Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Superlight

I bought my Ducati about ten years ago with 26,000 miles on the clock. At the time, it was the most expensive bike I'd ever purchased by a considerable margin, but I thought it was pretty cheap for what it was.


Ducati 900SL Superlight #474


Ducati 900SL Superlight #474
Imagine my surprise! This white-framed, magnesium wheeled vision was my dream-bike all through my 20's. I'd never seen one in the flesh before, and there it was, with a price-tag that was almost affordable!


What it was, was - a Mk 1 Superlight with a white frame, carbon fibre mudguards and clutch cover, and Marvic magnesium/aluminium composite wheels. Whats-more, it had been worked over by Baines Racing, Ducati race bike specialists from Silverstone. It had really lightweight aluminium replicas of the heavy steel Ducati clip-on handlebars and was fitted with an Ohlins rear shock and various other lightweight bits and pieces. It also has an aluminium side-stand which I think is non standard


Apparently, it was one of a pair of Superlights that were prepared by Baines at the time and was used as some kind of press demo-bike. I've heard lots of stuff about there being two bikes, but as far as I can tell, it never appeared in any magazines. The two bikes had different modifications, and I believe mine has a tuned engine and a reworked exhaust.



Ducati 900SL Superlight #474
Shortly after I got it, the useless standard mirrors have been replaced with a bar-end item, and some of the small problems have been resolved, but this is pretty much what it looked like when I got it. Note, the Marvic Composite wheels have been repainted yellow somewhere along the line. The rear wheel was poorly reassembled and a couple of weeks after i got the bike, the bolts came loose, leaving the rim loose on the spokes! I discovered this a couple of minutes after a 100+ MPH motorway blast and it wasn't hard to imagine the consequences of a catastrophic failure at that speed...


It wasn't all plain sailing though. By the time I got it, the bike was already more than ten years old and had clearly had a hard life. And although, by the early 90's with cash from Cagiva, the Ducati factory had been modernised and most of the legendary reliability issues had been resolved, build quality still wasn't particularly good. So consequently, the bike was pretty ratty. It also had some minor crash damage on the RHS.



Ducati 900SL Superlight #474
After a couple of years it got a bit of a tidy-up. it now sports  Marvic Penta magnesium wheels, an aluminium clutch from a 916 , a super-lightweight flywheel and a half-fairing off a 900CR. The flywheel makes a noticeable difference -  it's very quick to turn in, accelerate and decelerate. However, it also makes it even more of a pig in traffic and exacerbates the already horrible clutch. 


Ducati 900SL Superlight #474
Still being used as an occasional commuter, in this pic the bike is being run with no clutch cover and exposed belts. I think this looks really cool. Most casual observers appear to be horrified. At least it deters them from approaching to tell me that my bike sounds like there's something wrong with it...



Ducati 900SL Superlight #474
The lightweight wheels, clutch and flywheel all reduce inertia and the thing is an absolute riot to ride. For a little while anyway...


When I first got the bike I used it as a commuter for about a year and racked up more miles. This is a pretty good example of my own stubbornness and tendency to do things the hard way. In retrospect, I can't imagine a worse commuter bike - It has a horrible clutch, snatchy power delivery, a persnickety gearbox, no steering lock and the throttle needs to be constantly restrained while you constantly slip the (screeching) clutch. And the fact that it'll do 80mph in 3rd gear doesn't help at all. Also, it's obnoxiously loud - the exhaust is embarrassing and the clutch is like having someone persistently banging on your head with a pipe! It is a horror show to drive in traffic. My fellow commuters were generally appalled...


However, if you take it to a smooth, curvy road it becomes angelic and sublime. You get braille-like feedback through the bars, thin seat and pegs. And when it's moving, all the horrible noises are left behind you. The airbox BELLOWS and the exhaust THUDS. And as you slip the clutch to change gear it goes SCHZZZZZZZ-BOOM, SCHZZZZZZZ-BOOM. And it all happens together and you get the curious sensation that the thing is powered, not by a mechanical process of petrol-carburetors-compression-chain-wheel, but by noise. Your hand on the throttle controls the volume and the more noise you make the faster you go.


It's a pretty intense experience and after an hour or so it gets tiring. So I don't ride it very much (In fact, I think the last time I rode it was on new year's day!). Consequently, in the ten years or so that I've owned it, I've only put about 10,000 miles on it, most of them in the period I used it as a commuter.


So every year since I got it, I tell myself that I'm going to restore it and every year, I don't. So it's pretty skanky when you get up close. So this year, I put it up on the bench and started taking it apart. I did this with the best of intentions and then I got sidetracked by the retrieval of the Africa Twin and the damage done to Big Honda. So it's been sitting up on the bench with no headlight, clocks or fairings and it sort of imprinted itself on my brain, and I got to thinking about leaving the fairing off to reduce the weight still further...


So last night I was pottering around in the workshop and I got to thinking out loud...



Ducati 900SL Superlight #474
The little bikini fairing is (I think) an Acerbis item and it came off Evan's GPZ when it was here getting it's wiring done. The headlamp is off a VFR and has adorned a number of my bikes over the years. 


Ducati 900SL Superlight #474


Ducati 900SL Superlight #474


Ducati 900SL Superlight #474


#DucatiSuperlight #Ducati900SL #Mercenary #MercenaryGarage

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