The single life
Scoop takes out one of Ducati’s less common singles for a pleasant ride: Ducati’s 35 0 Sebring.
There is no dispute that the vast majority of CMM’S classic motorcycle fans have had it easy either for most or all of our lives when it comes to two wheeled transport. If you’ve grown up on a diet of Japanese machinery I’d tentatively stick my neck out and say we’ve been spoilt from the day we first rode a motorcycle. hy you ask? uite simply, if you are a fan of all things oriental and on two wheels you’ve had one key facet of bike ownership served up to you on silver salver via a spoon of the same origin. Almost every Japanese machine any of us can think of was designed to be a veritable paragon of virtue. It started, ran and stopped with an almost unerring predictability and carried on doing so until it was deprived of oil, denied even basic servicing or suffered the indignities of teenage tuners. hat the Japanese motorcycle factories delivered was a sea change in terms of accessibility, reliability and usability. If you’re not convinced try long term ownership with almost any non- Japanese motorcycle from the 196 0s or earlier (BMW s excepted). Collectively that gamut of machines will req uire supposedly arcane starting procedures, almost perpetual maintenance and the occasional roadside rebuild while still spitefully rewarding their owner with a never ending list of random issues. Or so we’re led to believe. Some things in life are worth waiting for and in this instance it’s my first crack at sampling a Ducati single. As a lad of the 1970s I’d been almost brain washed by the press of the day that all Ducatis, and especially the singles, were somehow critically inconsistent. A good one was okay but a bad one was simply poison… which may have been the case, up to a point. In the late 0s and early 70s the Italian motor industry was plagued with union- driven strikes, inconsistent third party supplies, elitist management out of touch with reality and a level of work force belligerence that occasionally defied belief. Supposedly decent Ducati singles were rare beasts and yet the truth is a little different. The raft of Ducati singles that ran from 195 1974 were inspired genius and based firmly upon sound mechanical principles. nfortunately the engineering capabilities of the day allied to poor internal investment meant many of the breed were
constructed under compromising conditions. As one pundit put it: Ducati is actually a shim manufacturer that has to make motorcycles in order to get rid of excess stock.º Harsh and not necessarily fair. Ducati' s workforce had a passion for the product and did their best with what was at their disposal. When they got it right they really got it right, delivering what many consider to be the motorcyclist' s motorcycle. All of which bring us to the Ducati 50 Sebring in camera. f your notion of a Bologna single is arse in the air, back-breaking clip-ons, bright orange/yellow and Desmodromic valves then sorry to disappoint you. What we' re looking at is a so-called cooking version of the genre with a conventional seat, high-rise pull-back bars, conventional valve springs and signiae cantly less lairy paint job. t might very well run a 197 0 registration plate but its lines are most emphatically those of the previous decade. There' s more than a touch of the 1960s space age styling to the bike with oddly angular mudguards that offer both function and form covering a large area of both tyres. Similar lines are carried over into the headlight shell. This runs a Veglia speedo which perversely has zero on the right of its dial and 100 on the left. Why? Because Veglia could! As it' s not a Desmo version there' s an expectation from its designers that the machine will be used regularly, not just for high days and holidays, so practicality is the name of the game here. There' s a substantial centre-stand that looks like it could withstand a direct artillery hit and one of the coolest and most effective side-stands ever. t' s mounted on the left front engine plate and is accessed via an arm that curves up and around the engine case when not in use. Step off the bike, tap the plate of the operating arm down and forward then lean the bike over; it' s so precise and neat you nd yourself playing with it simply for the novelty value. Sitting next to this lesson in practical ergonomics is another aid to daily use; a decent sized pump cuddles up cosily to the frame' s front down tube. A pair of tastefully pressed steel panels sit below the seat carrying capacity, an artistic ash and the Sebring name which refers to a famous racing result stateside. The left one is a tool box while the right
hand unit is normally an air-box. Our SA import Sebring runs an open Dell Orto so the panel was presumably modiae ed by a previous owner. The pië ce de rè sistance is the angular tank nished in red with gold detailing, a silver panel and the obligatory Ducati eagle. The Sebring may not have been a road legal race machine but that didn' t automatically mean it was going to look blandº every Ducati was special in the eyes of its manufacturers. Starting large capacity four-stroke singles, pre-japanese involvement, has always come with something of a reputation and here, at least, the Sebring lives up to expectations. There are two fuel taps to turn on rst then the uirky key is turned in the headlamp. f the bike is cold then you may need to use the choke but if it' s been recently run chances are it will just need a tickle. Such actions are not some dubious or uestionable process but a way of temporarily enrichening the fuel mixture. Tucked away on the upper portions of the Dell Orto carb is a small plunger that needs to be pushed down brieø y. This depresses the oat which in turn raises the fuel level in the oat bowl. Only now can
Starting the Sebring takes time, but with any luck, the bike will fire up and you’ll marvel at the sound. And what a piece of kit that engine is. After a while, I have the confidence to let the Sebring off the leash!”
