Ducati SS1000 – Soul of the Track

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p1012596Kevin Davis from Ducati Canada is waxing poetic about the Supersport 1000 DS, “It’s a really good track bike.  I was doing 240kp/h down the front straight, that’s more than enough.”  Not being conversant with Race City’s track, and even less so with Ducati’s Supersport series I nodded, then got on with analyzing the vague feeling of unease the descriptions of the track were giving me.  The fact is, at a standstill, the SS1000DS, stripped of its usual sensuous shark-like curves down to track naked and awaiting race fairings, did not inspire.

“You should take it out.”  Ah, the other shoe drops, taking a bike out on the track on a vaguely wobbly day, and by wobbly I mean hung over.  Against all common sense, I find myself agreeing.  Such opportunities are not often granted mere mortals, and there was that hint of challenge to the entire thing.  It was agreed that I’d be appointed a lead rider, Jenz Goermann of Calgary, to show me the intricacies of Race City’s 3.2km track, a construct of impact resistant concrete walls and decreasing radius corners designed to slip-up the unwary.

I throw a leg over the SS1000 and am immediately confronted by the fact that this is the most foreign bike I’ve ever sat on.  It’s a shock to the system, the pegs are mounted impossibly high, the bars insanely low, it’s an uncompromising old school café racer seating position… if seating is what you call it. I thumb the starter and the 992cc L-twin whump-whumps to life, a twist of the throttle and the aftermarket cans let forth a wondrous mellow basso roar – I haven’t moved and I’m caught in some madly uncomfortable charm.  For some reason the word “forza” floats through my mind.

From the green flag I ease out the “chute” onto Race City’s loop, and am spirited away by the torque, the sound is lost to my mind.  The track’s front straight is the psychological equivalent of hurling yourself towards a brick wall at wide-open throttle… or in this case the serious business of a decreasing radius corner.  Other riders have “a priori” knowledge of the track, and the shoot down the straight knowing what to expect.  I follow a bit timidly.  The top speed in the hands of Kevin Davis of Ducati Canada at the track today is an indicated 240kp/h, and that’s pretty damn quick.  Your editor’s own top speed?  Er, a bit less.

Braking markers come up, and I remember last year’s lessons taught to me by the 999 at Portland International Raceway… those do mean business.  I downshift heading into the corner; the clutch is heavy, solid and comforting, the shifting smooth and clean…   The rear brake…  I scramble for the lever.  Again I’m awash with the bike’s foreign feel as my foot finally finds the SS’s vestigial rear lever.  The pegs are bloody high, and I’d need to be a gawd to touch those today or any other, a gawd or sliding in a hail of sparks and screaming metal.

The decreasing radius, it catches me off guard and I go wide, making a mental note for next time through.  I power out of the corner and into the next, is it possible for a throttle to be that smooth?  Yes, this is a Ducati in its natural habitat, and it feels so right despite my unfamiliarity with the bike.  This is an old-school air-cooled twin…  but good-gawd it doesn’t feel it.  There are massive waves of torque here, 65.1 ft-lbs at 5500rpm according to the charts, complementing 87.6hp @ 8000RPM.  You get caught up in those waves though.  You surf them, and then, then they slam you into the corners…  This is what being a Tsunami feels like.  Downshifting, phah, it seems completely irrelevant with this curve.

p1012605This is the same engine that graces the Multistrada 1000DS, making it the weirdest sportbike of them all.  It also graces the 2006 Sport Classics line, destined to make these retro-inspired rides trackday wolves in 70’s collared sheep’s clothing. Considering this, one cannot help but think there were two 70s set in parallel dimensions, one of classic Italian style and another more insidious full of polyester and bell-bottoms.

A few laps in I get warmed up a bit as do the tires, the SS1000DS begins to tell me its secrets.  Lean, and hang, the bike pulls around me around the corners, neutral, grippy and constant. The turn-in is slower than I’m used to though, this bike has to be worked around the tight track and that just adds to the fun.

The suspension is harsh, transferring every ripple through my wrists.  That may be the track showing its age and engineering, it’s rumored to have been constructed overtop a marsh in a mere two weeks back in ’85. Now, in 2005, the surface is rippled, pocked and scarred, a scab of asphalt atop the wetland.   Those two potholes coming up though, they flag a good line setting me up for “the Bus Stop”.  I shoot between them, and they become another marker.

It’s the torque I’m addicted to, it comes on stronger than ecstasy in a dizzying rush at the afterhours club.  It’s not a manic four whipping though the RPMs, this is something much more beguiling and addictive; I’m reveling in the control of its constant, fluid, torrential roll.  I take the leading corner of the Bus Stop slow, lean off and treat the rest as a sweeper.   Glorious!  And the sound from the carbon fibre pipes is a mellow rumbling soundtrack, my pace is beginning to pick up a bit and I think I may come out of this not a complete laughing stock.

I start to get into the flow and my track schooling comes back to me.  Weight shift, hang a bit, relax and move around on the bike.  Look through the corners, and when you’re off don’t be looking through the screen.  Well, on this bike where the screen used to be.  My form is rusty, I need to do this more.

Then in a decreasing radius corner I grab too much front brake, these stoppers mean business, and it all starts going wrong.  The front tire pushes and begins to slide out, I ease off and recover, going wide in the corner and losing my escort.  If I had any sense it would be time to exit the track at the far end… I don’t.  There will be no getting off this “horse” at this particular stampede.   The adrenaline clears my head of hangover and the SS1000 and I ride on.

By the end of twenty minutes of being passed, I know this bike holds my heart in some special magic way.  It is an excellent track bike, there may be lighter flightier fare out there with sharper more race inspired technology, but this bike makes life vivid.  There is soul in the SS1000DS, making no red redder than its paint, no sky bluer than when on it, and no corners matter more than the one you’re in – save the one after.

We’d like to thank Revoluzione Cycle Imports of Calgary for the use of their Supersport 1000 DS Race Bike.

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