The Ducati based its styling of the GT1000 Sport Classic on modern interpretations of the classic lines from the original GTs.
I must confess openly and directly that I do not like retro bikes. I fiercely object to pre-pubescent designers telling me, a fully paid up member of the trashed-bodied, bald, old wrinkly user group, what they think I should like.
Products of this disingenuous attitude are such truly awful motorcycles as the Kawasaki W650 and the breathtakingly ugly and nauseatingly dull Triumph Bonneville. Fat boring bikes, with styling taken straight from the "Supersize-Me Fat Club Yearbook" do not excite, or even interest, me. What these young designers forget is that we too were young once - and lusted after Manx Nortons and Gold Stars, not emasculated concrete mixers on two wheels.
But, as with every other aspect of life, all retros are not equal. Oh no, no, no! Enter then the Ducati Sport Classic range. First came the drop-dead gorgeous Sport 1000 and Paul Smart 1000LE - bikes so utterly beautiful that were they installed in the bedrooms of middle-aged men throughout the Western world, sales of Viagra would plummet.
But there is a major problem with the first Sport Classics: the ergonomics of the bikes are all wrong, particularly the low handlebars. Clip-on handlebars need to be swept back and narrow in order to be comfortable - I can ride my Seeley in a 90-mile road race and have no aching shoulders or arms because the Seeley 'bars are tucked right in and the tank is razor-blade thin.
The GT 1000 deserves a warm round of applause, ticking every box for a retro bike yet remaining true to the spirit of classic motorcycling.
For whatever reason, the Sport Classic handlebars are too low, too far forward and miles too wide. This means that lithe, young 22-year-old testers can fit on the bike comfortably, but the aged - whose shoulders and arms have had more bolts and screws in them than an untidy tool box - suffer dreadfully.
Enter then Sport Classic flavor #3: the Ducati GT 1000. This does not look half the bike of its sportier brother, but in the real world it is a truly outstanding motorcycle. Designer Pierre Terblanche has managed to produce the bike that, in fantasy land, Matchless, Rudge or Excelsior would be making today. And this is harder to do than it seems.
First, in 2006 it is no good producing a motorcycle which leaks oil, breaks down and requires the owner to take a bag of tools and spare parts with him whenever the trip is more than 20 miles. And truly, this was the world of motorcycling in the 1960s. A retro has to be a modern, effective motorcycle with flawless quality control which is safe to ride in the mayhem of modern traffic.
Equally, it has to feel like a classic. This is an ephemeral and illusive dream to chase and bottle but it is a combination of some of these factors. An engine which can be seen - and look like a real bike engine, not a blob of amorphous metal. An exhaust note which says that things are going bang inside a real engine, with valves opening and closing and pistons going up and down. Vibration so that the engine talks to the rider. A frame where the welds can be seen - even if Robbie the Robot melted the metal rather than Brian from the welding shop.
All these factors should produce a motorcycle which involves the rider intimately and rewards the skillful with an intense motorcycling experience. Ideally, the bike should also spit off the incompetent by way of telling them that they are not up to the job, but I suppose that this is a bridge too far in our politically correct world.
The GT1000's 992cc Twin reaches maximum power at 8,000 rpm and peak torque at 2,000 revs less. Most pleasing to Frank was the fact that the Duc's mill breaks the current retro mold by emitting a little bit of personality with some roughness and crisp exhaust tunes.
Welcome, then, with a warm round of applause, the GT 1000 which really does tick every box for a retro bike and yet is still true to the spirit of classic motorcycling. Stand back from the Ducati and it looks like a real bike. There are twin shocks at the back, a decent fuel tank which looks like a fuel tank should, and, centre stage, a big V-Twin with fins and sticky-out bits everywhere.
In fact, the motor is almost old enough to be a true classic, having being around for 15 years. First it powered the Sport 900 and then appeared in various other roles right up to the Multistrada. However, age is the joy of this very competent V-Twin.
It's best not to dwell too long on the fact that the front forks are extremely modern Marzocchi units and that the Brembo discs are hardly classic at all. As I noted earlier, the critical thing is that the bike looks as if it could have come from one of the great motorcycling factories of the past - as, in fact, it has.
The motor cracks up instantly on the button. No long, 1970s sweeps of the dreaded Ducati kick-start - and then a babbled prayer that the electrics haven't gone on their long summer break. No, this Ducati spins instantly and easily into life. But as the motor starts, a quite wonderful event occurs. Instead of the anodyne, asthmatic wheezing of the normal retro offering, the Ducati sounds like a real bike - even with the standard silencers. I don't know how the Italians have pulled off the trick, but blip the throttle and there is a satisfyingly crisp response from the two exhausts.
The 992cc Desmo motor is torquey and pulls like a train, making maximum power at only 8,000 rpm and peak torque at 2,000 revs less. It is rough up to around 4,000 rpm and then smoothes out nicely. Roughness from a modern motor? Yes, of course, that's what it is supposed to do. If you want electric smoothness buy a Honda Pan European (ST1300), but this is a real bike behaving like a real bike - not a retro sheep wearing a synthetic tiger fur rug.
The Ducati Desmo Twin performance engine was torquey and pulled like a train.
Depending on where you are a standing, the Ducati's progress is either pedestrian or very brisk. Compared with an R1 or Fireblade it is stone-age slow. Against every other vehicle on the road the GT is super quick. Now let's play the truth game. How many times have you seen a 'Blade ridden hard on the road, either in a straight line or round a corner? I don't mean, blip, blip, blip and a worried 150 mph on a quiet freeway but nailed hard for extended periods. On a public road, 150 mph is going to get you a jail sentence, so, in the real world, the GT is a fast bike.
In truth, it is too fast. One tooth down on the gearbox would give a smooth 80 mph cruising speed which would be perfect for most of us. As it is, the Ducati is happiest at around 90 mph - and this is going to get the rider a walloping fine in England. The six-speed gearbox is uncannily sweet - not with the suppressed smoothness of a Suzuki gearchange but rather in a positive, accurate manner like a well set-up Norton Commando.
The handling really is sublime. Once more, Ducati have hit the centre of the sweet spot by providing a chassis which gives wonderful feedback, in the true classic vein, with supple, modern stability. This is a bike which welcomes hard riding and yet is as user friendly as a Labrador puppy. Look at the figures and you can see why. A 56" wheelbase and steering-head angle of 32-degrees is spot on for a Seeley - the best handling classic bike of all time.
The GT 1000's 56-inch wheelbase and steering-head angle of 32-degrees matches the stalwart Seeley-Suzuki race bike spot on.
Finally, to the brakes. These are absolutely not classic in look, feel or effectiveness. Good classic brakes come with twin leading shoes and require the finesse of a brain surgeon to use hard in the wet. In the dry, they fade. Anyone who tells you differently has never raced a quick classic. The GT's 320mm Brembo brakes are dramatically powerful but evocatively delicate. In fact, I rode the GT like my Seeley-Suzuki race bike - trailing the brakes to the apex of the corner and then squirting it out on the exit.
Regular readers of this column will know that I do not shy away from criticism of bikes, riders or even governments. The truth of the matter is that, other than the desperately depressing camouflage grey color our test bike came in, I loved every aspect of this Ducati. Overall, it is the best bike I have ridden for years and truly the only retro bike which captures the spirit of classic motorcycling as I see it.
Our thanks to Ducati Machester for the loan of our test bike and their enthusiastic assistance with this article.
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