooping corners, hard braking hairpins and challenging surfaces were the test track for the Monstro. Miguel Angel simply wanted a bike that would be fun to ride in these conditions with his mates. The concept was no more complex, or simple, than this.
In Cagiva’s case, the situation was even more radical. Production was in the old Aermacchi, and now MV Agusta, factory on the banks of Lake Varese – less than 30 miles from the Swiss border and the true mountains of the Southern Alps. This is not custom cruiser territory, nor for that matter is it the perfect ground for a supersports bike.
As for the Italian customers, despite their image of being the ultimate race replica fans they much prefer naked streetfighters when it comes to actually buying a bike – rather than just drooling over it.
The best market in the world for hyper sports bikes is racing obsessed England where customers will hand over large lumps of cash for exotic superbikes. This is a truly bizarre situation in view of the draconian enforcement of traffic regulations, but if you want to sell a premium priced supersports bike in Britain it had better be convincingly ready for the track – even if the bike never goes near it.
By contrast, the Italians love streetfighters – urban, hyper sports bikes which look cool, perform extremely well and dovetail into Italian street life.
When the Cagiva group sold Ducati, Galluzzi was free to source an engine for his new Raptor from wherever he wished, rather than being tied to Ducati motors: he chose the Suzuki TL1000 power-plant.
I interviewed Miguel Angel just after the Raptor’s launch and he explained his reasoning: “We had engines from all over the world but the best two were Triumph’s Speed Triple and the Suzuki TL1000. Both engines had soul and character but eventually we decided on the Suzuki engine.”
To many outside observers, the choice was a radical one because at the time, Suzuki’s TL1000S was suffering from a barrage of press criticism in terms of the bike’s handling and dramatic power delivery. Prototype Raptors looked set to fan the flames of the controversy.
Galluzzi again: “The first Raptors had a wheelbase of 1390mm and a steering head angle of 23 degrees. The engine was just as it arrived from Suzuki and this meant that it was giving around 135ps. We let six or eight Cagiva people, who ride very regularly, try the bike and they all came back terrified – the bike felt as if it was permanently out of control. It was fun!
“Then we started to work backwards to keep all that energy and excitement but make the bike friendlier and useable.
“Now, we have a steering head angle of 25 degrees and a wheelbase of 1440mm which gives neutral handling but still has all the excitement of the original bike.
“The engine is just as Suzuki designed it. It has the same compression ratio, the same cams and the same cylinder heads. But we have done a lot of work with the exhaust, air-box and especially the engine management unit, to make the power unique to the Raptor.”
In practical terms, this means that Cagiva’s variant of the TL 1000 loses around 35bhp when compared with the TL1000 but gains by having a huge amount of torque from tick over to 10,000 rpm.
The Raptor took the streetfighter/muscle bike genre in a new direction. When I first rode the bike in Italy it took only a few miles to realize two things. First, the Raptor was a seriously quick machine in the realms of normal road riding, particularly in terms of low and mid-range acceleration. Second, the Raptor’s handling was so good that it would embarrass most sports bikes of the time anywhere except for a track day on super-fast circuit.
Cagiva’s version of the TL1000 was a brilliant piece of budget engineering. Even today, it would be superb in a naked sports bike, make a wonderful sports touring power-plant and the definitive muscle bike engine. From 2500 rpm all the way up to 10,000 rpm it’s just like having an enormous magnet in front of the bike pulling you forward. See a gap in the traffic, tweak the throttle and a fraction of a second later you’re there. Very, very few motorcycles will beat the Raptor in terms of low to mid speed, roll-on acceleration.
100 mph is available instantly and everywhere. Just after the bike’s launch, I rode the Raptor for a TV crew filming at the Three Sisters race circuit. This is effectively no more than an upmarket go-kart track with a 220-degree hairpin leading into a 200 yard straight. Two thirds of the way down the straight, just before the braking point for the right-hand climb, there was a solid 110 mph on the speedo with the Raptor accelerating hard. That’s as fast as any race bike can manage.
Best of all, the power is silky smooth. Forget your big fours, this motor is turbine smooth with the sweetest gearbox imaginable and a feather light clutch. Unfortunately, the media critics were ready to slaughter Galluzzi’s creation because of its lack of top speed. The Raptor has the aerodynamics of a brick and this means that it is stuck with a maximum speed of less than 140 mph. But honestly, how many people in real life, riding on real roads, with real Police radar, regularly manage more than 140 mph? In the honest world, where the Raptor lived, no-one ever got near to hanging on to the narrow handlebars at this speed so the absence of a few mph at the very top end of the range really was purely a philosophical, rather than practical, problem.
