Owning The Best Bike In The World is clearly a subjective experience, but I think it’s achievable, and there’s a simple formula: Buy a motorcycle you love and have always wanted. Own it for ages, ride it hard, and fix the things you’ve broken… Improve it, update it, and make it your own, …and finally, when you try to imagine life without it, you simply can’t. You have now reached Motorcycle Nirvana. Your wallet may be a few kilos lighter and your other half thinks you’re a bell-end, but it’s official. You now own The Best Bike In The World. …In Your world, anyway
This is my BBITW and even her flaws are flawless.
Epic bikes need epic names (apparently) so I think I’ll call her the Silver Surfer. Why not? The Silver bit is obvious and this humble air-cooled Ducati twin is how I surf my little personal universe; to work, to the pub, to Biarritz, Belgium, the beach or Brands Hatch, for a track day or a race meet.
Let’s start with the obvious. I have purchased a rare cult motorcycle that has already become a modern classic, and I’ve completely ruined it.
Only 2,011 of these bikes were ever made but despite it’s current bubble-wrap price-ticket I’ve broken every bike-collector’s rule by dismantling or replacing the Pierre Terblanche designed fairing and bodywork, and I’ve reworked how pretty much everything is mounted, from the instruments, to the bars to the lighting and beyond. Anything I didn’t like I’ve replaced or upgraded.
Come to think of it, the parts I have left over in boxes are probably worth more on eBay than the bike that remains in these pictures.
To be fair, I had a good start. This Ducati Paul Smart 1000LE was the special edition version of the ill-fated Sport Classic 1000 and they are so rare and expensive I had to go all the way to Belgium to get one for non-stupid money.
Not only was the livery inspired by the great Paul Smart’s 1972 Imola Grand Prix winning Ducati, it also came equipped with Ohlins suspension – albeit not quite top of the range kit from the big O.
However, as a bloke who likes his suspension oily smooth and adjustable, it’s pretty damn good and there was no need to do more than fix a leaky seal and get it set up, initially by Chris at X-Bikes followed by further tweaks a year later by Mario at Cafe Racer Customs. …More on these guys later.
As with all The Best Bikes In The World, this build was an incremental one, starting with the usual ‘catalogue’ tweaks that come from owning something almost perfect. The tail tidy is an independently-made Palatov unit, found via the Ducati.ms Sport Classic Forums, which I re-worked to sit better with the Diopa Imola style seat from Germany. A lightweight, half-sized Shorai LFX18 Lithium Ion battery sits in the padded battery box (amazing battery performance through winter) and a Mos-Fet rectifier keeps things cool under the Diopa seat, which I had painted retro metal-flake silver by a local car body repair shop, and re-upholstered by Lee at Viking Vinyl near Brands Hatch.
The super-tiny ‘spot-them-if-you-can’ indicators are a rare and expensive item from Canadian Company Watsen, who seem to only make them in batches once enough orders have come in. They’re actually cleverly designed to fit the OEM Ducati indicator mounts and blend in to the bodywork, but I’ve moved them to new locations, albeit just as subtle. …And yes, they are very bright.
Other obvious upgrades include a full stainless-steel race exhaust system from Termignoni and Ducati’s race ECU, which actually came with the bike when I bought her, along with an Oberon open clutch cover. To add to these lovely extras I also fitted an uprated Clutch slave unit and had the bike properly dyno’d and tuned by X-Bikes up in Norfolk. To say that Chris improved the bike’s fueling is an understatement. Ducati did an OK job of matching the upgraded Race ECU to their aftermarket Termi pipes, but they forgot about a whole chunk of useable midrange, the tickover was all over the place and things were very lumpy in second gear at exactly 30mph.
Not only did Chris find the hidden grunt and make her less lurchy around town, he also set-up and sorted the Ohlins suspension. The bike that got delivered back to me in Chris’s van was a massively improved machine; more rideable, more fun and more punchy. From there the bike just needed the usual looking-after, most of which was done by Ray at Rosso Corse in London.
For a good year I was satisfied with my tweaked Paul Smart, and over that year she and her sisters attained cult status and doubled in value, but more and more I found myself realising there were two things I really didn’t like about Ducati’s forgotten masterpiece. The first was the riding position, featuring super-low clip-ons and a very long reach to the bars that only made sense on a track day, and caused journalists back in 2006 to slate the bike for being a ball-ache to ride – literally. My nuts were also taking a pounding on the back of the tank. I needed longer arms or some kind of sack-saving cushion.
The second thing I didn’t like about the bike was the fairing – which is nuts of a different kind – because everyone else loved it, and it was a big part of what makes the PS1000LE an homage to the original 1972 race-bike. To my eye the fairing was too pointy and two carefully blended-in to the bodywork. Race replica bikes should have blunt, thin, fibreglass fairings, clipped to various chassis parts with D-Sus fasteners and they should look aerodynamically functional, but not too pretty. The modern Ducati take on the original item was too posh, and too refined. I didn’t want to ride around on a fake relic or a show-bike, I just wanted a super-cool daily ride, but the slick factory fairing was turning my thoroughbred stallion into a show pony.
