Italian passion at the Toy Run
NO BETTER CAFE RACER: Ducati’s 900SS boasted clip-on handlebars, rear-set footrests and a single seat. The Dell’Ortos fitted to the desmodromic vee-twin motor and straight-through Conti pipes subtly inform all and sundry that this 1970s superb
Author: DAVE FALL
The 2012 motorcycle charity Toy Run* held in Cape Town was certainly a day to remember for the many, many kids who received toys of every description from the the over 15 000 generous bikers who travelled from near and far to attend this very worthwhile event.
Unfortunately I didn’t manage to attend the event in 2012 but I did spot some interesting machinery as the riders headed home. One particular motorcycle that captured my attention, albeit riding away in the distance at a fair pace, was an achingly beautiful, original Ducati 900SS.
Oh, what a cracking machine it was.
CLASSIC DUKE STILL A CHARMER
Manufactured from 1975-82 the bevel-drive vee-twin 900SS is still recognised as among the very best of modern classics, highly rated and extremely desirable to own. In a nutshell, bike enthusiasts could buy themselves what amounted to a production racer off the showroom floor, the only difference being this one had lights!
The bike was the creation of Italian wizard Fabio Taglioni. The concept of the 900SS stems from Ducati’s victory at the Imola 200 race in 1972, ridden by Paul Smart and Bruno Spaggiari who had given the factory its 1-2 win. The Italians love to celebrate their successes (and still do) and produced a small batch of road-legal replicas, albeit with 750cc motors, that grew into the 900SS version.
With its slender frame and ultra-long fuel tank and tell-tale Conti free-breathing exhausts, the heart of the beast was the celebrated L-shaped V-twin, no valve springs and camchains to ever go wrong or go out of adjustment.
This bike had Taglioni-designed rocker arms which opened and closed the desmodromic-operated valve gear at precisely the right moment, while a bevel-cut gear arrangement connected the top end to the crankshaft.
Maintenance was the name of the game to achieve the top speed and rapid acceleration that biker’s craved – even back then. The superb and outstanding roadholding of the bike came for free with the SS. Riders were then rewarded with potential maximum speeds in the region of 220km/h, not to shabby for a 40-year-old bike!
Certainly used to success is the Ducati motorcycle company. Only six years after Smart’s victory it was the turn of the legendary Mike Hailwood to show the motorcycling world what he was capable of by coming out of retirement to race “one more time” aboard a racing version of the 900SS.
In 1978, on the Isle of Man, Hailwood blitzed all opposition with an amazing victory in the Formula 1 TT races. Quite naturally Ducati felt it was celebration time once again and produced the Mike Hailwood replica bike in its familiar red, green and white livery, a bike produced until 1985.
With a 20-year lifespan, the 900SS became the longest-running bike model in the Ducati line-up – but, as we all know, there was more to come!
Ducati 900SS (1975)
Engine: Vee-twin 864cc, air-cooled, sohc, four-valve, 90° vee-twin
Power: 59kW at 7000 rpm
0-100km/h: 4.5 sec (Est.)
Top Speed: 217 km/h (Est.)
Frame: Steel ladder
Fuel tank: 18 litres
Suspension: Telescopic front, twin shocks rear
Brakes: (F) discs (R) disc
Final drive: O-ring sealed chain
*The Toy Run was the brainchild of IMOC (Italian Motorcycle Owner’s Club) the first event having taken place 30 years ago back in 1982 in Johannesburg. The Toy Run organiser for the 2012, Rodney Ford, reckoned the event was really successful with more than 30000 toys collected for needy children. Celebrated at more than 19 centres across South Africa, this annual motorcycle charity event is the biggest of its kind.