The Guzzi and the Ducati fanatics have a lot in common, in theory. Both bands are faithful to a niche brand, with two cylinders, excellent stability, but incapable of defending itself in performance tests against Japanese sports bikes. Or at least that is what I thought before I took part in this surprising comparative test, done in Germany, with two Italian sports bikes that can keep up with the most explosive Japanese four cylinder bikes of 1983…and with only two big cylinders.
This is not, strictly speaking, a test of road bikes, but it doesn’t deal with racing bikes either. The Ducati 900 SS and the Guzzi Le Mans 1000 are two licensed purebreds whose true home are mountain roads or high speed tracks. They are machines made specifically for silhouette or production racing …production bikes with stability and performance at the level of the most powerful Japanese bikes with motors of up to four cylinders and 1100 cubic centimeters. Plus, more important still, they are two of the most enjoyable and elegant bikes on the world market.
I had the luck of getting to the Motorrad newsroom in Stuttgart on the same day that the importers were handed the two legendary Italian bikes. None of the bikes parked in the Motorrad garage had the charisma of the Italian twin cylinders. All the testers signed up to ride the Guzzi or the Ducati, while Japanese bikes as exciting as the Honda VF 750 F, the Kawasaki GPZ 1100, the Suzuki GSX 750 ES, the Kawasaki Lawson Replica and the Kawasaki GPZ 750 were momentarily "without boyfriends".
However, they weren’t strictly Ducati and Guzzi production bikes. No, the appeal lay in the fact that there were two exemplary units, machines meticulously prepared by the respective importers and with "kits" approved for the Germany Production racing championship. Up to now the Ducati has been the queen of Italian sports bikes in the German market, but in 1983 two extremely dangerous rivals had appeared, the Laverda RGS 1000 and the 1000 DBM Guzzi Le Mans. The Laverda with Jota kit recorded a maximum speed of 225 km/h. near the end of the timing zone in Hockenheim a couple of months ago, but despite its excellent performance, the general opinion of the testers was that its "handicap" in weight (260 kg.) was still enough to give the advantage to the Ducati 900 S2, whose maximum speed was "only 208 km/h, and the Guzzi 850 Le Mans, with a maximum speed that day of 214 km/h.
After that test, Moto Guzzi importer for Germany, encouraged by the amazing performance of the 850 production bike, announced the commercialization of a new series of Guzzi Le Mans 1000 (949 cc), it would be able to "brush off" their perpetual rival, the Ducati 900 SS. The Guzzi importer even got to announce a maximum power of 95 hp.
However, the Ducati importer did not take long to introduce itself in Motorrad by proposing an "Italian match" between a Ducati 900 SS and the new Le Mans 1000. The rules of play: both bikes would have to comply strictly with traffic regulations in Germany and also with the production category of the German Federation.
The tests would be carried out by the magazine without the presence of representatives for either of the two brands, relying completely on the impartiality of Motorrad.
Conditions accepted. And two beautiful toys for Motorrad ... and for me, since I was invited to be one of three lucky testers for testing acceleration and top speed at Hockenheim and also for the stability tests in the mountains. Later I would accompany Reinhard Gutzeit at the Bosch facilities on the outskirts of Stuttgart for bench testing.
When it comes to motorcycles as special and as beautiful as the SS and the Le Mans, it is virtually impossible to reach definitive conclusions without resorting to opinions too personal to be valid. Between a Suzuki GSX 1100 ES and a 1100 Kawasaki GPZ the differences in profile, feel, image and performance are minimal and the truth is that for the rider it would be somewhat difficult to highlight one or the other if you could not look into them to see the colors and line of the shaped fairings and the shape of the dashboards. The Suzuki with the Kawasaki motor would have the same feel, but somewhat more rage. However, when we get to the Ducati and Guzzi we are before two bikes with the same personality. There has never been another 90 degrees V-two with desmodromic distribution. There has never been another 90 degrees V-two with a longitudinally positioned crankshaft, Cardan driveshaft and integral braking. The bikes are unique. They are already legendary. Both, in the end, have been on the market for a decade, although with engine size changes and details. Both are bikes that inspire passion.
I had never intended to do a comparison of these bikes in Spain without counting on the adequate means for “cold” comparisons. I found that the Motorrad testers felt the same. Some are considered more or less impartial; one is such a rabid Guzzi fan that he begins to raise his voice and make violent gestures and some threats when he speaks of the Ducati, while the other three testers are life-long Ducati fans with photos of Hailwood, Smart and Spaggiari on their Ducati bikes hanging on the walls of their offices.
