Motorcycles are always being up-dated and improved. Each year manufacturers bring out new models that are claimed to be better than the ones they replace. So how do you re-create a 30-year-old bike while still making it as modern and good to ride as the latest model? It’s a difficult ask, and often attempts at this have resulted in cars or bikes that have been significantly compromised by the retro design. But this is what Ducati have tried to do with their “Sport Classic” range. In their catalogue they describe this series as “motorcycles that capture the essential beauty, timeless style and emotion of engineer Fabio Taglioni’s original Ducati sports bikes of the 1970s.” But they also go on to claim, “While retaining the best of the past, they have been developed using the latest technology and engineering, creating a range of thoroughly modern motorcycles that live up to today’s standards of road-going performance.”
So I reckon Ducati made these bikes for old blokes! Old blokes who, in their youth, used to go into Ducati dealers and drool over the latest 750 Sport or 900SS. Old blokes who, back in their teens, instead of having posters of Annette Funicello on their bedroom wall, had posters of the latest Ducati Desmo.
In the case of the GT1000 in particular, Ducati claim that although it is inspired by those iconic bikes, “The GT is a modern Ducati motorcycle, so it is powerful, handles confidently, and is exciting to ride.” See, they know old blokes aren’t silly; we might still remember lusting after those exotic old bikes, but when it comes to shelling out the bucks for a brand new steed, we want something that is up-to-date. So they go on to describe it as, “A bike to be ridden every day.”
They also stress it’s suitability for use with a pillion. Sounds like a big claim; could it really live up to it? Is it really that good, while still being that retro-cool? Well, I got the chance to find out when I took one for a ride on a group-test.
They certainly got the look right. If you squint (or, in the case of probably most people reading this, take off your glasses!), it really does look like those iconic models from the 1970s. So you can buy one of these and imagine yourself back in the 1970s. If you dreamt of owning one back then, well here’s your chance to fulfill those dreams! Or perhaps you just like retro-cool and want to get on something Italian that will make you stand out from the crowd of modern-looking bikes; well, here’s your chance! Okay, so the style makes it work as a retro-classic, but how does it work as a modern motorcycle, which Ducati claim also it to be?
Well, underneath that 1970s styling there is a modern motorcycle. Let’s take a look at the specifications.
The engine is the usual Ducati V-twin running desmodromic valves and electronic fuel-injection. It produces 67.7Kw and 91Nm of torque. These are produced at 8,000rpm and 6,000rpm respectively, so the power is accessible without screaming it too much. Gearbox is 6-speed. Suspension up front is by upside-down Marzocchi forks. Style dictates that the rear units have to be twin shocks rather than monoshock, but it still manages a claimed 133mm of travel. The whole thing gets stopped by twin discs running Brembo brakes with braided lines up front, and a similarly equipped single disc at the back.
First impressions on sitting on the bike are good. It’s quite a comfortable thing to sit on. The seat is big and comfortable, and the riding-position fairly upright. Also, the shape of the seat allows you to move around a bit; for example you can sit further back to give you a slightly more lean-forward position if you want. The foot-pegs are fairly low and easy, rather than being rearward and high, which adds to the comfort of the riding position – something that is appreciated by those of us old enough to remember the original models! I also liked the sculptured sides of the tank that allow you to tuck your knees in.
Instrumentation consists of analogue speedo and tacho, and a bunch of warning lights. Apparently there are LCD digital displays in each dial for fuel level and a digital clock. I say "apparently" because I didn't actually see them! Yes, if you look closely in the photo on the left you will see the small LCD panels in the bottom of each dial - but I didn't notice them on the ride. Too busy looking at other stuff, I suppose!
Heading off into the city traffic, the bike is quite pleasant to ride. No, it’s not perfect as a commuter, but then it isn’t meant to be.
The engine pulls confidently from low revs, but it isn’t happy being there. At low revs it vibrates. Accelerate even moderately hard from under 3,000rpm and the vibration is quite severe. This doesn’t effect the rider that much though; it doesn’t rattle your teeth and blur your vision like some bikes I’ve ridden! Although you do feel it through the bars as the whole bike shakes. Later in the day, while on another test-bike, I followed the GT and every time it took off from traffic lights the exhausts shook.
