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Ducati 900 GTS cafe racer

Ducati 900 GTS cafe racer
A couple of months ago we showed the Ducati 900 GTS custom built by René Waters, a Canadian Ducati aficionado who runs the website Ducati Meccanica. That bike was hugely popular with readers, and now René has built another 900 GTS—this time a cafe racer for his wife Sue. Here’s the story, once again in René’s own words.

This café racer started life as a 1978 900GTS, a pretty staid tourer much denigrated by Ducati enthusiasts and reporters at the time. Mostly it was the general poor finish typical of Italian bikes of the era, and the ‘standard’ styling of the bike. People were used to the road-ready race bikes that Ducati built, and felt let down by the GT/GTS range. The bikes themselves were, and are, very good machines, but were panned for their looks.

Therefore when I acquired this one, for my wife Sue, we set about improving those looks. When I asked her what she wanted to do with it she immediately replied that she wanted to “make a classic Italian café racer … turn it into an SS for me.”

The first thing to go was the bodywork. So off came the tank, seat and side covers—particularly ugly—and both fenders. Although these were stainless steel, they just didn’t have the right look, being too heavy and pedestrian. The tank was replaced with a steel one from a ’78 SS, and brackets had to be fabricated to fit it to the GTS frame mounting points.

The side covers were replaced with fiberglass replica SS ones made for me from molds of the originals. I used the existing frame mounts and drilled the holes in the side covers to suit. I found an original dual seat for a ’78, but wanted to be able to use both dual and solo seats. (When you bought an SS new in 1978 you got both.) The solo seat in the pictures is a reproduction picked up on eBay.

The fenders were replaced with reproduction SS units, and a NOS original early-style CEV tail light and bracket fitted. Next came the fairing, sourced from Phil Hitchcock at Road & Race Ducati in Australia—an invaluable source for anyone with a bevel Ducati. I also got an original 900SS five light dash unit from him, and an original ’74-’76 rear fairing mount.

Ducati 900 GTS cafe racer

Original lights for the dash are as rare as hens’ teeth. There is a company in Holland that has reproduction ones—but at something like $350 for a set of five, it seemed a bit extravagant just for idiot lights. So I sourced some LEDs and fabricated my own; while not original, they match the gauges quite well and best of all, they work. An original Marchal headlamp—a period upgrade for the lighting—came up on eBay and I couldn’t resist. Probably paid too much for it but it’s cool and collectable in its own right, and it just looks great with the Marchal cool cat logo!

The standard bars of course would never work with the fairing fitted (as if the bike wasn’t going to have clip-ons anyway). I had a set of race clip-ons but decided I wanted an adjustable set. I settled on adjustable Tomaselli clip-ons; beautifully made and with infinite adjustment, so they can be tuned to your riding position instead of the other way round. Very nice and well worth it. I also welded lugs to the frame, and installed folding Tarozzi pegs and levers.

The 32mm Dell’Orto pumper carbs got a refurbishment and rebuild, and I managed to find a modern replacement for the original air filters. The original LaFranconi silencers were particularly ugly and had to go. The only real option for replacements were Contis: the sound is unmistakable and incredible. The ones on the bike are original from 1978, but have been repaired and re-chromed … several times.

The original GTS had 40-spoke Radaelli Italian ‘chrome’ steel rims that were mostly rust when we got the bike. These were replaced with flanged aluminum Borrani rims from a Moto Guzzi dealership that was selling off all its old bits and had a shed full of discarded rims They were nice enough to look through them all and send me the best two. The front rim is identical to the ones used by Ducati on the SS, with the exception of the part number stamping. The rear had to have the spoke holes re-angled to suit the Ducati hub, because Moto Guzzis have shaft drive and subsequently a much larger rear hub.

All the cables were replaced and a new Surflex clutch installed. The new springs proved too much for Sue to pull, if the truth be known, the clutch was uncomfortably heavy for me too—so I can image how she felt. I took out two of the springs (leaving four), which lightened the pull to civilized levels, and took the bike out for a good caning. Low and behold nothing I did made it slip. So it will run this way, with a nice light clutch pull until it starts to slip, at which time I will pull two of the springs and replace them with the two new ‘spares’. Once it begins to to slip again I’ll add the full complement of springs. I figure there’s about 10 or 15 years of riding there before she’ll need new springs.

I researched the original Ducati 900SS silver and blue paint colours and had a local guy here paint everything. The finishing touch was the gear-gazer rear cylinder bevel cover window … you can see the cam drive bevel gears working away. With 15-tooth front and 36-tooth rear sprockets, this 900 GTS has top speed of 127mph (204kph). Ducati claimed 121 mph for a new GTS in 1978, but I think that may have been a bit optimistic!

[See more pictures of this cafe racer here and here on the Ducati Meccanica site.]

Ducati 900 GTS cafe racer

  • Was just reading about an original SS in a lovely little mag called Italian Motor ( ) The more I see these bikes the more I fall in love with them….. and i’m a Triumph rider!

  • jheath

    Damn. I would have mistaken this for an SS, until I saw the electric starter housing, or noticed the forward engine-mount eyes.

    Not sure when the rear drum brake was superceded on the SS. Anyway the drum works better than the automatically-locking one on the SSs — you could barely touch them. I put a Saf-T-Braker or whatever they were called on mine, a neat little finned aluminum cylinder that fit on a banjo bolt and induced mush in the rear break to keep it from locking. Wish you could still get ’em.

    The GTS wasn’t so bad looking — rather nice when the sidecovers are tossed away. The GT on the other hand was harder to fall in love with, until you rode one. They were all great bikes to ride, really long-legged and sure-footed, and smooth.

  • lawrence erkie

    Lovely bike! A credit to the builder’s skill and good taste. I sure hope Sue brings it to Nakusp next month. It’s be wonderful to see it in person. Fingers crossed….

  • Both Rene and I will be going to Nakusp next month.
    We wouldn’t miss it for anything, best roads, and our
    Ducati’s love it.

  • Jonathan

    I’m looking for this type of fairing for my GB500, but I don’t really know what to search for. What is this type of fairing called? Thanks!

  • This style of fairing is sometimes referred to as a half-fairing. But generally if you search for a Ducati 900 SS type fairing you will find this type. Norton and other British bikes had something similar. Road and Race in Australia has them, either the SS or SSD would be what you want…
    Columbia Car and Cycle has them but they’re not listed in their catalogue you’d have to call Wolfgang, Web Site: Phone/Fax: (Canada) (250) 265-4502, or if you don’t need one for a Ducati, just something similar you could try Airtech Streamlining in the States who also have Dunstall style fairings which may suit a British style cafe racer better. I know a GB500 is Japanese, but I don’t know what Honda could have done to make a bike look more British, shy of slapping a Union Jack on the side. Just my opinion of course.

    Hope this helps Jonathan, if you have any specific questions feel free to email me directly, [email protected]

  • Thanks for the info Rene, you’ve been incredibly helpful. The bike is incredible. Nice work.

  • ryan

    hi , just wanted some info on the silver and blue on the ducati
    can you help me at all?

  • Rene Waters

    Ryan email me directly and I will tell you whatever you want to know about the paint… [email protected]

  • I love this bike!!! gorgeous!!!

    In fact I have just put mine up FOR SALE , it is very similar, but in black and without the big fairing, more cafe racer style.

    The bike is a 1976 Ducati 860 GTS Cafe racer, please visit my website, check out the bike and drop me and email if you are interested.

    Thanks and keep up the good work Bike EXIF

  • john pellew

    ps forgot the web address: