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I am an unashamed Ducati fan, having adored Italian machines since my short trouser days. An old chap (probably over thirty) used to run half a shop that was on my way to school. He sold bicycle bits, and army surplus batteries, and that sort of thing. I would often call in, mostly to buy cotter pins for the latest bicycle project. Things haven't changed much, except they don't make cotter pins like they used to. Ambition had got the better of this small trader, and in the middle of his shop stood a brand new Itom Atom. "All my troubles are over, son" he said, alluding to the fortune he was going to make selling Itoms. Nobody had any money during those rationed and difficult years. The beautiful little Italian thoroughbred awaked emotions in me that I was too young to understand. The machine stood tantalisingly in the man's half shop window, until the inevitable closure. One day it had gone, together with all the other stuff; I was really heartbroken. I mooned about for months. I had never felt like that before.
Decades later, the unexpected opportunity arrived to own a Ducati. Long forgotten feelings surfaced again. The tension involved in buying the machine can only be understood by the truly smitten: the possibility of consummation making a mockery of sensible negotiation. The deal was done, and we have lived happily together for many years now. The Duke and I have romped round Snetterton, Mallory Park, Brands Hatch, Three Sisters, Lydden, Cadwell Park, and we have even been on the sacred Brooklands banking together.
It was at Brooklands that Vincent-fancier Jan Ragg tried to imply that the Ducati didn't have legs like the Vincent. I was incensed, and something had to be done to put this cart horse in its place. Gloves were thrown down, and seconds chosen. The venue was to be the runway at North Weald. The date was set at June 15th 1997. Honour was at stake here.
My party arrived somewhat after dawn, and set up on the large concrete apron. The preliminaries seemed to take an age. Eventually we were called to the line, and some explanation of the rules was agreed. Before we moved to the timing lights, my opponent called for a bucket. Was this some sort of gamesmanship? I could not imagine what advantage a bucket could bring, so I magnanimously offered the bucket I happened to have in the boot of my car. All became clear when we got to the start. Jan, astride the Vincent, couldn't reach the ground. It is a cart horse. The Christmas tree lights flickered their message, and we were thundering up the strip side by side. The thoroughbred inched ahead, and then got its second wind, and flew past the quarter mile timing lights. The clock said just 40.66 seconds had elapsed, and a phenomenal 28 mile per hour. Italian metal had not let me down. The Vincent managed 47.90, and 20 miles per hour.
By now a very large crowd had gathered to watch the proceedings. They were entertained by the two hundred odd other motorcycles there while they waited for our second run. Ducati a brilliant 40 seconds dead, and a bull's eye 30 miles per hour. The Vincent 14.71 seconds, and 86 miles per hour. What! I beat the old lump by miles. Eventually, the timekeeper relented, and a more realistic 48.21, and 20 miles per hour was posted. Jan's husband Geoff tried to insist that the 86 miles per hour was correct, and should stand. Bad loser, I thought. To settle the matter once, and for all, a third run. Ducati 40.97, 27mph, Vincent 45.58, 20mph. Honours to the Italians. My adolescent judgement of mechanical horse flesh felt vindicated. To be fair, Jan had suffered a misfire all day, and the Vincent's lack of clutch, and single gear did not make it much of a sprinter. I can afford to be generous.
First published - December 1997
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