The Bike Shed is many things, but one thing important to some of us is the excuse it grants us to procrastinate. One could call it day dreaming or planning but the reality is that for most of us who have been part of the fairytale that is the BSMC, procrastination is the fuel that keeps our passion burning. Shoulda-woulda-coulda bought, raced or customised this-and-that has kept us entertained into the twilight hours on many occasions over the last four years. The protagonist of this fantasy universe was usually Gareth Roberts, a man with a seemingly unparalleled ability to sidestep any form of normal conversation and tenuously twist the topic back to bikes.
So, I sit here now with these images in front of me, my hands in the air while I eat my hat – he’s actually turned his waffling vacillation into an utterly stunning motorcycle. Thankfully for my ego he actually did very little, trusting the craftsmanship of a select few to bring his dream bike to reality.
After 35 years in the saddle of countless bikes and a brief dabble at racing Gareth was staring down the barrel of the big five-0 and figured the best way to celebrate being well and truly over the hill would be to go all-out and realise his fantasy custom. A brush with a Ducati MH900E that was looking for a new owner at the Brooklyn Invitational in 2014 was enough to at least establish a course for the subsequent three years of eBay foraging and transatlantic parts smuggling.
Fellow procrastinating expert Ali ‘Arthur Daly’ Latimer from Mint Customs had a tidy, low mileage Ducati 900SS IE perfect for the project so that was shipped off to Redmax Speed Shop in Devon. Redmax’s frontman Steve Hillary has form when it comes to building desirable Ducs and has exhibited a couple of exquisite examples at our our shows. Steve was to be in charge of fabricating Gareth’s dream, although I suspect it was more of a nightmare given Mr Roberts’ finicky nature. This is a man who made us stand around and wait for him at Wheel & Waves while he repainted his rear brake disc centre as it was the incorrect silver hue. Bellend.
As you can probably tell I take great pleasure in deriding Gareth and consider this payment for having to endure his endless questions and sharing of eBay listings. At times of particular annoyance or disinterest I’d float words like titanium, magnesium, carbon, ceramic and do it, hoping that I could play a part in bursting his wallet and witness a proper dream build rather than a wistful compromise.
Gareth isn’t a man to hold back and as luck would have it an internet search found Stradafab. A Ducati nut and titanium specialist based in Kansas, USA, Randy Martin agreed to fabricate a full Ti frame, along with an exhaust system. A tad decadent some might say, why not just use a bigger motor, or tune the one that’s there? Those some are missing the point. The whole point of a dream is that it can be anything you want it to be. Sure, the beautifully welded trellis is much lighter than the pigeon shit welded steel original but that’s not the point either. Knowing you had a hand in choosing how your motorcycle looks and rides, that’s what counts. Plus the colour of the satin finished tubing is simply divine.
Actually the lightness was a factor as Gareth was able to bring the frame to the UK without paying a hefty excess baggage fee. My new Red Wings and flattrack hotshoe apparently wouldn’t fit in the suitcase so the Christmas tree was a bit sparse that year.
Exotic materials became a precedent for any component vying for space on this build. The bodywork is carbon, decent stuff too, not the thin veneer type, with just enough of it left unpainted to initiate a bystander. Steve makes a lot of his own parts and formed the front mudguard and rear hugger from carbon. HPS clipons, carbon, Ducabike clutch pressure plate, carbon, heel plates, carbon. You get the idea. Not to be outdone by all this composite Randy shipped a bunch more Stradafab trinkets. The countershaft sprocket cover, cambelt tensioners and covers and a full fastener set – all titanium. The swingarm pivot spindle is Ti also, from featherweight specialists TPO.
The swingarm is currently from a Ducati Monster S2R which Steve had to heavily modify to achieve tyre clearance. Much as it looks lovely painted Volvo Mussel blue to match the tank, plans are afoot for an upgrade – already! Randy is of course going to fabricate a titanium version. The wheels are a special order from Kineo, with oversized, externally mounted spokes and nipples allowing for tubeless tyres, Pirelli Phantoms in this case.
