MD Project: Ducati Supersport Streetfighter

September 1, 2011

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One common thread in the Letters to the Editor section of most moto-mags and websites is that readers want the manufacturers to build comfortable, affordable standard motorcycles based on high-performance models. The fact that few consumers actually buy such bikes when they are occasionally offered seems to make no difference to them. They keep asking.

To which I say, quit yer bitchin’ and go build your own. As high performance sportbikes are A) the second most common type of motorcycle on the road and B) the most frequently crashed, the project possibilities are endless. I always wanted a streetfighter—a sportbike that has been stripped of its plastic bodywork and fitted with standard-style upright handlebars—made out of a Ducati Supersport, so when I found a 2000 750SS on Craigslist for (well) under $3000, I had to act.

Almost three years later, my project is complete (and ironically, up for sale), and how it got here may interest you.

I picked the Ducati because, ironically, it’s one of the cheapest sportbikes out there. Cheap because this is a chronically undervalued model. Always a bridesmaid to Ducati’s sexy 916 superbike series, it used a trellis frame and air-cooled two-valve L-Twin powerplant and linkage-less rear suspension. Not exactly a technical tour-de-force, even when the first ones hit the showrooms in 1991. An updated fuel-injected version, with styling penned by controversial designer Pierre Terblanche, came out in 1999. It’s not considered a raving beauty (although I like the shark-like bodywork) by most enthusiasts, and since it’s intensely uncomfortable to ride (I don’t think I’ve seen ergos described as “intensely uncomfortable” since Marquis de Sade Motors went out of business several years ago-Ed.) , the Monster is the bike most casual Ducatisti want to lay their paws on. That means you can get a pristine example for cheap (and a trashed one even cheaper).

LSL's Superbike handlebar kits are things of beauty and wonder. You get everything you need in the kit, including a little bracket to reposition your brake reservoir, if you need it.

One nice thing about getting a sportbike as the basis of a project is that you can harvest the bodywork to sell on eBay to fund the parts you’ll need for a streetfighter. I got about $500 for the plastic, instruments, and miraculously undamaged fairing stay—just enough to order up the heart of my streetfighter build, an LSL handlebar conversion kit. Available through Spiegler USA, the kit includes a beautiful billet top triple clamp, handlebar clamps, an aluminum Superbike-bend handlebar, braided-steel brake lines and all the fasteners and instructions you’ll need to install it. The kit went on easily, and since I took the fairings off, there were no clearance issues—in fact, I could utilize Ducati’s clever adjustable steering stops so I could get a few more milimeters of steering lock to either side. If you leave the fairing on your bike, you may have to call up ol’ Dr. Dremel for some plastic surgery.

Bellypan was designed for the Monster and will require a bit of modification to work perfectly.

Eager to ride my bike, I strapped a temporary off-road headlight to the fork tubes and got on the road. The transformation was intense (there’s that word again). Where before I was hunched over, with limited visibility and horrid pain in my neck, back and stomach (here Terblanche’s goofy rubber tank pad was poking me) I was now master of my domain. I could see better, was more comfortable (in fact, I couldn’t be more comfy on any bike in terms of basic seating position) and the Duck’s traditionally heavy steering was now light as a marshmallow souffle. The bike was plenty fun to ride, but I had no instruments, no wind protection, and the Acerbis headlight, though DOT approved, was only slightly better than those hand-cranked flashlights you get for supporting public radio.

Koso speedometer is so reliable and easy to use people never ask about it -- it's that similar to OEM equipment.

First, I tackled my instrumentation problem. That was easily solved by a call to Koso North America. Taiwanese firm Koso makes all kinds of electronic tachometers, speedometers and other accessories, even making instrumentation for OEMs like Zero, Benelli and Motus. Long gone are the days of jury-rigging a bicycle speedometer to your ride (downside: they won’t go over 99 mph. Upside: downloading heart-rate monitor data after a trackday is amusing); Koso’s units look stock and display all the functions (and then some) that your stock instruments will. My new speedometer, the $349 RX-1N, displays speed, rpm, fuel, FI fault, oil and coolant temp, tripmeters, odometer, turn indicator and bonus features like a 1/4-mile timer and top speed recorded. You just splice it into your bike’s wiring harness and glue magnets to your front or rear wheel (the more magnets, the more accurate and faster-reading the mph display) and it all works. You even get a sturdy little bracket to bolt the unit to your handlebar clamp, but my buddy made me a nicer mount out of a Chrysler Imperial alternator bracket—you can’t beat Detroit steel. After over two years of rain, damp and abuse, the Koso is working beautifully, although I did have to replace the speed sensor.

Buell M2 unit may be the coolest flyscreen for a 7-inch you can get. Available from your Harley-Davidson dealer, at least for now.

Next, I needed better illumination. The problem here is brackets, my friends, as it’s very hard to source them for the giant inverted fork stancions on the Duck. Luckily for me, the old Buell X1 used  almost the same size tubes (except the Ducati forks taper at the top, so they only sort of fit), and those in the know will know that Harley/Buell parts are remarkably affordable compared to Japanese and European bits. I got two brackets for about $50. And since I was using Buell headlamp brackets, why not use a Buell fairing as well? The M2 flyscreen looks swell and blocks a surprising amount of wind. A long-ago-raced Suzuki SV650 provided the headlight—another pal helped me graft the Suzuki sideplates to the Buell brackets so I could stuff the untidy mess of wiring behind the headlight. That was two years ago—knowing what I know now, I would have picked up one of LSL’s swanky headlamp setups, as that company makes a full range of brackets for almost every size tube, as well as some very cool headlamp choices. Or maybe not—LSL’s stuff is nice, but it’s not cheap.

For a final touch, I located a Monster bellypan on eBay and painted it and the flyscreen to match the Ducati red. My bike, at 10 paces, looks pretty good, and although it took me a few years to figure out what parts to get, my project was mostly a bolt-on affair. LSL makes the handlebar kit for most sportbikes made (and plenty not made any more), and Craigslist has an endless supply of crashed late-model sportbikes.

Back aching? Tired of clip-ons? Still want motor, chassis and brakes? You know what to do.

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