Saturday, September 29, 2007

Getting ready for new colors

As you can see, the tank and tail went from black to white/black pretty quickly -- hi-build primer will do that for you. After taking a lot of time to get the tail fitting properly (it is pretty poor quality stock), I set about getting the basis of a decent finish coat. It involved a lot of sanding, fibreglass, epoxy resin, filler, and putty, along with a sandable primer, but I now have a really nice, smooth finish on the tail and tank. I debated for quite some time as to color... with the orange-red frame, black, metallic blue, a contrasting orange, silver, and white would have all looked good, but in the end, I'm going to try a coarse metallic white. Subtle, I guess. Logos are going to be minimalist, but I can monkey with a stock 999R decal to get "966R"... and I located some Cagiva/Ducati "elephant" logos which match the 2-piece suit I bought when I sold the RedBull yellow leathers. Hmmm, just in time for winter. At least I can paint the waterbournes inside...

BTW, the rear tailight is a clear alternatives model for an MV, and with some tinkering I was actually able to get the integrated turn signals to work properly on the switch. A very clean design.

As for the pipes, some raucous Hindle hi-mounts (complete system) are on the way. Gawd I love ebay.


With the frame painted to my satisfaction, the next step was to reassemble the bike for street duty. By this time I had realized that I has missed any reasonable chance to put the bike on the street for th 07 season, so I breathed deeply, slowed down, and set about doing things right. Of the trick race parts, the only thing which remained was the Paoli shock and the slipper clutch, as well as the carbs. The wheels went to help pay for the piano and street parts, and so I had to decide what to do about a tail section and lighting. And I was beginning to realize the underengine exhaust would not look right on the bike...

I was able to find a 5.5" rear SS wheel and a matching SBK front rim off of ebay and I went in circles trying to find a matching Braking front rotor -- the design changed (the shape of the petals), and I guess the racer had the last of the old style. I was able to sell off what I had, and went with pretty simple stock OEM brake rotors for the front. I splurged on some Nissin 6-piston front calipers... expensive, but pads are a cinch to find (Kawasaki items), and they were a direct bolt on. I picked up a neat carbon-fibre front fairing with "vent screens" (gimmick!), and dealt with the speedo/tacho/oil temp/turn signals/etc. with a electrosport guage package -- pretty simple to install! For lighting, I got a dual headlight kit from a distributor on the net. Decent quality, and has a real cafe-racer look to it. Some fiddiling to get it to work right with the Ducati switchgear, but I sussed it out. The forward tank mount was a bit interesting... had to buy an SBK airbox and cut most of it away, but what I have is a properly-mounted tank. Clip-ons stayed the same, and the ignition/lock bolted right on. Still waiting to get a stock steering damper. Then I found the tail I fell in love with -- a MV Agusta clone to work with the Ducati SBK biposto subframe. This suited my needs perfectly, as I had to put the battery in the tail section of the bike. No room in the front!


Rather than go to the expense of having the frame powder-coated, I decided to paint it myself. That way, if there were any structural failures, or if anything needed to be modified, I could still apply the touch-up myself. Perhaps in the distant future a powder-coat will be in order, but knowing what I know about the licencing procedure in MB, the vin will be replaced by a decal by MPI... might as well try to do it right the first time.

Actually, I didn't! I got some industrial fleet-grade paint from the local supply store, where I get consumables, as well as the autoair I've been using on bodywork. This was a PPG product, and had 3 parts, the paint, the catalyst, and another piece -- the hardner, perhaps? Either way, it was pretty hot stuff, but all told, cost just under $100 for the pint. Plenty to do the frame. I first sprayed one coat, let it cure, and re-assembled the bike. However, I stipped it all back down again, as I realized I had time (patience, grasshopper!), and could do a better job. So I sanded it with 400, and sprayed it again. Surely the second coat would look better, right?


So... I decided I'd hit it with 600 dry, knock down the orange peel, and then clear it. Lord knows I had a ton of clear... a new product I use comes in gallon quantities at a minimum, so I could spray to my heart's content. Finally, after shooting it with clear (more practice, I guess), the frame finish was far more tolerable. Still not powdercoat quality, and no doubt not as durable, but at least as good as a factory paint job.

The color was a bit off from what I wanted -- a red with a bit of pop. Once again, color charts don't do anything justice, and while this color was called "tomato red", its.... orange. Sorta. Like a red-orange...

This would end up limiting some of my body paint options, like a tricolor scheme, but in the end, I've never regretted a more subtle paint job. We went into the Mini dealer in 2004 with my heart set on a yellow, metallic red or hot blue mini, and we left with a charcoal grey. Better choice, in the end. Kate's more mature, calming influence. The bike went together, and I set about getting the tail section, lights, wheels, and etc. sorted out...

