Anytime somebody chops a thing up like a Desmosedici or lops the arms off the Venus de Milo, there will always be reactionaries who sprout up like mushrooms on a seasoned cow patty to express their disgust and disapproval. To them, we offer this word of advice and explanation: Relax! Justyn Amstutz has two other unmolested Desmosedicis! One’s so fresh, it’s still in the crate.
Amstutz explains: “Like every other Ducati nut, I put my name on the list for my first Desmo several years ago. As I was waiting, an opportunity presented itself to get another one still in the crate from outside the U.S. I bought the crated gray-market bike with the intention of never removing it from the crate. A few months later, the bike I’d ordered came in and voila!...now I have a Desmo I can actually ride. At this point, I’m one of the luckiest guys on the planet! I never expected to have anything more than one to ride and one to display in a crate.”
The self-sacrifice is touching. Unfortunately for the rest of us, success breeds success. Not long after Amstutz took delivery of his second D16, his friend Tom Collins (who runs Freedom Road Financial, Ducati’s retail-financing source in the U.S.) mentioned he had a few repos lying around, including a couple of Desmosedicis. Amstutz is a partner in National Powersport Auctions, a dealer-only auction company that’s the largest seller of used motorcycles, ATVs, watercraft, marine and RV wholesale units in the world. How could he pass up a deal on a repo’d Desmo-tre? And with one Desmo in a crate and another one to ride, why not turn the third into something special?
“When Soichiro Honda decided to put motors on bicycles,” says Amstutz, “people thought he was nuts. I’m not comparing myself to Mr. Honda, I’m just saying that without people who are nuts or don’t conform to mass opinion, we wouldn’t have the amazing machinery we take for granted today. I love and respect the provenance and history of Ducati, the design of the Desmo, etc. I just wanted one that nobody else had. I respect the passion people have for their motorcycles and understand it. I have that same passion, just my own interpretation of it. To me, that defines motorcycling: having fun while enjoying a common interest and being able to express our individuality through our bikes.”
The call went out to Roland Sands Designs; Amstutz was already a satisfied customer after a few previous RSD builds (and his lovely fiancé, Lori, owns an RSD KTM Café Racer, as well as the Roland Harley custom Pink Trash). And “street-trackers” are sort of Sands’ métier. “One of the first bikes I built, when I was like 18, was a Sportster street-tracker,” Sands admits. “I’ve been building that style of bike since the beginning, and I’ve always loved the way they work and look. I originally raced a Yamaha YZ250 on 19-inch wheels and Goodyears in the STTARS Supermoto series back in 2000 and loved the feel of dirt-track tires on pavement: You could really work the tire, and it made you feel like a hero to slide that much. Besides that, they just look bitchin’.”
The only difference this time is that he’d be starting with a $72,500 Desmosedici (Kelley Blue Book retail is down to $55K if you want one!) instead of a pile of Harley parts, which didn’t do much to lessen the pressure. Not that former AMA 250cc GP champ Sands was going to succumb to it.
How do you begin turning a GP bike into a flat-tracker, Roland? “Very carefully,” he says. “I own a Desmo myself and ride it on the track and in the canyons, so it was not without a full appreciation for the existing machine that we went about the build. The goal was to keep the heart and skeleton of the Desmo intact while modifying the necessary items to get it to proper street-tracker geometry. It’s not quite as aggressive as a full-bore flat-track racer, but it’s pretty close.”
Adding 25mm more offset in custom triple-clamps (the frame wasn’t cut) provides 90 degrees lock-to-lock steering—your regular Desmo’s not made to go quite so sideways—while it reduces trail, which is then regained with the 19-inch wheels. Rake didn’t change but has some built-in adjustability via shock length and ride height (the RR’s adjustable steering head is maxed out, rake-wise). The tubular swingarm was where things got tricky. Designing a single-sided thing to complement the suddenly exposed main frame, while dealing with a new shock position, 200 crankshaft horses of chain pull and twisting torque, etc. wasn’t easy. Sands’ man Rodney Aguiar FARO’d (3D laser scanned) the stock arm and modeled the whole thing extensively before crafting the actual item from 4130 chrome-moly steel. Then he built a subframe from the same material, which was left as open as possible to reinforce the stripped-down look.
