Ducati Supermono Superb single
Established classic big twins like Brough Superiors and Vincent HRDs repeatedly bring big money, in fact the list of the top ten motorcycles ever sold contains only these two names. But when it comes to the humble single, one name has rocketed up the charts in recent years, and it’s not even British.
With just sixty seven examples built between 1993 and 1995, the Ducati Supermono is super rare as well as being super expensive – most recent auction sales have seen prices nudge US$200,000. Each example is numbered with a plate affixed to the magnesium steering head crown.
It seemed that Ducati had ruled a line under its legendary bevel-drive singles in the ‘seventies as all effort and finance went to the new generation of belt-drive twins. But something was happening in the early ‘nineties; a familiar sound had returned to the race tracks. Big booming four stroke singles were providing an exciting new class of competition, call it Sound of Singles or several other terms. It was Manx versus G50 all over again, except that the powerplants came mainly from Japan or Italy and were usually well over the traditional 500cc capacity.
The Ducati of the ‘nineties was an entirely different animal. Gone was the legendary engineer Fabio Taglioni (who had designed the Pantah in 1979, from where the Supermono’s bottom end was largely sourced), and at that desk now sat Massimo Bordi. The new owners, Cagiva or the Castiglioni family, were enjoying a purple patch with the liquid-cooled DOHC 8-valve desmo twin, racking up a string of World Superbike titles. But Bordi had a little project of his own that had been bench tested as far back as 1990 and was first displayed at the 1992 IFMA Show in Cologne, Germany. It was at that stage a 487cc single, effectively an 888 with the rear cylinder lopped off, incorporating a neat piece of thinking to overcome the normal bugbear of the single; vibration. Bordi’s solution was to use a second conrod connected to a pivoting lever which rotated on a pin fixed in the crankcase – what Bordi called the “doppia bieletta” or double conrod. This gave perfect primary balance and because it acted straight onto the crankshaft, eliminated secondary inertia, without the use of power-sapping chains or gears. The single differed from the 888 in having plain main bearings, with the water pump driven from the exhaust camshaft. Like the 888 twin, the new single used a six-speed gearbox with a dry clutch, and Weber/Marelli fuel injection. The design of the Supermono chassis was entrusted to a young Mechanical Engineering graduate from the University of Bologna, Claudio Domenicali, who now occupies the top job as CEO of Ducati. Built at the Cagiva factory in Varese, the tubular steel frame was made from a new ALS500 tubular steel, while the swinging arm was the work of Verlicchi in Bologna. The triangular structure pivoted in the crankcases like the modern generation twins. South African Pierre Terblanche, formerly with VW before joining Ducati to work under Massimo Tamburini, was responsible for the universally-adored styling, with the fairing and seat produced in carbon fibre. The then exotic material was also used for the footrest mounts and airbox. Three-spoke magnesium wheels came from Marchesini, with Brembo floating discs and calipers. Production of the first batch of 30 bikes began in early 1993, with a British price of £16,000, but it was a slow process. By late 1994 a revised version, usually referred to as the 102, was under construction, with the capacity boosted from 550cc to 572cc. The 102 description stemmed from the bore size, up 2mm from the original. With other mods including a 60mm throttle body and titanium conrod, with a more efficient silencer and updated electronics, power was up to 76hp, with an appreciable increase in mid-range power for better acceleration out of corners. The Sound of Singles class had its apogee in the ‘nineties when competition was fierce in Europe,
USA and Australia, when there was virtually no limit on capacity, nor on chassis specifications. This resulted in some highly innovative motorcycles with a wide variety of powerplants and frame ideas. The class gained distinction when it was included on the Isle of Man TT program in 1994 and remained there until the 2000 event. In the inaugural Singles TT, Kiwi Robert Holden brought his 550 Supermono home six seconds behind Jim Moodie’s 660 Harris Yamaha, and the following year went one better to claim his first and only TT victory at an average speed of 110.78 mph. That remained Ducati’s sole victory in the seven years of the Singles TT, although Johnny Barton was second in 1997 and third in 2000 on a 572cc Supermono. In Australia, our regular contributor Alan Cathcart won the Singles event at the 1994 Australian TT at Mount Panorama, Bathurst aboard the Supermono imported by distributor Fraser Motorcycles. Queenslander Brett Whale competed successfully on his Supermono, #9 of the first production run, for a number of years. In more recent times Supermotoard seems to have taken the place of the original SoS concept, but there is also a class in USA called Super Singles which uses 450cc ex-motocross engines, of which there are plenty to chose from. Bikes left over from the original SoS days now run in their own category under the AHRMA (American Historic Racing Motorcycle Association) banner. Australia briefly had a class running YZ450 Yamaha motocrossers, modified for road racing. The action was thick and fast, but these engines, built for short squirts, do not overly take to being held on full throttle on long straights, so engine maintenance is high and expensive to avoid blow ups. The Supermono featured here is number #25 from the original 550cc batch and is owned by Kiwi Ducati aficionado Kevin Grant. The bike originally went to Ducati dealer Peter Heggeman in Germany and was raced to 1st place by Aussie Owen Coles in the Sound of Singles race at the first World Superbike Championship round to be held at Donington Park in UK. It was then shipped to America and rebuilt by Texas Ducati specialist and former Kiwi Jeff Nash of Advanced Motorsports. Just about everything was replaced with brand new parts including the crankcases and bodywork. It was also converted to second series specification 572cc. It has been fitted with a Bucci slipper clutch but is otherwise 100% original. Since being in Kevin’s hands, Supermono #25 has not been raced since, although it has been demonstrated at the annual Pukekohe Classic Festival by Dave Coles.
MAIN Kevin Grant’s Supermono at Pukekohe in 2010. LEFT Dave Cole demonstrates Kevin Grant’s Supermono at the NZ Classic Festival at Pukekohe.
Brett Whale crests Reid Park at Mount Panorama in the final motorcycle meeting there in 2000. Photo: Phil Ainsley
ABOVE Unclothed, just as gorgeous. TOP RIGHT Bucci slipper clutch.
190mm rear disc with Brembo 2-piston caliper. Belt drive to DOHC. All panels are carbon fibre, including the front mudguard. ABOVE Rider’s view showing the identification plate. Kevin Grant’s is #25. BELOW LEFT Öhlins shock sits horizontally under the seat. BELOW RIGHT Swinging arm pivots through the rear of the crankcases. Note carbon fibre footrest bracket.