Motorcycle Tales: How I ended up with a $25K Exotic Italian Superbike
New York, 1998
For the beginning of this story, we have to go back to 1998. I was in my 20s, living in New Jersey and had just left my position as a Software Engineer for the US Army to work as a software consultant in New York City. It was summer, which in NYC meant it was hot and humid.
I was visiting my sister in the city, and we decided to go to this motorcycle exhibit at a museum. I wasn’t riding motorcycles yet then, but heck, it was something to do. Turned out it was at the world famous Frank Lloyd Wright designed Guggenheim Museum, and the exhibit was The Art of the Motorcycle.
It’s been so long ago, but I remember there was a huge line to get in. The line wrapped around the city block, literally the definition of a blockbuster. Although we were going to a world class art museum, the attendees in line came from all walks of life. This was not a stuffy art opening with wine and cheese. It drew in all kinds of people, including regular joes like me. In fact, the total attendance for this exhibit was over 300,000 people, breaking all records at the Guggenheim up to that point.
The Guggenheim is built like a reverse spiral. You enter on the ground floor, and follow the exhibit up a spiraling ramp to the top. The exhibit is organized by significant motorcycles through time. It starts with earliest motorcycles, which are basically bicycles with tiny engines. As you walk up the ramp, you progress to the classic Harley Davidson and Indian cruisers. Next comes a few famous Hollywood bikes, like Peter Fonda’s bike in Easy Rider.
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After that came notable bikes from Europe and Japan. I distinctly remember the Honda Super Cub, the friendly little scooter that appealed to the non-motorcyclist crowd, and brought the Japanese name to the US. There were other significant modern bikes of all kinds, and then came the last bike in the exhibit.
You meet the nicest people on a Honda — Honda Super Cub Marketing
Bookending the exhibit was the 1998 MV Agusta F4. I was like, cool bike. This must be the best motorcycle in the world. It would be a decade later until I understood its significance.
In March 2006, Allyson, Jack, and I took a vacation to Orlando, Florida. Allyson was attending a convention for her Pure Romance business. Her parents and Grandma drove down from NJ to spend the week with us.
By then I’ve been riding motorcycles for two full years. I got my license and first bike in Spring of 2004, a 600cc Kawasaki sport tourer. Then my car was stolen that summer, so I commuted to work everyday on the bike. To be fair, I was still a neophyte to the motorcycle world.
Once we were in Orlando, I browsed for things to do. Fate would have it that I looked up the Orlando Art Museum, and what do you know, the Art of the Motorcycle is now a traveling exhibit, and it is currently in Orlando!
So, I went to the exhibit, again. The OAM is a much smaller museum, so there weren’t as many bikes. Once again, at the end of the exhibit was the same 1998 MV Agusta F4.
I was still like, cool bike. But now I know a little more about motorcycles. At $25K+ new, this exotic Italian bike is about double the price of a top of the line Japanese 1000cc sport bike. Besides its price, I still didn’t fully understand it’s significance. I just thought that I would never be able to afford one.
Discovery Channel, 2009
The Discovery Channel debuted a new TV series in 2009 called “Twist the Throttle”. It was an 8 part series that covered the history of each major motorcycle manufacturer like Honda, Yamaha, Ducati, etc. They happened to have an episode about MV Agusta.
By 2009 I had been riding for a couple of years. I even had a purposely built track bike, a 2005 Honda CBR600RR, that I only rode at the race track. I was mid pack in the intermediate level. Dangerous enough to seriously hurt myself, but not fast enough for club racing. One thing I knew for sure was that sport bikes were totally impractical for the street and extremely uncomfortable. Not for me, no thank you!
I watched the episode on MV Agusta, and I was enthralled! It now all made sense why the F4 was the last bike in the Art of the Motorcycle.
I learned that MV Agusta was founded by two Italian Royal Counts named Agusta. They built the bikes in the town of Verghera, hence the name Meccanica Verghera Agusta. In the 60s and 70s, with its distinct red and silver colors, they won 17 consecutive world championships. Unfortunately, by the 80s, the company went into financial troubles and exited the motorcycle business.
In the 90s, Claudio Castiglioni, the former CEO of Ducati, acquired the MV Agusta brand, and brought over Ducati’s top designer, Massimo Tamburini. Tamburini had just finished designing the iconic Ducati 916, universally acclaimed to be the best motorcycle ever made. It won both the hearts of consumers and multiple World Superbike Championships.
Making its debut in 1994, the Ducati 916 was admired because of its new design and outstanding technical features. At the time of introduction, the 916 was recognized by winning “every magazine’s Bike of the Year award for 1994”, and Ducati sold out its entire first year’s production run in the United States before any had actually arrived there. (source)
Castiglioni had one simple OKR for Tamburini. Starting with a blank canvas, build the best bike ever. Pay homage to the MV Agusta racing history. No budget restrictions. In 1997, the MV Agusta F4 750 was revealed at the Milan motorcycle show. It was an instant hit.
