Yep, more than 30 percent of overall Ducati sales in countries like Germany, the UK--and the USA too, according to the rumors--are the new Sport Classics. I can understand the 40- or 50-something bloke's fascination with the Paul Smart 1000 and Sport 1000 but I must say that the model I was looking forward to ride the most was actually the last release in the Classic trilogy: the new GT1000.
The two aforementioned models have the oh-so-cool boy racer pose, but after riding the Paul Smart 1000 (The Sport is basically a PS1000 sans fairing), I understood that my lower back isn't super keen on clip-ons that feel as if they are bolted to the front wheel spindle. But this new GT...Well, it looks like a much better and more humane proposition. It has a proper standard handlebar, a big, flat seat (the two sport models are single seaters) and pegs in the right place. Maybe it's an emotional thing after all. I was reared on seventies standards; my first Japanese bike after a string of British singles was a 72' CB500F. It was definitely not a road-burning café racer, so my definition of a proper classic is the do-it-all, normal seating position motorcycle, just like this Duc.
Park a GT 1000 next to its sportier brothers and you'll be hard-pressed to notice the very same basic frame beneath the vastly different looks. For instance, the GT 1000 has twin shocks while the sporty twins sport just one (asymmetrically mounted). This is because when Ducati and Treblanche set about working on these Classics they created a modular frame that could be adapted to the diverse configurations. The GT's rear schwinger also has twin oversized straight tubes rather than the "banana shaped" right side arm of the PS/Sport 1000 but those are the most notable mechanical difference.
As in all the latest 1000cc air-cooled Ducs, Classics included, power is supplied by the twin-spark two-valve mill. Claimed power nowadays is 92 hp @ 8000 while claimed torque is a healthy 9.3 kgm @ 6000.
On paper the specs might be similar but in real life the GT 1000 couldn't be--and feel--more different. Inspiration for the GT 1000 comes from Ducati's first big bike ever: the GT 750 of 1971, the first Bolognese V-Twin model sold to the public. Like its new incarnation, that GT750 was a very normal-configuration roadster, worlds apart from the tiny super sporting singles that Ducati produced till then. The "Grand Turismo" moniker was very apt, since factory-mounted fairings were a real rarity at the time.
The trouble for that first GT was that after the win at the 1972 Imola 200, the spotlights in Bologna were aimed back again at the sporty side of the range; the Super Sports. The original GT--never a thing of great beauty, to be honest--was pushed aside a bit and a total facelift in 1975 by famous car designer Guigiaro only made matters worse. We all know what happens when you give car designers a go at two wheelers, don't we. The GT860 was a very bizarre-looking piece.
'The end result has character in spades; that rectangular cut gas tank is the Seventies at their best and the smallish side panel underlines its size.'
The later (and way sexier) Darmah again tried to offer a touring tool for true Ducatisti but by that time the twins had become synonymous with hard-core sporting machines. Nevertheless, the concept of a large Duc with relaxed ergos remained embedded in our collective memory, and considering the typical back problems of current bike buyers in their forties and fifties, was deemed as very rational. Treblanche took only the spirit of the GT's, a sort of purposeful modernist style and translated it to modern times without trying to mimic the exact shapes exaggeratedly.
The end result has character in spades; that rectangular cut gas tank is the Seventies at their best and the smallish side panel underlines its size. Like with the Paul Smart, you can see the huge effort applied to create a harmony as good as that of a period Beach Boys tune. The sheer impact of that huge headlight and those twin chromed horns, the tubular front fender brackets, the chrome accents on the clocks, the classic rear lamp/indicators cluster and let's not forget that oh-so-seventies white Ducati logo.
They almost succeeded in getting it just right. Why the "almost"? 'Cause the GT 1000 looks damn perfect from most angles but then from others you suddenly notice the huge gap between the rear wheel and the fender. Sheesh... somebody could sleep in there! Then there's the big distance between the silencers; the rear view of the bike is almost grotesque, especially compared to a true Seventies Duc. I guess that there must have been some serious mechanical constraints dictating that splay between the cans, but that super sexy, skinny-Twiggy rears of Ducs of yore got lost somewhere and it's a bit of a shame.
But do take my comments about proportions with a pinch of salt. I can't remember many bikes that produced so many comments from bystanders, so many desiring looks and indecent proposals, whether from men, women, kids or the elderly. The GT's classic good vibe penetrates walls, also enchanting people who weren't even born back in them Seventies. So it's a big thumb up for Pierre and the boys in Bologna; they hit the nail in the head styling wise.
'Let the rev needle steady at a lazy 5000 and the GT 1000 runs unfazed at a nice 95mph.'
I had fallen for the GT immediately but for entirely different reasons. It started in the "Ducati Milano" dealership parking lot, exactly ten seconds after positioning my bum, feet and hands in place. A Normal Ducati at last! YEEEEE HAAAAA! Normal, standard, human, plain nice. Is that clear? The shock waves continue as I hit the busy streets. Why did we have to wait till 2006 to ride a Duc that's so damn easy to manage, with that wide lock-to-lock steering angle that lets you take advantage of gaps in traffic with ease, or the overall scooter-like ease of use? May I ask, what's that supposed to be? A real lollypop, that's what.
