2007 Ducati Sport 1000 Vs. Triumph Thruxton - Modern Rockers - Cafe Racer Comparo

By Brian Catterson, Photography by Chip Morton, John Zamora

There's a scene in The Who's Quadrophenia that I almost reenacted on my way to work this morning. No, not the climactic finale where our hero, Jimmy Cooper, launches his Lambretta off the Brighton cliffs-though that did cross my mind afterward. The other incident, where he lays down his motorscooter and watches it get mowed by a mail truck. Gone postal?

True, I shouldn't have been speeding toward a stale-yellow light, but the Ducati Sport 1000's front end shouldn't have started flapping like a fish when I grabbed the front brake lever, either. Excuse me for whinging like a Mod coming down off of leapers, but I've never ridden a motorcycle with such diabolical suspension-at least not a modern one. And the Triumph Thruxton's isn't much better.

It's easy to be seduced by the romance of the Cafe-racer era: the whole Ace Cafe, Mods vs. Rockers, Ton-Up Boys, pudding basin and goggles, black leather and blue jeans, rockabilly scenario. And we do owe a debt to the creators of these '50s and '60s Brit-bikes, whose clip-on handlebars and rearset footrests paved the way for today's street-going sportbikes. But the truth is the Good Old Days really weren't that good. And it might not be in our best interest to revisit them.

When Ducati announced it was going to build production versions of the three Pierre Terblanche-designed SportClassic prototypes unveiled at the 2003 Tokyo Motor Show, Ducatisti the world over rejoiced. The then-current Supersports were nice enough motorcycles, made better with the addition of fuel-injection and Dual Spark ignition, but they were fugly. The SportClassics would return Borgo Panigale to the days of achingly beautiful naked sports bikes.

There is a lot to like about the Sport 1000, beginning with its looks. Its minimalist bodywork, yellow-peril paint, Veglia-style, white-faced instruments and spoked wheels evoke the 1970s 750 Sport, the valve-spring version of the legendary 750 Super Sport Desmo. You've gotta love its engine, too: The DS 1000 is one of the great air-cooled, two-valve V-twins, with well-calibrated injection, gobs of torque from idle to redline and not a lot of vibration. The exhaust note emanating from the dual right-side mufflers is too subdued to be menacing, and little of the dry clutch's ca-chinga, ca-chinga rattle makes its way through the solid cover. But bolt on an open megaphone and a ventilated clutch cover, and you've got a rockin' drumbeat with cymbal accompaniment. Loud clutches save lives, right? If nothing else, the dual horns will get motorists' attention.

The Sport's seating position is period authentic, with a longer reach to the bars than on most modern sportbikes. Leaning far forward like that places a lot of weight on your wrists and shoulders, so your neck soon gets a crick in it, and when you turn your head to look behind you, you find yourself looking up at the sky. The solo seat is tipped up in back, which means you tend to slide forward, "the boys" becoming intimate with the squared-off back of the plastic fuel tank. Unusual for today, the Sport comes with bar-end mirrors, which provide a decent rearward view but make the bike a foot wider than it would be otherwise; we tipped them up vertically while lane-splitting and still had a tough time squeezing between cars.

Like all Ducatis, the Sport is geared tall to pass the DOT's drive-by noise test, and that, combined with the dry clutch, makes easing away from a standstill anything but easy. Heat is to a clutch plate what a Mod is to a Rocker, thus it's better to give the bike a little throttle and let the clutch out quickly rather than wind it up and slip it-our testbike's clutch action deteriorated noticeably following drag-strip testing. Speaking of heat, the rear exhaust header radiates an excessive amount, roasting your inner things. You won't notice it as much at speed, but in town, it's a PITA.

One other thing that bugged us at slow speeds was the Sport's handling. Maybe it's the position of the handlebars ahead of the forks, maybe it's the seating position, maybe it's the rake and trail figures ... whatever it is, the bike steers heavy at parking-lot speeds and doesn't feel normal until you're rolling along at 15-20 mph.

