Retro Before it’s Time?

While Cafe Racer fever has gripped the motorcycle marketing machine, one mainstream manufacturer is missing out.

Retro Features and Cafe Project sections are popping up in all the mainstream bike rags, custom shows have less tassels and more clip-ons these days, and you can hardly watch a perfume ad without someone chasing Keira Knightly on a Desmo…

Eu de Duc?

Manufacturers are even impressed enough to get in on the act with retro cafe models straight out of the factory – but the brand that was there at the beginning is missing out on all the action.

Where are you Ducati?

What makes it worse is that back in 2005 Pierre Terblanche turned out the beautiful, (but much ridiculed), Sport Classic range, built to look like the old 1970s Ducati 750 and 900ss, but now, just as cafe racer fever spawns series II of it’s own TV show, their gorgeous Sport Classic 1000 range has been discontinued for three years.


The standard monoposto SC1000 with single sided shock, dry clutch and stacked zorst

Free marketing in TRON – for a discontinued model!!!

The original models were monoposto (single-seat) bikes with a single-sided monoshock, long tank, clipons and proper old school looks, mated to a tried and tested air-cooled Desmo 1000 engine. There was also a faired limited edition model – the Paul Smart replica – which came kitted out with Ohlins suspension as standard equipment and was painted up to look like the race-winning 750SS ridden by the legendary British racer at Imola in 1972. It was beautiful.

The Original above – The Rep below

After a year or so, (and much complaining from journos) the back-breaking clip-ons were given a 4 inch lift, and those with girlfriends were finally given a rear seat and pillion pegs. The faired biposto S also appeared, and Ducati’s dry clutch was swapped out for a quieter and longer-lived wet clutch… Much to the disgust of Ducatisti purists.

Twin shocks, dual seat (biposto), wet clutch, higher clip-ons

Biposto with a fairing

They also created the GT model, with heavier steel wheels, and slightly downgraded suspension, but a more chunky looking tank and proper handlebars – much better for those who prefer a more laid back riding stance.

Standard GT with bars and a shorter tank… Ride me to Cannes.

To me the Sport Classic is the very best retro bike out there, simply because it combines classic timeless looks from the 1970s, with an engine, chassis and suspension from the noughties, so it goes like stink, corners like it’s on rails, and the brakes work too. Who says cafe racers have to be slow, under-sprung, and use drum brakes.

Embarassing the Sports Bikes at Brands Hatch

Best of all, being based on a bunch of spare parts from the Ducati parts bin, they are very easy to upgrade or customise.

Some people make them more modern, quicker and more badass-lookings, but increasingly, more and more of us love to take them back to their roots with classic paint, stripped down cosmetics, clocks, wheels, etc, and an Imola style seat (I’m not sure what Terblanch thought he was doing with that wide, fat behind? …maybe it was his day off?)

Ewan McGregor is supposed to have owned one, Heath Ledger and Orlando Bloom had numbers 002 and 003 of the Limited Edition SE and even new hollywood hunk Ryan Reynolds has been talking about his Paul Smart to Jeremy Clarkson on BBC’s Top Gear this week!

The PS looks nice without a fairing..

Here are a few of my favourites. A few are pro builds, but there are plenty from the forums too. The Sport Classic is a modern classic that is truly timeless, and with a few tweaks seems to comfortably wear a thousand different looks. See for yourself

The NCR take on the Sport Classic. Pricey, but gorgeous

Monoshock monoposto tastefully upgraded

The stunning racer above started out as a GT with bars

Roland Sands liked the look of these too… he didn’t need to change much.

A very proper PS replica – with Imola style seat and custom fairing

Robsy’s SC has a lot of subtle custom work, right down to hand made carbon clocks

Guard Dog comes as standard if you live in downtown LA

Guido’s bike has stacks of mods, from Imola seat to LSL headlight and full Ohlins…

Like most Hollywood actors, Stephano’s bike has had work since it featured in TRON.

Mike’s shiny GT

Brown is the new black

The black & gold limited edition SE – each with a numbered plaque on the headstock

Not to my taste at all – but look at the work that’s gone into this Mono

This GT has been tastefully upgraded with full Ohlins, open belts, and more…

Ian’s Paul Smart at Brand’s Hatch last summer – another Imola seat

A Mike Hailwood Paint job really works on this faired 1000S .

