Re-made in the USA: DNA's Hotrod Frankenbike

May 16, 2011


Life is unfair. Designers, managers and race champions get most of the gold and the glory, the goodies and the girls. Sales and marketing take what’s left. Service? Who? But the guys in Service can still dream. The fires of enthusiasm burn hot and bright at Ducati, long after office hours, not just in Bologna. At Ducati North America’s headquarters in Cupertino, California, the Service gang has created a project bike that will have Ducatisti worldwide drooling.

It was the right thing to do with a pile of parts at DNA,” says Bruce Meyers, a renowned Ducati racebike preparer and former Ducati dealer who now trains DNA’s techs to Master Technician skill levels. So Meyers and DNA Technical Manager Jon LaForte took stock. A 1098 trellis frame, tank, fairings, swingarm — okay. Öhlins forks with 1098 upper clamp and 999 lower — we can do that. Öhlins rear spring/shock — on hand. Forged Marchesinis and top-of-the-line Brembos — check. Toss in an 848 crankcase, an instant fit — got it. Crower titanium rods — a lucky find, in Meyer’s Ducati Performance stock. Sound easy? It is … so far. Then it gets more interesting, especially when you must pay for the parts and work long hours outside the office to get it done.

But what motor to use? Over the years Ducati’s air-cooled, two-valve V-Twin became iconic. Inevitably it yielded to water cooling and four valves, as outputs rose, pushed by World Superbike and MotoGP. The more stressed the air-cooled machine the more unreliable, the less competitive — a service headache that demanded costly and time-consuming TLC, more often. Grafting a high-performance two-valve top end onto a bottom end designed for much more power seems like a good solution.

We blended the best of both worlds: an air-cooled power plant with the big-sump benefits of the water-cooled machine, in an up-to-the-minute frame,” said Gray. “Back to the future, eh! Air cooling eliminates costly plumbing and reduces weight, though we needed dual oil coolers. Boring and re-sleeving creates a big, low-stress motor that doesn’t need constant fettling.”

Into that mildly machined crankcase went a previously damaged Multistrada crankshaft (carefully repaired and balanced by Fox Performance Engines) and a pair of air-cooled cylinders, bored to within a millimeter of their metallic lives and then re-sleeved, enclosing custom, (and carefully balanced) high-compression, 14:1 pistons from Pistal (in Rocchetta Tanaro, Northern Italy), crowns matched lovingly to custom titanium valves. Cam shape and timing? Ducati Performance ‘Hyper’ — moderate, not extreme overlap, for best rideability. Final weight saver: the DoubleDog Moto carbonfiber tail section, just seven pounds vs. the stock 16.

Bikes gotta breathe—the old in and out. For the ‘in,’ beautifully flowed and polished input tracts and ports, fed via a 1098’s pressurized airbox through 45mm throats in EFI-controlled Multistrada throttle bodies. The ‘out’ is 1098 plumbing ending in minimum-back-pressure Termignonis, producing the glorious thunder of mid-range torque beloved of V-Twin riders. Ducati’s marketing people should figure out a way to charge extra for that sound. What? They already did? Oh.

Strip its bright red clothes and you may experience a “Crying Game” moment when you see the air-cooled engine.

The ‘office’ is based on a Hypermotard wiring harness, but less complex electrics (no traction control needed for these relatively benign power levels) simplify wrist chores. What you get is what you see: an engaging mixture of vintage Ducati air-cooled mill in a modern frame/suspension setting. Old wine, new bottle. If you liked Ducati’s historic road and track weapons, and enjoy its latest 848/1098 or even Desmosedici derivatives, you’d love this elegant beast.

Bottom line: an 1176cc torque-monster (about 90 ft.-lbs. at 3800 rpm, on the Dynojet dyno at WyoTech, DNA’s training partner), asked to produce a mere 115 horses at moderate revs (9000), managed by a catalog Ducati Performance ECU. Since the entire machine weighs just 300 pounds, more powerful bikes will sweat to keep up during track days and club racing, particularly in the vital 0-120-mph speed bracket. As LaForte puts it, grinning ear to ear, “a truly sick bike.”

So: Ducati’s in-house Service Specialist hotrod, a wolf in wolf’s clothing, painted in livery that honors its origins.

Over to you, Bologna. Or perhaps Cupertino’s Service Gang can clone the existing creation. The bike you see here is not for sale but in the real world anything should be possible for Nicky. You want one, too? Get in line.

The Frankenbike: it’s alive!

Jon LaForte with his creation.



Copyright © 2011 All Rights Reserved