Nicknamed the “Michelangelo of Motorcycle Design”, Tamburini created a timeless masterpiece. At its heart was a 4 cylinder 750cc engine, initially co-designed with Ferrari, hence the name “F4”. The bike was built with a strong chromium and molybdenum frame, lightweight magnesium swingarm and wheels anodized in gold colors. Racing quality suspension, carbon fiber body parts, and the iconic quad tail pipe. Legend says that Tamburini was inspired by organ pipes at local churches, so he designed four exhaust pipes of different lengths to create a harmonic exhaust note!
At the MSRP of $37K, all initial 300 production bikes were sold out immediately to celebrities and royalty. Remember the one in the Art of the Motorcycle exhibit? It was on loan from King Juan Carlos of Spain. The MV Agusta brand has been reborn.
Finally, after all these years, I now understood why the F4 was the last bike in the Art of the Motorcycle exhibit. With what I learned about the company’s history, the design process, and hand crafted quality, I thought to myself, if I were ever to own a sport bike again, the MV Agusta F4 would be the one. If it’s good enough for Bruce Wayne, sign me up!
The hunt is now on. I begin to scour mvagusta.net to learn as much as I can about the F4. The design of the bike has remained mostly the same since 1998, with changes like a larger 1000cc engine, upgraded wheels and brakes, and subtle graphics changes. I set my eyes on the 2007 or 2008 F4–1000R. And of course, it must have the iconic MV Agusta red and silver livery.
On eBay, I find exactly what I’m looking for. A red/silver 2007 F4 is available. The seller is from Colorado. It’s a mint condition with 1,934 miles. Practically brand new. I did a quick background check. The seller used the same user name on both eBay and mvagusta.net. The pictures match.
To my surprise, the bike was way less expensive than I expected. Brand new, the MSRP was $23,000, plus taxes and fees. Two years and 1,934 miles later, the eBay reserve price was $13,000. Nearly 50% depreciation. BTW, $13,000 was the average MSRP for a Japanese 1000cc sport bike. Unlike a stock Japanese bike, the MV comes with upgraded everything, and it’s literally an art piece! Nervously, I made a bid for $13,101, just above reserve, and… I won! I was probably also the only bidder.
I go online to check insurance prices. A few years ago I wanted to insure a Honda 600cc sport bike that I bought used for $5000. The insurance quote was $4000 a year, no joke. This is why I converted it into a track bike instead of paying fees to register and insure it as a street bike.
By comparison, insurance for the 2007 MV Agusta F4 1000R was only $580 a year. How could that be? Insurance is based on claims and payouts. Since Japanese sport bikes are common, they are frequently stolen or wrecked. On the other hand, MV Agustas are owned by distinguished gentlemen, who probably store the bike in their estate library and ride it once a year to the local Concours d’Elegance car or bike show! Since fewer claims are made against an MV Agusta, the insurance rates are actually lower than your mass market Japanese bike. Ironic, isn’t it?
The seller of my bike is getting rid of it because he was moving on to his next hobby, a twin turbo BMW, so he’s throwing in all spare parts, tires, and stands. Allyson has a cousin who lives in Denver. I mailed him the check and he went to see the bike in person and make the payment. He tells me the bike is legit. The owner has a really nice house.
After the payment was made, I received the title in the mail. The bike is mine now.
So there I was. Bought a motorcycle sight unseen. Now I need to get it transported to Seattle. eBay recommended this website uShip, where truck drivers can bid on your shipment.
Eventually I settled on a shipping company. They were transporting household goods from Florida to Seattle, and will be driving through Denver. For $400, they will transport the bike plus the boxes of parts, tires, and motorcycle stands. Pretty good deal.
A week later, the bike arrived. Turns out the truck driver owns a custom motorcycle shop in Spokane. This is good as it meant he knew how to handle bikes. He had the bike carefully wrapped in moving blankets and stuffed between two sofas. A few minutes later, he unloaded the bike down the ramp, and there it was in my driveway!
He said that when he got dispatched the job, the operator was super excited about the pickup. Even though he was more of a cruiser type of guy, he can appreciate this Italian motorcycle.
Ownership Experience — The Good
The MV Agusta F4 is a special bike. There’s no doubt about that. When you are with the right crowd, people notice. Here are three mini stories:
I met up with some friends at Cycle Barn for a ride. The MV is known to leak some coolant when it gets hot, so it took a little pee pee in the parking lot. A few of my friends were concerned. Since we were at the dealership, a mechanic came by to take a look. The MV fairings are easy to disassemble because it has D-clips rather than bolts. The mechanic took off the fairings and concluded that it’s just coolant, and nothing is wrong. He marveled at the bike and then thanked me for allowing him to work on it. When was the last time a mechanic thanked you for working on your car?
One time I was at the Exotics at Redmond Town Center car show. Sometimes I just prefer to ride there, and the marshal guy was like, hey, park your bike in the show. As I was taking off my helmet and gloves, I see this guy walk up to take pictures. “Is this an MV Agusta” he asks? “Yes. Would you like me to move my stuff for a better picture?” I replied. He said no need. Turns out his car was also in the show. He brought his Lamborghini. Hey, us Italians have to stick together!