This GT was made for Steve Jones – yes, THAT Steve Jones. The tank is by Evan Wilcox

Nimi has a built an SC/GT hybrid, complete with TRON style rear lights

There’s so much you can do to these bikes. Check JCPak for the ultimate selection

DCJ’s tasteful sleeper – the devil is in the detail

Another stunner from the forums. This is Barfer’s.

Not retro at all – but nice

As retro as it gets – with advertising like this how could you say no to a 750ss?

The thing is, if you want a Ducati based cafe racer, even if you start from scratch you end up building a Sport Classic…

This is one of several stunning Duc-based cafes from Walt Seigl

One of my all time favourite Shed-bikes. Geoff’s Build 43, based on a 900ss engine

So, …Ducati. Wake up!

You produced a modern retro motorcycle that outclasses all it’s factory rivals from Norton, Moto Guzzi and Triumph, with better looks, performance – and even a better price… and now everyone else is eating yer lunch. …Doh.

Ok. Enough ranting. – and here’s mine. Again.

…Roll on summer.

Work in progress…

If you like what you see here, and want one, good luck finding a bike for sensible money, …but when you do, make sure you head over to the Sport Classic forums at for the low down on what can and can’t be done to these bikes.


…here is a bit of insight into one or two must-dos, etc:


Those OEM Pirelli Phanton tyres are shit. No grip, no feedback, horrible profile. If your bike still has them please throw them away and fit some grippy rubber with a decent profile. Check for plenty of opinions on which are best, but for performance I like my Pilot Pures. Shame they don’t look retro though.


Some people find the Duc clutch a bit heavy. An aftermarket clutch slave lightens the load on your grip with 30% less strain. The fluid always goes black though – even with a new slave. Change it fairly frequently.


A lotta guys like to fit cast wheels from other Ducs to lighten the unsprung weight and to use tubeless tyres, The standard wheels on the Sport Classic, the Sport Classic S and the Paul Smart are all fairly light aluminium and even with tubes fitted they’re o heavier than supermoto wheels, but the GT has very heavy steel wheels so upgrading to lighter hoops is a must if you want decent turning.

If you want to keep the traditional wire-spoked wheel look you can fit tubeless Alpinas (check JCPak in the US or in the UK)


It’s a reliable mill, but make sure the belts are changed at recommended intervals. Desmo 1000s don’t like to be ignored or miss important anniversaries any more than your wife or girlfriend.


Somewhere on YouTube there is a video of all the Duc’s riding positions overlaid on each other, ending with the Sport Classic as the most stretched out and bent over of them all. If you have an early 06 model you can retro fit the biposto higher clips-ons, or there are lots of aftermarket options. I’m not 100% sure how high you can go if you have an S or PS with a fairing. Check the forums. A few people create SC/GT hybrids, either with bars on a Sport, or clip-ons on a GT (shorter tank) – so there are loads of imaginative options.


In the US lot’s of bikes with plastic tanks are deforming because of the 10% ethanol in US fuel. This has affected lots of Ducs and while many dealers will replace your tank (sometimes even out of warranty) lots of other riders coat the insides of their tanks with Caswell (hard to do right though) and many more are seeking aluminium alternatives. In the UK this is not yet a problem, but we do also have EU quotas on Ethanol to fulfil, so it may come to our shores soon. Check the forums for updates.


There are loads of other poplar mods you can find on the forums, most notably; tilting the clocks flatter, removing the chrome bevel on the clocks, finding a good rear hugger, upgrading electrics and battery, suspension upgrades, tail tidies, and finding a good aftermarket exhaust, headlight replacement, running open belt covers, slipper clutches… you know the score. Go search.

For an amazing set of How-To photos, that show most of the common upgrades on a Sport Classic being done, check out  Toby’s (aka AirCooledNut) website.


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  1. Barfer says:

    Great post! Nice collection of bikes up there.

  2. Dane Stokes says:

    Fantastic article – thanks!

