The Ducati 900SS is a motorcycle that’s rapidly becoming a bit of a modern classic, custom bike builders have been discovering the raw mechanical beauty that lies just beneath the original fairings but no one has quite showcased the 900SS as well as Old Empire Motorcycles with the example you see pictured here.
The bike started life as a 1995 900SS with its iconic Pantah-based 904cc air-cooled L-twin, each cylinder is fed by two Desmodue valves and the crankcase was a modified version of the one used on the Ducati 851. This engine has long been a favourite amongst the Ducatista and from a purely aesthetic standpoint it looks like it belongs in a modern art museum in between a Series I E-Type Jaguar and a Riva.
Ducati had introduced the 900SS in 1989 and although it was beautiful and highly capable, it frequently suffered from cracked swing-arms – so in 1991 Ducati introduced an upgraded model with a chrome-molybdenum steel trellis frame and bearings rather than bushings where the previously problematic swing-arm attached to the frame.
This new version was a revelation, it offered impressive reliability with tire melting performance and looks that would go on to influence motorcycle designers around the world. By the late ’90s the Ducati Monster had begun to steal some of the limelight from the 900SS due to its lower cost and more beginner-friendly handling, by 1998 a redesigned version was released with somewhat controversial styling – this has led to the popularity now seen around the 900SS from the model years 1991 to 1998.
As you can clearly tell, the Ducati you see here has undergone an intensive custom rebuild and many parts from the original bike are now in the parts bin. Looking at the design closely it gives an impression of what Ducati would have built if they were competing with Indian, Harley-Davidson and Cyclone on the board track circuits of the United States throughout the 1910s and 1920s.
Any regular visitor to Silodrome will be well aware that we have a significant soft spot for anything board track related and I have vague memories of writing an article a few years ago demanding that the frequently lethal sport be brought back with immediate effect. I’m reasonably sure I even offered to bring my own hammer to help build the wooden tracks.
With this in mind you can imagine how interested we were to receive a folder of images from the team at Old Empire Motorcycles containing the Ducati pictured here. The build project took them almost 2 years and unlike the other customs they build, this one wasn’t built for a client. It was a personal project for the team and the freedom afforded them by not having to keep a client happy allowed them to throw out the rule book and fire up the acetylene torch.
Perhaps the most immediately eye-catching element on the build is that Girder fork front end and brass headlight, when combined with the 21″ front wheel and quad leading shoe drum brake you’d never know that the bike was less than 20 years old. A single leading shoe drum is installed inside the 21″ rear wheel and the swing-arm has been entirely removed in favour of a solid rear – far more fitting on a motorcycle designed to race on a circuit made of two-by-fours.
The copper tubing and braided wiring around the engine are tasteful touches, as is the extensive use of brass and leather. The fuel tank is a hand-fabricated twin-tank with copper plugs and the seat is a similarly handmade unit – the guys at Old Empire tell me that the seat is perfect for blasting around British B-roads but is probably not entirely suitable for long distance motorcycle touring.
If you’d like to read more about this Ducati or see some of the other custom motorcycles to roll out of the Old Empire garage you can click here to visit their official website.
Photography by Onno Wieringa.