Ducati Dharma SD 900

Ducati Dharma SD 900 1970s Italian classic sports bike

The Ducati Dharma SD 900 was a fine – if flawed – motorcycle. Certainly, there was plenty in its plus column. Performance, handling and styling all passed muster – and more. In the excitement stakes, the SD scored heavily. Only in practicality terms did it fall short. And yes, superbike fans, it does matter!

Looks-wise, the Sport Desmo was on solid ground. That was thanks to the revered visual skills of Italjet. The agency was run by Leo Tartarini. In the past, he had been a Ducati race rider. Tartarini now brought his innate Italian design skills to the table. For the Dharma, he drafted a sweeping swathe of tank, seat and tail. The 864cc V-twin engine looked good from any angle. Smart Conti pipes – and neatly-forged wheels – set off the SD’s sartorial swagger.

Technically, too, the Dharma delivered. Admittedly, it was not the pokiest bike on the block. Still, its 60bhp output turned in a top whack of 115mph. Mere mortals were happy with that! The Ducati’s bevel-driven valvetrain kept it all taut. Real-world speeds were a doddle for the Dharma. Ducatis had long been renowned for their handling. The SD’s firm, but flexible frame, sweetly-tuned suspension and responsive brakes were stability to a tee. Long but lively journeys, then, should have been a gimme. Too often, though, gremlins grabbed the reins. To put it bluntly, Ducati build quality was not the best. Electrics could be especially trying – given wet enough weather. No matter how beautiful a bike, standing looking at it in a downpour does not show it in its best light! And peeling paint and chrome – while less of a pressing issue – in time likewise tested owners’ patience. In so many ways, the Ducati Dharma SD 900 was a two-wheeled delight. Good to have a garage/lock-up at your disposal, though. Annoying little problems always need sorting in the end!

MV Agusta 850 Magni

In standard trim, the MV Agusta 850 was a class act. Add to that the Magni factor – and quality increased exponentially. Arturo Magni had managed MV’s racing department. MV took 17 consecutive 500cc World Championships. That told you all you needed to know about what Arturo Magni brought to a two-wheeled party!

In time, Magni turned his attention to roadsters. To that end, he set up his own engineering facility – in Gallarate, Italy. Soon, a steady stream of MV 850s started rolling into his workshop. They did not have far to come. Magni duly introduced them to his own take on engine components and chassis modifications. The Magni effect was marked. A top speed of 140mph was now available. The 850 was weighed down by a bulky shaft final drive. When Magni’s chain-drive conversion kit had been fitted, handling, too, improved. Also key to stability was Magni’s custom-built frame. The single spine original had been replaced by one with two top tubes. Magni’s motor-related mods included uprated cams, high-compression pistons and a four-piece exhaust system. Suffice to say, you could hear it coming a mile away!

The 850 Magni was visibly race-bred. A full fairing – complete with rider number – said it all. The Magni’s stats justified its looks. High-grade parts – from Marzocchi, Koni and Brembo – added further fuel to the performance fire. Arturo Magni – following on from his high-calibre racing exploits – had slipped seamlessly into the world of road-oriented specials. High price tags came with the territory. But – for those with the disposable – MV Agusta’s 850 Magni was the pinnacle of hand-built pedigree!

Laverda 750 SFC

The Laverda 750 SFC was a production racer. Originally conceived to compete in endurance races, it went on to be a shining light on the roads as well. The ‘C’ in its name stood for competizione. And, while we are at it, the ‘F’ stood for freni – Italian for brakes. That referenced the improved drum sets, with which the SFC came equipped. Ceriani suspension sealed the roadholding deal – telescopic forks at the front and twin shocks at the rear. Always a good sign, the SFC won first time out. That was the Barcelona 24 Hours race – at Montjuic Park, Spain. The bike’s bright orange paintwork was a cinch to spot, even at night – for both spectators and pit crew alike!

On the road, too, the SFC was a scintillating sight. 549 SFCs followed on from the prototype. A certain commitment was required of the rider – since they were far from ‘ergonomically correct’. Low clip-on handlebars – and rear-set footrests – meant relaxation took a back seat to a racing crouch. And it was a single back seat, at that! At least the SFC’s smart half-fairing was a concession to comfort – keeping the worst of the wind off. And – certainly in handling terms – the SFC was eminently user-friendly.