One of the longer rides I’ve done in the MV was to Mt Baker, which is almost to the Canadian border. If I remember correctly, there was a Ducati Desmosedici RR on that ride. The Desmo is a street replica of Ducati’s MotoGP race bike with a retail price of $72,000! There were a total of 1500 ever made. It’s a super rare and exotic bike. We stopped at a gas station to fill up. I notice an older couple drive towards us in a convertible. They stop in front of my MV and said “nice bike!” While the Desmo is newer and more expensive, the 10 year old F4 just has the classic Tamburini design magic that always looks great.
Unfortunately I never took the bike to the track. I rode all 4,000 miles on back country roads, basically using 25% or less of the bike’s full capabilities. Liter bikes (sport bikes with 1000cc+) are lousy for streets. They are way too powerful.
But, if you find an empty highway on ramp, it’s magical. I’m sure all modern liter bikes are the same, but the power is insane. Getting on 520, I can hit 100mph before merging. The acceleration is so brutal that it feels like your arms are getting ripped off. You better be ready when you twist that throttle.
Ownership Experience — The Less Good
The MV isn’t all strawberries and champagne neither. It is, at its core, a sport bike for the race track. While it has a 4 gallon tank, it’s a gas guzzler! The fuel light comes on at around 88 miles, and by then, my legs and wrist are both on pins and needles, and my neck and back need a chiropractic adjustment! This bike’s aggressive ergonomics is definitely not designed for the 405.
The 2007 F4 had a few cosmetic changes from the 06, which is why I liked its look. That included black Marchesini wheels, gold Brembo brakes, red/white racing stripes, and metal mesh on air vents to give it that premium look.
Guess what happens when you put a mesh on air vents? It reduces air flow. There’s a joke that each MV Agusta comes standard with throttle adjusted seat warmers, because the bike gets HOT! Remember those four beautiful church organ inspired exhaust pipes? They are directly under your butt. Whenever I’m stuck in traffic, I can see the temperature gauge rise from 212F to 230F. Then it starts blinking (queue the DUN DUN DUN DUNN from Beethoven’s 5th Symphony). I’ve had to pull over just to let the bike cool back down, and give passing cars the thumbs up if they slow down.
For that reason, I can’t even ride the bike to work. Only weekends when the sun is out and birds are singing. One unintended “benefit” of owning a MV Agusta F4 is you end up owning another bike for everyday riding. My crappy daily commuter bike happens to be a BMW sport tourer with 167HP. I hope you find humor in these first world jokes.
I really thought I would keep the F4 forever. It’s such a rare bike with an amazing history that I would be happy just to hold it as its custodian for future generations. I even considered moving it to Taiwan with me eventually.
But during Covid, things change. I pretty much stopped riding, both because of work, scheduling and reduced riding opportunities with social distancing. The core group I used to ride with has splintered into smaller groups. There were just less opportunities to go on day or multi-day rides. I can only ride around Sammamish so much before I get bored.
While big, powerful bikes are fun, they are also to be treated with certain amount of respect. If you don’t, they will bite and spit you off. With so much power on tap, I have to be very careful all the time, especially in tight maneuvers. I missed when I had an older 600cc bike when I can whack the throttle open mid corner. It was a slower bike, but I felt I could ride it faster.
With the weird 2021 phenomenon of super high used vehicle prices, I decided to put the bike on Craigslist. I listed it at $9500, which was far above KBB value, and waited to see if there were any bites. I wasn’t in a hurry to sell.
Pretty quickly, I got two interested parties. The first buyer made an appointment to see the bike and will bring cash. A second buyer offered to pay installments and $2000 above my asking offer.
I’m a believer in good karma, and I wasn’t going to screw the first buyer just for $2000. He came, saw the bike, offered $9000 in cash, and rode it away. I hope he takes good care of the MV. These bikes shouldn’t just sit in museums and garages. They should be ridden as the late Castiglioni and Tamburini would want us to do.
Buying the MV taught me a good life lesson, and that is to buy something for its value, not for its price. Better products give you better overall lifetime value and experiences. This is true in real estate, cars, and other things too. It was a stretch when we moved to Sammamish, but our kids are going to the best public schools in the state. In the mean time, our house value has nearly tripled. We stretched again to purchase our Tesla Model S, but that has lead to our FIRE lifestyle. If only I had this advice in 2007 to buy the iPhone…
Value doesn’t always equal money though. With motorcycles, I’ve gone full circle. I’ve also sold the BMW, and my new motorcycle is a free, hand-me-down 2008 Ninja 250. Affectionately known as the Ninjette, it is carbureted, slow, and for beginners. It also didn’t start. However, I think I’ll have a lot of fun fixing and modifying it myself, and knowing that every time I twist that throttle, it will give me a big smile.