Men with earphones and radio receivers with antennae protruding skywards. Waiting expectantly, patiently, binoculars to hand, as their partners sit by their cars in fold-out chairs with a book. Could it be Boeing’s ‘eye in the sky’ E3 AWACS (Sentry) Airborne Warning and Control System aircraft, or perhaps a Raytheon Sentinel R1 – no, not that R1, but a Bombardier Global Express modified as an airborne battlefield and ground surveillance platform for the RAF? Well, don’t ask me.
I had stopped by at the Waddington Aircraft Viewing Experience (WAVE), which had recently re-opened its gates since the March lockdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic swept the country. WAVE plays host to military and aircraft enthusiasts, and has an on-site café, the Sentry Post Snack Bar… thus my stop. The popular site with its large parking area is located at the east side of the Lincoln-Sleaford A15, close to the landing lights of runway 20 at RAF Waddington.
Sat with a bacon roll and a cup of tea, I was fascinated to watch as the small pocket of dedicated enthusiasts with their handheld scanners monitored ground-to-air communications – at least, I presumed that is the frequency they were tuned to. Anyway, as it clearly was not their thing because it was incapable of flying, no one really bothered about the bike, which I had parked strategically in front of the café as I wanted to take a few snaps whilst the weather held. Blue skies dominated as I sat in T-shirt, basking in the sun’s rays and waiting for an aircraft to approach, but none did. Hell, you have got to have some patience for plane spotting.
People have a fascination for aircraft, just as others do for bikes. That was clearly evident when next I decided to attend a bike night at Olivers Motorcycles in Sleaford, which involved a pleasant backcountry jaunt from my home, mostly along a 50mph speed zone. There are some lovely twisties along the B1188, which is probably why the law had decided to put a spoiler on things.
Once at Olivers, I had hardly had chance to park up and remove my helmet when I saw a biker eyeing up the Ducati. He strolled casually round it before stepping back, hitching up his jeans over an impressive beer belly, and commented: “She looks a lot better in the flesh than in the images,” as if referring to a Page 3 model. I replied that ‘she’ was light and agile and accommodating and tremendous fun, ok, rather like a Page 3 model. He had been thinking about purchasing one (Ducati), but when I offered for him to sit on it, he declined, which I thought a bit odd.
Another biker then approached and asked if it was mine. I could have told a fib, but I did not. He then proceeded to show me a range of different bikes that he had either previously owned or longed for, that he had captured on his cellphone. I was not really sure as I had missed the start of the conversation because I still had my ear defenders in situ. Without being rude, I was gagging for a coffee so I wandered off to fetch one from the other end of the car park. When I turned round from the burger stall a number of bikers had gathered round the Ducati, some leaning down and pointing, others chatting animatedly. Having returned to the bike and explained that it was in fact the Scrambler Café Racer model, that started a whole new line of questioning. What does it ride like? It looks rather small! (In fact, when I rode into the car park a friend noted that I rather dwarfed the bike!) What is it like on fuel? Is that a new colour scheme? What does the number stand for? Is it the V-twin? Loving those spoked wheels! But then we got down to the nitty-gritty. Is it a Scrambler of is it a Café Racer? Is it mutually exclusive to one model, or the other? Now there’s a dichotomy for you.
In fact, the first thing that struck me about the Ducati was the new ‘Silver Ice Matt’ colour complete with blue frame, blue seat and classic black spoked wheels. If you fancy another colour, you will not get it, because that’s it. But it looks lovely. And if you are wondering about the number 54 on the side-mounted plates, that is in reference (or deference) to Italian racer Bruno Spaggiari, winner of the 125cc edition of the 1958 Nations Grand Priz at Monza (on a Ducati, of course), and later Ducati Desmo team manager.
The 803cc, air-cooled, SOHC, V-twin is a blast. The one thing that I took issue with was the unexpected heat generated from the rear cylinder exhaust pipe. I first noticed the heat as it penetrated my jeans at my right cheek, and when I got off the bike and removed my gloves, part of the frame and side-mounted plate were almost too hot to touch.
On the other (not so hot) hand, there are plenty of things to love about this bike. The agility is hugely impressive; it feels as light as a feather; it easily, yet gracefully, tips into bends; and on straights it carves through the wind like a peregrine falcon on speed. It is about as far removed from its semi-knobbly tyred stablemate as it is possible to get. And should you fancy carrying a pillion, the seat cover is removable, although the solo look draws the eye easily to the rear section. Also gorgeous are the classic wire-spoked wheels wrapped in 120/70 ZR17 rubber at the front and 180/55 ZR17 at the rear.
A pair of inverted KYB forks float the front end and stopping power of this mid-sized ride is courtesy of a massive 330mm front disc with a four-piston monoblock Brembo caliper, plus the benefit of Bosch ABS delivering corner-sensitive antilock protection. The handlebar’s end-mounted mirrors offer a clear view behind without any obstruction from one’s shoulders or elbows.
Rewinding to Olivers’ bike night, and I can understand why the bike drew so much attention. The ‘Silver Ice Matt’ paint job is so uber cool; the exposed trellis skeleton frame makes you yearn to run your hands along it; the cut-back front mudguard harks back to the original café racer decades; and the handlebar mimics the upside-down, backwards way on ‘bars that are so reminiscent of the original custom jobs that would park up outside the Ace Cafe.
Ducati is well into the mix of manufacturers offering sporty, café racer-styled models, and the Scrambler Café would easily take its place on the podium, thanks in no small part to the upgraded rideability and its retro authenticity. With that improved riding experience, new graphics, uncluttered lines and adorned with both subtlety and finesse, the model offers opportunities for customisation, but personally, I do not see why you would want to.
Attired in leather jacket and sporting an open face helmet and goggles, this is a bike for the free of spirit with a sprinkling of rebellion. It is one for backroads carvers as opposed to smoking rubberites who thrill at slam dunking motorists at traffic lights. Nooo, we are far too polite for that. Anyway, if you do, they have got your number ‘cos it’s on the side-mounted plates, so there.
|Engine:||803cc Air-cooled, SOHC, V-twin|
73bhp/54kW @ 8250rpm
49lb-ft/67Nm @ 5750rpm
Tubular steel trellis
Upside-down Kayaba 41mm fork
Kayaba near shock, pre-load adjustable
330mm disc, radial 4-piston caliper with Bosch Cornering ABS as standard equipment
245mm disc, 1-piston floating caliper with Bosch Cornering ABS as standard
|Front tyre:||120/70 ZR17|
|Rear Tyre:||180/55 ZR17|
13.5 litres/3.57 gallons (claimed)