Bends in the Road

Success came quickly for Italian bike builder Mondial. The boutique manufacturer claimed three consecutive 250cc world titles soon after opening its doors for business in 1949, and by 1957 the company had collected a total of 10 125cc and 250cc world championships. Halfway around the world, Shoichiro Honda eyed Mondial’s dominance on the racetrack. Although success had not translated into showroom sales for the Italian concern, Honda believed a global racing presence would boost sales of his road bikes. In a gentleman’s agreement—astonishing for the traditionally ruthless world of competitive racing—Mondial acceded to Honda’s request for the loan of a 125cc Grand Prix race bike. The Japanese company’s fledgling race team studied the winning design, and by 1961 had won two major championships with technology derived primarily from Mondial motorcycles. By the time Honda started winning, however, the Italian powerhouse was no longer competing—Mondial had shuttered its enterprise after road bike sales proved insufficient to subsidize its racing pursuits.

Pierluigi Boselli, whose father had owned Mondial, briefly attempted a resuscitation in 1992 with a single-cylinder, KTM-powered race bike. A decade later, Roberto Ziletti bought the Mondial name, planning to revitalize the brand with a bike designed for World Superbike racing. Suzuki had promised a V-twin powerplant, but withdrew shortly before the bike’s unveiling at Milan’s motorcycle show. Desperate to find a loaner engine for the upcoming show, Ziletti approached a friend who happened to be a race boss at Honda. The request went to Japan, and perhaps landed on the desk of an executive with fond memories of mid-century motorcycle racing; not only did Honda grant the request, but for the first time ever, it offered another manufacturer the use of its powerplant in a production motorcycle. Forty-five years after Mondial lent Honda a bike, the Japanese company was able to return the favor to the venerable Italian marque.

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The product of this historic re-mingling was the 2002 Mondial Piega, a handmade, low-volume Italian bike with a high-tech Japanese heart. Derived from the RC51, the 999cc V-twin SP-1 powerplant produces 138 hp at 9,800 rpm, a rating 10 hp higher than the Honda motor, courtesy of a titanium and aluminum exhaust system designed specifically for Mondial by Arrow. From its autoclaved body panels to its swingarm, carbon fiber abounds in the Piega; combined with a Ducati-style chromoly trellis frame, its weight undercuts that of the RC51 by 45 pounds.

Upside-down forks from Paioli provide the front suspension while the steering damper and fully adjustable rear shock come from Öhlins. The brakes are Brembo Oro series: two front 320mm floating discs and 4-piston calipers with 2-piston 240mm rear discs. Mondial makes the hollow five-spoke, light-alloy 17-inch wheels, wrapped with 120/70s up front and 180/55s in the rear. The Mondial’s handling has been described as responsive and quick but “un-nervous.” Although the Piega’s engine has a relatively flat torque curve—particularly for a race-homologated bike—the riding position is decidedly aggressive, its wrist-heavy lean more reminiscent of a Ducati 998 than, say, Honda’s RC51.

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In keeping with homologation standards, Mondial produced only 250 Piegas. The bike carried an MSRP of roughly $33,000; the few buyers who did take the plunge often paid a $10,000 premium. For these aficionados with a taste for Italian history and Japanese technology, it was a good investment; the bike’s rarity—only three exist in the United States—and historical significance have only caused its value to rise. And rightly so: the Piega—named for Italian slang meaning bend in the road—represents a serendipitous moto-cultural avenue that is anything but straightforward—and unlikely to be revisited.

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