  3. Alan says:

    While I totally agree with the fact that Ducati was somehow too early to the game and that Pierre (I’ve talked with him about this personally) was onto something major, I believe that Moto Guzzi was somehow the fastest to this trend. The V11 Sport from the late 90’s through was certainly a ‘cafe’ retro bike that got no credit for helping to set off the ‘vintage-style’ craze. Unfortunately Guzzi is way smaller and definitely less respected, but nonetheless deserves a little shout-out. (FYI…I deplore internet lurkers who have to go around Naysaying every article they read and critiquing the internet. I agree with you, just thought the Guzzi was worth mentioning. 🙂 )

    • Dutch says:

      Hey Alan. It’s always good to have more input on an article like this. Guzzi were there it’s true, but not with such modern performance parts on a retro looking bike, but most importantly (to me anyway) I thought that the essence of the cafe racer was always the ‘racer’ part, backed up by idea of making things lighter and leaner. It always seemed to me that Guzzi were usually busy making things bigger and more complicated, whereas the Sport Classic range seemed to be an object lesson in simplicity.

      • Alan says:

        Dutch….perhaps you need too look at the 1997-2003 V11 Sports again….I’ve had my hands in both the Ducati models you’re talking about and the Guzzi Sports. There was plenty of sport in the old Guzzis as they had identical HP numbers to the Ducati and more torque, but yes they weighed a bit more. Regardless….their return to ‘classic vintage’ styling first is more of what I meant and the sport Ducatis were definitely more about styling than performance. Having said all that….Ducati did it better and it’s a travesty that they aren’t in the market anymore as I’m sure they would be even better today through model evolution. Guzzi STILL has their hands in the classic world with the V7 racer thing they’ve got going, but the performance is underwhelming compared to these nicely aging Ducatis. Also…. just one example of how well I understand the awesome Ducati platform:

        • Dutch says:

          Thanks Alan, You clearly know you’re stuff. I guess I should spend more time playing with turn-of-the-millennium Guzzi, but to me, as the engines got better the styling got worse, and less classic, so when Ducati pulled out Terblanche’s Sport Classic it seemed like a more faithful retro revolution than anything that had gone before. The new Guzzi V7 is very disappointing but we’re hoping Tim & Kev at Spirit of the Seventies will do something special with the one they have in the shop to make us a feel a bit different.
          …By the way your PS is stunning. I’ve seen it doing the rounds for a while and it’s still one of my favourites – the seat unit with inset tail lamp is gorgeous. If you ever produce another, let me know… It’ also like to know how you got those Brembos calipers to fit without hitting the spokes. I’m planning a 4p4p conversion and am looking at having to fit 999 10-spoke cast wheels and new rotors to make it all work.

          • Alan says:

            Ha….thanks for the remarks. Have you seen the V7 on our site?


          • Dutch says:

            I just looked… Can’t wait to see this in the flesh. I’m also a huge fan of your pale blue le Mans. She is a real beauty. I wish they still made them look like this…

          • Alan says:

            Also…the styling DID get worse on the Guzzis, I completely agree. I’m working to help with that part. 😉

  4. Alan says:

    Also….the modern Guzzis from the era I’m talking about were NOT more complicated, they were actually MUCH simpler than the Ducati models you’re referring to. Again….ask me how I know. 😉

  5. Rob says:

    Two words.

    Servicing costs.

    I’ve had two Ducatis and can no longer take that sort of punishment.

    • Dutch says:

      LOL. Good point. But two more words for you: Light. Quick. 😉

  6. Russ says:

    Nice article, but sadly there is one fundemental flaw………..exactly what do Ducati V-twins have to do with Cafe Racers? If you want a Ducati Cafe racer, it has to be a single.

    • Dutch says:

      Hey Russ. Glad you like the article. Regarding singles vs twins; to us, modern cafe culture is a broad church, not a narrow one, but there’s always room for a few purists.

  7. king karl says:

    Now the dutch me old chava

    My mate Dave Sharp says hes coming down to join your little party next weekend

    I said i come down on the saturaday and have a little look and a few beers

    Will you be going out saturday night on the pop… if so where abouts ya going



    • Dutch says:

      Hey KK. Life’s not been the same without you heckling me online. Would be good to see you at the show! Sat night is all about the Sideburn/Muff Customs BSMC afterparty. I hope to make it there, if I’m not too knackered.

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