Potentially, SFC riders needed all the handling help they could get. The bike’s parallel twin engine came with high-compression pistons – fueled by 36mm Amal carbs. A close-ratio 5-speed gearbox was fitted. Top speed was 125mph. An injudicious twist of the the SFC’s throttle, then, and a race-style posture may well have proved welcome. Better a little discomfort than finding yourself lying upside down. The SFC weighed in at just 454lb – but that is a lot to pull out of a ditch! So, the Laverda 750 SFC was a true Seventies superbike. It combined impeccable Italian styling – and the technical wherewithal to keep it that way. Hopefully!

MV Agusta 850SS Monza

Bikes named after racetracks need to be fast! In the case of the MV Agusta 850SS Monza, it was. Top speed was 145mph. That was quick for a road bike, in ’77. Mind you, it did weigh in at only 429lb. Naturally, the engine had a lot to do with it, too. The Monza’s cylinders were wider than its MV America predecessor. As a result, capacity was increased to 837cc. The compression ratio had also been raised. Plus, a Marelli distributor – and hotter cams – had been added. All in, power had risen to 85bhp – at 8,750rpm. Previously, the 750S America – built predominantly for the US market – had upped the ante from the 750 Sport. Now, the Monza had trumped them both.

In styling terms, the new MV was equally upbeat. It had ‘café racer’ written all over it. Low-set ‘bars – and a humped-back seat – referenced MV’s GP bikes. Not only had the great Italian marque won 17 top-flight titles – it won them on the spin. Now, that is domination! Sadly – for MV Agusta, at any rate – the advent of the Jap 2-stroke motor had put the mockers on it. Design-wise, the Monza’s red and silver livery further enhanced its race-based brief.

Key to that brief was Arturo Magni. He was MV’s chief engineer. Reporting to him were mechanics from MV’s former 4-stroke race team. Taking MV’s already cutting edge technology, Magni meted out still more modifications to the Monza. Among them were a free-flowing exhaust, a chain-driven conversion from the standard shaft-drive and a bigger-bore kit. In turn, Magni’s twin-loop frame firmed everything up. Under Arturo’s tutelage, top speed and acceleration had both improved. Handling, too, was a beneficiary – since power delivery was smoothed out. The MV Agusta 850SS Monza was an impressive motorcycle with factory settings. Magni’s magic mods made it yet better!

Harley-Davidson XLCR

Marketing-wise, Harley-Davidson’s XLCR fell between two stools. It was neither a full-bore sports tool, nor – in typical Harley fashion – a laid-back cruiser. More than anything – as far as categories went – it was classic café racer. In the Seventies, though, performance was key. That was, after all, the decade of the first wave of Japanese superbikes. There was no way the XLCR was going to compete with them. While its pushrod V-twin engine packed plenty of torque, it was some way off its Oriental rivals at the top-end of the rev range. On the other hand – dramatic though it looked in its jet-black livery – it did not have enough ‘attitude’ chops to keep Harley die-hards happy. As a result, just 3,200 XLCRs were sold.

For sure, Willie G Davidson – Harley’s head of design – fulfilled his brief. The XLCR looked the business. From its flat-handlebars fairing – via an elongated tank – to the racy seat/tail unit, the XLCR’s lines were in all the right places. Certainly, the swoopy siamese exhaust set-up was stunning. Sadly, the XLCR’s speed stats did not stack up as neatly as its styling cues. A peak power output of 61bhp – at 6,200rpm – did not set any alarm-bells ringing. A top speed of 115mph was average – and no more. Suffice to say, then, that boy racers – of whom there were a lot in the late ’70s – were underwhelmed.

Harley’s sales brochures, however, took a different tack. They pointed to the fact that the XLCR’s performance was a marked improvement on what had gone before. Up to a point, they were right. But then, the same could be said of Harley’s new Sportster. In white knuckle terms, the XLCR did not do much the Sportster was not already doing. Added to that – and crucially for a Harley – the Sportster scored more ‘sit up and scowl!’ points. Harley-Davidson was right to try to tap a new trend. But – for two-wheeled speed merchants – the XLCR Cafe Racer simply could not cut the cappuccino!