After the harsh S&M session I had on the Paul Smart it's hard to believe that this bike stems from the same basic frame and mechanics yet feels so entirely different. Just as well, when your hand and feet are positioned so naturally, all controls work much better, are easier to operate (clutch is now a wet affair) and you can glide along in a buttery flow. The gearing feels slightly shorter than in the PS 1000, which makes take-offs from standstill easier. Give the clutch 30 feet of forward movement to get coordinated with the engine speed and from 3000 rpm on you'll be rewarded with a very healthy and merry thrust from the well-injected V-Twin. This thing is such a joy to commute on--much more so than any Monster--that I happily use it for my daily commute to work during the week, Milan traffic and all.
Nice urban manners are important if you are a hard core Yuppie doing a posing round through different Starbucks locations, and the GT will be indeed a great tool for the job. Smart espresso-sipping chicks are going to dig it. Thing is, that there are no Starbucks in Milan (luckily) and in any case, I'd rather check out how Grand is the "Turismo" bit in the GT's name.
So on to the highway then. With not much of a fairing up front there is a considerable blast to resist but my youth on standards have taught me to not pay much attention to such minor distractions. Let the rev needle steady at a lazy 5000 and the GT 1000 runs unfazed at a nice 95mph.
Back in '78 I used to buy the British magazine MCN weekly and was often attracted to the tall, scantily clad models that Coburn and Hughes--the Ducati importers at the time--would place on top of the bikes in their ads. Well, this GT 1000 feels just as long-legged as those handsome gals with the way it simply swallows the miles. This is exactly the moment when I recall why I still like late Seventies and early Eighties dinosaurs so much. Want to change position from sit up and beg to something sportier? There's no need for fancy aftermarket rear sets and clip-ons. Just like in any KZ1000 or CB750 of yore, simply slide your considerable butt rearwards on the flat seat and hey presto! You are in a classic road tearing-position! Still not comfortable? You can put your feet on the passenger pegs and blast the last 60 miles to your exit at 115-120 mph in true Burt Munro "The World's Fastest Indian" style and that's exactly what I do. Brilliant!
Sport riders might laugh at my boasting about 120mph but I can assure you that 120 on this fairing-less Duc is way more interesting and fun that 160 on your typical crotch rocket; there something utterly manic and raw about it. The 90-degree Vee might be in theory perfectly balanced but there are enough vibes to remind you that it's no four-pot sawing machine churning out the horsies down there. Obviously the helmet does get hit by the wind blast even while laying on the tank but at least its clean, non-turbulent air, so it's not that bothersome, all things considered.
In the tighter stuff, I discover that even the GT has a sporty side to it, and that it's a great leaning partner. The wide handlebars, sticky tires (Michelins radials with period looking tread design but modern compound) and sporty suspension let you squeeze cornering performance out of the retro GT that is right up there with the sporty Monster.
'It's hard not to fall for the old school experience that this GT 1000 supplies.'
It's also on twisty roads the GT shows a totally different attitude than the Paul Smart. The clip-on equipped PS 1000 is a good handler but nowhere as manageable as this GT. It's not as if the GT feels like a flyweight when throwing it around but it responds readily to proper handlebar inputs and when laying low on its side, lets you draw nice arcs around the apex. Twin shocks in the back might be almost prehistoric nowadays but when they are well calibrated and coupled to a stiff frame and sorted front, they can supply a satisfying sporty experience.
Things change quite a bit when the road is less than perfect. While passing through a small town with cobblestone streets, the GT jumps about abruptly, almost unpleasantly so. The USD fork and massive shocks might look good but more sophisticated hydraulics inside could help.
All this is forgotten as I power on again. It's hard not to fall for the old school experience that this GT 1000 supplies. The lively torque pull you smartly out of turns, the reassuring handling manners let you get away with respectable lean angles and when your boot tips finally skim the tarmac, you feel a bit like Mike Hailwood making his TT comeback. The guy used to wear through his boots until his socks showed and toes bled: that was his measure for lean angle, or so the story goes.
Obviously these heroics happen at much less impressive lean angles. Pegs might be a bit low by today standards but I'd rather keep them that way for the extra leg room they provide. One thing to keep in mind is to keep the revs above 3,000, not for lack of drive but rather because of the noticeable shaking that the power pulses produce when rolling the throttle back on.
I reach my girlfriend's house and she's quite excited by the "red bike" even if she's far from being knowledgeable about motorcycles. It's interesting how even someone who doesn't have much of a reference to old classics can nevertheless perceive that period vibe.
Off to town we set and the rear seat gets good marks, the only complaint being the quiet farting from the silencers. Well, it seems like she is more knowledgeable than I care to admit, because she's right. You'll need to drop in a pair of Termignionis for the right aural effect. So-so marks go also to the floating twin piston calipers and the slightly cheapo mirrors. But again, keep these comments in proportion.
'The visual charm was clearly evident from the 2003 Tokyo show pictures and it gets only better in person...'
As we stop in the town center, a small crowd gathers and the inevitable old guy approaches me. "Used to have an old 860" he goes. I ask him to sit on the GT and he says: "That 860 was longer yet this one feels very familiar.. bene, bene. I still regret selling that one when I got married..."
After such a verdict, I can say it for sure; this GT 1000 is going to do a lot of good for Ducati. The visual charm was clearly evident from the 2003 Tokyo show pictures and it gets only better in person (well, mostly). Then there's that surprising efficiency as an everyday ride but I could expect even that. The real surprise is how such a retro-roadster can feel so Classic and yet so modern at once; it'll still take me some time to grasp the apparent contradiction.
Job well done with this one, Ducati.