Here we go again

I had been thinking about this idea for some time. In the zillions of phone calls, emails, and discussions I have had over the years with Ducati experts, mechanics, and racers, I've learned that with most of the post 90 machines, the bottom ends of SS machines, Monsters, and SBK bikes were quite similar -- especially in how the engine mounts to the trellis frame. All of the championship-winning Ducatis, as well as the bikes you can buy from the showroom, are mounted by a grand total of 2 engine bolts to the steel frame. The swingarm pivots on the rear of the case. That's it. Even better, the location of the mounting points for everthing from a lowly 400 monster to a 999R are in exactly the same place. Theoretically, most of the hard work is done if you wanted to swap an engine from one bike into the frame of another. Switching an aircooled engine (with all its simplicity) into a SBK frame should be a piece of cake. From my experience, it was.

The first step was to find a suitable frame. Since I already had a modified tank to work with the SS fuel pump (see below), a 748/916 style frame would be the easiest. I was under no misconception about Ducati's claim that SBK frames were chromoly. THEY ARE NOT! All of the frames I have ever seen and cut apart -- SS, monster, and SBK "S" frames, are seamed steel -- likely 1040 or something. This is fairly cheap ERW steel, with the joints mig-welded. A sound design for sure, but engineered to be assembled quickly and easily. That being said, I had high hopes that the 748R frame I was able to buy from ebay would be different. It was and it wasn't.

When I got my hands on the frame, a 2002 model, some differences were apparent. The bent tubes aft of the steering head and fore of the vertical cylinder had more of a "bow" to them -- this proved that it was an R frame to accomodate the larger R airbox. That being said, I still had to trim a section of these tubes to clear the intake manifold. Sure enough, while the wall thickness was thinner for this frame, the telltake seam on the inside of the tube proved that it was not aircraft-spec 4130.

However, like all S and R framed superbikes, it did come with an adjustable steering head -- cool! However, to be cautious, I set it at the slower geometry for now... At the back of the frame I designed a fabricated a truss for the cantilever rear shock. Other guys have incorporated the SBK rear swingarm, but this involved a lot of cutting to the engine case, and the SS swingarm weighs a ton anyway -- I know, I've held one in my hands. The aluminum swingarm is lighter and of course, I had one already.

I saw fairly early on that an OEM, Ohlins, or Penske rear shock with the integrated remote resevoir was going to be a headache to fit... so I found a Paoli adjustable shock, with a real remote resevior for a great price on ebay. In reality, even though the ad said it was for a Ducati, I'm thinking it came off of a DB2 or DB4 Bimota. The overall length of this shock is actually shorter than a pre-99 OEM Showa shock, so it can't have been for a Ducati... they steer too slow as it is... with a lower rear end, it would almost be unmanageable. This actually suited my needs perfectly, as the truss would extent almost an inch shorter than usual, making the whole assembly stronger. The truss was made with a combination of 1015 steel tubing and 4130 steel, oxy-welded together by yours truly. Some significant trimming needed to be done to other parts of the frame to accomodate the swingarm pivot and the routing of the shock, but nothing was too difficult.

The last step was to either hog out the engine cases to accept 12mm engine bolts, or sleeve the frame to use the 10mm bolts I already had on hand. I chose to modify the frame beacuse I could do it, and I already had Nichols/Cyclecat engine bolts on hand in 10mm sizes.. purchasing the equivalent in 12mm would mean another $250. After many test-fits, I got the frame sandblasted and primered.

Life intervenes

I'm probably guilty of blaming/crediting Kate's need for a new piano for her business as the "reason" I stopped racing after the first round in 2007. Truth be told, I probably need a break, to refocus on priorities, and to decide what I want to do vis a vis motorcycles. There are some aspects of racing I miss -- to me, it legitimizes owning a sportbike. I really don't respect the sportbikers who go fast in a straight line, wearing flip flops and Icon helmets, with their rear tires squared off. I've talked to these guys, and their riding craft is pretty weak -- none of them tour, they seem to just tool around the city, making noise with their loud pipes. For me, I guess, owning a sportbike and actually racing it made me better than those others, even though my bike spent more time on a trailer and in the garage, than actually running... which is where the contradiction begins.

I also began to miss riding on the street. With a slightly different budgeting scheme, I could own a racebike and a titled streetbike, but one or both would be compromises... and I like to tweak and tune all the time. "Stock" is just not in my vocabulary.

What all racers know is that to put up with the cost, time, travel, sleeping in tents, etc, etc, etc that comes with racing, you have to absolutely LOVE the short amount of time you are actually on the bike competing. And not just like it, or "really enjoy it", but love it. For me, some of that love was fading. I am constantly driving Kate and family nuts whenever I fall in love with yet another bike, the sad fact remains is that I need to figure out what part of my life motorcycling will make up. I've raced for nearly 10 years, learned to be a safe and decent rider, and I think one who is respected as well, but I never ever had the "run over your grandma/ eye of the tiger" needed to be a champion... or the willingness to remorgage your life to buy the newest, fastest bike to be competitive... really, a Ducati? When an SV or Ninja 650 would do, and pay contingency?