Bimota SB2

The ‘SB’ stood for Suzuki/Bimota. It signalled Bimota’s standard practice of incorporating other marques’ engines into its own bespoke chassis. In the case of the SB2, power was provided by the Suzuki GS750. The 8-valve inline-four motor peaked at 68bhp. That gave the the SB2 a top speed of 130mph. Credit was also due to its slippery lines. A dry weight of just 440lb sealed the high-speed deal. This was still the Seventies, do not forget.

The driving force behind the SB2 was Massimo Tamburini. He had been a Bimota co-founder. Tamburini fitted the ‘legendary engineer’ bill to a tee. In his time, he had designed chassis for 250 and 350cc World Championship-winning bikes. In ’77, Tamburini tipped his technical brilliance into the new Bimota. It was a gimme, then, that the SB2 would handle as well as it went. Ceriani telescopic forks – and a first-of-its-kind rear monoshock – did the business suspension-wise. They were duly hitched up to a tubular steel space-frame. The monoshock alone separated the SB2 from its rivals … in every sense of the word!

First and foremost, though, a Bimota is about style. As befits a firm from Rimini, Italy. Certainly, the SB2 ran true to form, in that regard. Its bodywork wrote the book on ‘swoopy’. The tank protector/seat was a self-supporting one-piece – which saved the weight of a subframe. That innovation – like the rising-rate rear shock – would subsequently be seen on mass-produced machines. So, Bimota – that consummate special-builder – had done what it did best. In the beguiling form of the SB2, it merged dynamite design and top-drawer technology. Again!

MV Agusta 750 Sport

The MV Agusta 750 Sport was race-bred. A straight line could be drawn from the roadster to Meccanica Verghera’s competition machines. They were fettled in Gallerate, near Milan, Italy. MV ruled the racing roost, at the time. The 750 Sport’s clip-on ‘bars – and humped-back seat – gave the game away. Add to them, a 4-leading-shoe Grimeca front brake – and a chrome quartet of megaphone exhausts. All were clear pointers to the Sport’s race-track roots.

The 750’s top speed of 120mph was good going in the Seventies. Especially, since the bike was a tad portly. It weighed in at 506lb. Its in-line 4-cylinder engine produced 69bhp – at 7,900rpm. Power was supplied via gear-driven twin overhead camshafts.

Compared to its rivals in the showrooms, the 750 Sport was expensive. Suffice to say, it did not sell well. To be fair, MV had little choice but to up the price. The complexities of the Sport’s engine – and labour-intensive production processes – all had to be paid for. From a purely commercial standpoint, then, the Sport turned out to be another nail in MV’s coffin. Count Domenico Agusta had founded MV, in ’45. In ’71, he suffered a fatal heart attack. With him went the soul of MV. Indeed, it was not long afterward that the marque shut up shop. The lacklustre sales of the 750 Sport had not helped. From a non-commercial point of view, however, the MV Agusta 750 Sport summed up the spirit of motorcycling like few other bikes!

Ducati 250 Desmo

 

Ducati’s 250 Desmo was a nailed down design classic. The firm began in Bologna, in ’26 – producing electrical parts. That might generate a few wry smiles amongst Brit bikers of a certain age. Italian machines have traditionally been noted more for aesthetic than technical perfection. Especially in the wiring department!

At any rate, Ducati’s signature engine set-up was ‘desmodromic’. It saw valves closed by cams – rather than springs. The goal was more precise control of valve-gear components. For a marque so synonymous with styling, then, ‘desmo’ was definitely a feather in Ducati’s parts cap. The 250 was the baby of the newly engineered range. Though of reduced capacity compared to its bigger siblings, the 250 was still blessed with a fair lick of speed. Indeed, it fell just a tad short of the totemic ‘ton’. In handling terms, too, the 250 had plenty in its favour. Weighing in at less than 300lb – and with finely-tuned suspension – its rubber side remained resolutely glued to the tarmac. Saying that, clip-on ‘bars, rear-set footrests and a solo seat coaxed riders into finding the limits of adhesion!

The Desmo was designed by Leo Tartarini. He drew the 250 with simple, strong lines. They were all that was needed. The bike had dynamism built-in – by dint of its ‘racy’ parts list. So, the 250 was as strong visually, as it was technically. Certainly, its desmodromic valve-train was a key asset. But, it also possessed poised and purposeful looks – belying its size. Dimunitive it may have been, but the Ducati 250 Desmo married technological innovation with innate Italian good looks!

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