At first glance, the bike looks as if it shouldn’t, or couldn’t, handle but remember this is a motorcycle conceived and developed by an ardent enthusiast, not a committee. The Raptor turns in beautifully, aided by the Bridgestone Battlax tires. The front tire profile on the Battlax is reminiscent of the old Dunlop triangular race tires – narrow in the center and falling away sharply to the sidewalls. They don’t suit every bike but they are perfect on the Raptor and enable the bike to be flicked around like a 125.
There is no denying that the bike is frisky. Give it a big handful and the front wheel will pick up easily and the steering is very loose in the first three gears. The good thing is that this lightness never gets out of hand nor is it an essential prerequisite of Raptor riding. The 1000cc motor is so flexible, so controllable and so willing that you could go trail riding with it. So, if you want a peaceful life use the throttle sparingly, pull high gears and cruise all day long at 50 mph.
The brakes are well up to the bike’s performance – as well they might be. 320mm Brembo discs are powerful but not dramatic. The secret is that the set-up is so good that Cagiva detuned them by fitting hard pads. Fit some softer race pads and you’ve got anchors well up to superbike standards.
The only downside to the bike for me is the saddle height. I have damaged my knees so often in racing accidents that I just can’t manage extended periods in the cramped riding position caused by the ultra-low saddle. Galluzzi, at 6’ 6” tall, has the same problem. Against our difficulties is the simple fact that the market demanded a low saddle height.
There is the added advantage that the bike is attractive to women and this market was of growing importance to Cagiva during the Raptor’s design.
In fact, the Raptor sold extremely well to skillful female riders who wanted real performance and handling – but with a saddle height which allowed them to be comfortable.
The Raptor carried only 15 liters of fuel – a bit over three gallons – and drank this very enthusiastically when ridden hard. This was no long distance tourer but was perfect for Miguel-Angel to ride up into the mountains for lunch with his mates and, in the final analysis, it was this sort of use which dominated the designer’s thinking.
The detailed touches on the bike are wonderful. The Raptor emblem pops up everywhere from the speedo/tachometer unit to frame castings. The overall finish is excellent too with neat welds, good quality plastic moldings and nicely finished fasteners.
Because Claudio Castiglioni was the brains behind the project the Raptor was produced very economically. All the major elements of the motorcycle were bought in. The frame was sub-contracted and plastics produced by Acerbis so the investment was at a sustainably achievable level. The fit and finish wasn’t too bad either – not exactly Honda but acceptable and certainly no worse than a Ducati of the day.
Being a Suzuki, engine maintenance was cheap and bits were readily available so the Raptor was both super stylish and original whilst being practical and affordable.
The Xtra/V Raptor was even sexier with loads of carbon fiber, and looked stunning. With the addition of a 650cc version to the Raptor range, using the Suzuki SV 650 engine, the lineup was complete – and a true competitor for the Ducati Monsters.
So now the big question. With a bike so good, what went wrong? The problem is two letters and one word: MV Agusta.
From the Cagiva marque being the jewel in Claudio Castiglioni’s motorcycling crown it became a bit player the moment the charismatic Italian multi-millionaire got hold of MV. Instead of the Raptor taking on the role of the Ducati Monstro and launching Cagiva into the motorcycling super league, the bike was a distraction from feeding the enormous new baby in the family which was MV Agusta. MV gobbled up investment, factory space and engineering time whilst Raptor production lurched on inconsistently with poor supplies, of bikes and spares, to dealers. This was a really sad end to what was a quite outstanding motorcycle.
And now, the post script to this story. If you ever want a solid platinum investment motorcycle then a Raptor 1000 or, even better, a V Raptor is the bike to have. Raptors do appear very irregularly for sale in the US but the situation is so good that it would even be worth importing a Raptor from Britain where there is an irregular scattering of these bikes for sale, costing between $3,000 and $5,000. Also, because the bike was effectively a kit built motorcycle, parts are still available – not easily but they are there. Given a few years, the Raptor will become what it deserves to be – a true classic. On the way the bike will give you immense riding pleasure – and double your investment – and that’s a rare situation at the bottom end of the bike or car market.