Thursday, March 26, 2009

Build Your Own Ducati Streetfighter! Part I

I like sportbikes. I like a motor tuned for high-rpm running, a close-ratio transmission, rigid chassis, good brakes and light weight. What I don' tlike is hunching over my gas tank like I've just been punched in the stomach. I don't like sore wrists. I don't like worrying about my bike getting stolen so some putz can sell my shiny plastic bodywork on eBay.
I also find I ride better if I don't have all that fancy plastic on my bike. Riding on a fast, bumpy, twisty road with a $10,000, full-fairing sportbike feels like jogging through a minefield while carrying a tray full of wineglasses. How many salvage-title bikes are out there with nothing wrong with them but scratched and cracked bodywork? One little spill of diesel fuel, one slippery dead squirrel, and you're looking at a $4000 work order. Funny how a huge piece of ABS plastic sold as a child's toy is $14.95, but a similar item is $798.54 from Suzuki, Ducati or BMW. Gotta pay for that performance somehow, no?

Nothing's better than getting something for nothing, and there's no better way to do that than to get 2009 technology at 1985 prices. How do you do that? It's easy, my friend: buy a crashed late-model motorcycle on Craigslist and turn that into a streetfighter.

I did that with a 2000 Ducati 750SS recently, and I gotta say it's been tremendously satisfying. a Ducati customizer had built it for his brother as a first bike. He took a 620 Monster motor, bolted 800cc jugs on it and slapped the resulting contraption into a donor chassis. The exhaust was a weird old 2-1 Staintune unit allegedly dug out of a dumpster behind the Staintune factory. I saw the bike on Craigslist and felt I needed to at least go look at it. 

Pierre Terblanche, I love you, but the bodywork and your torturously low clip-ons gotta go. A guy in Canada bought the exhaust system, eh.

Every piece of bodywork was scuffed except the fender and right-rear tailsection, and one panel was finished in primer grey. But it was clean and the 2005 Monster 620 motor had just 1000 miles on it. Remembering my wife’s 620 was, I figured it could be fun. The seller (not related to the builder or his hapless brother, who dropped the thing on both sides) seemed frustrated; despite having an aftermarket FI-tuning thing on the bike, he couldn't get it to run right. He was asking a bit much, but I could tell he was ready to deal.

 I took it out for a testride, and it was touch-and-go for a while. The SS was almost impossible to ride at low speeds, the way it twitched, spat and bucked, and the suspension was stiff, frequently bouncing me off the seat. But over 6000 rpm the motor ran strong and clean. The Staintune sounded good, flat and mean and not too loud. It was indeed fun.  

"I shouldn't buy this thing,” I said when I got back from a 5-mile testloop. “But if you'll say yes to $2600, I'll have to take it home."


I should never have read “ You Can Negotiate Anything.” Damn you, Herb Cohen!

Now what? Well, I've wanted a streetfightered Ducati Supersport for a while. I like Monsters for the ideal of how they look: a motor, two wheels, a gas tank and not much else - but they always seem to handle in a strange way, like you’re riding a bike in a low-budget video game. I've never liked that. But these Supersports...slow, linear steering, unmatchable high-speed stability, firm suspension that re-creates the sadomasochistic ‘70s cafĂ©-racer experience, brakes like hitting a Bagdad blast wall. My idea of perfection. What I don’t like is the torturously low bars and fuzz-attracting sportbike fairing. What if I took the fairing off, added an LsL handlebar kit and a headlight and called it a day? 

If only it were that easy...

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