Wednesday, 9 November 2016

Ducati 450 Mk.3

I had decided that enough was enough. The Ducati would have to go. Yet another problem that necessitated obtaining a rare spare part. A final fling with a 60 mile ride along some of my favourite local roads seemed a fitting way to end 12 years of ownership. I set out on this final ride on a sunny Autumn day, banking the Duke into the many interesting bends on my route.

When I changed down or accelerated I could hear the wonderful sound of the Ducati’s single cylinder engine. I returned home with my mind changed completely; I couldn’t possibly sell this bike which had given me so much pleasure over the years despite all the frustration. It is all the marvellous memories of rides like I had just experienced that allows the Ducati single owner to put up with the continual electrical problems and high cost of spare parts.

The Ducati I own is a 1974 450 Mk3. It has a single OHC engine without the desmodromic valve operation that Ducati are famous for. However, the engine is easier to work on than the desmo version. The motor is superbly engineered, the camshaft driven by a shaft and bevel gears. My engine has done approximately 50000 miles. It’s difficult to be precise on its mileage because vibration has on occasion wrecked the speedometer. The engine went for about 40000 miles before overhaul.

It was then discovered that this particular motor had a desmo bottom end and piston. Apparently, during the last years of Ducati single production at Bologna they used to put even more expensive parts, that they had left on their shelves, into some engines. I could never understand the stories of Ducati big-ends failing at low mileages. No wonder, when mine had the twin roller bottom end of a desmo. The bike has a five speed gearbox operated by a rocking pedal mounted on the right side like all those old British bikes.

Brakes are very powerful and trouble free drums. The front Grimeca brake is a double sided drum, with separate cables meeting at the handlebar lever where they can be adjusted to even up load. The front forks and rear shocks are Marzocchi, which means they are on the, er, hard side but at least this removes all that queasy Jap wallowing.

The handling does have its very own idiosyncrasies. Although they were rated as one of the best handlers back in the early seventies, mine certainly has one peculiarity. On hitting bumps at certain angles the forks seem to cause the front wheel to shimmy from side to side. The first time this happens it feels like the end is nigh. However, the forks seem to have a self centering effect on the wheel and provided you don’t panic nothing untoward happens. I have named this phenomenon A Touch Of The Agostini’s after seeing the same thing happen on his Marzocchi forked MV at Mallory Park in the seventies. At the time I wondered why Agostini appeared totally unconcerned, now I know why.

Like many other Italian vehicles, so much expensive high quality engineering was put into the engine, brakes, etc that it’s doubtful whether there was any profit in building them. The electrics, however, were cheap, hasty and a source of constant problems. The original dip switches used to last about two months. Once on a fast dual carriageway at night whilst dipping the headlamp the dip switch fell apart and the lights went out - a very interesting experience. The solution is to fit a switch off a Suzuki. Even with the electrics converted to 12V and Lucas RITA ignition fitted, the headlamp is as dim as a Toc H lamp (for older readers).

The bike is not particularly fast. At high engine revs, vibration wrecks speedos and cracks number plates. Petrol consumption is excellent with a regular 80mpg. My record is 92mpg on a long run.

There are several unique Ducati characteristics which so endear them to the owner. Firstly, starting. Prior to a rebuild by Tony Brancato, which seems to have cured the problem, starting my 450 was a fairly risky undertaking. Sometimes there was a vicious kick back which tried to break legs or shatter ankles. Just to add to the challenge, the kick start is mounted on the left side... one night, in the motorcycle shed at work, the brute kicked back and I temporarily lost all feeling in my leg which then gave way under me — down I went with the bike on top of me. My work mates appreciated the entertainment. More amusingly, a local motorcycle dealer was still limping after two weeks when the Duke had him when he tried to start her. I still suffer from Ducati Ankle, an affliction which occasionally causes your ankle to give way quite unexpectedly whilst walking.

Another Ducati feature is the clutch which doesn’t take kindly to a lot of use, particularly in slow moving traffic. When this happens even though you may hold the clutch lever in against the handlebar it has no effect and the drive takes up. This can be quite exciting, especially if there is a stationary lorry in the way. The technique is to get into neutral as fast as possible.

My 450 cost £500 in ’75 and is worth at least twice that now. They are not cheap to buy and spares are expensive, but with classic looks, unique exhaust note, generally good handling and brakes, once you own one, they are extremely difficult to part with and hack out a place in your heart.

Vince G Dusang

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