The Prettiest Retro Ever?
For nearly two years Ducatisti have anticipated the SportClassics, period commemorative motorcycles with classic styling and contemporary components. Finally they’ve arrived in the Paul Smart replica and Sport 1000.
April 23 is notable for a three reasons. First, it’s St. George’s day, celebrating England’s mythical dragon-slaying patron saint. Second, it’s ex-racer Paul Smart’s birthday. And third, on his 29th birthday in 1972, Paul managed a little dragon slaying of his own.
A few weeks earlier, Ducati Team Manager Fredmano Spairini called Smart to ask if he would ride Ducati’s new 750 desmo Twin in the upcoming 200-mile production race at Imola. Smart was away at his day job, racing an H2 Kawasaki for the Bob Hansen team, so Smart’s wife Maggie (Barry Sheene’s sister, as it happens) accepted on his behalf.
“We were living in America, struggling a little bit,” says Smart. “She didn’t see any reason why I shouldn’t do it. We could earn some money. I was not at all sure that I wanted to go.”
Arch rival Giacomo Agostini was to ride at Imola, and Smart doubted his chances with the untried Ducati against the mighty MV Agusta. A hot commodity in ’72 though, Smart was coming off a European season that included winning the 24-hour Bol d’Or on a Triumph Trident. He’d also won the road race division of the AMA Championship, and taken pole position at Daytona, leading for most of the race before holing a piston.
In the event, Smart broke Agostini’s lap record in practice at Imola, and went on to lead the race most of the way to the finish, with teammate Bruno Spaggiari in second place. It was Ducati’s first major International victory.
DUCATI’S SPORTCLASSICS—PAUL SMART REPLICA AND SPORT 1000—reprise the stylings of the café-racer 750S and race-replica 750SS with a new steel trellis chassis wrapped around the lively and durable air-cooled, twin-spark, two-valve 992cc engine from the Multistrada 1000DS, Supersport 1000 and Monster S2. A two-sided steel tube swingarm with hydroformed cross member carries a single side-mounted shock unit, with chain adjusters that mimic those on the bevel twins: machine screws inside the swingarm tubes move the axle hither and yon, while alloy plates clamp it in place.
Similarly retro: spoked alloy wheels running on tubed tires. However, the Pirelli Phantoms fitted as original equipment to the SportClassics were developed specifically for this application, allowing sportbike sizes of 180/55R17 rear and 120/70R17 front to be fitted.
Both bikes share the same brakes, with 320mm Brembo semi-floating discs up front mated to two-piston Brembo floating calipers with sintered pads. At the rear there’s a single 245mm Brembo disc with a single-piston caliper. The 1000GT to follow next year will be styled after the 750GT of 1971-4, with conventional twin shock rear suspension and chrome mufflers.
I FIRST SEE THE PAUL SMART REPLICA AT DUCATI’S PRESS INTRO IN Florence, Italy. It wears silver bodywork over a sea green frame, like the 1974 750SS. But where the original’s slender chrome Conti pipes swept back on either side, a pair of chunky black-over-stainless mufflers sit high on the right, the absence of a right-side shock allowing them to hug the frame. It’s not a look I care for, but we all better get used to big ugly mufflers—just like on the PSR, they’re where the three-way catalysers will live. Overall, though, I like the bike’s styling, especially the trick swingarm. However, a pair of period-look side panels would have covered some of the clutter behind the rear cylinder.
It’s ride time. My first physical impression is how light the Paul Smart replica seems when I lean it off the sidestand. At a claimed 398 lbs. (180.5 kg) dry, it feels much smaller than a litre-class bike. Then I grope for the clip-on bars, set below the instruments and a longish stretch away.
The joy of retro means there’s no kickstart, just the usual electric leg, which boots the motor into life (as soon as the computer has gone through its pre-flight checks), and the Marelli black box and a stepper motor settles the engine to a familiar Ducati kachunk-kachunk idle. The lever-adjustable hydraulic clutch with its heavyish pull reminds me this is no girly-bike.
Hazy sunshine is struggling through high cloud as we set out for Chianti, where the roads twist and turn just like the wine region’s rambling grapevines. But first, the chaotic Florentine traffic. I quickly discover that the lever-adjustable front brake is powerful and light to use—a good thing—while the rear brake is wooden and better suited to a Whizzer.
I appreciate that the 992cc L-Twin provides plenty of engine braking, and that a more powerful rear brake might precipitate lockups, but an effective back binder would also be useful in slow manoeuvres.
Few café bikes work well in traffic. The Paul Smart replica’s riding position throws body weight on the wrists, and the forward stance requires a permanently kinked neck. But as soon as we head into open country, wind pressure relieves the load, which becomes almost neutral above 70 mph (110 kmh).
Freed of sluggish city traffic, the PSR comes to life. Even though mine’s showing only 24 miles (40 kms) on the odometer, the 1000DS engine spins up willingly with considerable gusto. As you’d expect from a Ducati, handling is sharply sporting while inspiring confidence. I find I’m hurling the PSR into the curves at ever-greater speeds, even on the dusty, polished Tuscan tarmac.
In particular, the Ohlins suspension feels firm but compliant; tight but not taut, plush without being soft, and very sophisticated overall. The sportbike-class 24-degree rake and 4” trail presumably help the quick turn-in, while a longish 56.1” (1423.8mm) wheelbase aids stability, creating the confident stance.
Time for some passes for the camera. U-turns on the tight Tuscan roads create an opportunity to test the low-speed handling, which is exemplary, and aided by the light weight and low c-of-g. On a spirited ride back to our base, the PSR performs superbly, arcing meticulously through the twisting Tuscan curves.
The front end especially feels perfectly planted, and the bike’s light weight seems to amplify the 92 ponies available from the DS motor, hurling the PSR forward, while the throaty rumble from the pipes echoes around inside the fairing. Shifting is always slick with a light, positive feel, thus making clutchless shifts easy. Not once did I miss a gear. Want to be Paul Smart at Imola in ’72? All you need is the Replica and some imagination.
MISSING THE PSR’S FAIRING AND WEARING THE PERIOD 750 SPORT colours of orange over a black frame (a voluptuous red and glossy black are also available), the Sport 1000 looks chunkily purposeful—the PSR’s fairing seems to slenderize the identical tank and seat. The riding position feels similarly aggressive, though the bars are actually set 20mm higher. The only other material differences are 43mm Marzocchi front forks and a Sachs rear shock (both, fully adjustable, replacing the PSR’s Ohlins units).
As you might expect, the Sport 1000 feels similar on the road—but different. Without the fairing, more wind reaches me, and there’s less noise from the exhaust. The handling feels less settled, less secure than the PSR—though whether it’s the different suspension or less weight (around four lbs./1.8 kg of fairing on the PSR) over the front wheel. Or the PSR’s Sachs steering damper, absent on the Sport? Pierre Terblanche confirms that the steering geometry is identical: “they’re the same bike.”
The Sport 1000 is great fun. I especially like the bar-end mirrors (perfect rear views), broad, comfortable seat, and lightweight chuckability. The absence of a fairing as on the Paul Smart makes the front end seem shorter, making for more road “presence.”
Which would I buy? Given the limited numbers for the Paul Smart 1000LE (just 2,000 will be built this year) and that the bike was announced two years ago, chances of getting one are slim. If the choice existed, I’d go for the Sport but with Ohlins suspension. You can always fit your own, of course. And I’d opt for the accessory Termignoni exhaust to be rid of those bulky mufflers. Not quite environmentally responsible, perhaps, but not strictly illegal yet either.
By Robert Smith Canadian Biker #217