Ducati has not invented the nostalgic "retro" formula, of course. In the last few years we've seen the "new Beetle" and the "new Mini" cars, and in the two-wheeled world, Triumph is having a ball with their "new twins" success. Some would add Harley-Davidson or Vespa to the list, but considering the fact that both never gave up producing their retro stuff there's no real comeback to talk about here. So in many ways Ducati's move was kind of expected and upon seeing the first photos of the "Sport Classic" series from Tokyo's 2003 show I thought to myself: "Hmm. A bit predictable, ain't it?" It just felt easy to blame Ducati on jumping on to the comfy nostalgia bandwagon.
As someone who drove or rode the above three examples in their original guise as well as the new cover versions, I was always left with the feeling of, "what the heck do these things have to do with the originals, for God's sake?" For instance, take the new Mini. As a past owner of three first-series cars ('62, '67 and '69) I know these road-legal go-karts all too well. They had a start button on the floor, sliding driver windows, and a steel cable to open the door. To call the new, fat and luxurious Mini a proper successor to Alec Issignosis's genial minimalist creation is a bad joke in my book. And the "new Beetle"! How could anybody dare change from rear wheel drive to front wheel drive and still call it a Beetle? How could you ever throw the tail around in the rain with the new model? That's plain chutzpa! The new Triumph twins fare only slightly better. Yes, they are much truer to the originals but where's the vibrating heart and soul of the old twins? Yes, said vibrations made the things leave a trail of nuts, bolts and washers in their wake but did the new models have to feel so damn castrated?
Here I stand, in front of this new Duc, my first face-to-face encounter and the thing simply punches you straight in your stomach with its no-holds-barred directness. Wham! This is no synthetic product concocted by some smooth operators in a chic marketing office. The Paul Smart 1000 L.E. feels so genuine and so much like the real thing. This is not a tool for Italio-posers with a white/green/red leather jacket full of the "right'n cool" sewn-on badges. One look at the position of both handlebars and footpegs and you understand immediately that you are about to begin a hard-core S&M session meant only for true mechano-slaves. I kneel next to the PS 1000 and this thing is transparent. If you are a bit like Jay Leno -- who claims to love scoots that you can see through -- you are going to find plenty to like in the PS 1000's spindly lines and sweet emptiness.
As someone who works in design, I can only guess that when the boss opens your office door and yells, "do a replica of a 30 year old bike, and make it snappy!" it might not sound like the most interesting project to work on. Where's the room to create something really new? Only in the PS 1000's case, Signore Terblanche, someone who has already established a controversial reputation, and that has to leave his mark at all costs, managed to keep his over-creative tendencies in check and produce shapes that honor the original. It all goes to show that the guy understood the spirit of things without falling into the trap of anal retentive restoration.
For instance, it would have been all too easy to put dual shocks in the back of the PS1000, just like in them good old days, yet the single "conventional mount" shock coupled to a double sided swing arm is a brilliant reinterpretation of the old testament. Life for Ducati would have been much simpler if they would have used the complete front end of the SS1000. But in the PS 1000 you'll find a narrowed-down triple clamp that pulls the fork tubes closer and flattened, one-off brake disc carriers all in order to achieve that narrow, tall and lean look for the bike's front end. The end result is convincing. Wherever the eye rests you can see that Ducati, with an almost fundamentalist zeal, did not cut any corners or recycle stuff from the parts bin with this one. Need a last example of their dedication? Look at the tire's tread. No, those aren't30-year-old Pirelli Phantoms (the must have rubber of the seventies), these are current Pirelli Diablos that at Ducati's special request have been manufactured with the older tread design but are third millennium stuff on the inside just for the Sport Classic series.
That's enough with the philosophy. I drag the bike out of the downtown dealership, swing a leg over and before I even get to squeeze the clutch lever, I can hear myself cursing compulsively inside my helmet. I'll spare you the list of exotic locations to which I sent the mothers of various high-ranking people in Ducati in my cursing. I mean, you try to reach for the handlebar, bend, then bend some more all the while thinking, "Where's the Candid Camera? This is a joke, right?" The bar height is just the beginning; I haven't mentioned yet the fuel tank's length that simply stretches you inquisition-style over the whole bike. The combination of these two demonic dimensions means that the first few minutes of city riding it feels like hell has come down on earth. So you wanted to know what a real 1970's racer-on-the-road felt like? You don't need a PhD in bikeology to know that this thing doesn't mix with city dwelling. No, sir. After a short show-off spin in the city I park the Duc at home. I have it for the whole week, and it's better to wait for a proper outing in the fast lanes.
