Deviant Desmo: Moto Frisoli's Mutant Chopper Beats Ducati To The Punch

By Alan Cathcart, Photography by Jay Groat

Until recently, the thought of Ducati building a cruiser would have been akin to Ferrari building a minivan. Yet Moto Frisoli Racing has already done it. The South African dealership's Mutant chopper was rideable when the Diavel was in its infancy on the drawing board, and represents an improbable blend of many of Ducati's trademark design features. It employs a steel-trellis frame housing an air-cooled 90-degree V-twin engine, a single-sided swingarm, carbon-fiber bodywork and Öhlins suspension with the raked-out fork and laid-back looks of a bike that Captain America himself might have ridden from L.A. to N'awlins in that movie.

It's a deviant desmo, and one that's available for sale (www.mfrmutant.com). As you might expect, the price of ownership is high: about $80,000 for a complete bike, or half that for a chassis kit, which includes the frame, swingarm, exhaust, handlebars, wheels, tires, brakes, 11 carbon-fiber parts including the fuel tank and bodywork, a total of 52 CNC-milled billet-aluminum components and a whole lot more.

In spite of its extreme appearance, however, a day spent cruising the High Veldt highways north of Johannesburg revealed that the Mutant ticks all the boxes in combining practicality with style. The undoubted presence delivered by its fat-tired facelift is matched by the punch and performance that Ducati has made its calling card.

The conundrum of how to enter the cruiser segment while staying true to Ducati's sporting heritage has been puzzling management for more than three decades. At one point in the mid-'80s, the factory commissioned a prototype from a U.S. bike builder. But the project was shelved when the costly-to-build bevel-drive engine was discontinued, since when Ducati has only ever made a halfhearted attempt with the ill-fated Indiana. Until now-or rather, until Moto Frisoli did it four years ago.

"I like all types of motorcycles, but the only kind I couldn't get with a Ducati engine was a cruiser," says Dave Frisoli, 48, who runs the dealership with his brother Tony. "The basic brief before we started was to build a Ducati-styled cruiser for customer sale, using as many components and styling themes as possible derived from existing Ducati models."

Following the design in his head, Frisoli constructed his own frame and swingarm that reflect Ducati's trademark technology. The leading-axle Öhlins fork was originally made for KTM's Dakar Rally racers, and measures 3 feet long. There's a full 6.5 feet between those widened 5-spoke wheels, and the forks boast 37 degrees of rake. The bike weighs in at 520 lbs. wet, which is some 200 lbs. lighter than many production cruisers. And then there's the power: The Mutant's Multistrada 1100-based two-valve mill churns out 95 bhp and 85 lb.-ft. of torque at the rear wheel, so no other cruiser apart from the new Diavel comes close in terms of power-to-weight ratio.

Frisoli prettied up the air-cooled Desmodue motor by stripping it down and ceramic-coating the external surfaces. The result looks good, and totally sidesteps the chromed-out appearance of American-style cruisers. The engine isn't tuned internally, but wears an MFR exhaust with twin Two Brothers silencers under the seat.

Climbing aboard the Mutant, I discovered an improbably comfortable and natural stance compared to most choppers I've ridden. Without any mirrors fitted, the big, wide handlebar looks sleek and swoopy. If the old cliché about "controls falling readily to hand" is applicable here, it's for good reason. "While building the bike, we were fortunate enough to test-ride virtually every production cruiser currently marketed, almost every one of which had some ergonomic fault," says Frisoli. "We realized that the footpegs had to be adjustable front to back, with some variation up and down if need be. Then we tried five handlebars with different lengths, angles, heights and widths."

In spite of the altitude-at 5750 feet, J-burg sees about a 20 percent drop in performance compared to sea level-the Mutant had satisfying reams of power to put to the pavement, and certainly lived up to its superbike stance in chopper country. Despite its massive 200/50-18 front and 300/35-18 rear tires, the bike handled surprisingly well. That's all part of the design: "The tire size is a styling thing. I always wanted to build a very chunky-looking motorbike, and that's what this is with the 200 front tire," Frisoli explains. "But the dynamic advantage we gained by using the 200 was to minimize the offset between front and rear, almost as close as on a normal Ducati Superbike. That's one of the reasons why the bike feels closer to a normal sportbike, unlike many of the others where they only put a big tire on the back."

So that's why the Mutant doesn't collapse onto its side and holds a fine line once you lay it into a corner. The long wheelbase aids stability without making it too hard to ride through the twisties, while the compliant suspension delivers a whole new concept in chopper country called comfort.

Painted in the same Marlboro red as the Desmosedici RR, the Mutant comes with a big 8-gallon fuel tank made from carbon fiber, the weave of which is visible through the checkered-flag imagery on top. The big halogen headlamp comes from Australia, where it's designed for rally cars. LED strips in the seat fulfill the requirements for turn-signals and a taillight.

Perhaps the Mutant's most noteworthy feature, though, is its build quality, for this is an imposing, original package that's exquisitely conceived yet extremely refined in design and manufacture. It's not just a chopper with a big rear tire that happens to have a Ducati engine, but a properly thought-out, well-engineered bike that positions the desmo brand in a market sector it's never been in before. "I knew I wanted to build this bike and offer cruiser riders something different, something that works that's built around Ducati's styling and traditions," says Frisoli. "But I didn't realize how much fun the bike would be to ride. It's an unexpectedly true all-rounder."

Agreed. And the best compliment I can pay Frisoli is that his deviant desmo has the qualities of a factory-fresh product, rather than a limited-edition, hand-built special.

Maybe after the Diavel, Ducati should consider making the Mutant?

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