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Ducati 900 Superlight
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Ducati's Pantah derived 900SS twins are well on the way to earning classic status. Paul Miles reckons his 900SL Superlight is a super bike for a light wallet...

Now, I'm a fan of exotic motorcycles, as most people are, if we're being honest; and with me, for exotica read Italian. There are affordable Italian classics like older, smaller engined, Guzzis, Morinis and an assortment of smelly two stroke lightweights, but the real exotics - the high capacity pulse quickeners like Ducati and MV - are and have always been unaffordable; right? Wrong!

Not just yellow, but YELLOW! 1994 Ducati 900SL IV

I'm here to praise the glory that is the 1991-96 belt drive air cooled V (or L, for the pedant) twin Ducati Supersport, and more particularly, the limited-edition Superlight.

A little history first. Ducati had enjoyed racing success with their bevel drive V twins in the 70s, but by the early 80s they had become outmoded, too old-fashioned and far too expensive to manufacture. The bevel drive V twin motor (Pompone-big pump) required expert assembly utilising shims throughout the motor, ruling out any type of mass production that was required to make the company commercially viable. So a new motor was developed, allowing the use of cheaper drive belts for the cams.

Unmistakeably Ducati 1994 Ducati 900SL IV

The big breakthrough came in 1985 when Cagiva waved the chequebook and Ducati, which was nearly bankrupt again, was reborn. The new chief engineer, Massimo Bordi, developed two distinct ranges; the four-valve, watercooled range (851/888/916 etc.) which continues to enjoy racing success at the highest level, and for the purist or those that longed for a simpler setup, the air cooled two valvers, which also continue to this very day.

The 900SS was the affordable big Duck, punchy motor, race derived trellis frame, upsidedown forks, and Brembo brakes, and it came with the all magical kudos of the Ducati racing heritage. Ducati have a bit of previous form for knocking up the odd 'special' and charging a premium to the punter, and the 900SS got that treatment, too.

1994 Ducati 900SL IV

A limited edition Superlight was launched in 1993, featuring a single seat (instead of the usual biposto dual seat), fully floating cast-iron brake discs, upgraded forks, upswept pipes, Marvic composite wheels, a sprinkling of carbon fibre here and there and fancy white panels for the racing numbers, plus the all-important numbered plaque on the headstock!

Mechanically however, it was identical. Once again the punters were fooled and it was deemed a success, despite the hefty price premium. The actual weight saving of the Superlight? About 3 kilos; you could save a thousand quid by skipping lunch instead.

The following years saw more versions, logically named Superlight II/III/IV and the final fling, the Final Edition (FE). The subsequent versions were, if anything, dumbed down as Ducati dropped the expensive composite Marvic wheels on the Mk1 and reverted to standard cast versions on the subsequent versions.

Fully floating discs, Brembo calipers, lashings of carbon fibre...

So in essence all the 900SS variants ride in a similar way, which, 18 years on could be considered in a classic way. They have a big, lusty V twin, air cooled engine that pulls like a train from almost no revs and doesn't need thrashing up like a Japanese four. You can see where everything goes and routine maintenance is very straightforward. Parts availability is superb and a host of aftermarket accessories are there waiting for you to buy them.

The ride is firm, but comfortable, and the riding position, a very important factor for the more, umm, mature, rider, is surprisingly good. I get none of the back and wrist ache that seems to be factory fitted on the 916; it's very much a sporting roadster and not a race replica. Acceleration is all you'll ever need, top end of about 140mph and eyeball-flattening brakes. To my mind it's the bike that the Vincent twin could have evolved into, it feels a generation fresher than the Egli Vincent I also ride, but with similar attributes.

But everyone knows that Ducatis break down all the time, you cry. Well, not exactly. The early SS's had a recall issues with cylinder studs, all of which should have been fixed by now. What you must do, however, is check all the earthing points and routinely spray connector blocks in the loom. This seems to be the fundamental issue with just about all Italian bikes, they don't like the damp.

Reg/rectifiers can blow, but 50 sorts that out. Rattly (they all do that, sir), dry clutches can be pulled out and on the bench is under five minutes, it's all in the racing heritage, you see.

Ducati 900s on eBay.co.uk

Fancy oil is recommended, it is exotica, after all! Oh, and the cam belts need changing every three years or so. There's a legendary amount of guff written about this, but even the Haynes manual only rates it a two-spanner difficulty task, the same as removing the front wheel. No special tools are required and it takes half an hour and the belts cost 60 a pair. Electric start for the wobbly of limb, just push and go.

The finish is superb and most proud owners cosset them so the majority for sale are in excellent, cherished, condition, often with expensive aftermarkets cans, Ohlins shocks and carbon fibre bits. Some owners fit Corbin seats, but I've never found that necessary as the standard setup is more comfortable than it looks. They even qualify for classic insurance.

COme in No.67, your time is up.

So, in order to own an immaculate example of Italy's finest, complete with racing pedigree, how much do you need to fork out? Well, I've seen Biposto's sold for less than a grand, and a really nice, clean, example should be nabbed for about 1600-2K. Or if you prefer, the same price as a second hand Indian Enfield. The yellow version in the pictures cost me exactly two thousand pounds and is representative of what you can expect to buy.

Superfun, Superbargain, Supercool, Superfast, Superlight.

Get one before the prices go stratospheric.


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