Page 2Winter is already here and it's been raining cats and dogs. One day passes, another one and yet another and the rain doesn't want to stop. Downstairs I have this beauty waiting for me, teasing me to take her to the right road and all Ican do is climb the walls. After four days I break down. It's miserable outside, just a few degrees above freezing, and there's a thick Lombard fog blanket, more suited for French film noir scenes but at least the rain has stopped. Stuff the Aerostitch with all the insulation that I can fit into it while still being able to bend far enough for the PS1000 and off we set. The gas tank is full, and so are my adrenal glands. After a five minute run on the fast Autostrada, I am all smiles, feeling warm in my soul. Forget the city and the slow stuff, as soon as you let the PS1000 fly undisturbed over straights and fast sweepers, the crazy riding position, huge fairing, and that big twin down low all start to make sense and I find myself totally engulfed in this very old-school experience.
A few dozen miles fly past and the little dim bulb in my head lights up. In the seventies, race tracks around the world were fast and flowing, with no chicanes to slow down the fun. Races were all about pure speed and clean cornering lines; the less you touched the brakes, the more you crouched behind the bubble and kept the thing at WOT (Wide Open Throttle--Ed.), the better it got.
In theory, there's little new to say about the power unit; it's in the same state of tune as that of the Multistrada 1000 and Monster 1000, the same satisfying Ducati torque pump we all know, but in the PS1000 it supplies something else beyond plain oomph: speed. I stretch out and tuck in behind the huge fairing and go into slight shock from the deceptive easiness with which the PS1000 trots along at 120 mph. There might be only 80-something horsies down there (slightly less than the MS1000 or M1000, according to a local magazine's dynoing) but this machine, just like the original racer, is seemingly tailoredto give you the most mph's for your hp's. Give it some time and the needle creeps on to some 150 mph.
In a recent tech column I published elsewhere, I have bashed current makers for producing sportbike fairings with "BS aerodynamics", with style placed well above function. Well, not here. The old big bore cannon shell shape of the fairing cuts the air cleanly and lets me speed on, engulfed in a pocket of silence. A light buffeting does hit my helmet, but don't forget that there is a 6'4" humanoid in the saddle. The narrow clipons keep my hands close to my body, enabling them to create what feels like unity with the whole bike. This high-speed trip is hypnotizing and addictive, unlike anything I've experienced lately, big bore supersports included. It actually reminds me of something: that scary and sweaty ride on a borrowed 900SS / 860 GTS bevel-drive mongrel some twenty years ago.
I press on towards Genoa and soon the Autostrada starts twisting around as I go down the Apenini towards the sea. The fog is getting thicker but I feel so safe inside my protective bubble, the steering feels utterly planted on the wet road, all I need do is keep aiming far ahead into the fast sweepers, not close the throttle and dream that I am entering Imola's main straight...
The Smart Replica feels so good running at full bore in the fast lane that I am almost tempted to give up on a jaunt in the real twisties (God knows how the weather is up there but someone has to do it), but now it's on to the slowerstuff. Old Skool this Duc might be, but the steering has nothing of the truck-like feel of the old bevel drives. With 17" radial tires, wonderful Ohlins boinkers at both ends and above all, a steering rake angle of 24 degrees compared to the 30 of the old Ducs, the PS responds quite well to steering inputs at lower speeds. Sure enough, the low slung, narrow clipons require some body English and pushing to countersteer from below rather than from above but by using your whole torso to do so, the thing responds very well.