Two or three times, my old friend Andrés Pérez Rubio and I have tried to set up a comparison test between the Guzzi Le Mans and the Ducati 900 SS, but we have never been able to reach an agreement on the rules. Plus, in the end you could say that the definite test of these two sports bikes has been the Motociclismo Series..., tied 1-1 (Ducati and Tejedo in 1981 and Guzzi and Andrés, himself in 1982).
A tester without passions would be a robot. I love Ducati bikes, and they have embittered my life on many occasions as well. It was like the crankshafts on the first 900 SS were made of glass and after a season with a 900 SS I was so broke I had to save two years in order to be able to race again in '78 with a Suzuki GS 1000. With the Ducati it was always a question of being without spare parts. I was always waiting for the arrival of a ghostly Bologna truck, a truck always "was on the way" or "it was in customs”, but it never came. My friends who rode with Guzzi experienced the same frustrations, and when finally the smiling English importer delivered to us the material we had requested three or four months ago, the price had always doubled!
The bad thing about an Italian sports bike is that they run so well when they run well that you are extremely happy, and when it breaks down you have to wait so long and pay so much money to repair that once it’s repaired there is no way to sell it without suffering heavy losses..., and slowly you start to break it in and enjoy its charm until the cycle repeats itself.
However, there are still no bikes that satisfy the biker with a taste for sports riding as much as the Italians ... and I can say this having tried all the new 750 c.c Japanese sports bikes and even the 1,100 c.c. bikes. However, before we launch into this delicious comparison test I would have to say that these exotic Italian satisfactions are accompanied by disappointments and frustrations that have given the Italians a deserved reputation for “bikes with problems,” but they are also bikes of character with excellent performance and stability.
Tie at Hockenheim
The ultimate test would have been doing timed laps in Hockenheim, but a car factory had rented half the circuit for braking tests and Motorrad had rented the other half for performance testing. So we had to limit ourselves to acceleration and top speed tests if the Ducati impressed us more with its ability to breathe at high speeds, the Guzzi motorcycle proved itself to have the most low range power and more torque to speed up in fifth gear
The Ducati excelled in acceleration, and both bikes tied with surprising a top speed of 222 km/h, a kilometer per hour faster than the Suzuki GSX 1100 ES that we were testing on the same day. Plus, while the Suzuki reached the 221 k/h. with 103 HP at the clutch, both Italian bikes were within 25/30 HP of the wider Japanese four-cylinder bikes.
Three days later I saw in the bench tests that Bosch that t 70 to 75 horsepower in a narrow two cycle engine are enough to get great performance.
The Guzzi yields 75 hp at 7,400 r.p.m. at the clutch, but there is useful power from 3000 r.p.m. The Ducati with 70 hp (but with better aerodynamics) has the ability to breathe efficiently at higher speeds, yielding its maximum power at 8,400 r. p. m. but with less low range power. Until you reach 4,300 r.p.m., the Ducati does not respond well.
The big surprise at Hockenheim, for the Germans at least, was the speed of 222 km/h. achieved by both motorcycles. That same day we were testing a Japanese 1100 c.c. bike with 103 hp and it really only reached 221 km/h, despite a significant advantage in power and acceleration.
The Guzzi, with a weight of 247 kg compared to 210 kg for the Ducati, lags on acceleration, as you can see in Hockenheim figures. At the end of the 400 meter the Ducati has the advantage of nine-tenths of a second, while when it came to the kilometer the advantage of the Ducati is 1.3 seconds. However, once they get going at 200 k/h, the Guzzi and Ducati continue to accelerate equally, and both reach the end of the timing area, 2.5 kilometers from the exit to stop, running at 222 km/h. according to the photocell. Thanks to its better initial acceleration up to 180 km/h, the Ducati finished the 2.5 kilometers about 2.5 seconds faster.
However, in fifth gear acceleration the Guzzi wins the game. Its strong low range power permits it to accelerate in fifth from low or medium speeds much better than the Ducati
The Ducati, with its camshafts more crossed and narrower power range, "stutters" and "spits" from the carburetor at 60 km/h. in fifth, while the Le Mans 1000 accelerates cleanly, taking only 1.4 seconds to go from 60 to 80 km/h. Plus, the Guzzi continues to be the most effective from 80 km/h. up to 140 km/h., when the Ducati finally starts to breathe well through its huge 40 mm. Dell'Orto without filters.
