First Ride: 2006 Ducati GT1000

Retro looks, (mostly) modern-bike feel--and the most functional SportClassic in Bologna's lineup

I'm all for adding to the nostalgia when riding a retro-bike like Ducati's new GT1000 SportClassic, but this is taking it too far. We're splashing back toward Bologna through steady rain, which, in these days of efficient waterproof clothing, normally would not be a problem.

But my rainsuit is back at the factory; the morning's bright sky tricked me into thinking I wouldn't need it. So instead of being warm and dry, I'm shivering, as the rain that's been running down my arms and neck finally seeps into my crotch. It's a feeling I recall too vividly from many rides in the '70s, when most waterproof clothing leaked and I was too young and rash to bother with it anyway--let alone to own a car.

At least the Ducati is running perfectly through a downpour that likely would have had the GT750 that inspired it spluttering onto one cylinder long ago. Like last year's Sport 1000 and Paul Smart models, this third V-twin in Ducati's SportClassic range is a thoroughly modern machine that's designed to deliver Bolognese-flavored nostalgia without the technical aggravation of a genuine old bike.

This new model goes one stage further by being designed to eliminate the wrist pain that comes with its racier SportClassic relations. That GT750, Ducati's first-ever production V-twin when released in '71, was a high-barred roadster that provided plenty of performance while lacking the singleminded nature of the 750 and 900 Super Sport models that followed. This time around, the cooking model follows the sportsters. The GT1000's raised bar and dual seat contrast with the low clip-ons and single seats of the two SportClassics that preceded it.

There's no mistaking the '70s influence on the GT1000. Unlike the other two retro models, the GT has a traditional rear end with a twin-shock suspension along with chromed silencers on each side of a simple tubular-steel swingarm. It's a pleasant and dynamic-looking bike, its high-handlebarred front end balanced by the kicked-up rear that puts plenty of daylight between the seat and back tire. The essential Ducati elements of tube-steel frame and air-cooled 90-degree V-twin are in place, of course, albeit with an engine whose right side is largely obscured by having belt drive, rather than old-style bevel shafts, running its single overhead camshafts.The GT1000 has suitably authentic knee cut-outs in its fuel tank, too, although the new tank looks notably more rounded and larger than the 750's flat-bottomed original. One reason for that is the old tank needed to hold only 4.5 gallons of fuel, while the new one has to enclose a large airbox plus 4.0 gallons of gas. Ducati's reason for using single-color red or gray paintwork instead of metalflake or two-tone designs is more prosaic: Those classy period paint schemes and tank badges are being saved for updates in a year or two's time.

These initial GTs also lost a little old-style appeal by wearing Michelin Pilot Classic tires rather than Pirelli's more distinctive reborn Phantoms. But that red paintwork was thick and glossy, evidence of Ducati's emphasis on neat detailing. The polished aluminum top triple clamp was a nice touch, as was the understated pair of large, black-face analog instruments with their chrome buttons and small digital displays. It all helped the GT feel good as I pulled away from the Ducati factory, the pullback 'bar and footrests giving a much more relaxed riding position than the leaned-forward crouch of the Sport 1000.

Inevitably the modern, emissions-controlled GT couldn't sound as good as its forebear with its free-breathing carbs and pipes, but the 992cc V-twin manages a pleasantly off-beat, if muted, note through its catalyzer-equipped silencers. And the flexible engine did a good job of making life easy as I followed Ducati's guide through the Bologna outskirts. This SOHC desmo engine is identical to those of the other SportClassic models (plus the Monster S2R, 1000SS and Multistrada), apart from having black-finish plastic cam-belt covers and a wet (instead of dry) clutch.

In traffic the clutch's smooth, quiet operation was welcome, as was the flawless injection response. At low revs the motor felt slightly lumpy, sending a judder through the whole bike until it smoothed at about 3500 rpm. That wasn't a problem and added to the bike's character, especially as the six-speed box shifted so precisely that it was a pleasure to flick down a gear or two and keep the motor in its sweet zone at around five grand, ready for a burst of instant acceleration. This bike had no trouble finding neutral, either, unlike the Paul Smart model I rode last year.