I've waxed lyrically enough in the past about the amazing efficiency of the air-cooled two-valve Bolognese mills on tight and twisty roads, and this one is no different. From 3,000rpm there's a satisfying torque plateau and if need be you can stretch the thing up to 8,500, reducing the need for gear changing to a bare minimum. If anything bothers me when the going gets slow it's that the high speed gearing means larger gaps between gears. And when downshifting, you need to be careful and go one gear at a time. Good willed as I am to carry on, the fog has become a thick blanket by now and doesn't permit me to continue climbing; visibility is down to 50-60 yards. If while climbing I was still smiling, on my way down the extra weight on my wrists while braking, the utterly wet road and the falling darkness turn me all grumpy. When I am back to sea level I stop in the first village I find; I need a double espresso ASAP.
Parked at the village, people are staring at me with disbelief and at the PS1000 with admiration. The locals are quite used to seeing scoots of all kinds and sizes here and I can read their minds: "who's the nutter that takes such a beaut for a ride on a day like this? Sacrilege! This thing isn't supposed to getcovered in road grime!" I'm not so sure that everyone understands what he sees or gets the whole modern-retro message, but whoever passes next to the PS1000 stops dead in his tracks and kneels next to it, seemingly trying to swallow the Duc with his eyes.
But let's be honest. Does all this really matter? I mean the fact that this retro thing happens to be much more than a nice ride is obviously a boon but the essence here is taking a ride on a time machine. As noted before, gearing could be a bit shorter. Top speed turned out to be the same in either fifth or sixth
gear so a tooth or two in the back could squeeze a few mph more out of the PS1000 as well as shorten the gaps between the gear ratios. Yet, even with the highish gearing the thing does loft the wheel of the lights in first, which feels kind of weird on such a machine. Oh, and forget about the mirrors. This is all important stuff if we were speaking about a run-of-the-mill naked or supersport mount but this bike is the least mainstream scoot that you could think off.
Amazingly, when I pull back into town after five hours straight of Kama Sutra training, I feel almost comfortable. Somehow my back has unconsciously acquired the needed kink to cope well with the bike! Yes, that's how it used to be back then: you fitted the bike, not the other way round. Who knew back then about adjustable footpegs and bars? Despite my aching back and neck, and tired arms, I am amazed as to how this bike managed to turn an utterly gray day into a fun and merry one. I still have the bike for a few more days, and knowing now what she loves, I shower her with plenty of excursions on the right roads. In these few days I've developed cramps in my whole body but on the right tarmac the experience still makes me smile.
of course how many people will appreciate that old school sporting experience and its riveting package? It's a kind of a rolling memorial to a tool that showed the rest of the world how its done in Bologna but it still isn't really the real thing, i.e. a true bevel drive Duc.
Talking about the real thing, one blood connection that can't be denied is the fact that the air cooled belt drive mills were designed by the man himself, Dr. T, his very last engine before retiring from Ducati, the same Doctor T that was standing next to the pit wall on that great day.
Ducati is going to produce exactly 2,000 units of the Paul Smart 1000, hence the Limited Edition moniker. That's about twice the amount of 750SSs ever produced between 1974/78, and you can bet that they will all be gone pretty quickly. It's not a bike that will change the fate of Ducati, but nevertheless you can't but appreciate the total effort, dedication, and the fanaticism with which the guys from Bologna decided to honor the past. The very fact that this bike exists and the way it taught a lesson in history did me a lot of good.
Page 3MO: 750s (and later 900s) from Japan and Europe started to fill the streets. With such a good availability of overpowered weapons (by contemporary standards), production-based big bike racing took off like never before.
One of the most prestigious races of the early seventies era was the Imola 200, a kind of "Daytona" of Europe. The event was very high profile, big money was at stake and all the major factories just had to be out there in force with their trickest machinery. Kawasaki and Suzuki sent out their wild, hundred-plus horsepower, two-stroke 750 triples. Triumph and BSA prepared their 750 four-strokes for the event, the same bikes that had won many events in U.S. road racing. The old guard was represented by Norton and Moto Guzzi with their proven 750 twins. Even MV Agusta prepared a special racing version of the 750 four for Agostini while Yamaha's Jarno Saarinen was there with his quick 350 giant killer.
