fearless racing on his Duck

Here is the last of a three-part story from a friend who loves Ducati motorcycles. This just describes one little outing on his bike, but his writing style is so powerful that I think you will not only feel his emotion and excitement, but also wish you’d been on the rear seat behind him. It’s never too late. I think I will ride my own cycle this week as soon as I have a chance and see if I can reach its max acceleration of “just” 4.9 seconds…without crashing of course.

This was Southern California, mind you. It was war. I’d tool around Costa Mesa, Newport or C.D.M. in street clothes, no helmet, but if I went anywhere else I had the full kit—race leathers with body armor, boots and gloves and a Kevin Schwantz replica Arai helmet. Too cool. But still, it was indeed war. One time near South Coast Plaza, as I was leaving my lawyer’s office, I had a gang banger in a lowered turbo Nopar sled try to squeeze me into the car next to us coming off a red light. My offense was splitting lanes to the front row at the red, usurping his turf as it were, which in California is perfectly legal but was an outrageous trespass to the guy behind the dark tinted windows and the subwoofer boom. As he squeezed he expected me to slow down and back off. Instead I squeezed back by making the Duck go quack. We had just passed a Cop on a motorbike when he heard the Nopar’s front tires light up, saw me accelerate away and (not that I was paying any attention) he started to chase us down. We hit another red a block later and the Vato tried the same thing. No traffic ahead, so I slipped around him—now I was not only adrenalized but really pissed off, and just pinned the 851, tucked my helmet, shifted my weight forward and rode a wheelie crossed-up and flat fucking out through 4 gears up and over and down the Bristol St. overpass, until I found some traffic ahead, finally, and put some cars between myself and the angry banger, then backed off, following from ahead. I half expected a pistol to come out.

Fast. This was 23 years ago and Ducati had just won the World Superbike Championship with a race version of the 851. The chasis was good, but the motor was superb. Water cooled, desmodromic four-valve, fuel injected fury. A “Supercar” from that era would do 0-60 in 5-6 seconds. A quick superbike would do it in 2.5 seconds in first gear, if you could keep the front down. The sensation is like nothing else. Tucked in tight with your tailbone pressed against the acceleration pad, in three seconds you are well on your way to 100 mph and you start to see in tunnel vision because what isn’t in front of you is passing at your periphery in a blur. If you expect to live much longer you can only look far ahead, where you WILL be . . . in another heartbeat. In 1989, with any superbike, when you decided to leave the party no production street car on earth could do anything but watch your ass-end very rapidly disappear. With an open-exhaust Ducati Superbike, the sound of your departure was akin to a P51 Mustang making a low pass. Talk about fun.

Then the flashing blue light of the policeman on the Kawasaki was behind me and I tried to play back what he’d just seen: A guy doing crazy shit in heavy traffic on a sport bike, hitting triple digits on an overpass on the rear wheel, etc. I pulled over. He started screaming at me, and it wasn’t until I had my helmet off that I realized he was angry that I had pulled over, that “we” let “him” get away. He had seen the whole episode, seen the Vatto try and clip me. I put my lid back on and “we” proceeded, in vain, to chase down the offender. When he finally pulled over on a side street, we shot the shit for a while, and he started asking about the Duck. I offered to let him ride it and to my surprise he accepted. Without thinking I told him to be careful and he smiled, “I have a gun” he said. “No worries.”