Gear-changing is not the most pleasant experience either. The worst thing is that the clutch is ridiculously heavy! The gear-change itself is rather clunky too. I got used to it after a few kilometres, but it was never really smooth.
Despite all this it still is, as I said, quite pleasant to ride through the city. You’ve got to watch the revs, although there’s never any chance the engine will stall; if you let the revs drop it’ll just shake. Ridden gently it’s quite docile actually. Handling is easy and pleasant too; with none of the “is-the-front-tyre-flat?” heaviness I encountered with the ST3, for example. Although it did take just a little getting used to at first. The bike feels quite tall. Seat height is 820mm, which isn’t overly high, but I think it carries it’s weight fairly high, giving it a higher than normal centre-of-gravity. This resulted in a sort of tall-bike feel, where initially you’re not sure how much to tip it in and you end up taking a couple of bites at the corner. But it was never a problem, and only a matter of getting to know it; which didn’t take too long to do. And as I said, it was still quite pleasant to be on.
The ride felt firm; (but then those original old Ducatis were always very firmly suspended weren’t they?). The test route was mainly on smooth roads so I wasn’t able to put this to a proper test; but I suspect that on a really choppy surface it might get a bit rough.
When the route swung onto a suburban freeway I gave the throttle a decent twist – and it instantly shot towards the next suburb! With the up-right riding-position, only a firm grip on the bars stopped me from toppling off the back of it! Yep, this thing flies! Open the throttle and everything around you jumps backwards. Hold it open for a few seconds and you’ll change post-code! And the traffic behind – even the other test-bikes – were just tiny specs in the mirrors. Okay, in reality it’s no quicker than any other decent-performing bike of that sort of engine-capacity, but when you’re sitting on something that looks, and maybe even feels, like a refugee from the 1970s, you kind of don’t expect it. Looks like a 30-year old bike – sure doesn’t go like one! Anyway, it’s impressive, and feels more powerful than it’s stated output suggests.
Adding to the seriously quick nature of the bike is it’s high gearing. Top is geared at about 30kph / 1,000rpm; and with the engine not really smoothing out until it gets to about 4,000rpm, this means it isn’t really happy in top until around 120kph. At speeds up to this it’s happier in 5th. And in 5th it’ll cruise easily at 110kph – 120kph with the tacho hovering just above 4,000rpm. And you know there’s another gear to go if you can get the chance to use it!
The only thing that perhaps limits it’s high-speed capability is the inevitable wind pressure. Especially with the up-right riding position, you start to notice the wind from around 100kph. A quite large screen is available though, which should cure this.
Also available is a set of soft-luggage, which would turn it into a more than capable tourer. Cost of the screen and the luggage is about $1600. (In the photo is one they prepared earlier!).
Handling is good on the open road too. I was still getting used to the slightly top-heavy feel, but I found that it responds well to, and rewards, confidence. Tip it in, knowing that it's a Ducati and it’s going to take corners well, and it sits perfectly on line and feels totally secure.
I like this bike! And I reckon Ducati have achieved what they claim in the brochure. As a 1970s re-creation it works well; but this doesn’t limit it’s ability to perform as a modern bike. It goes like a rocket, handles well, and stops great. It mightn’t be a full-on sports-bike, but I reckon it’d still be great fun along a winding road! And yet it’s reasonably comfortable to ride and quite pleasant around town. The vibration at low revs is a bit nasty, but this should only bother you when you’re taking off; and you’d soon learn to live with that for the sake of the enjoyment you get once you do get going! The only thing I really didn’t like was the heavy clutch. The ride felt a bit firm, but that could probably be improved with some pre-load adjustment at the rear.
So it’s retro-cool, and looks great in that classic-bike way. Us old blokes should love it! But it’ll still give you heaps of fun to ride and has performance and handling to easily match a lot of modern bikes.
Being a Ducati, of course it’s not cheap! List price is $17,995(and at that it’s actually the cheapest of the "Sport Classic” range!). But it is a unique motorcycle, and if it fits what you want a bike to be, and you can afford the price, then you’ll probably think it’s well worth it.
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