One last gripe before we quit griping, and that's the tires: Made specifically for Ducati's SportClassics, the Pirelli SportsComp radials use a similar tread pattern to the '70s Phantom bias-plies, which look great but cause the tires to walk in freeway rain grooves or on grated bridges. It's been years since we'd experienced that sensation, so we found it unnerving the first time it happened. But they work pretty well otherwise, and in fact the Sport is a decent-handling motorcycle. It's only when you really push it that the undersprung, underdamped fork starts to pogo.

It's hard to fathom how Ducati-which just won its umpteenth World Superbike Championship-could sell a production motorcycle with such a poorly calibrated fork. It settles halfway into its stroke under the weight of the bike alone, and packs down even further with a rider on board. As a result it's always in the harsh part of its stroke, so it's a hop, skid and a bump under braking as the front tire skims across the waves of asphalt. Did we mention there aren't any adjustments? We might expect that from a conventional telescopic fork, but the Marzocchi 43mm inverted cartridge unit is seemingly state of the art. The single Sachs shock works better than the fork, but would work better yet if it had a rising-rate linkage. The shock is fully adjustable, but even with minimum rebound damping can't match the fork, so the bike always feels unbalanced.

The Triumph Thruxton is named after a limited-production racing model that was itself named after a track that hosted a classic endurance race. It's a classy-looking motorcycle, especially in our testbike's Tornado Red with white stripes. The paint is set off by acres of "brightwork" (Brit-speak for shiny metal bits), such as the cast Triumph badges on the gas tank, the chrome pipes and "winkers," and the polished-aluminum dash with white-faced instruments.

Insert the key into the left side of the Thruxton's headlight nacelle, push the starter button and the result is hardly a ruckus. The engine sounds like a tea kettle whistling, and looking at the dime-sized muffler outlets in the megaphone exhausts, it's no wonder why. Considering it's a Cafe racer, the seating position isn't so bad; you sit flatter than on the Ducati with more weight on your bum and less on your wrists. It's still a long reach to the bars, however, so you find yourself scootching forward to the tip of the seat, whose pillion cover is removable to accommodate a passenger. The narrow-spaced fork legs let the clip-ons tuck in tight, and the mirrors give a decent view over your shoulders while not being too wide for city work. They do get a little fuzzy at speed, though, thanks to engine vibration that makes itself apparent above 4500 rpm. And long-legged folks will hit their knees on the cam covers.

Unlike the Ducati, which merely looks like a period Cafe racer, the Triumph pretty much is one. It's equipped with a conventional fork and twin shocks (all adjustable for preload only), which provide the kind of ride you'd expect. The suspension is soft at both ends, prone to pitching under braking, and there's precious little damping in either direction. It's more what you'd find on a cruiser, and seeing as how the Thruxton is based on the Bonneville, that shouldn't be too surprising. Things are hunky-dory around town and acceptable on a smooth country road. But drop a coin in the Ace Cafe jukebox, speed out and back on the North Circular Road and you'd be hard-pressed to return before the song was over. The bias-ply Metzeler Lasertec front and radial MEZ2 rear are an odd combination but seem to work well together, the bike feeling good while leaned over in a smooth corner. It's only when you encounter bumpy pavement that the suspension gets wonky. And trying to make quick transitions reveals how littleweight is on the front end as the bike begins to wallow; if we owned it, our first mod would be longer shocks. Last, the single front disc brake is prone to fade during fast riding. Which isn't much of a problem because the Thruxton is slow.

Can it "Do the Ton?" Yes, but it'll take a while to get there; during our performance testing, the Thruxton just cracked 100 mph in the quarter-mile. It's hard to believe this is the 865cc "cooking" version of the carbureted 790cc Bonneville T100 twin. The original 1964-'65 Thruxton made a claimed 54 horsepower, yet this one makes just 5 more-and 17 less than the Sport 1000. Worse, full of gas the Thruxton is 61 pounds heavier than the Sport. As a result, any performance contest is no contest: The Ducati waxes the Triumph by 1.85 seconds in the quarter-mile and leaves it for dead on a twisty road.

You expect certain concessions from classic-style motorcycles like these two retro Cafe racers, but they both ought to work better than they do. Has fashion finally surpassed function? Or do owners want a bike that needs fixing, like back in the day? Whatever the answer, what it boils down to is this: The Sport 1000 sells for $11,495 and needs a set of $100 fork springs to fix it. The Thruxton costs just $7999, which is a screamin' deal, but even with $3495 worth of mods is still unlikely to equal the Ducati. In the end, the Triumph is the more authentic Cafe racer, but the Ducati is the better motorcycle.

