Ducati 900SS - A Buyers Experience
Last month after spending three pages describing
a grey world where purple was the only hint of a tint,
it all ended with a glorious burst of Technicolor.
You’d be forgiven for questioning how credible
it was that a motorcycle, even a classically beautiful
example like the Ducati 900SS, could have such a profound
effect on someone’s mental state. Well of course
it can’t; certainly not if you’re clinically
depressed. Consequently I admit that I deserve a few
points on my poetic licence for last month’s
effort (and if I knew where to send the dosh I’d
pay the fines).
I don’t claim any expertise when it comes
to depression; but if I understand anything I’m
clear that the most debilitating thing is the total
inability to see any escape from your predicament.
As my problems at the time centred largely on despatching,
which had ground away my love of biking, the issues
were nothing that a change of job wouldn't have sorted.
But I did feel stuck, because I'd got used to earnings
I couldn’t hope to match elsewhere. Once my
love affair with bikes had soured (as any relationship
will when too much shit happens over too long a period
and there seems little danger of anything fresh or
new happening) I did feel well and truly trapped.
Dillon’s Duke literally blew away my blues.
The realisation that here was a friend who worked
at the same company as me, who earned no more than
I did, but who was able to ride such a rare and wonderful
thing, was like a light bulb in a cartoon’s
head. I’d known instantly that it was exactly
what I needed. Simply sitting on it had reignited
my spark and the voice shouting, “Do it! Do
it! Do it!” in my head, was joined by all the
supposedly sensible parts agreeing that if Ray could
afford the finance on a brand new one, surely I could
borrow enough wonga for a second hand one in black
So it was that less than a week later, I found myself
boarding a train in Kings X with my lid in my hand
and two grand in my pocket. I was heading so far north
of Watford that I knew from the problems I’d
had with the guy on the phone, that I was likely to
struggle to communicate with the locals, so I stepped
off the train in Bradford and got straight into a
cab handing the driver the address on a slip of paper.
He delivered me to a development of prim semi’s
with attached garages. After paying him, I turned
to find a Kevin and Sharon sort of couple standing
in the doorway.
They told me how they only used it on sunny Sundays
and how they’d toured to the South of France
on it. They were still rabbiting in their curious
dialect with its soft U’s and hard A’s,
when the garage door swished up and turned them into
background noise – like the hiss on a cheap
tape. There in the spacious interior stood the object
of my dreams and in the flesh (or aluminium, fibreglass
and steel to be more precise) it was so much better
than I had ever imagined.
I walked around the Duke in a semi trance. It was
all there: the black & gold paintwork; the big
in line 90º cylinders (with the Desmo’s
bevel drives running up the offside); the 40mm Dellortos
complete with caged bellmouths; and the straight through
Contis. The Avon Roadrunners and luggage rack were
a bit of a jar and they brought Tracy and Darren’s
voices back into focus in time for me to figure that
he was asking if I wanted to wheel it oot and start
it oop. I was about to say does the Pope shit in the
woods, but thought it would only cause confusion,
so I settled for, “Yeah great”.
Once it was running and I was sitting on it gently
tweaking the quick action throttle and listening to
the symphony rise and fall, I was sold, and so was
the Duke. £1,950, thank you very much and goodbye.
Winding my way from Stacy and Warren’s place
in the ‘burbs it all felt a bit strange. The
powertrain seemed to snatch, the lack of steering
lock was terrifying, and the suspension (which I’d
been warned had inspired Stiff Records motto: “If
it ain’t Stiff it ain’t worth a fuck”)
felt like Viagra-plus – and all my weight was
sitting on my wrists. However as I left the residential
streets behind and rolled it open on a short stretch
of dual carriageway it all began to make sense; and
by the time I’d rounded and exited my first
roundabout I was feeling a tingling in my loins.
I quickly found my way through Bradford and Leeds
and onto the M1. Back then there was no way I’d
risk trying to find some interesting A & B roads
home – not that far into the great unknown –
there’d be plenty of time for that once I was
back on familiar ground in the South East. Which is
where I wanted to be, because London was where my
friends were, and they were waiting to see it. So
I checked my watch, pointed it down the big One, gave
it a squirt and felt the surge of power. One-ten was
totally effortless and the weight evaporated from
my wrists, leaving me free to revel in the moment
as I wafted South.
After about half an hour of roaring past all and
sundry, I hit a clearish stretch and tucked in behind
the fairing to see what it had. The 130mph it was
geared for wasn’t spectacular even by 1981’s
standards, there were a number of Jap bikes with claimed
higher top speeds, but they all needed a long straight
bit of road to reach it. Snapping the throttle open
on the Dellortos activated Super-Squirter sized accelerator
pumps that caused it to lunge forward like it was
doing eighty. It hit one-thirty in a rush and was
urging me to explore the red, but the realisation
that I’d just paid more for my wonderful Italian
stallion than I’d ever paid for anything in
my life, persuaded me to fight the temptation and
keep it shy of the danger line. I noticed a ‘services
1 mile’ sign and less than half a minute later
I was admiring the feel of the Brembos as I pulled
off the motorway. It was all getting a bit too much
and I was afraid I was going to explode at the gutbusting
excitement of it all. I knew I needed to sit down,
calm down, and stop getting so carried away. There
was no point in buying a Ducati, then mortally wounding
my licence before I’d even taken it near the
sort of roads it was designed for.
I’d brought no locks, so I sat where I could
keep a close eye on my new toy while I ate. Besides
I wanted to be able to admire it. Who wouldn’t?