we attempt ring up but this req uires yet another arcane process. The engine may only run 8.5:1 compression but there' s still a lot of metal to move around with sufae cient momentum to get the engine to re. Below the left-hand grip is a decompressor lever which partially lifts the exhaust valve off its seat. Lift the lever up towards the grip and gently push the kick-starter down feeling with your leg muscles when the piston reaches the top of its compression stroke. Having established this vital positioning assessment, double check the ignition is on, release the decompressor, then kick down and through. With any luck and dollop of skill the bike will re up, you' ll catch the motor on the throttle and all is well. Didn' t mention the kick-start is on the left? Oh, sorry! Master all of this and then marvel at how motorcycles used to sound. The cigar shaped silencer proudly announces that one of Bologna' s nest is once again back alive and kicking. With that stunningly gorgeous engine active it' s time to get a wiggle on but not until ve told myself numerous times that the Sebring runs a right-foot gear change. Strangely my aged brain copes with this side of things uite well and can even master down-for-up changes. et what really perplexes the grey matter is using the left foot for the rear brake. m a big fan of rear brakes for both stabilising a bike and pulling up at junctions. After decades of controlled right foot braking it' s almost impossibly hard to get the left foot to operate with any degree of
tact; it' s either off or hard down: stupid boy! So thankfully rapidly get comfortable and reliant on the Ducati' s front anchor which is a class act in its own right. t may only be a single leading shoe set up but crikey it' s effective. Graced with a pair of cooling vents and a one lone outlet it' s the sort of SLS arrangement that makes you wonder just how effective rst generation discs actually were. Having nally grasped the MO of the rear brake have the conae dence to let the Sebring off its leash. Even though it' s not a Desmo model there is emphatically no denying the sporting heritage of the brand in general and our test bike in particular. orget the urban myths that say good handling talian bikes have rock hard suspension; this 50' s springs may be rm but they' re most certainly not intractable. The chassis feeds back to the rider in a way Japanese machines would only imitate decades later. The bike is precise and sure-footed even on the asphalt abominations that pass for roads these days. Short of picking the wrong apex only crass use of the rear brake (yes, did more than once!) has the bike deviating off the chosen line. The rear Marzocchi shocks are rm yet pliant and controlled while the forks absorb the worst excess of our test route yet still give vital feedback. or a supposedly base model it' s unq uestionably a class act. Which brings us to the engine and what a piece of kit it is. Okay yes it' s a single but not in the guise of big old British loping leviathans; neither is on a par with later smaller singles from Small Heath such as the BSA B40. This is a one-pot engine that likes, no loves, to be worked hard. With no tacho tted it' s impossible to say what revs we' re running at but sufae ce to say it revels in being spun up and used. Work the overhead cam motor hard and it lets you know when to hook up the next gear. The ve-speed box is as slick as you like and works with an ease and grace that utterly belies the usual insinuations of ve ratios and six neutrals. Without uestion the Ducati Sebring is a rider' s machine that excels at being used with gusto. t may not have the looks of a scratcher' s cafè racer but it unq uestionably has the potential to be one. Those high bars and barrel hand grips may cry out tourist but the motor and chassis are telling another story. ltimately, the Sebring is a machine designed by an engineer of outstanding ability and built with passion by a workforce part artisan part highly skilled craftsman. The fact it doesn' t carry the supposedly iconic Desmodromic valve gear is, in reality, of little conseq uence. es that legendary set-up prevents valve oat at high engine speeds but surely that' s inconseq uential when it comes to a street going 50? f we were talking production racing either then or now then, yes, nely controlled valves could be the difference between rst or second place, but we' re not. f you' ve a desire to sample the delights of a classic talian motorcycle but don' t want to be spending a king' s ransom then, potentially, a medium capacity Ducati single could be the very thing. Easy to live with (once the starting procedure is mastered) fast enough to thrill, ace brakes, top-drawer handling and, for once, still within reach for many people looking for a decent classic. Looking at the price of most Japanese 50s now a Ducati Sebring 50 for a mere 5500 almost seems cheap.
Ducati’s Sebring 350 is more ‘tranquilo’ than many machines from the marque.
im Sc oop and Sebring in arm ony on th e open road.
1 2 3 Pull- easy- bac k bars int at oing arac ter. 1/ eg lia speedo oes rig t to left! 2/ irm rear Marzoc is ive onfidenc e. 3/ Starting takes som e prac tic e: note left- side rear brake pedal! Our thanks to John Fallon and the team at Made in Italy Motorcycles for access the Sebring and the coffee machine – 01449 612900.