René Waters is a Ducati aficionado who lives in Medicine Hat, Alberta, about 3 hours east of Calgary. He runs the website Ducati Meccanica, an essential resource for anyone owning, or thinking of owning, an old Ducati. As you might expect, René’s own motorcycle is something special. It’s a 1978 Ducati 900 GTS that has been heavily customized, but in the most sensitive way. I asked René to tell us the story, so here it is, in his own words.
I happened into an exotic sports car dealership in Lake Forest (northern upscale suburb of Chicago). Just looking; I couldn’t afford anything in there. But they had two 900 SS Ducatis sitting there, making the cars look good. One silver, one black. They were beautiful, but just as out of reach as the cars were to a young guy. But those two bikes never left my mind: here was what happened when Italians built café-style bikes … perfection!
Over the years I customized a succession of Japanese bikes, every one trying to capture (and failing) what I’d seen in that sports car dealership. Eventually, about 12 years ago, my wife flat out told me that if I wanted a Ducati that badly, I’d better go find one. And so the hunt began in those pre-internet, pre-eBay days, and I tracked one down to the back of a liquor store in Calgary, Alberta. It was in a very sorry condition. I bought it on the spot, even though it wasn’t the bike I remembered from 20 years before—a GTS model, not an SS. But I knew it could be made into the bike that had haunted me for all that time.
This is its second resurrection in my hands. Once ten years ago, and this latest iteration, completed last year. I acquired the remains of a 2006 Paul Smart Replica that had been pretty picked over before I got it. I wanted the wheels most, and what happened next was the consequence of trying to make them work. Shoehorning a 180-series rear wheel into a swing arm designed for a 110 is no mean feat!
Once I had it down to the bare frame, the “might-as-wells” took over, and I started changing and upgrading everything. I ended up cutting off all the stock mounting points and building new ones to position things where I wanted them. I had to build a new rear frame loop to accommodate and mount a larger rear fender for the big rear wheel, and to fit the new solo seat. The front end was relatively easy. I changed out the Sport Classic steering stem for the one I was using already, and custom fabricated an adapter for head tension—as no bearings were available that would work with the new stem and existing head stock. New stops had to be fabricated to keep the upside down forks from hitting the 1972 GT steel tank. The seat is a repro of the original 750/900 SS solo seat, as are the side covers. Original Conti exhausts were sourced, and custom hangers fabricated which also position the custom rearsets. I replaced all the electrics with a custom harness and a bank of relays under the tank, running modern electronic ignition, fuses, lighting and instruments.
For the last ten years, the bike has been my daily rider. Weather permitting: I live in Canada, so winter is rough for motorcycling (call me a wimp). The shakedown ride was a 3,700 km round trip to Bonneville for the BUB Speed Trials and the vintage races at Miller Motorsport Park, Salt Lake, last September. The bike has approximately 180,000 miles on it, with two motor rebuilds that I’ve done. Possibly another before I got it. I plan on riding it plenty more.
I will be moving the horns from under the headlight to a less conspicuous spot behind the regulator rectifier, and I want to fix the angle of the rear tail light—I don’t like the way it points slightly downwards. So that’s the next job.
It’s now the bike I’ve always wanted, classic Ducati café good looks, fantastic bevel motor, and completely modern running gear: my take on what the new Ducati Sport Classic might have been. The redesign/rebuild took four months from teardown to first ride, and here’s a list of the mods in no particular order. All the work (with the exception of the powder coating and painting) was done by myself and a very good friend in his garage. There was no other outside work.
- Extensive swing arm modifications to fit the 180 rear wheel and accommodate new 2″ longer shocks
- All the existing frame mounting points were removed and new ones fabricated for tank, seat, side covers, battery box, ignition box, coils, regulator rectifier, rear frame loop, rear fender mounts, swing arm shock mounting points, exhaust hanger/rear set mounts, steering stops, choke mount, and inner fender mounts
- Rear frame loop cut off and replaced with one to accommodate rear fender mounting and solo seat.
- Custom fabricated steering stem and bronze bushings to enable Ducati Sport Classic triples to fit the existing steering head, with sealed roller bearings.
- Upside down fully adjustable Showa forks, with Ohlins cartridge UES upgrade kit (which I have not yet installed)
- Instruments are new S4 Monster, electronic speedo sensor mounted in the rear caliper mount under swing arm
- Rear fender, 2008 Ducati 1000 GT, 1981 Darmah inner rear fender, 08 Sport Classic front fender
- Turn signals (front and rear), tail light, tail light bracket, and headlight bracket new (Sport Classic)
- New genuine Conti mufflers from Pescara, Italy
- New rear shocks, 2009 Sport Classic 1000 S, with Ohlins valve kit
- Battery box new from Ducati (2009 Sport Classic)
- Reproduction solo seat, custom upholstering
- Frame, swing arm, and center stand powder coated
- Complete re-paint: front fender, rear fender, seat, tank, side covers, headlight bucket
- Reproduction decals (made by myself)
- Seat and panels fastened with Dzus fasteners
- Wiring harness replaced with new custom built harness. All electrics now run on a bank relays under the tank
- Old ceramic-type fuse block replaced with modern inline automotive style fuse block
- Modern (new) coils, plug caps and plugs
- Regulator rectifier replaced and moved to front, under tank, for improved cooling
- Older style Ducati Monster switchgear
- Reverse cone K&N filters to replicate velocity stacks (can’t run with open bell mouths as it’s a desert here during the summer)
- Master cylinders, calipers and controls: all Brembo
- Bike converted from rear drum brake to disc with Brembo master cylinder, caliper, and rotor and stainless steel line
- Rear caliper custom mounted under swing arm
- Sprocket carrier machined down, and spacers fabricated to have the sprockets line up and rear wheel to center properly
- 520 chain and rear sprocket, front sprocket machined to 520 and shouldered spacer fabricated to ensure correct chain alignment and output shaft engagement. Not enough room for a 530 (original) chain.
- Bar risers (2005 ST3 Ducati)
- Custom billet aluminum bars
- Replaced cylinders and installed new high comp pistons and rings
- Installed a MotoWitt DMC2 programmable electronic ignition system (16 programmable advance curves)
- Replaced main crank bearings, re-shimmed, crank and transmission
- Custom fabricated hydraulic clutch conversion, Brembo master cylinder and controls
- Rebuilt gear selector shift box
- Custom fabricated rear sets and control linkages
- Michelin Pilot Classic 17″ tires front and rear
- Both Dell’Orto carbs refurbished and rebuilt
- Dry cell type battery fitted
- CRG bar end mirrors
- All fasteners (nuts, bolts, washers, etc) replaced with stainless steel throughout.