But as I watched I was genuinely amazed to see just
how many people of all ages stopped to look it over
as they walked in or out; and it was clear that many
of those arriving were partially interested to see
what it was that had blurred past them back up the
road some. I’d bought the 900ss because of all
the reports I’d read describing its prodigious
handling and stomping power delivery. Obviously the
fact that I’d always considered it to be the
most beautiful machine ever built played its part,
but until that moment I honestly hadn’t given
any serious thought to pose value. That said I’d
be a liar to claim that I didn’t get a massive
bang out of it once it became apparent.
Walking back to the Duke with food, drink, nicotine,
urine, and adrenalin all back at ambient levels, I
was ready to rock & roll. However as I prepared
to kick it over, it occurred to me that although I’d
paid close attention when I was shown, I’d never
actually attempted to start it myself. At the same
moment I became aware that I had quite an audience
watching from behind the glass of the eatery. I set
it up, squirted the pumps, kicked sharply and was
rewarded with a roar that left my cool bike God act
intact; so I burbled over to the filling station to
Four early shifts saw me back on the main carriageway.
The rumble grew steadily as I crossed the first two
lanes, before settling at a bassy growl by the time
I hit the third doing a ton-ten. I’d love to
enthral you with every minute detail of that ride,
but the truth is I can’t remember a single thing
about it. However this has absolutely nothing to do
with the twenty years that have raced past on nitro
since that day. When I pulled up in SE14 (barely two
and a half hour’s riding time after joining
the M1 in Leeds) and attempted to respond to a barrage
of questions, my mind was blank. My mates, who’d
heard me coming down the Old Kent Road and rushed
out of the Crown & Anchor to meet me, had crowded
round demanding to hear every detail. Which was when
I realised I had absolutely no recollection of anything
— just an overwhelming feeling of awe and exhilaration.
It’s was like being woken from a dream and
being asked to describe it. You know that moment when
you wake and the fantastic REM world you’ve
been embroiled in, is still there in every part of
your body and mind; but when you attempt to interpret
it, it pops like a bubble leaving you with nothing
but the residue of feelings – fear, ecstasy,
lust, whatever – associated with the almost
memory. I think the same must apply to riding bikes.
When you’re practicing RMM (Rapid Motorcycle
Movement) on busy thoroughfares, whether it’s
the M1 or Knightsbridge, you have to be entirely focussed.
To travel seriously faster than the surrounding traffic,
the whole of your brainpower needs to be allocated
to processing the mass of information that your senses
require to avoid disaster. 130mph on an M road is
(pedestrians aside) the equivalent of racing through
Asda’s car park at sixty. You have to be absolutely
tuned in to everything: your immediate surroundings
(including the periphery and your mirrors); the middle
distance; and a horizon that constantly rushes to
meet you. I believe that your inboard computer shuts
down all hard disc functions and forgets all about
keeping a record, because it knows it needs to convert
everything available to RAM, so it can deal with all
the random shit coming your way. Which would also
account for why when I arrived in New Cross, aside
from my lack of memories, I was also aware that since
leaving the services I hadn’t had a single thought
that wasn’t directly associated with riding.
Not about my dinner, my waiting friends, what I was
doing that evening, not even what the red-head receptionist
in Neal Street would look like naked – nothing
but the task in hand.
And how was that task? As far as chores go, it was
a bit like being Julianne Moore’s love slave!
Beyond that, given my meagre abilities with the written
word, I’d struggle to begin to do justice to
the joy that my new found love provided me with. Suffice
to say that while last months tale of depression may
have been something of an exaggeration, I was definitely
down, but the moment I got rolling on the Duke it
dragged me out of it at two miles a minute. There
was none of the slow process of therapy, or of waiting
for tri-cyclic drugs to kick in; it was an instant
spike in the vein.
I went back to work and although I was on the GS425
everything was different. It was like I’d been
rinsed through and all the negative shit that had
been silting up for months had been flushed out, leaving
me appreciating once again what an amazing job I had.
I couldn’t imagine what the problem had been.
Looking through fresh eyes I’d reacquainted
myself with just how effective the GS was around town.
I was determined not to use the Duke for despatching.
Not because of any practical considerations, I simply
wasn’t about to risk ruining my budding beautiful
relationship by exposing it to the sort of over familiarity
and abuse it would inevitably suffer on the road.
Besides it would have felt like taking a lover who’d
introduced me to previously unimagined heights of
passion and pleasure and putting her on the game.
I used the 900SS occasionally, but always as a treat.
If a decent job came up, it was only a short bop to
Peckham, which made it just like dashing home to get
your best gal when you’ve picked up a good run
to the seaside or out to the country.
What about the downside? I guess there are always
people out there who want to know about faults; but
for me anyone looking for negatives in the face of
something so close to personal perfection, simply
doesn’t understand the nature of true love.
It’s a bit like saying that Ms Moore’s
gorgeous, intelligent, and incredibly passionate and
everything… but she sometimes has dodgy bed
breath in the morning! I say negatives smegatives.
The engine, suspension and brakes always delivered
superbly, so any time I felt a need for speed, or
in the teeniest bit down or at a loss, all I had to
do was wrap myself around my soul mate and head for
open roads – and it always took me to a better
If the 900 Desmo was only God’s own motorcycle,
it would surely have been as much as any man could
hope for. But when a couple of weeks after I bought
it, I pulled up in Neal Street to pick up her company’s
9am booking to Hereford, my favourite fantasy red-head
came outside and after asking if I minded, hitched
up her short tight skirt and wriggled onto the pillion,
before leaning against me and asking if I’d
like to give her a ride sometime?!
"First published in issues 43 & 44 of The
Rider's Digest (March & April 2001); and now
featured in Dave Gurman's new book The
Carin' Sharin' Chronicles"