Ducati Paul Smart 1000 SportClassic Review—From The Archives

Moving forward, looking back

We are suckers, all of us, and this limited-edition Ducati is proof. If the aqua-green frame and silver-metalflake paint don't catch your attention, surely the sweet-sounding accessory Termignoni megaphone pipes will. This bike exists precisely to suck us in, to tweak our nostalgia, even if not everyone was around (or aware) when Paul Smart ripped up Imola for 200 miles to take the epic 1972 race win that put Ducati on the V-Twin sportbike map. Actually, there wasn't really even a V-Twin sportbike map at that point!

Well, there is one now, and Bologna is right in the center of it. But aside from echoing the color scheme, this bike doesn’t actually look all that much like Smart’s 750. It does certainly have a classic form, modernized, and it does make a big impression.

Especially on the rider. What a fun motorcycle. The forms speak of times gone by, and the engine sounds with those accessory pipes are almost radial-aircraft-like when you are cruising down the highway at speed. Those sweet aluminum end caps bark out loudly but from the saddle make the perfect notes, at the perfect volume. It is true music. Just don’t ask the opinion of drivers you just passed.

In front of you is a pair of chrome-bezel, white-faced analog gauges and a steering damper. The latter Sachs unit was a bit of a surprise considering the frame geometry isn’t exactly radical (24-degree rake, 4.1-inch trail), but there was indeed a little shimmy now and again, especially on freeway rain grooves. Is it the Pirelli neo-Phantoms (complete with inner tubes, thanks to the center-drilled wire-spoke wheels) channeling a ’70s tire vibe? In any case, it was no big issue. And the old-style tread pattern on the modern 120/70-17 and 180/55-17 carcasses is too good!

Ducati Paul Smart 1000 SportClassic side view

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Ducati Paul Smart 1000 SportClassicBrian Blades

The wheelbase spans 56.5 inches, quite a lot longer than the 54.9 inches of the current Supersport 1000, for example. And while it is longer than other newer Ducati sportbikes in keeping with its classic inspiration, the Smart is also sort of “upsized” from what the classic ’74 750SS was in terms of overall physical stature. The fairing, gas tank and tailsection are all a lot meatier, reflecting modern packaging issues such as maximizing airbox volume while still trying to carry a reasonable amount of fuel (latter is 3.9 gallons, giving decent range), stuffing in an ECU, evaporative emissions control, fuel pump for the 45mm throttle bodies and so forth. The frame, too, is wide, allowing for a broader-beam seat and classic contours in modern proportions.

The experience, the aura, all speak to the vintage-bike lover. The way the engine sounds, the look, the air-cooling, there is a suggestion of simplicity and an elemental nature, so that this brand-new motorcycle fulfills what many vintage-bike riders are after with 30-year-or-older machines. Riding the Smart provided the same kind of visceral pleasure that my old ’74 Norton Commando did (before I foolishly sold it). Except that the Smart is a modern sportbike with great power and a great chassis. And it doesn’t have leaky carbs or bad brakes.

So you get all the feel-good, over-the-top ambiance of vintage, with a tire shredding, knee-dragging modern machine that will almost positively keep on running until you turn it off with the key. Output from the two-valve, desmo 992cc V-Twin is superb, with a healthy 85 horsepower at the wheel. There is also the usual lovely torque curve, at 65 foot-pounds, with a ton of twist down low that makes the DS 1000 such a great street engine. (Incidentally, the factory claims that Smart's 750 Imola made 80 horsepower, so you've got the next Italian 200 as much as won...) Fuel efficiency is pretty commendable for these days, too, with the twin-plug engine turning in about 38 mpg, Cold starts are no problem (insofar as 60 degrees in our sunny SoCal winter is "cold") and the idle control is the same automated system (no fast idle lever, no choke in manual adjustments) as first fitted the Multistrada. Also, when starting the engine, all one does is tap the starter button to activate the firing sequence–the ECU completes cranking until the engine starts. We balked at this kind of automation at first, but the engine running is so consistent that you don't really have cause to want to adjust anything. Go set the floats on your '74's Dell'Ortos if you get bored with all the perfect running of the Smart Replica.

Ducati Paul Smart 1000 SportClassic on road action

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Ducati Paul Smart 1000 SportClassicBrian Blades

The riding position is fairly aggressive, with low clip-ons (.8 inch lower than on the Sport 1000) and footpegs high enough to keep out of cornering harm’s way. Which is good, because while the steering is fairly high-effort and even a little slow in a classic kind of way, cornering stability at deep lean is excellent. The fully adjustable Öhlins suspension front and rear does a great job. The 43mm inverted fork and single, left-side-mounted, no-link shock provide a taut, sporty ride, giving you all the opportunity in the world to practice your knee-out style that Mr. Smart himself pioneered back in the ’70s.

