Behind Bars - The Ducati Streetfighter

Classic Rock

If the music's too loud, you're too old.

Daddy did a bad, bad thing today. Following a doctor's appointment for my back (yep, still disintegrating), I slid by Seattle Ducati for an iced double shot of midlife crisis.

The dealer didn't have a standard Streetfighter. Their only demo was an S-model with more carbon-fiber than the paddock at your local track. No virgin, it had been around the block a time or two and gone down on a couple of guys already. It knew the score.

Their Streetfighter wasn't red, either. It didn't need to be. An olive-black lasagna of speed and aggression and cheesy testosterone, it was a Monster's monster that was a better bike than I am a rider-or you, either.

My description for Black Betty, my BMW R1200S, has long been "old man's touring bike." Before I met the Streetfighter, I thought that an ironic turn of phrase. Betty may not be a real sportbike, but she's got a glint in her eye.

I didn't expect to be impressed by the 'Fighter. It looked long and ungainly in magazine shots. I figured it for spine-curling agony with all the legroom of a Mini Cooper's trunk, snatching and jerking at any speed under 30 mph and idling like a funny car on Mexican gas.

One should expect the unexpected. Pictures of Moto Guzzi's Griso once struck me as the pure essence of dolce del motocicloto, but in person its plastic tank bulges like big mama's arm giblets. On paper, Ducati's own Hypermotard is a hot chili recipe for thrills, but it tastes a little bland from the saddle.

The Streetfighter is different. It made my S-bike hackle up and back away, alpha bitch no more. Packing 30-odd horsepower more than Betty, it weighs a hundred pounds less and has brakes that would stop a runaway Kenworth on Cabbage Hill. Right. Now.

It starts easily, sits right and has room for a full-sized American. It looks good from the side and invisible from the saddle, but slashing this bike through in-town traffic is like hunting butterflies with a .416 Rigby. Work it hard enough to interest the bike and you court a roadside tasing.

And it may just be that, like weightlifting juice and belly shirts and Rottweilers on logging chains, Streetfighting is a younger man's conceit.

Ever have the sudden realization you walked into the wrong club? Ever hit the dance floor anyway, just to see what happens? Did you pretend you weren't really the creepy old guy, or just get jiggy wit' the "place thumbs here" tattoos?

Ducati's Streetfighter is too much bike for me. There, I said it. I'm not man enough to keep up with it. Hardcore romping fun it may be, for a few minutes of remembering my twisted youth better than it ever really was. But two consecutive hours on it would ruin me for days

This is possibly the first bike to qualify for a Powerglide transmission. By the top of second gear, you've outsped every legal highway speed and the riding position as well. What the other four gears are for, I have no earthly idea. Feeling like a grandfather driving a ZO6 Corvette, I crunched a few gears just to prove I knew how.

Mages from the Öhlins works had anointed the bike with pothole-erasure potions, and the high-leverage bars let me work it like a man half my age. I was living that dream where I star in a Buell commercial, but I wasn't limited to riding a Buell and I'd progressed to the third stage of tequila: I was rich, good looking and bulletproof.

Then I woke up tired and sweaty and groping for ibuprofen. Twenty minutes into my ride, I remembered why old ballplayers trade in their shoulder pads for the sofa and TV remote. Sexy and dripping with power it may be, but the Streetfighter is 10 lbs. of tomcat in a 5-lb. bag and feels about 3 feet long. Tweak its erectile throttle and the wheel pops up faster than a porn star in the bonus round. If you slap the Brembo trigger with both fingers, you'll instantly comprehend Ultimate Ro-Sham-Bo.

And it's too damned loud.

The problem with committing to the dance floor at that club you should have stayed out of is there's no graceful exit once you're dizzy and out of breath. The youth will stomp your tattered carcass into the parquet, laughing and shakin' it down.

I want to want a Streetfighter, but mostly I want to re-visit that place in my life where I would have killed for 20 minutes with a young Duc, when I circled Ducatis at a reverent distance, wondering how to talk to them; when my reflexes didn't tick slower than a rusty metronome and fighting in the street sounded cool and tough, not dung-candy stupid.

The 'Fighter immolates the shreds of my mental overhead the way an escort service burns through walkin'-around money. It's Angelina Jolie at 19 when my tastes run more to Sophia Loren at 36 ... and Dr. Lee prescribes Kathy Bates, more fiber and gentle constitutionals.

And ibuprofen. Lots of ibuprofen. Who needs kidneys if you can't walk to the latrine?

For the first time, it occurs to me why Harley-Davidson names so many of their bikes "Glides." Might not be so bad to ease back and glide around, smooth as Clyde Drexler working the key. Maybe geezer cliches exist for a reason.

Sure would be nice to ride a Streetfighter now and then, though. I want one bad-just not right now.

I want this bike 27 years ago. Why, if I'd had this bike when I was a teenager, instead of my 40-horse Yamaha RD400, I would've ... well, okay, I'd probably be dead. Long before "back in the day," I used to wonder why silly old fossils rode mighty torque beasts like the Suzuki GS1100E when they should've been plopping their bran muffin-bloated butts over Honda Gold Wings and Harley Super Glides. Weren't they embarrassed?

Well, no. They were buying the overdog bikes they wished they could afford when they were lean. Because they could, that's why. Anyway, nothing really embarrasses you after the first endoscopy.

Stopped at a light while headed back from my test ride, I watched a girl sashay across the parking lot, honey-blonde hair swaying heavy and rich, and reconsidered whether the Streetfighter should make an old man want to try again.

My insurance rates are much lower than they used to be. Maybe in a few years, when the kids are grown and the mortgage is beaten back... A full-pate helmet ought to cover my bald spot, and earplugs are cheap.

Then I smiled down at my own Black Betty, grumbling under me, always ready to go, low-maintenance, comfortable and pretty.

Curving sweetly under my hand, she took me right on home.

Sexy, slinky, curvaceous, long-legged, built for speed ... and the model's not half-bad either!