Tuesday 7 February 2012

While Cafe Racer fever has gripped the motorcycle marketing machine, one mainstream manufacturer is missing out.

Retro Features and Cafe Project sections are popping up in all the mainstream bike rags, custom shows have less tassels and more clip-ons these days, and you can hardly watch a perfume ad without someone chasing Keira Knightly on a Desmo...

Eu de Duc?
Manufacturers are even impressed enough to get in on the act with retro cafe models straight out of the factory - but the brand that was there at the beginning is missing out on all the action.

Where are you Ducati?

What makes it worse is that back in 2005 Pierre Terblanche turned out the beautiful, (but much ridiculed), Sport Classic range, built to look like the old 1970s Ducati 750 and 900ss, but now, just as cafe racer fever spawns series II of it's own TV show, their gorgeous Sport Classic 1000 range has been discontinued for three years.


The standard monoposto SC1000 with single sided shock, dry clutch and stacked zorst
Free marketing in TRON - for a discontinued model!!!

The original models were monoposto (single-seat) bikes with a single-sided monoshock, long tank, clipons and proper old school looks, mated to a tried and tested air-cooled Desmo 1000 engine. There was also a faired limited edition model - the Paul Smart replica - which came kitted out with Ohlins suspension as standard equipment and was painted up to look like the race-winning 750SS ridden by the legendary British racer at Imola in 1972. It was beautiful.

The Original above - The Rep below

After a year or so, (and much complaining from journos) the back-breaking clip-ons were given a 4 inch lift, and those with girlfriends were finally given a rear seat and pillion pegs. The faired biposto S also appeared, and Ducati's dry clutch was swapped out for a quieter and longer-lived wet clutch... Much to the disgust of Ducatisti purists.

Twin shocks, dual seat (biposto), wet clutch, higher clip-ons

Biposto with a fairing

They also created the GT model, with heavier steel wheels, and slightly downgraded suspension, but a more chunky looking tank and proper handlebars - much better for those who prefer a more laid back riding stance.

Standard GT with bars and a shorter tank... Ride me to Cannes.

To me the Sport Classic is the very best retro bike out there, simply because it combines classic timeless looks from the 1970s, with an engine, chassis and suspension from the noughties, so it goes like stink, corners like it's on rails, and the brakes work too. Who says cafe racers have to be slow, under-sprung, and use drum brakes.
Embarassing the Sports Bikes at Brands Hatch

Best of all, being based on a bunch of spare parts from the Ducati parts bin, they are very easy to upgrade or customise.

Some people make them more modern, quicker and more badass-lookings, but increasingly, more and more of us love to take them back to their roots with classic paint, stripped down cosmetics, clocks, wheels, etc, and an Imola style seat (I'm not sure what Terblanch thought he was doing with that wide, fat behind? ...maybe it was his day off?)

Here are a few of my favourites... A few pro builds, but plenty from the forums too.

The NCR take on the Sport Classic. Pricey, but gorgeous

Monoshock monoposto tastefully upgraded

The stunning racer above started out as a GT with bars

Roland Sands liked the look of these too... he didn't need to change much.

A very proper PS replica - with Imola style seat and custom fairing

Robsy's SC has a lot of subtle custom work, right down to hand made carbon clocks

Guard Dog comes as standard if you live in downtown LA

Guido's bike has stacks of mods, from Imola seat to LSL headlight and full Ohlins...

Like most Hollywood actors, Stephano's bike has had work since it featured in TRON.

Mike's shiny GT

Brown is the new black

The black & gold limited edition SE - each with a numbered plaque on the headstock

Not to my taste at all - but look at the work that's gone into this Mono

This GT has been tastefully upgraded with full Ohlins, open belts, and more...

Ian's Paul Smart at Brand's Hatch last summer - another Imola seat

A Mike Hailwood Paint job really works on this faired 1000S.

This GT was made for Steve Jones - yes, THAT Steve Jones. The tank is by Evan Wilcox

Nimi has a built an SC/GT hybrid, complete with TRON style rear lights

There's so much you can do to these bikes. Check JCPak for the ultimate selection

DCJ's tasteful sleeper - the devil is in the detail

Another stunner from the forums. This is Barfer's.

Not retro at all - but nice

As retro as it gets - with advertising like this how could you say no to a 750ss?

The thing is, if you want a Ducati based cafe racer, even if you start from scratch you end up building a Sport Classic...

This is one of several stunning Duc-based cafes from Walt Seigl

One of my all time favourite Shed-bikes. Geoff's Build 43, based on a 900ss engine

So, ...Ducati. Wake up!

You produced a modern retro motorcycle that outclasses all it's factory rivals from Norton, Moto Guzzi and Triumph, with better looks, performance - and even a better price... and now everyone else is eating yer lunch. ...Doh.

Ok. Enough ranting. - and here's mine. Again.

...Roll on summer.

Work in progress...

If you like what you see here, and want one, good luck finding a bike for sensible money, ...but when you do, make sure you head over to the Sport Classic forums at Ducati.ms for the low down on what can and can't be done to these bikes.

...here is a bit of insight into one or two must-dos, etc:

Those OEM Pirelli Phanton tyres are shit. No grip, no feedback, horrible profile. If your bike still has them please throw them away and fit some grippy rubber with a decent profile. Check Ducati.ms for plenty of opinions on which are best, but for performance I like my Pilot Pures. Shame they don't look retro though.

Some people find the Duc clutch a bit heavy. An aftermarket clutch slave lightens the load on your grip with 30% less strain. The fluid always goes black though - even with a new slave. Change it fairly frequently.

It's a reliable mill, but make sure the belts are changed at recommended intervals. Desmo 1000s don't like to be ignored or miss important anniversaries any more than your wife or girlfriend.

Somewhere on YouTube there is a video of all the Duc's riding positions overlaid on each other, ending with the Sport Classic as the most stretched out and bent over of them all. If you have an early 06 model you can retro fit the biposto higher clips-ons, or there are lots of aftermarket options. I'm not 100% sure how high you can go if you have an S or PS with a fairing. Check the forums. A few people create SC/GT hybrids, either with bars on a Sport, or clip-ons on a GT (shorter tank) - so there are loads of imaginative options.

In the US lot's of bikes with plastic tanks are deforming because of the 10% ethanol in US fuel. This has affected lots of Ducs and while many dealers will replace your tank (sometimes even out of warranty) lots of other riders coat the insides of their tanks with Caswell (hard to do right though) and many more are seeking aluminium alternatives. In the UK this is not yet a problem, but we do also have EU quotas on Ethanol to fulfil, so it may come to our shores soon. Check the forums for updates.

There are loads of other poplar mods you can find on the forums, most notably; tilting the clocks flatter, removing the chrome bevel on the clocks, finding a good rear hugger, upgrading electrics and battery, suspension upgrades, tail tidies, and finding a good aftermarket exhaust, headlight replacement, running open belt covers, slipper clutches... you know the score. Go search.


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