Ergos
Explained Back in the Bad Olde Days, Cafe racers never studied ergonomics. Some things never change. Though comfortable is a strong word for either bike, the longer, roomier Triumph wins this round, especially if you have long legs or an aversion to being propped up on your wrists in excruciating pain for extended periods on the Ducati. Bottom line: They're both painful for more than an hour at a time, but the Thruxton is less so.

2007 Ducati Sport 1000

PRICE
MSRP $11,495
Engine
Type a/o-c V-twin
Valve arrangement sohc, 4v
Bore x stroke 94.0mm x 71.5mm
Displacement 992cc
Compression ratio 10:1
Transmission 6-speed
Final drive Chain
Chassis
Weight (wet) 436 lb. (198kg)
Weight (dry) 413 lb. (187kg)
Rake 24.0 deg.
Trail 3.62 in. (92mm)
Wheelbase 56.1 in. (1425mm)
Seat height 32.6 in. (828mm)
Fuel capacity 3.9 gal. (15L)
Suspension
Front 43mm fork
Rear twin shocks, adjustable for spring preload, compression and rebound damping
Performance
Corrected 1/4-mile* 11.63 sec. @ 113.36 mph
Fuel mileage
(low/high/average) 40/50/45
*Performance with test-session weather conditions corrected to sea-level stand-ard conditions (59 degrees F, 29.92 in. of mercury).

2007 Triumph Thruxton

PRICE
MSRP $7,999
Engine
Type a-c vertical twin
Valve arrangement DOHC, 8v
Bore x stroke 90.0mm x 68.0mm
Displacement 865cc
Compression ratio 9.2:1
Transmission 5-speed
Final drive Chain
Chassis
Weight (wet) 497 lb. (225kg)
Weight (dry) 471 lb. (213kg)
Rake 27.0 deg.
Trail 3.82 in. (97mm)
Wheelbase 56.7 in. (1440mm)
Seat height 31.4 in. (797mm)
Fuel capacity 4.4 gal. (17L)
Suspension
Front 41mm fork, adjustable for
spring preload
Rear twin shocks, adjustable for spring preload
Performance
Corrected 1/4-mile* 13.48 sec. @ 100.18 mph
Fuel mileage
(low/high/average) 29/40/34
*Performance with test-session weather conditions corrected to sea-level stand-ard conditions (59 degrees F, 29.92 in. of mercury).

Off The Record
Age: 48
Height 6' 2"
Weight: 215 Lb.
Inseam: 35 In.
Tim Carrithers Executive Editor, Motorcyclist Ignore the sporty posturing. Triumph's Thruxton is a cruiser. It's just the ticket for those who harbor warm, fuzzy feelings for the days when Britannia ruled the waves and Ascot Park, but can't find the kick-starter on a proper 410-pound Bonneville. A little gentrified pottering, perhaps? Fine. But it's bang out of order on a twisty road.

And though the Sport 1000 suffers from price-point suspension and Euro 3 emissions asthma, Jeff Nash has proven there's a beast in there just waiting to get out. In stock trim, at least the Ducati is a start. The Triumph is an embarrassment.

Brent Avis
Too-Tall, Too-Young
Age: 30
Height: 6' 2"
Weight 195 lb.
Inseam: 34 in.

I hate to agree with Timmy the C on anything, seeing as he has more age-induced crust and bitters on him than the Triumph has ugly on the Ducati, but so it goes here. Whether on it or around it, the Triumph is slower, uglier and faker than the gorgeous Ducati-and it sounds like a flatulent parakeet to boot. It goes so far as to make Kawasaki's W650 that was the Bonneville knockoff seem authentic. While the Sport 1000 generated more positive comments and up-turned thumbs and mouths than anything I've ridden recently, the Thruxton (whose nickname became an expletive replacing the first syllable) was all but invisible.

While neither is a true sportbike in the modern-classic sense, the Ducati is at least not a mockery of its lineage, and can be a truly pleasant roundy-road runabout with potential for real performance. The Triumph is only that in name.

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By Brian Catterson
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