If we’re looking for something to complain about—and we always are—we have to say Ducati cheaped out on the front brakes with two-piston, floating-caliper Brembos. But the company says these were utilized because they are smaller on the wheel side (no pistons there), giving necessary clearance for the spokes. Okay, so while they aren’t the four-pot calipers, these are pretty nice brakes. And they probably cost less, too. The discs themselves, meanwhile, are big 320mm pizza pans, which, it turns out, move the calipers farther from the spokes (which angle toward wheel center at the rim), too.

Honestly, you don’t notice any negatives from these calipers, on the road or when parked. What you do notice are a lot of neat touches that make the bike feel very much like a “pure” motorcycle. The battery mounting, for example, is a clean little tray between the tubes that supports the seat/tailsection.

Air-cooling means no water pump, no big radiator (just the oil-cooler), no extra weight or complication, just the airy form of the 90-degree V-Twin, the elegant trellis frame and that beefy steel-tube swingarm. The wiring is very well-hidden, further adding to the tidy nature. Surface finishes on the key parts were very much “tuned” to give off just the right shine (polished steering-damper body, chromed engine sidecovers) or sheen (alloy Excel rims, footpeg brackets). Overall, a very successful visual package that speaks retro and acts modern, just like so many vehicles these days, from Minis, Dodge Chargers and Ford Mustangs to Triumph Scramblers, Star Roadliners and almost every Harley made.

But the coolest part with the Smart is more than looks and sounds–the best part is riding. In terms of experience, while Ducati was looking to evoke the 1970s, what it has ended up with is a bike that feels much more like the true successor to the sweet mid-’90s 900SS, combining the classic Ducati air-cooled Twin with modern sportbike capabilities in a way the current Supersport 1000 doesn’t.

The $14,995 asking price doesn’t seem unreasonable for one of the 500 (of 2000 worldwide) Paul Smart Replicas coming stateside.

In a world that’s going retro, the Paul Smart 1000 stands out.

PRICE $14,995
DRY WEIGHT 423 lb.
WHEELBASE 56.5 in.
SEAT HEIGHT 32.0 in.
0-60 MPH 3.1 sec.
1/4-MILE 11.56 sec. @ 115.05 mph
HORSEPOWER 84.7 bhp @ 7750 rpm
TORQUE 65.2 ft.-lb. @ 4900 rpm
TOP SPEED 135 mph
Ducati California Hot Rod 1000 side view

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Ducati California Hot Rod 1000Photo-illustration by Jim Hatch

California Hot Rod 1000

Dear Ducati, how about a tribute to the most famous motorcycle magazine project bike ever?
By Mark Hoyer

It was known as "Old Blue," or later the "California Hot Rod," a machine built and raced by Cycle magazine stalwarts Cook Neilson and Phil Schilling, and it has to be one of the coolest, most important Ducatis of the modern era. While there is no doubt that Englishman Paul Smart's win at the Imola 200 did a lot for Bologna, no single bike or pair of people did more to make Ducati a household name in the U.S.

Neilson and Schilling gave Ducati its first major win in the budding AMA Superbike class at Daytona in 1977, not to mention writing all the stuff in Cycle championing the first 75OGT streetbike and ensuing models, articles that gave Ducati a glow in the U.S. market it still profits from today.

So, apologies to Mr. Smart, we felt a California Hot Rod 1000 SportClassic makes more sense. Neilson and Schilling were flattered when we sent this Cycle World-commissioned photo-illustration to them for review. "Your Photoshop guy did a great job on the paint," said Neilson, "but for true verisimilitude, there has to be an Italian housefly molded into the surface of the fuel tank somewhere."

He was of course referring to the first fiberglass-tank 750 Super Sport testbike sent to Cycle that did, in fact, have a fly stuck in the translucent "fuel gauge" stripe on tank side.

“l concur with Cook, and would like to add that any ‘tribute’ Ducati should have proper centerline stripes on the front fender, tank, seat and rear fender,” said Schilling. “Viewed from above, every stripe should veer off-course to the left or to the right. The stripes should never lineup individually or as a set. Just like the original 75OSS.”

Okay, Bologna, here’s your design for the CHR1000. Just make the stripes crooked–and don’t forget the fly.