To take advantage of the 70 hp of the Ducati you must crouch down completely, knees and elbows pressing against the tank and the helmet outside of the air stream passing over the dome. In speed tests, with the rider upright, the Guzzi beat Ducati by 4 km/h.
Going through the wide curve at 200 km/h before the last 1.5 kilometers of the timing zone, the Ducati without a steering damper, wobbles a bit, while the Guzzi, with the steering damper set at the stiffest position (extremely rigid and almost undriveable at low speeds), was impeccably stable.
The Ducati was easiest to stop from 222 km/h, but at this was respectable speed it was very important to apply pressure on the lever and handle of the Guzzi sparingly, with its comprehensive system. Braking almost exclusively with the lever (front disc and rear disc) the fork visibly squirmed.
In the mountains
The testing at Hockenheim and Bosch now finished, we went to the mountains to enjoy the two Italian bikes on linked curves. On the highway we were all surprised by the noble Guzzi acceleration from medium speed. We had measured it the day before at Hockenheim, but to measure it is not the same as looking at it, feeling it, on the highway. With both bikes side by side at 130 km/h, the Guzzi escapes easily in fifth gear and if the Ducati rider wants to keep up with the Guzzi he has to shift down a gear.
Without traffic and without a speed limit we went with three bikes towards the Alps. On the outward journey, it was my turn to ride the Lawson Replica Kawasaki, while Horst rode the Ducati and Michl rode the Guzzi. Despite having the most powerful of the three, I was hard for me to keep up with them at more than 210 km/h. To keep up I had to crouch so low that it was hard to see the road over the instrument panel. Once, when we the three of us were riding one behind the other at 200 Km/h, I left the slipstream of the Guzzi to pass and could not! Without the draft, the Kawasaki began to lose ground.
Plus, in the upper mountains the superior Kawasaki acceleration was not enough to compensate for the weight. The Ducati was the one that most easily took the curves, but with her you would have to change between second, third and fourth gears continuously to the sequences of curves to sequences that the Guzzi could take in third ... even though the fastest bike between the curves was the Ducati.
The test Ducati was the very bike that had been champion of Germany in 1977 and 1978, with Imola camshafts and high compression pistons. Everything else, was strictly standard. Behind it had an old Dunlop Endurance, which according to the importer had been on the bike for two years. In its day, the Dunlop Endurance was a great racing tire and great for the road, but it seemed hard (maybe because of "age") and less reliable than the Pirelli Phantoms that were on the Guzzi. However, with a 4.10 by 18 behind the Guzzi did not have enough tire to allow for fast acceleration coming out of corners.
The Guzzi has 88 mm pistons instead of the 80 mm. of the Le Mans. Thus, the displacement reaches 949 cc. The camshafts are more crossed than the production bikes and the camshaft control is through a central sprocket in the front of the engine, which replaces the drive chain of the Le Mans. The 1000 Le Mans valves are 2 mm. larger in diameter than those of the Le Mans III, and while in Spain this kit is offered as a special preparation, in Germany and France, where the Le Mans 1000 is approved for street racing and production bike races, it reaches 215 kilometers per hour.
Conclusions? The 900 SS Ducati and the Guzzi Le Mans 1000 continue to be great bikes and great rivals. The Ducati is more agile, easier to take through linked curves, but the Guzzi has more kick at low speeds and it lets you take the curves without shifting and it’s a bad ass bike.
Plus both can reach 222 kilometers per hour. Each has its legions of fans and the only thing we have demonstrated in this fun comparison test is that neither of the groups of fans lacks arguments to justify their brand loyalty. Also, we have discovered a high level of performance that is showing the bike as we have proven here, the Ducati 900 SS of our test is virtually identical in its engine specifications of the Hailwood Replica, currently on sale in Spain.
So, while the majority, the vast majority of the superbikes that can go over 220 kilometers per hour are beyond the reach of the Spanish rider, Ducati and Guzzi offer features that were previously only obtainable with the four-cylinder Japanese bikes.
The Laverda RGS is also capable of keeping up with the Le Mans 1000 and the Ducati 900 SS, but only with the Jota kit because the standard RGS will not win over those who have until now thought that you need four cylinders to go fast. Two are enough...