2006 Ducati Sport Classic Paul Smart 1000LE
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.
All the while I am seated at a table outside, sipping my coffee in the cold, finding new details that I haven't seen before, like the hinge in the steering stem fairing support. The rear wheel has alloy clamps that hug the huge diameter swingarm tubes just like the old SS's. The finely crafted silencer's hanger is just a 3/8' stainless rod bent into a V shape. Who said it was just MV who where maniacal about details? I don my helmet and gloves, hide behind the cozy fairing and fly back home. Gee, I've got to find something more substantial to say about this one. The Ohlins suspension is really, really nice and controlled (bet Paul would have given a leg and an arm for something like this back then). It's sporty and firm, yet the rear end is relatively comfy for being a linkage-less, direct action design. The front brakes suffer a bit in power and feel, being simple twin-piston jobs that look a bit out of place next to the classy Ohlins USD fork, but it seems the beautiful spoked wheels didn't leave enough room for four pot jobs. The single seat, on the other hand, is surprisingly comfy.
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.