Ducati 900 GTS cafe racer
A couple of months ago we showed the Ducati 900 GTS custom built by René Waters, a Canadian Ducati aficionado who runs the website Ducati Meccanica. That bike was hugely popular with readers, and now René has built another 900 GTS—this time a cafe racer for his wife Sue. Here’s the story, once again in René’s own words.
This café racer started life as a 1978 900GTS, a pretty staid tourer much denigrated by Ducati enthusiasts and reporters at the time. Mostly it was the general poor finish typical of Italian bikes of the era, and the ‘standard’ styling of the bike. People were used to the road-ready race bikes that Ducati built, and felt let down by the GT/GTS range. The bikes themselves were, and are, very good machines, but were panned for their looks.
Therefore when I acquired this one, for my wife Sue, we set about improving those looks. When I asked her what she wanted to do with it she immediately replied that she wanted to “make a classic Italian café racer … turn it into an SS for me.”
The first thing to go was the bodywork. So off came the tank, seat and side covers—particularly ugly—and both fenders. Although these were stainless steel, they just didn’t have the right look, being too heavy and pedestrian. The tank was replaced with a steel one from a ’78 SS, and brackets had to be fabricated to fit it to the GTS frame mounting points.
The side covers were replaced with fiberglass replica SS ones made for me from molds of the originals. I used the existing frame mounts and drilled the holes in the side covers to suit. I found an original dual seat for a ’78, but wanted to be able to use both dual and solo seats. (When you bought an SS new in 1978 you got both.) The solo seat in the pictures is a reproduction picked up on eBay.
The fenders were replaced with reproduction SS units, and a NOS original early-style CEV tail light and bracket fitted. Next came the fairing, sourced from Phil Hitchcock at Road & Race Ducati in Australia—an invaluable source for anyone with a bevel Ducati. I also got an original 900SS five light dash unit from him, and an original ’74-’76 rear fairing mount.
Original lights for the dash are as rare as hens’ teeth. There is a company in Holland that has reproduction ones—but at something like $350 for a set of five, it seemed a bit extravagant just for idiot lights. So I sourced some LEDs and fabricated my own; while not original, they match the gauges quite well and best of all, they work. An original Marchal headlamp—a period upgrade for the lighting—came up on eBay and I couldn’t resist. Probably paid too much for it but it’s cool and collectable in its own right, and it just looks great with the Marchal cool cat logo!
The standard bars of course would never work with the fairing fitted (as if the bike wasn’t going to have clip-ons anyway). I had a set of race clip-ons but decided I wanted an adjustable set. I settled on adjustable Tomaselli clip-ons; beautifully made and with infinite adjustment, so they can be tuned to your riding position instead of the other way round. Very nice and well worth it. I also welded lugs to the frame, and installed folding Tarozzi pegs and levers.
The 32mm Dell’Orto pumper carbs got a refurbishment and rebuild, and I managed to find a modern replacement for the original air filters. The original LaFranconi silencers were particularly ugly and had to go. The only real option for replacements were Contis: the sound is unmistakable and incredible. The ones on the bike are original from 1978, but have been repaired and re-chromed … several times.
The original GTS had 40-spoke Radaelli Italian ‘chrome’ steel rims that were mostly rust when we got the bike. These were replaced with flanged aluminum Borrani rims from a Moto Guzzi dealership that was selling off all its old bits and had a shed full of discarded rims They were nice enough to look through them all and send me the best two. The front rim is identical to the ones used by Ducati on the SS, with the exception of the part number stamping. The rear had to have the spoke holes re-angled to suit the Ducati hub, because Moto Guzzis have shaft drive and subsequently a much larger rear hub.
All the cables were replaced and a new Surflex clutch installed. The new springs proved too much for Sue to pull, if the truth be known, the clutch was uncomfortably heavy for me too—so I can image how she felt. I took out two of the springs (leaving four), which lightened the pull to civilized levels, and took the bike out for a good caning. Low and behold nothing I did made it slip. So it will run this way, with a nice light clutch pull until it starts to slip, at which time I will pull two of the springs and replace them with the two new ‘spares’. Once it begins to to slip again I’ll add the full complement of springs. I figure there’s about 10 or 15 years of riding there before she’ll need new springs.
I researched the original Ducati 900SS silver and blue paint colours and had a local guy here paint everything. The finishing touch was the gear-gazer rear cylinder bevel cover window … you can see the cam drive bevel gears working away. With 15-tooth front and 36-tooth rear sprockets, this 900 GTS has top speed of 127mph (204kph). Ducati claimed 121 mph for a new GTS in 1978, but I think that may have been a bit optimistic!
[See more pictures of this cafe racer here and here on the Ducati Meccanica site.]