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Project Y: VR Customs builds a Ducati 996 Cafe Racer

Ducati 996 cafe racer by VR Customs
We’re not precious about which motorcycles shouldn’t be customized. But we still feel a pang of sadness when a classic is butchered—and smile big when it’s done right.

Most people wouldn’t fiddle with a Ducati 996, but VR Customs aren’t most people. They’ve tackled two already, and turned ’em into a pair of stylish cafe racers called Project X and Project Y. You’re looking at Project Y; the second of the two to be completed.

Ducati 996 cafe racer by VR Customs
VR Customs is the bespoke build arm of Vendetta Racing—a race team based in Dubai that’s taken on everything from the Manx GP to the Dakar Rally. Run by Alan Boyter, the crew has over 14 years experience in building race bikes, and approach their race and cafe racer projects the same way. “Everything has to perform as good as it looks,” says Alan.

Both projects kicked off about seven years ago, while Alan was restoring his 1997 Ducati 916 SPS. The team started pondering the idea of a track-focused cafe racer based on the 916 platform, but ideas quickly snowballed. Pretty soon the concept involved using the 996 as a donor, adding a full complement of alloy bodywork, and building two bikes instead of one.

Ducati 996 cafe racer by VR Customs
VR Customs decided to farm out the metallurgy, so they sourced a company in the UK that could execute their vision. “Forming sheet metal is an art,” says Alan, “and not learned over a couple of weeks.”

The company had off-the-shelf fairings and tail sections that could be modified to suit the builds, but the tanks would have to be custom made. So VR Customs found an old tank, then reshaped it with expanding foam and body filler to make a template. Then they shipped it off to the UK to put their order in—and sourced two 996 donors from across the pond at the same time.

Ducati 996 cafe racer by VR Customs
Between delays with the bodywork, racing commitments, an injury and client projects, Project X was only completed late last year. But Project Y had hardly left the blocks—VR had modified the subframe and fitted the fuel tank, but that was it.

“The subject of the unfinished Ducati came up over beers one evening,” says Alan, “and to cut a long story short, there was another Ducati 996 project in the VR workshop!”

Ducati 996 cafe racer by VR Customs
Since the crew had just wrapped up the first bike, they had a great blueprint to work from. So they set themselves a far more ambitious timeline: four months, to have the bike ready for an upcoming custom show in Dubai.

First on the list was to mount the bodywork and finish up the Ducati’s subframe mods. VR relocated the battery to under the tail bump, which is removable via a recessed 12 mm nut underneath the tail. They also mounted a discreet LED strip taillight with built-in indicators, which is almost invisible until it’s switched on.

Ducati 996 cafe racer by VR Customs
The front end proved to be a bigger challenge. VR deliberately opted for a different design to Project X to differentiate between the two builds, so they couldn’t copy and paste their previous work.

They started by mounting a 7” headlight to the stock headstock mounting points, then built up a custom fairing subframe around that. The fairing attaches with just four Dzus quarter-turn fasteners.

Ducati 996 cafe racer by VR Customs
Tucked behind the fairing is a Koso digital dash, complete with a GPS speedo and a gear position indicator. VR installed longer-than-stock clip-ons, then added a Domino throttle, switches and grips, with clutch and brake controls from Brembo.

Sitting further down is an aftermarket alloy radiator, with modified mounts to tuck it lower and further back. It’s hooked up to the OEM fan, with redirected inlet and outlet nozzles to tighten up the plumbing. There’s also a custom-made Y-piece to delete the stock thermostat and integrate the three temperature sensors, and a custom alloy header tank and connecting lines.

Ducati 996 cafe racer by VR Customs
VR have kept the 996’s OEM Showa forks, Öhlins rear shock and Brembo brakes, but rebuilt everything and added Goodridge lines. This is a 2000-model 996 with Marchesini wheels—so the guys kept those too, but changed their color.

The exhaust system is custom, with a pair of asymmetrical pie-cut headers running into GP-style mufflers. “Lobster-tail exhausts are now the norm on all VR Custom bikes,” says Alan. “Design is obviously part of it—but the more simple reason is that the workshop isn’t big enough to house a pipe bender!”

Ducati 996 cafe racer by VR Customs
Alan managed to weld up the exhaust just as he caught the Coronavirus—sending him into quarantine for ten days and threatening to derail the project. But he was soon back on his feet, and the team started buttoning up the bike just two weeks before the show. On went a full set of cadmium-plated bolts, and an extensive list of carbon fiber bits, including a Monster front fender and rear wheel covers.

Ducati 996 cafe racer by VR Customs
VR opted for a sea foam green powder coat on the frame, as a nod to the iconic 1970s Ducati 750 SS. Against the polished bodywork and carbon fiber trim, it pops.

The crew managed to wrap things up just in time to enter both Ducati 996s into the show. Project Y’s first outing was a success, as it bagged first place in its class. But it’s for sale now, to make room for a forced induction Ducati 998/1198 project. Are you tempted?

VR Customs Facebook | Instagram | Vendetta Racing | Images by Michael Vosloo / Twist n Grip

Ducati 996 cafe racer by VR Customs

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