So what happened is this: Kate needed a piano, and so we got one. A long-overdue "payment" (poor choice of words) for her years of sacrifice to my hobby. I sold off every extra unneccessary race part, bike part, helmet, boots, leathers, gloves tools, spares, tire warmers, bike project (the Aprilia-KTM 450), and decided to make the ultimate aircooled street Ducati.

Winter 2006-07

I had a strong feeling that the machine could be made better with some chassis tweaking. Over the course of a few year's worth of ebaying, I picked up a set of Ducati 900ss cases, a steel rear swingarm, and a Monster 600 frame. The 600 frame had no title, so it was useless to anyone on the street -- a perfect project to begin cutting for a race bike. I actually got it for $25 bucks! I decided to cut the entire back end off the bike, and make a trellis shock mount and tail section out of 4130 chromoly, and utlize a superbike tank for the gas. This necessitated a pile of fabrication work, a decent shape SBK tank, and a crashed SS tank for anciliaries. The tank actually went together pretty well... I'd do it differently now, but with some help from an autobody shop, the tank looked pretty good. I made the mistake of assuming all Monster frames were based on 851/888 steering geometry. This is actually not the case. At some point (not everyone is sure when) they turned the bike into a bit of a chopper -- 27-28 degrees rake. This fact (it was a 2000 model year frame) would rear its ugly head when I took it to the track. The end result was a very distinct looking bike, which again taught me a lot about welding, fabrication, and motorcycle design. I was able to practice some painting as well (note the Red Bull livery), and made a bunch of bodywork from different bikes fit. Unfortunately, it handled like crap (wouldn't steer), and the Arc Underengine exhaust, while a tourque MONSTER and very light, lost me the top end advantage I had against Ninja 650s. The first race in May of 2007 left me pretty uncomfortable on the bike, with no speed through the all-important turn 1. Unable to exploit the new Michelins (which gripped amazingly), I couldn't get past Billy and his new SV650... this was a bike that I could catch and pass along Gimli's main straight in 2006. Ooops.

2006 Year in Review

The 2006 racing season with the MRA turned out to be a great one. Being the only expert in the lightweight field (save for the last round) meant that wins were pretty much guaranteed, so I tended to start at the back of the grid for the first race, and work my way through. For the second race, I did the same or held back and diced with Wilson or Jason. What I did notice is that Doug Martens was slowly developing his Ninja 650 into a pretty quick bike, and that Billy (his son) was wringing the heck out of his old EX500... on a newer machine, he'd be tough to beat. The season ended with Kyle Knutsen coming up from the states on his tuned SV650 and beating me by about 4-5 seconds every race. I wish I could have raced against him more often, but the one round showed me that the Duc was capable of more speed, as was I. After all the tuning (see list below), the machine had reached 85 hp... not bad for a carbed supersport.

Friday, September 28, 2007

A history lesson

Okay, now that I know this thing works, a bit of a review. The pic at the top shows the Ducati in the incarnation I got it -- a 1998 SS FE, crash damaged and sitting in Kentucky. Purchased on ebay, the first step was to get the thing, and then haul it back up to Canada. At first, I thought it was going to be a streetbike, but since I was in need of a racer, and the TZ125 I had was a disaster, I spent the winter of 2005-06 converting it into a racebike. As you can see from the pics, it took on a few different incarnations during the 2006 season, mainly to get it looking a bit more asthetically pleasing. The following modifications took place:

  • airtech bodywork

  • marvic mag wheels

  • slipper clutch

  • ohlins, then a penske rear shock

  • arc fabrication exhaust

  • MBP 966 kit with Mahle Pistons (overbore by Millenium Cylinder Tech)

  • porting and head polishing by BCM Ducati

  • alloy upper fairing stay

  • single front rotor

  • home-made rearsets

  • braided brake lines

  • Michelin Race tires (pilot powers)

  • 41mm keihnin carbs

  • superbike front forks with cyclecat triple clamps

So a lot was done to the bike, and I ended up with a decent handling, powerful machine. I had a machine that was more than a match for the SV 650s and Ninja 650 in the Thunderbike class. I even beat a few 600s in Supersport. Cool machine!

The Adventure Begins

Rather than continue to pay tripod filemanager to host my other site at, I think I'll get into the 21st century and do the free blog thing. As you can tell by the title, this blog will have something to do with bikes, specifically Ducatis, and that I'm currently living in Manitoba, Canada. I'll stop here for now, just to be sure the blog works...