The 2006 Ducati GT1000 tries to bring the past back to the present. A daunting exercise.
The Ducati Museum, which sits atop the company’s Borgo Panigale premises in Bologna, is kept spotlessly clean. So clean you could eat your dinner there. In fact, I did. Raising moto-press intro standards to a new high, Ducati served us classic Italian food right in the museum, surrounded by some of the most exotic and evocative machinery in the motorcycle world. I even managed to avoid spraying my Lambrusco over Bruno Spaggiari’s 1971 GP racer, and kept my pasta off the Supermono.
Almost every significant Ducati is represented in the museum, from the Cucciolo to the Desmosedici, including Taglioni’s seminal Marianna, Hailwood’s 1978 Formula 1 TT winner, Smart’s victorious 1972 Imola bike, and a line of WSB winners from Polen through Fogarty to Corser. Prototypes, one-offs, sectioned engines, and a plethora of posters and period artifacts highlight the displays. It’s a Ducatisti’s dream. But in the lobby, pride of place goes to the trio of seventies roadsters that inspired the 2006 SportClassics range, the 750 Sport, 750 Super Sport and 750 GT.
Since the 1000 Sport and Paul Smart Replica were launched last fall, they’ve proved an outstanding success; you can’t buy a Replica, the original 2,000 units have sold out; and the Sport is destined to be the café cruiser of the summer of ’06. So with all the big noise accompanying the introduction of Ducati’s first two retro bikes, is the six-month-delayed Ducati GT1000 the poor cousin? Is it just there to make up the numbers? Or does it have a unique contribution to make?
ONE THING THAT’S BOTHERED ME ABOUT THE CURRENT CRAZE FOR retro riding: should I assess these moto-revivals in the context of their heritage, or should they be made to stand with the best of modern machinery? As an impartial and objective evaluator, I believe it’s my duty to remove the rose-coloured specs, cut through the misty-eyed memories, and ask a simple question: are they as good?
Seeing the Ducati GT1000 for the first time outside Ducati’s factory, the most visible nods to its heritage are the twin Sachs spring/damper units attached to the conventional steel-tube swingarm, and the wire spoke wheels. Two shocks work as well as one, so no compromise there. And the main reason wire wheels went out of fashion is that they’re time (and therefore money) consuming to assemble. On the GT1000, steel (not alloy) Excel rims are laced to painted alloy Grimeca hubs with chrome-plated stainless spokes. Spokes (except on BMWs) mean tubed tires, and the Michelin Classic radials (in the same sportbike sizes as the 1000 Sport and Paul Smart Replica) are thus fitted. Alloy rims would have been nicer (and lighter), but chrome is shinier. Slick screw-and-clamp adjusters, just like on the GT750, allow for chain adjustment. At the front, 43mm Marzocchi USD forks handle the bumps. Brakes are Brembo at both ends, with two calipers gripping 320mm discs at the front, and a single 245mm caliper behind. The rear caliper has a 34mm diameter, larger than the Sport 1000 and Paul Smart, recognizing that the GT’s biposto seat will accommodate two.
Like the brakes and suspension, the rest of the GT1000 is top drawer and bang up to date. Under the trademark trellis frame hangs the best air-cooled engine in the business, the twin spark, two-valve 1000DS desmo; and full marks to Ducati for not “retuning for more torque.” That means the full 92 spirited ponies at the crank and a torque curve as flat as last night’s beer. The motor is mated to the slick six-speed gearset through a new wet clutch.
A nice cosmetic touch added to the GT is in the form of side panels covering the untidy gap behind the rear cylinder. These are absent on the other two Sportclassics, giving them an unfinished look in that area. Which brings me to fit and finish. Attention to detail on the Sportclassics generally, and the GT in particular, is outstanding. Clean, even welds; polished and anodized triple clamp; silky finishes, glossy paint; and just the right amount of chrome and polished alloy.
SO IS THE NEW ENTRY JUST A COSMETIC MAKEOVER FROM THE OTHER two SportClassics, or does it drive differently?
My first thought on straddling the Ducati GT1000 is—how do Italian bikemakers, especially Ducati, build bikes that just feel right? Which the GT certainly does. I believe it has to do with the handlebar-seat-footpeg positioning. Ducati’s designers seem to understand that this relationship is critical to comfort and control. So the wide, chrome, tubular bar on the GT requires the pegs to be directly below the hips, so as not to throw weight forward or back. I believe I could spend many hours in the GT’s comfortable saddle without back or bum problems.
The stretch across the (rotational molded nylon) gas tank is touring friendly, and eyes light easily on the chrome bezeled tach and speedometer, with their array of idiot lights. A nice detail is that the odometer trip will start to count down your remaining fuel range when the reserve light illuminates. Having run out of gas on a Triumph Scrambler and nearly done the same on a Milwaukee mammoth recently, I consider this a really useful feature!
All controls and switches are exactly where they should be, so there are no tricks to firing up the engine, which, under full supervision from the Magneti Marelli EFI settles to the familiar fruity burble. Unlike the separate twin Conti mufflers of the GT750, the 1000’s twin-walled 50mm exhaust pipes are joined by a compensation tube and exit into twin tapered chrome pipes containing Euro-3 spec. three-way catalysers.
Ducati’s new hydraulically operated wet clutch is intended to lighten the left-hand load, which it does to a limited extent, while both handlebar levers are four-position adjustable. Slip into first, crack the throttle, and we’re underway. First impression is how easy the GT is to ride—stable, light steering, excellent ergonomics and smooth controllable power. I’d never before considered a fast, powerful litre-class bike as a choice for new riders, but the GT1000 could fill that role … so would that make it dull for more experienced riders?
ONCE WE’RE FREE OF THE CONFINES OF SUBURBAN BOLOGNA, the Ducati GT1000 stretches its legs. There’s no shortage of performance from the Supersport-tuned 1000DS engine, and the slick-shifting tranny allows smooth clutchless changes. Even though Ducati claims similar steering geometry to the Paul Smart and Sport 1000, the GT feels slower to turn in with more countersteering force required, in spite of the wider bars. The heavier steel rims, perhaps? But the handling is exemplary as far as I can push it on the narrow winding roads of the Emilia-Romagna countryside. Stopping for the obligatory stop-start-turnaround photo-session, I get to test the slow-speed characteristics: light, stable, good turning circle and a low centre of gravity. Very friendly.
Sadly, a chill rain drifting in over the nearby Appenines cut short our afternoon excursion, but it did allow me to test the GT1000’s wet riding characteristics. This is one of the most stable-feeling wet-road bikes I’ve ridden, and I find myself pushing the traction limits further than I would on most other machines, knowing that a quick correction will pull the bike up again. That points to a well-balanced chassis and excellent all-round rubber.
So, is the Ducati GT1000 just a throwback with none of the drawbacks? Is it a perfectly usable and functional motorcycle in its own right with some cosmetic cues from the disco era? Ducati offers a number of accessories that suggest the latter, including a flyscreen, tank cover with copious touring bag; and smart waterproof leather panniers, all of which would be perfect for a weekend getaway.
For me, then, the GT1000 slips into my favourite category: naked street-standard. And in this class, there are lots of factors that make it a winner: light weight (100 lbs. less than BMW’s R1150R, for example); sparkling performance; legendary Ducati handling; and user-friendly road manners. It’s the kind of bike that (if you owned more than one) would always be parked closest to the garage door.
By Robert Smith Canadian Biker #223