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Ducati 600SL Pantah
The Pantah has created a Duke that is far from boring. Ducati's 600 big-bore version of the 500cc V twin is a livelier, longlegged lady. And she is the answer to critics who complained that only half a litre of Italy's finest modern vintage left riders thirsty for more.
That Pantah 500, using one of the firm's new-era engines, excelled in roadholding, oozed a sexy, exotic flavour, yet was short in steam. A dip in the mid-range torque curve was the 500s failing - unless it was kept buzzing, performance was rather flat.
If it was not for the new Pantah's very high gearing, the advantages of more capacity would be more obvious. But taking out the bore from 74mm to 80mm - a capacity increase of 1 7 per cent — has resulted in a power boost of just over 11 per cent.
And while the 500s power peaked quite plainly at around 9,000rpm. the bigger bike has a smooth delivery of power from 5,000rpm right through the danger lines of 7,500, 8,500 and 9,000rpm when it starts to run out of breath.
Apart from those big bores in the ultra-short stroke engine, the machine is identical to the 500. Even the carbs and jets, camshafts, and compression ratio are the same. Identical too is the complex but very effective desmodromic valve gear-which does not rely on the valve springs to close the valves, but does the job mechanically with the aid of seperate cams.
This valve gear means, in theory, that much higher rpm can be used without the risk of valves bouncing. While the twin is certainly a busy engine with an appetite for revs more like a racer than a roadster, the odd-spaced firing pulses and mechanical quietness means it never feels stressed.
Near-ideal balance of the main moving parts inside the 90 degree V means vibration is never noticeable. Thank heavens there's no multi-cylinder tingle. It's a good job the engine is so smooth and willing, since full use of the revs is demanded by the tall gear ratios.
On the road, the Duke starts to pull strongly with 6,000 on the tacho — corresponding to about 30, 45, 60, 70 and 83mph through the gears, with half as much engine speed still to come. A high first gear meant it was best to slip the clutch to about 10mph to avoid snatch in the transmission, and from then on the gearbox felt like a six-speeder.
First and second gear were needed around town, and the top four ratios were all within reach on the road to maintain 50-100mph speeds. It was very, very difficult not to ride the bike at illegal speeds. It has to be every rider's aim to get into top gear, yet the bike was reluctant to pull top below about 70mph. Add to this the feeling of relaxation from 70-80mph that came when the wind took the weight off my arms, and it's obvious this is no touring bike.
Around town, the classic Café racer crouch put a lot of weight on my arms, and there was the added hassle of having to use a heavy clutch. Both disadvantages disappeared once the Duke gets into its stride on its favourite swooping A roads, when the riding position started to make sense and the whole bike became immensely enjoyable.
A rigid trellis-type frame and firm suspension keeps the rider in touch with the road and sticky Pirellis on the test bike meant it could be hustled through the bends with total confidence. Bumpy back roads, were to be avoided -they were not fast enough for the Duke, and they were physically punishing! Cresting bumpy rises made the head twitch, but on the flat tarmac it was faultless.
Once I had adjusted the rear-set gear change linkage so the pedal nestled against my foot, the gearchange was always a delight to use - though changes had to be definite to avoid going into a false neutral. High gearing was demonstrated when it went through the quarter mile without the need of fourth gear, and acceleration seemed no faster than that of the 500.
In the same way that the test track headwind kept the quarter times below the 14.41 seconds recorded with the 500, headwinds on the road tended to knock the speed down quite considerably and sometimes prompted a down-change. A top speed of 117mph - about 10mph faster than the 500 - doesn't reflect the bike's practical road speed.
Importers Coburn and Hughes were hoping for at least 120mph. but there's no way it would pull that speed in top. It proved to be faster in fourth than top gear, by about five mphl
There is the inevitable argument that lower gearing would produce more top end, but, personally, I'd stick with this leisurely long-legged gearing. The pillion seat, like the rider's seat, is fine for those Sunday afternoon thrashes, and generally seems civilised by sports bike standards.
It starts easily, warms up quickly, has an adequate 150-plus miles range on a tankful, and the Brembo calipers clamp the iron discs with a comforting bite. The machine comes without a rear view mirror- although C and H fitted one to the test bike. I find a mirror essential for fast riding -there are often times when there's no time to glance over the shoulder. . .
Disappointing was the headlight beam -poor power from a Halogen bulb rated at 65/60 watts and the standard of finish on the bike should be better to withstand the rigours of an English winter. At nearly £2,800 the Ducati is expensive, but is worlds apart from the current plethora of multi-cylinder middleweights from Japan.
Spares are similarly expensive but maybe the most daunting aspect of caring for a bike like this is the prospect of keeping that desmo valve gear well adjusted. Not a job for the DIY amateur, this involves setting eight separate shims to give a critical zero clearance in the tappets without being loose.
The bad news is that with the heads removed and set up on the bench, this job could cost a packet depending on how lucky the mechanic is in choosing shims to fit. The good news is that this tappets job may not have to be done for 10,000 or 15,000 miles, depending on how the bike is used. More good news on running costs is that fuel consumption is only marginally worse than that of the 500, with an average of about 44mpg.
Overall impressions are that the Duke is a superb bike, even if it offers no compromises to riders outside the dedicated sports-riding fraternity. Maybe that's why it's so good. It's engine is a superb piece of engineering, The 600 Pantah's motor is slung in a trellis frame. The adoption of belt driven cams reduces noise and production costs. and will continue in 500cc form and there's 350 for the home market.
1983 Road Test