Ducati. It's a name full of racing heritage and tradition, but it hasn't always been that way. The company's roots are much more humble, first by selling radio equipment before moving into the world of two wheels with a quaint motorized bicycle dubbed the Cucciolo – meaning "puppy" in Italiano – because of its cuddly exhaust note. Needless to say, there was no way of knowing in the early 1950s that the brand would go on to become one of the most successful grand prix racing companies in the world. But we're sure glad it did.
Racing success came early and often in the '70s for the Italian motorcycle manufacturer, and in 1972 Ducati won the Imola 200 with an air-cooled 750cc L-twin engine wrapped in a cradle-type frame. These are the bikes that Ducati sought to replicate with the SportClassic range that first debuted in concept form at the 2003 Tokyo Motor Show and finally went into production in 2006. Living up to a legend is never an easy task, so when we managed to get our greasy mitts on a brand-new 2009 Sport 1000 for a couple of weeks, we wasted no time getting familiar with this sleek black machine. Follow the jump to see what we thought.
Photos copyright ©2009 Jeremy Korzeniewski / Weblogs, Inc.
Let's get one thing straight right off the bat: this is a beautiful motorcycle. The black paint conspires to take away some of the more attractive touches in photographs, but everyone who laid eyes on the Sport 1000 was instantly smitten by the Italian machine. Bits like the steel-tube trellis frame, long and low fuel tank, stepped rear seat with integrated tail cover and matte black exhaust pipes are both functional and attractive. A gauge cluster styled to look like classic Veglia instruments sits up front with chrome and matte black surrounds, and the triangular set of dummy lights is just about a dead ringer for the same unit on the Moto Guzzi V7 Classic we tested recently.
On the Sport 1000, the engine, chassis, suspension and wheels make up a good bit of the styling. As such, Ducati has gone to great lengths to ensure these pieces are supremely pleasing to the eye. The trademark L-twin powerplant is the dominant element (as it should be) and the mill looks absolutely perfect nestled between the glossy black trellis frame designed so no errant tubing distracts from the view of the air-cooled cylinders. At both ends are chrome wire spoke wheels, and while they necessitate the use of innertubes, cast units just wouldn't do the bike justice. Also looking the part are the adjustable (with the help of an allen wrench) twin chrome bar-end mirrors and the large, round headlamp that does next to nothing to block the oncoming rush of wind.
The front wheel measures the expected 17 inches in diameter and is wrapped with a 120/70 tire. The 17-inch rear hoop boasts a 180/55 tire that is a reasonable compromise between the skinny tires of yore and today's penchant for super wide rear rubber. Braking duties are handled by twin 320-millimeter discs up front clamped by two-piston floating calipers and a single caliper and 245-millimeter disc out back. A non-adjustable 43-millimeter inverted fork from Marzocchi is used up front and we found that it was well matched to the bike's sporting abilities, though some form of adjustability would be appreciated. The retro look is in full force at the rear with dual Sachs shocks that boast a full range of adjustments with fancy-looking gold reservoirs. They may look pretty old-school, but they work rather well riding either single or two-up. And pay special attention to the rear swingarm, which is fashioned from unusually large round tubing for a unique look found only on the SportClassic line.
And now we come to the best part: the ride. No Ducati is complete without a throaty exhaust note, and the Sport 1000 doesn't disappoint. Twist the key and let the mill warm up as you don your riding gear, and by the time you're ready to ride, so is the Duc. The 32.5-inch seat height worked fine for us, but may be a little on the high side for shorter riders. No matter your stature, the reach to the low clip-on bars will stretch your torso over the slender tank, which features cutouts for the knees that weren't quite in the correct position for our frame. A comfortable perch this is not, and long freeway drones will put a ton of unwanted pressure on your wrists. Alternatively, scooting up as far as possible against the tank reduces the weight on your wrists but compresses areas of the anatomy that are best left uncompressed – if you know what we mean. If you're looking for a Ducati SportClassic and want to tour, we suggest taking a gander at the GT 1000 across the showroom floor.
It's best to head for the twistiest areas of the map when plotting a route for your next Sunday ride. Suddenly, the seating position that proved so irritating in city traffic starts to make sense and the weight seems to lift off the wrists. Throw the Sport 1000 into the bends and you'll find that handling is spectacular. Specifically, long, sweeping corners and high speeds are this Duc's forte as the super stable chassis holds a line with aplomb. Lower the speed a bit and tighten the turns and you're still having a great time, but that's when the low handlebars start to get uncomfortable again and you begin thinking of picking up the pace. Ah well, all in the name of style, right? In any case, ground clearance won't be an issue and you're free to attempt your best Mike Hailwood impression with every drop of the knee. You may have heard about the bar-end mirrors used on the Sport 1000 – yes, the are positioned well to see what's going on at the rear, but they also tend to self-adjust at high speeds.
The well-known Dual Spark 1000 engine is just as great as ever in this application, and its 91 horsepower and 67 pound-feet of torque always felt like plenty. Though extra power is always welcome, we wouldn't dare think of fitting a liquid-cooled lump in the Sport 1000 as the DS1000 has just the right amount of character as it is. Fuel injection worked like a champ at all engine speeds. There's enough vibration present through the rev range to remind you that you're riding a proper motorcycle, though in fifth and sixth gear attempting to pull anything less than 4,000 RPM will make you think you're riding a paint shaker at the local Home Depot. No matter, there's no good reason not to downshift as the gearbox works like a charm and we only encountered a few of false neutrals during the bike's stint in our garage. Tap away at the left pedal and you'll be rewarded with more power, smoother running and a much more appropriate soundtrack. Unlike many modern Ducatis, the Sport 1000 comes with a wet clutch, which is generally quiet and unobtrusive in everyday operation. Stoplight-to-stoplight, though, lever effort is high and you'll be dealing with a sore forearm after a while.
There are niggles with every bike we happen to bring home, but few are as endearing as the Ducati Sport 1000. Every time we parked the bike and walked away, any thoughts of its uncomfortable low-speed ergonomics faded into a distant memory and images of power-on wheelies and dragging knees danced in our heads. At just a shade under $12 grand, the Sport 1000 isn't exactly light on the wallet, but then again, if '70s style is what you're after, a set of adjustable bars and some luggage may be all you need to make this the only streetbike you need in your stable.
Photos copyright ©2009 Jeremy Korzeniewski / Weblogs, Inc.