Really there’s no reason to be upset, since no actual Desmosedici parts were harmed in the making of this animal. All the things that came off just became “spares” for Justyn’s other two Desmos—one of which may become a track-day-only ride and will therefore be needing spare parts. Wheels, swingarm, triple-clamps, clip-ons, rearsets, bodywork, fuel tank, subframe, exhaust, fairing—you can’t order Desmosedici stuff at bikebandit.com, can you?
The tailsection is formed in hand-hammered alloy, a hybrid of a flat-track item Sands had in the rafters and the Desmo’s original carbon-fiber tail. It’s swoopily designed to flow along behind the tank and not snag the rider in any way as he attempts to pitch the motorcycle sideways. Any volunteers? Ditto the handmade aluminum fuel tank, which still serves as the top of the airbox that force-feeds the mighty four-banger at speed.
Even Roland Sands has enough sense to back slowly away from the bike’s 16-valve desmodromic V-Four fed by four 50mm Magneti Marelli throttle bodies; All that power is already enough for two flat-trackers or 50 Ben Hur chariots. The hard part was tucking out of sight all the hardware containing the software that helps operate the beast; most of it now resides in the new tail.
The run-of-mill Desmo exhaust snakes its way rearward to converge and send spent gases upward out of a big rectangular opening in the top of the tailsection—not an option here. So, FMF director of R&D George Lutting was drafted to build a custom titanium system. “One of the main technical challenges was to allow the Desmo motor to operate properly over a wide rpm range with very short and uneven exhaust lengths, but we achieved it with the use of positive-pressure crossovers,” explains Lutting. “A typical crossover draws exhaust by creating negative pressure in the adjacent pipe. This system creates a slight positive pressure to trick exhaust gases into thinking they’re on a longer journey.”
On with the 19-inch PM wheels and Goodyear flat-track rubber, then it was off to Airtrix in Santa Barbara, California, for paint while the stock Öhlins suspension went on hiatus to Race Tech. Once finished, the bike was then shipped off to meet its owner at the Sturgis rally. “When I landed in Sturgis,” says Amstutz, “I went directly to the transport truck. The bike came off and I almost started crying. I was like a proud parent. The cool thing about having it in Sturgis was that most of the people there had no clue what it was, so I got to ride it on the down-low. The first time I started it, I was so stoked—the GP sound on a dirt-tracker is insane! Roland made me promise to bring her back in one piece for the CW photo shoot, so I didn’t have the opportunity to really get after it. I can’t wait to actually get to spend some time with the bike on and off the tarmac.”
What, you’re going to ride this bike? “I actually ride my bikes, all of them,” answers Amstutz. “The bike is titled and will have a license plate on it for street use. I will ride it to work or out Ortega Highway [in Southern California] on the weekends. I’ll take it to track days and hopefully not have to have RSD replace too many parts. The reason we went with the tracker concept, outside of its beauty, is its versatility. It conforms to dirt-track specs, and I can still play with it on the street. The look and feel of this bike is classic Ducati with a new-school twist. It’s perfect RSD! I couldn’t be happier.” Sands says he’s happy, too: “The coolest thing about it is when you fire it up and sit on it, it still feels like a Desmo. The engine still has the same vibration and tight throttle response. Everything is still ultra-clean and tidy, the controls feel tight, but instead of sitting hunched over with all that pressure on your wrists, you’re comfortable, sitting up in the wind with nothing but a set of Renthals in your face and 200 horsepower under your butt. It makes me feel warm inside just to think about it.”
Right. Who wants to ride it around the Ventura dirt track first? What could go wrong as Cernicky attempts to keep the warmth inside, where it belongs...?