Taking the fairing off was an idiotic thing to do, at least in terms of me owning a ‘motorcycle investment’, so for ages I didn’t do it, but the more the riding position pissed me off, the more I came around to the idea of dealing with it. It is my bike after all, and I keep telling other people; “do what you like to your own bike, and who gives a shit what anyone else thinks.” …All I needed was some self-justification for ‘spending money on devaluing a collector’s item‘. …My main reason (excuse) was that I couldn’t raise or modify the uncomfortable clip-ons while the fairing was still there, as the OEM low-set bars only just clear the cut-outs.
To fit the risers I wanted, taken from the later 2009 Ducati Sport Classic 1000 Biposto, I’d have to go naked. I’d also collected some Brembo Goldline brake calipers, which my friend Max had got machined by DucatiParts in Italy, to clear the spokes, with rotor spacers to re-centre the discs between the newly positioned pads. The new calipers had to be mated to larger 19mm radial master cylinders (donated by a Multistrada) to take advantage of the extra bite, and all these bits were sitting in a box. It was time to take the plunge.
My spannering skills are adequate and I’m happy to mess with lo-fi bikes, but when it came to messing with brakes and controls on a bike I wanted to take on track, I knew I needed some professional help. Not only did I need things to be fitted safely, there was also the complex task of remounting the headlamp, indies, cables, clocks – and the ignition/immobiliser key – neatly enough to not leave the bike looking like a dog’s breakfast. Despite doing all the work on my wife’s Biposto, I was out of my league and I knew it.
There was a lot to do, with plenty of fabrication, machining and tweaking, and the challenge was doing it all well enough to not fuck up a very cool donor bike – and – it all needed to be reversible. Will and Mario at CRC had the skills, the kit, the professionalism and most importantly, they had the enthusiasm to do the job, so I dropped the bike off with a box of bits, and my heart in my mouth.
I visited CRC a few times during the reworking of my front end, and it was just as well, as there were lots of decisions to be made over the exact riding position, the angle of the clocks and their distance from the yellow coated headlight, plus reservoir mounting, and where to re-locate the chunky key and ignition unit to. I needed new lines made up (Hel) and some new switchgear too, and like any “easy job” it became a much bigger task than I’d expected.
The forks also needed new seals, and with the new bar position, CRC’s resident GP mechanic, Mario, made adjustments to the ride height at both ends and tweaked the suspension again. After some research I also opted to take the belt covers off for a more radical look, losing the ugly OEM plastic covers and revealing more of the mechanical beauty of Bologna’s 1000cc twin. Urban myths about stones and even flares being caught up in the spinning belts worried me, but I pushed my concerns aside in the spirit of ‘personal accountability‘ and a stubborn refusal to be sensible.
As builds go, it’s not exactly radical. There’s no frame chopping, no replacement for the aluminium spoked wheels or Ohlins suspension, and there was no way I was going to try to improve on what has become my favourite motorcycle colour-scheme of all time. There are of course other mods I’ve forgotten, and no doubt there are more ahead.
In some ways you could argue I’ve simply transformed my Paul Smart Limited Edition into a bike that looks at first glance like an original, and less rare, Ducati Sport Classic 1000 Monoposto, but when you get up close, the changes to the original bike are in plain site everywhere you look. The devil is absolutely in the detail and the job has been done so well by the guys at CRC that you just assume it’s all factory.
At a standstill the bike is truly an object of great beauty and out of any motorcycle I’ve ever ridden no other has caused so many people to stop, stare, smile and give me a thumbs-up. Not even my D&O R80. Old ladies, kids, mums, bus drivers and white-van-man seem to approve of my timeless ride, in a country that generally despises motorcyclists. Yesterday a luxury limo driver stopped me on the garage forecourt to tell me my bike was; “the best you can buy”. I doubt he knew anything about bikes.
Ok, so my Best Bike In The World isn’t perfect. She has a few light scratches in the paintwork (fixable, one day) and she’s almost never clean, as I ride in London, and that means filth and grime, but, she’s mine.
What’s missing from this story are too big things. The ride, and the sound. This bike is a dream to ride. Thanks to Ducati, Pierre Terblanche, and a lot of help from Chris at X-Bikes, and Will & Mario at Cafe Racer Customs I have a bike that flies. It corners like it’s on rails and it stops on the proverbial sixpence, but the icing on the proverbial cake is the sound. It roars, but with a turbine growl that builds and builds. The clutch rattles like a tambourine, and squeaks pulling away from the lights (slightly annoying), and the loud bark of the engine is complemented by an angry overrun that’s irresistible to provoke whenever I go under a bridge or through a tunnel. I’m not sure that any other bike I’ve ridden provides such a visceral experience. The loud clatter, rumble, bark and growl make it feel like the bike is alive, …and it’s what makes me feel alive too.
The fact that Ducati no longer build these bikes when they are so stupidly desireable is a crime, aesthetically and commercially. Imagine all the frames, tanks, DS1000 engines, seats, wheels and parts in a big warehouse in Bologna, waiting for the occasional warranty fix or crash repair. We’re all gutted and Ducati are secretly gutted, but perhaps the Italians are just too proud to ever look back or admit they got it wrong – oddly, by getting it right, but not having the balls to stand their ground?
My first Ducati SC1000 Bipsoto – on track at Brand Hatch…
…One day I’ll build one from scratch using a GT1000 frame (no indents at the back) with an 1100 hypermotard engine, Kineo wheels, monoblock calipers, carbon bodywork…
Thanks to the Bike Shed’s own Gareth Roberts for the tasteful pics.