And then there was Ducati. The biggest bike that the Bolognese company had produced before 1972 was a 450 single. The just-released 750 twin was never thrown into the heat of the battle and the Imola was to be its baptismal race! It was to be a real David against Goliath sort of thing. In these days of televised MotoGP's and year-round Internet reports, it'll be very hard to explain just how important that single Imola race was in terms of public exposure. It will be harder still to describe the sheer astonishment, joy, disbelief and exultation when, after 200 grueling miles the two virgin Ducatis crossed the line in first and second position. Nothing short of unbelievable, overnight Ducati had become a player in the big bore wars, all thanks to Paul Smart.
YS: Hello Paul, how are you today?
PS: Very well, thank you. It's even a very nice day outside, quite unusual for the season here in England.
YS:. If I remember right, until that Imola race you'd never ridden a Ducati.
PS: That's not precise. At that time I was indeed a Kawasaki rider with Bob Hansen's American team but I had done a few local races in England on Ducati singles.
YS: So how did you end up riding the unproven Italian Twin?
PS: Vic Camp, a Ducati dealer in the UK knew me, wanted me for the event but couldn't find me. He ended up speaking with Maggie, my wife, and she set up the whole thing. As it turned out, Ducati were very serious about this race, offered nice money, by the standards of those days, of course. Bob Hansen didn't mind me riding so I went for it.
YS: So what did you actually know about those new 750 twins?
PS: I'd seen the bikes for the first time during a pre-race shakedown session in a small track near Modena. Part of it was an airfield strip but it was used in some Italian National races at the time. I had to fly in from the U.S. via London and I didn't sleep all night so wasn't in the best of moods. The bike seemed as long as a little train at first! I did a few laps and being used to the Kawasaki Triple's power, the Duc's 80 something horsepower didn't made much of an impression. Also the steering felt pretty heavy compared to the Kawasaki's.
YS: Well, that's about what this new replica puts down on the road.
PS: Right! But by the time I pulled in, it turned out that I broke the lap record. So this bike was deceptively fast.
YS: When riding the replica named after you, I couldn't help but think about the days that tracks did not have chicanes.
PS: Imola was like that as well, save for one second-gear hairpin it was all pretty fast. One fast sweeper was 150 mph if you didn't close the throttle. For such a track and such a long race, the stable Ducati was a bonus. It was much less tiring to ride.
YS: Is there a special moment that you remember from that race?
PS: First of all it was my birthday, so I got the best ever present I could think off. Then there was Taglioni's face as I pulled into the pits after the race.
YS: Did you keep racing that Ducati?
PS: Yes, I got it as a present from Ducati and was actually asked to race it in some meetings in England. They supported me in the first two. It surprised me. there also. At the tracks that I didn't think it would do well, it won. And at tracks where I thought it would be good, it wasn't. Brands Hatch requires some quick steering so I was able to make the bike turn in better into slow corners by spinning the rear (Take note those of you who thought that Doohan, Rossi or Nicky invented the concept.--YS) and I won. At the fast Silverstone, where I was sure the bike would be a winner, I had huge understeer, wore out the front tire faster than the rear and just didn't have enough power to steer the thing with the rear wheel in the fast corners.
YS: Did you have a part in the development of the replica?
PS: I haven't been in contact with Ducati for many years. In '97, when they started putting together the Museum, they asked me for my bike and I asked to have one of the Foggy championship bikes as a guarantee. Later they started talking about this whole Classic Sports thing, including building a Replica of my bike. Treblanche invited me over a few times to the Model workshop in Turin, that's where they were making the 1:1 models. When I first sat on top of one I said to Pierre "It's too long, I can't reach the bars!" Can't say I had a very crucial part but it was nice of Ducati to invite me and hear what I had to say. Treblanche was really nice with me.
YS: And how did you feel riding one?
PS: To try and compare my full on race bike to the new Replica is not really possible but I had to admit there was something very familiar about the whole experience. I was out there with the journalists, riding with them at the launch event and liked it in the twisties but not really while cruising Florence. I am 62 now and need some comfort. I got three of them; one I gave to Scott (his son races Superbikes in England), one to my daughter who rides too as a Christmas present and one I kept to myself.
YS: Are you still keen on wind surfing?
PS: I had a bad skiing accident some time ago and my shoulder is not in great shape now and that bothers me. See, and they all say bikes are dangerous.
YS: Thank you Paul, and Happy New Year.