Back To The Future

Ducati's "Sport Classic" concept bikes storm the Tokyo Motor Show

Happening on the Japanese OEM's home turf, the annual Tokyo Motor Show is best known for futuristic,radically innovative concept bikes: think Suzuki B-King, Yamaha MT-01 or Honda FN-1, all of which broke cover there. Things turned a bit topsy-turvy when a trio of Ducati retro warriors designed by Pierre Terblanche stole the show in Tokyo. The enthusiastic response on the show floor--not to mention serious swooning on motorcycle message boards in the States--shows that the so-called "retro-futurism" motorcycle movement is far from played out.

This is not news. Retro rules at Harley-Davidson, and Triumph's 1960s-styled Bonneville is by far its best-selling bike. Even Ducati is no stranger to this game--in '01 the company's limited-edition MH900e (also by Terblanche) sold out almost instantly over the Ducati.com Web site. For a company with a history as rich as Ducati's, (and for a company trying as hard as Ducati is to extend its brand beyond the hard-core sportbike segment), these undeniably stylish Sport Classics seem almost inevitable.

All three concepts--the Smart 1000, GT 1000 and Sport 1000--reach back to the early '70s, the so-called "golden age of Ducati." This was when the Italian maker released the first Fabio Taglioni-designed V-twins, making a mark on international roadracing and simultaneously cementing the factory cafe-racer style. The most aggressive concept, the half-faired Smart 1000, takes cues from the racebike that Paul Smart rode to his legendary victory at Imola in '72, as well as the production 750 Supersport. From 50 feet away the Sport 1000 is a spot-on 750 Sport, and the most practical of the three, the GT 1000, borrows liberally from the early '70s 750 GT. Spoked wheels, round taillights, and either black-painted reverse-cone pipes (Sport and Smart) or long, chrome silencers (GT) reek of authenticity.

All three concepts use the same frame, a tubular trellis unit specifically designed to allow an unimpeded view of both cylinder heads--an important design element of the '70s bikes. The motor is Ducati's new 1000DS air-cooled engine, and the Brembo brakes and Oehlins suspension are modern-spec. Never mind the throwback look, these bikes should go down the road every bit as well as the company's current Monsters or Supersports.

Ducati North America's John Porter says that response in the United States has been frantic--customers have even been leaving voice mails on the company phone demanding a production commitment. Most are interested in the Smart bike, though he says response to the GT has been surprisingly strong, also. Press materials stress that these bikes are only concepts, but end with the none-too-ambiguous declaration, "But as all Ducatisti know, sometimes dreams become reality." Well, then....

With the familiar engine and parts-bin components, Ducati could gear up for Sport Classic production with relative ease. It's almost certain that at least one of these "concepts" will see production sooner rather than later. Ducati wants desperately to reach new markets, and the Sport Classics have enormous potential to do this. Want to urge Ducati on? Don't bother Porter--log on to www.ducati.com/sportclassic and click the link for "Sport Classic Opinion Survey" to send the company your thoughts.

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