On yer bike: Ducati 900SS MHR

FMM curator Wayne Harley is a self-confessed motorcycle enthusiast and this month he follows in the foot pedals of Mike Hailwood…

Mention the brand Ducati and thoughts immediately turn to its great racing heritage and the endless line of racing machines it has produced. But some stand out more than others. You may be forgiven in thinking of the GP bike currently being raced in MotoGP by riders like Andrea Dovizioso, or by the great superbike champions Carl Fogarty, Troy Corser and Casey Stoner, but many of us still remember the rider nicknamed ‘Mike the Bike’ – Mike Hailwood – and the 900 Super Sport with which he won the Isle of Man TT back in 1978, and later the world title. This bike is the subject for this month’s feature.

I recently helped out a good friend of the museum, Stuart Mackay-Davidson, in finding a collectable Italian motorcycle. Not only was it to be Italian, it had to be something special and limited. A few bikes came to mind, but the  replica – the 900MHR – ticked all the boxes. Not only is it based on the title-winning machine but it is painted in tribute livery that is, coincidentally, also the Italian national colours. With its clip-on handlebars, no side covers, full fairing, racing seat and kick starter, this bike is about as close as possible that Ducati could get to putting road legal copy of Mike’s championship race machine on the road.

Power and performance are similar to the standard 900SS of its day. The Hailwood replica uses the 90-degree L-twin 864 cm3 air-cooled engine that had become Ducati’s trademark power plant that produced 59 kW (80 hp) at a relatively low 7 500 r/min. Power is delivered to the road through Ducati’s standard five-speed gearbox with chain-and-sprocket final drive. By today’s standards, the steel tubular frame is heavy and the bike weighs-in at 205 kg. Nevertheless, the bike could easily reach 220 km/h. Unassisted Brembo dual-disc brakes up front and a standard single disc at the rear supplied good stopping power to this heavy and rather quick classic.

I well remember seeing these bikes around when I was a kid and could never understand the attraction as they always seemed outdated and sounded slow with their low-revving engines when compared to a screaming Kawasaki or Suzuki. But the truth was the Kawasaki Z 900 was almost 10 km/h slower and almost 20 kg heavier in its day.

But when I finally got to ride Stuart’s 900MHR it all made sense. The first thing I noticed after being accustomed to riding the wider 1980s four-cylinder Japanese machines is how narrow the Ducati is. The helps make the bike feel more balanced, providing great control around the windy bits of Cape Town. However, what did take time to get used to was the power being available almost all the way through the rev range, with me not having to turn up in the revs all the time. As a result, the bike was not too difficult to ride in town and it’s almost possible to pull off in third if you really wanted to. But twist her right ear and, oh, hell, that’s when all the fun begins…

Power is instantaneous and there is loads of it. The big V-twin pulls from low down in the rev range and just doesn’t seem to want to stop. You then pop it into the next gear and then the next… and before long you looking at a stiff fine or jail time, so you best lift off. I have to admit that I’ve always wanted to ride a 900SS Ducati and getting to ride this legendary super collectable MHR has answered so many of my personal questions on what made this particular bike so great.

This is one classic machine you will always remember riding no matter if you love them or not.