The monoshock is an Öhlins DU106 which was sent to Reactive Suspension for an overhaul and conversion to all black. The spring is powder coated and at great expense the body and reservoir were black anodised and the shaft nitride coated. Just a few weeks later Öhlins launched their own range of Blackline shocks. Gareth could have fitted one of those and saved a pretty penny, but then I wouldn’t have had the satisfaction of watching him effervesce with rage as his budget was bludgeoned once more. Thank you Öhlins.
The Showa big piston fork is eBay sourced and originally from an 899 Panigale but the stock grey coating wasn’t sufficiently reflective, Gareth was concerned that he wouldn’t be able to see his own reflection while cleaning the Kineo’s spokes so they were stripped and rebuilt, the legs now benefitting from a lustrous grey anodised coating. The triple clamps are from German race component specialists Performance Parts DE with the addition of a Redmax steering damper. Brembo M4 monobloc calipers are radially mounted and utilise the Panigale’s original floating discs although actuation comes courtesy of upgraded Brembo Radial RCS master cylinder and adjustable lever, the clutch side matches. An Oberon slave cylinder looks the part and lowers clutch actuation weight, significantly reducing wear on Gareth’s geriatric knuckle joints. The throttle assembly is a slick Domino adjustable mechanism.
These days it should go without saying that the electrics have been ditched in favour of a Motogadget compatible system. The German electronics company’s market penetration in this sector is staggering and they’ve been pretty much unchallenged in the last few years. For good reason, their products are excellent. But Gareth wasn’t satisfied with excellent and sent a Motoscope gauge to Seattle Speedometer for a custom face. A seemingly simple touch but it makes such a difference and a reminder of compromise being a dirty word when you’re building a dream. The brackets mount the unit tight to the headstock leaving plenty of room for a planned future addition – a rear view camera. Despite mirrors being the perfect tool for catching a glimpse of one’s smug self the overall silhouette of the bike would be compromised so they won’t be making an appearance – perhaps just a clip-on one to keep the MOT man happy once a year.
The M-unit system is powered by a small lithium battery and is activated by the RFID M-lock keyless ignition. This feature is of particular pertinence if you know Gareth. But derision aside, keys are so last week and it’s about time manufacturers (Harley went keyless ages ago) did away with them, why would anyone want jangly metal things flapping around their nice new triple clamps? The M-lock is is a very neat solution. M-buttons on the bars reduce clutter and seem the obvious choice. M-blaze bar end indicators are bright enough to be sufficient on their own but are backed up by a neat pair of smoked LEDs nestling alongside the exhausts in the tail.
And what a tail. The original MH900 was a handsome machine but a few things let it down, primarily the preposterous wheel barrow handle silencers. The Stradafab replacements echo the originals but with superior execution. The tail tidy assembly and perforated shield beneath the hump is Redmax’s handiwork and there’s a decent amount of heat shielding beneath the seat. Despite the donor 904cc engine having only covered a few miles in it’s cosseted life Redmax Steve didn’t want to take any chances and stripped the L-twin for a full rebuild. Whilst at it the whole thing was vapour blasted and left bare, just the side cases and valve gear covers are stove enamled black. There was talk of more colour but I’m glad Gareth left that idea on the drawing board. I did take pleasure in waiting until this process was finished before sending a link to some rather splendid NCR magnesium side cases, and I think he’s taken the bait.
After two years of deliberation, weapons grade procrastination and a further 10 months of aching patience Gareth’s Ducati MH900 Superlite was completed and delivered to Tobacco Dock for Bike Shed London 2017. Sat proudly on a special Bike Exif Editor’s Choice plinth the finished article rubbed shoulders with the cream of Europe’s custom bike scene. And despite the personal satisfaction I take from mocking a friend (not all friends, just him) in public I’m actually mighty impressed. Not with the stunning frame, inspired colour choice and collection of exotic components but that Gareth stuck to his guns, ignored opinions and everyone’s ten pence worth. Following one’s own dream rather than influence being vicariously leached from others is what’s important. He refers to this as his swan song build but I hope that’s not the case. I hope we see him add to, perfect and hone this wonderful motorcycle.
I now feel queasy but had to say something nice as I want to have a go. Watch this space as we’ll soon be making a short video about me removing the chicken strips for him. Because that’s what friends are for, right.