Ducati's two-valve, twin-spark V-twin powerplant produces a modest maximum of 92 horsepower at 8000 rpm, with abundant midrange and a finely honed Marelli injection system. This flexibility was highlighted as we headed southwest of Bologna through the old village of Calderino and up into the hills near Montepastore. The roads were narrow and twisty, and the GT's willingness to leap forward given a tweak of throttle made it fast, effortless and highly enjoyable.

One great thing about the GT was its dual-range character: It had the relaxed riding position to feel good at moderate speeds, but enough performance to be quick when required. There was certainly plenty of straight-line speed on tap. At an indicated 80 mph the Duc was loping along effortlessly, feeling deliciously smooth, relaxed and ready to respond anytime I fancied loosening my shoulder sockets with a burst of acceleration. That midrange muscle meant I covered ground rapidly without ever hitting the rev limiter at 8500 rpm, let alone reaching the top speed of around 140 mph.

For anything other than prolonged high-speed riding this bike was considerably more comfortable than the notably firm and wrist-punishing Sport 1000 and Paul Smart models, helped by its broad and reasonably thick seat. But the combination of upright riding position and fairly soft suspension also had its limitations. Unfortunately, I discovered this the painful way early in the day when I failed to notice a large hole in the road and received a nasty whack through my back as the rear shocks momentarily bottomed.

In general use the suspension at both ends did a reasonable job, and the Ducati's handling was more than adequate for the riding that most owners will doubtless do most of the time. Stability was well up to Bologna's traditionally high standard. At 407 pounds the GT is lighter than the old Ducati V-twins, and its combination of wide handlebar and reasonably steep geometry (rake is 24 degrees, matching that of the Sport 1000 and Paul Smart) meant the bike could be hustled through those hillside switchbacks at a very respectable pace without needing a huge amount of rider input. It also had plenty of cornering clearance with which to exploit the grip of its 17-inch Michelins.

When the pace heated up, though, it was obvious the non-adjustable Marzocchi fork and the Sachs shocks--which could be fine-tuned for preload only--were selected more for reasons of economy than performance. Large bumps seemed to get passed on via the shocks rather more than I'd have hoped. And the fork felt slightly vague under hard braking, although I don't recall thinking that about the Sport 1000's similar-but-firmer-feeling Marzocchis.

The GT's simple front brake setup--320mm discs and twin-piston calipers, shared with the other SportClassic models--delivered plenty of stopping power in conjunction with the single rear disc. Ducati saved some cash by specifying steel wheel rims for this model instead of the Sport 1000's alloys, but they're chrome and look good. Just as the original GT750 was soon followed by the racier and costlier Sport and Super Sport models, the GT1000 is the base model of a SportClassic range that's sure to grow over the next few years as Ducati exploits its heritage.

Where this latest Ducati gains is that many riders attracted to the modern SportClassics will be old enough to remember Ducati's original V-twins, and will prefer sitting up to hunching over the racier models' clip-ons. Another advantage is that the GT is priced competitively, slightly less than the Sport 1000. The difference could be spent on accessory exhausts and better rear shocks to give this Ducati a little extra bark and poise.

And who could complain at that? After all, upgrading shocks and silencers was as much a part of the '70s superbiking experience as getting a soggy crotch when it rained. The only other accessory this admirable retro machine is likely to lack is a cute girl in hot pants astride its pillion seat. Sadly, for the legion of aging V-twin fans (this one included), some fondly remembered objects of youthful desire are beyond even Ducati.-MC

2006 DUCATI GT1000

MSRP: $9995

Type: a/o-cooled 90-deg. V-twin
Valves: SOHC, 4 valves
Displacement: 992cc
Transmission: 6-speed

Weight: 407 lb. claimed dry (185kg)
Fuel capacity: 4.0 gallons (15L)
Wheelbase: 56.1 in. (1425mm)
Seat height: 32.7 in. (830mm)