2006 Ducati Sport Classic Paul Smart 1000LE
I'm not so sure that this story is going to be much of a road test. Trying to judge this thing with "faster than that / nimbler than this" parameters would be pretty useless. See, when straddling such a refined nostalgic distillate, a tool that seems to come straight out of a time tunnel, a moving monument to an event that happened some 30 years ago (Ducati's win in the Imola 200 race in '72), all objectiveness gets thrown out of the window and it's really hard not to be extra sentimental.
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.