A duck for true believers.

Given the lack of information on the 860GT available on the Web I thought I'd put up a bit of stuff for riders interested in bevel-drive Ducatis.

So here she is, a genuine 860GT, a much misunderstood, not loved by all Ducati.

Not exactly mainstream motorcycling.

The factory screwed her together in 1975, and sent her to South Australia to be sold to owner number one in 1976.

I bought her from owner number one for $500 AUS. The bike had been severely trashed.

At the time it was all I could afford, and I intended to do it up, sell it, and get a much more desirable 900SS.

But then the GT became my daily transport, the 750F1 came along, and the 900SS somehow lost its appeal.  30 years later I still have the GT.

Why? Because it really is an excellent machine.

The old beast draws a few looks from the public and other riders as it rumbles down the road.  Bevels of this era are a bit thin on the ground now, and the 860 is (like all bevels) quite a revelation compared to the latest offerings.

The main appeal of these old bikes is the great looking bevel-drive engine hanging out in the breeze thundering away, and the way the bike feels and handles.  Compared to the later pantah based Ducatis, the 860GT is slow steering and once committed to a corner it takes a fair bit of muscle to change line.

Lay the old duck over in a long sweeping curve and soak up the Ducati nirvanah.  The flat bars gently waggle as the forks ride the bumps, the bevel gears whine away beneath the tank, the conties roar, and the guide posts flash by.

You're riding a freight train to heaven and nothing is going to upset the line.  What a blast.

Even though the foot pegs are quite high, fully cranked over you can eventually drag them on the tarmac.  They fold back.  Push much harder on a right hand bend and the front header pipe can kiss the ground and bring you unstuck.

Mine has a few gouges and scratches in it, but has never actually caused a crash.

I rode the old duck to work as daily transport for seven years, all year round, and she rarely let me down.  During that time I often came out of a supermarket or wherever to find someone checking it out in the lot and invariably wanting to have a chat about bikes of this era.

These pictures are from various stages of the bike's life. The large format ones accessable at the bottom of the page are the most recent.

The original paint scheme was pretty uninteresting, and after the bars and tank got restyled from sliding down the road I decided to go for something a bit different.

It's had a few crashes and repairs over the years.

The bottom end destroyed itself (replaced with a later model bigger stepped crank pin), the valve guides wore out (normal), the stator plate died (normal), the voltage regulator/rectifier died (also normal), and the front header pipe burnt out.

The regulator/rectifier is now a four wire Shindengen alloy finned type SH521-12 3.5 (Kawasaki unit).  These are far superior to the original unit. 

The switch gear and twist grips were replaced with Suzuki items, and Spanish Akront alloy rims replaced the rusted out steel items.  

The restrictive Silentium mufflers were replaced with rather noisy Conti replicas.   One neighbour did comment that he no longer needed an alarm clock, when I rode off to work.

The exhaust change, together with a timing advance one or two degrees past standard gives quite a bit more go.   Importantly, you should never labour these engines.  Roller bottom ends do not take kindly to low revs, so always change down at 2 k or higher to preserve the engine. 

It is also unwise to use full synthetic oil in these engines as the rollers can slide (rather than roll) on the super slippery stuff.   It can also cause the wet clutch to slip. 

These engines run very low oil pressure and a heavier SAE rating is required.  I have always used BP Coarse in straight 50 or an equivalent multigrade.  This was a Ducati mechanics recommendation many years ago.  

Champion L88A spark plugs (now L86C in the current range) fit.  These can be bought cheaply in blister packs - for the 1200 to 1600 cc VW beetle and kombi.

The Koni rear shocks were not great and were replaced with Marzocchi AG Strada type 4/80.

The main driveshaft seal has leaked a little oil the whole time I've owned her.  The clutch is also getting a bit tired now, with the occasional slip during hard changes, suggesting the plates are getting down a bit.

Apparently 4th and 5th gear will also eventually go through the case hardening, but so far mines gone OK.

Mine has the optional electric start fitted, which can only be described as a disaster.  The poor design results in metal flakes chipping off the flywheel ring gear and dropping into the engine oil.  Despite the huge battery, it won't start the engine from cold anyway.  Use the kick start if you value your engine.

Anyone not familiar with bevel drives would think that the engine was heading for terminal destruction, considering the rattling, clattering and various other mechanical noises eminating from, and normal for this type of motor.  Pantah based motors are quiet in comparison.

Given the time I've owned it, reliability has generally been pretty good, but the electrics continue a long tradition of inconsistency and may not always function quite as intended.

Top speed is in the 190 to 200 km/h range, at which stage its pulling about 7 k (redline).  Real go comes in strong from 4 k on.   Valve float (these are not Desmo engines) is noticeable into redline.  However, as power drops away about then, there's no point in reving it further.

Handling is pretty good considering its no lightweight (215 kg), and like all Ducatis, it thrives on being ridden on the throttle - with strong engine braking to wash away the speed.

So, if it's old, and not particularly fast any more, and it's a bit heavy, and it's noisy, and it vibrates a bit, and it hasn't got a fairing, and it doesn't look like the current crop, why would anyone bother riding one?

Probably for all of the above.

Here's a few more pictures | 1 | 2 |

And others in a larger format | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 |

Here's a few tuning tips from about 30 years of Ducati ownership which may be of interest.  

860GT Links

Ducati Meccanica
Tim's Euro-trash 860GT motorcycle page
Bevel Heaven

Italian bike collection 

Peter's House

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South Australia