Vintage Jim McDermott: The Red Menace
In the early 1990's, the pre-TPG ownership days, being a Ducati owner wasn't easy. It was something you earned.

Last night, I bumped into an old friend, one whom I thought I'd never see again—my first sportbike, a 1993 Ducati 900SS.

Middle-aged longing is a funny thing, especially when enabled by the Internet. Some people spend late nights hunched in the flat-screen glow, reconnecting with high school sweethearts. Others "get the band back together, man" and run through paunchy versions of Rush songs in a basement that is finally their own. Perhaps the worst-afflicted key the names of forgotten Ducati models and the words "for sale" into search engines, hoping their wives don't catch them (that would be me). For the past week or so, I've been hunting old Ducatis online, specifically the 907 I.E. Paso, the closest thing to a VFR to ever come out of Italy. Nearly 20 years after first being released, 907 Pasos are pretty cheap, but it's difficult to find a clean, low mileage example. And while my search for a clean, red Paso might be nothing more than a figary (a term my Limerick-born Grandmother used to describe the half-baked notions of my youth), there's nothing wrong with looking...right?

So on last night's trip down the Internet rabbit hole, I hit Cycle Trader. There were a bunch of 750 Pasos listed, a much maligned earlier version of the bike: pass. Then a 92 907; low miles, but a black one, feh.

Then a 92 907; low miles, but a black one, feh. Finally, a Harley dealer in Raleigh, North Carolina had a red '92 listed that looked fairly clean...wait a second, the dealer also had a 900SS. This one had a European Superlight tail section, just like the one I ordered from Ferracci in 1994. I looked closer--this bike also had a very rare GiaCoMoto full race exhaust, and an unobtanium Corbin Superlight seat—could this actually be my old bike? Then the last bit of evidence to confirm it: a custom-made set of Attack billet triple clamps. I'll be dogammed—this was my original 900SS, which I had nicknamed The Red Menace.

In the early 1990's, the pre-TPG ownership days, being a Ducati owner wasn't easy. It was something you earned. New bikes trickled into the US and sold immediately. Purchasing a Ducati often involved deciphering the unique eccentricities of a given dealer, and enduring endless broken promises about when your bike would be delivered. Among the more "allegedly notorious" was Ghost Motorcycles, who had been selling Ducatis from a ramshackle garage in Port Washington for decades. Ghost had really rare Ducatis, bevel-drive Hailwoods, 750 F1A's and B's, 851 SP's just stuffed into this tiny shop, bar to bar. The place reeked of spilled oil and gas. The staff wore a standard- issue uniform of soiled mechanic overalls, with an unfiltered cigarette in one hand and a paper cup full of cheap coffee in the other. I wanted a 907 I.E. badly, so I went to Ghost with $1000 in cash in my wallet, hoping they'd have one in stock.

Young men have many naive beliefs about the world that are harshly shed via life experience, but for me, this maxim is as true now as it was then: Ducatis should be red (preferably with white trellis frames). Unfortunately, Ghost only had a black 907 I.E., and had no idea when they'd be getting a red Paso in stock. "We do have a new 93 900SS in the crate that's a little cheaper, and that one is red," the salesman said. I asked for a test ride. "No way, kid." he stated flatly. So I opened my wallet and showed him ten crisp $100 bills. He exhaled a big puff of Camel smoke into my face, mumbled "lemme check the back," and moments later, wheeled out a plated 1992 900SS. The bike had reverse megaphones, when he fired it up, a puff of smoke and flames shot out of the pipes, the devil's breath. I had never heard a Ducati up close, and in the confines of the small garage, it was the nearest thing I had ever had to a religious experience. As I put my helmet on, he shot me a stern look and said, "Don't crash it." That day, I bought the red 93 900SS. Sometime later, I found out that they had let me test ride a customer's bike, which was in for service; surely the owner never knew about it. Classic Ghost story.

As much as someone can love an inanimate object, I loved that 900SS, and never regretted buying it over the Paso. It was the reason to catch the early train home in summer for a sunset ride. Chin on the tank, we had hit 135 mph over the Fire Island Inlet Bridge, the 900SS throttle pinned as my FZR1000- and ZX-11-mounted friends shot by, ME262s passing a Sopwith Camel. I made excuses for her lack of top speed, "She's air cooled, you simps!" as our bikes ticked and cooled at the 7-Eleven. They had us beat in a straight line, but though the corners, The Red Menace held her own. I started to follow Superbike racing, fueling my Polen and Corser fantasies with paychecks thrown at the bike. Hop-up parts from the photocopied Fast By Ferracci catalog arrived monthly: Termignoni, Marchesini, and Brembo. Changed the exhaust on the bike several times, each with a different RPM required to set off car alarms (GiaCaMoto pipes 6000, Termis 5000, and stainless Supertrapps the winner at 4000 RPM). Despite my love for the bike, I partially traded it for a low-mileage RC30 in 1999. I was so excited to get the Honda that, when I handed the dealer the keys to the 900SS, I didn't look back, no last glances at the bike that had been my friend for 14,000 miles. Deep down, I knew I was a heel, and I always wondered where my 900SS ended up.

So there it was, 11 years later, sitting at Ray Price Harley Davidson in Raleigh, North Carolina, with 22,000 miles on the clock, priced at $3995, "as is". I wondered: how had it been treated, had the subsequent owners lavished it with affection, carbon fiber, and magnesium as I did? I rang the dealership, and they told me that, cosmetically, it was cherry, all-original bodywork. The only reason it was marked "as is" was because the steering stop had been removed, so you could catch your hands between the bar and the tank pretty easily. I laughed and recalled that the stop had to be removed to fit the triple clamps, which had clearances for racing, not riding on the street. Some parts had been cannibalized from the bike over the years, the Ohlins shock I added was gone, as was a rare Corse magnesium clutch side case, pieces that weren't necessary for the street, but were cool, nonetheless. Otherwise, the bike was pretty much all there.

I've told friends about finding the bike, and they've all asked if I'm going to buy it. Some urged me to do so, but I'm content with the memories. I don't need the actual bike to relive those rides. They remain vivid and perfect, fixed in my mind. Cast in the golden hue of summer evenings long since passed, the blood-red 900SS booms along ribbons of magic road, Agip 20/50 caramel-clean in the case. No SUVs threaten, and every gas station has cheap premium. The needle hits 5,000 RPM on the white-faced Veglia tach, the Termis roar, and amidst the noise, I hear the chirp of car alarms going off.

Long may you run, Red Menace.

Jim McDermott still lives in NYC
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