The Pig’s Arms has clocked up its first year and nearly every day we get a person or two coming over to read the piece mentioning perhaps the greatest road bike ever built – the Ducati 900ss. This was a monster that sorted out the men from the boys simply by having a clutch beyond the power of a wimp to engage. It was a beautiful, elegant piece of open road mischief, and a mechanics’ dream to keep on the road. But for any serious motorcyclist of the 1970s and beyond, it was street cred writ large.
I have never owned one and the closest I’ve come to riding one was a more modern, heavier and more brutal Mike Hailwood replica.
But for a year or so I did have the pleasure of riding my girlfriend’s Ducati 250 Mk III Desmo. At the time I owned and rode a BMW R75/6 – a sweet as a nut touring bike with a bikini fairing borrowed from the big brother R90/6.
What a contrast ! The Duke weighed about half as much as the BM and was tiny in comparison. But it was a joy to ride. And it was reputedly good for 100 mph. But it was pretty scary over 70 or 80 – probably because I was always short of coin in those days and I used to eke out the last adhesion available in the Pirellis, Michelins, Avons or Metzelers or Continentals – or whatever the last owner had graciously conceded at sale time.
And another small matter was that the gear shift and rear brake were respectively on the right and left – the opposite of just about everything else on two wheels at the time. Not a good idea to forget this in a decreasing radius corner.
When one piles the miles on one’s own clock, it’s easy to forget the simple pleasures of youth. Every now and again, I feel a hankering for the thrills of my life back then. Last weekend, FM and I ticked one item off our bucket list and went off on a Ferrari drive weekend. We went in convoy behind a generously-driven Alfa GT and drove from Sydney down to Kiama- via the Royal national Park, along the seabridge and through Jamberoo. We took turns in a 1988 F328 manual – the best in my view – an F355, F360 and a 2006 F430. The newish one had 500 horses under the bonnet and acceleration that was beyond belief. Make no mistake, driving a Ferrari is a blast, but the average number of outings per year undertaken by people who are so indulgent that they buy one – is just 12. A toy. And a bloody expensive one at that. The excess insurance for the weekend was a snip at $10,000 and so we were all rather careful that we didn’t need to call it in.
But cars, are well, just cars and when I was thinking about my old bikes (most of which had stellar acceleration by car standards ) and eyeball-popping brakes – and some also had handling too, my thoughts returned to one of the greatest little motorcycles ever built. I was fooling around looking for pictures and videos of the little beast – having little or no chance of finding my own and I discovered over at Youtube a clip of a Ducati 250 (probably an early 70’s Mk III following a Ferrari 328 along a freeway. Go find that for yourself. But there were better images to be had and there’s a video for your delight below.
The spectacular Ducati singles were made mostly in the late ’60s and early ’70s. Ducati started out with the small 250s – and as many manufacturers have done – they upped the ante by hotting up the 250, that later became a 350 and an astonishingly good wheel-standing 450. Big M said he saw a 450 for sale recently unrestored – asking price ten grand. And Duke restoration is a heroic undertaking requiring highly specialised and detailed mechanical engineering knowledge – or access to that bloke.
Then Ducati had a little brain explosion and built something ordinary – the 500cc parallel twin. Redeemed later with the gorgeous SL500 V twin Desmo Pantah in the early 1980s. One of which is in FM ‘s Dad’s shed waiting for me to cash up.
In the mean time I also found one of a solid band of Australian collectors and restorers and Stewart Ross kindly gave me the use of photographs of his amazing concourse condition 1968 Ducati 250 Mk III. My girlfriend’s bike was probably one year older and had – of all things, two filler caps on the tank. Photos of that model are even more rare – many actually being a 350.
Best movie is a bit cheesy and it’s a very modern 250. But it certainly brings it all back for me.
Enjoy you old road warriors. Vale Dennis Hopper.