How special can special get? A special based on a special that is itself based on a special motorcycle has to be pretty special. When it combines the names of Ducati, Spondon and Sports Motorcycles, special is all it could ever be.
Back in 1987, Steve Wynne of Sports Motorcycles commissioned Spondon to build aluminium beam frames to his design to house two-valve Ducati Pantah engines. Later on they would use liquid-cooled four-valve 851/888 engines.
This particular bike has a complicated and dramatic history. It recently changed hands and is now owned by Dave Knight, pictured with the bike, but the man responsible for getting it into the shape it’s in now is Paul Rawlinson.
Eight years ago, Paul bid on the Spondon special but it disappeared before the auction ended. Unusually the vendor had put his address on the listing and Paul had noted it down. On contacting the seller he learned that unbeknown to him the bike had been stolen some years before and he was returning it to the rightful owner. Paul was still keen to get his hands on the bike and the original owner contacted him on Christmas Eve to say it was for sale for a grand but he had to come and collect it there and then. Just about to depart for Wales for the festive break, Paul – to the delight of his wife – agreed to collect it in his Jimny jeep. When he got there the vendor decided that he in fact wanted £1200 but this blow was softened by the seller’s wife insisting he “throw in the other crap”.The other crap included a brand-new ally tank for a Yamaha TZ750, so along with the partially built 888-engined special the deal looked decidedly decent.
- Dare to be different. Build your bike for you and don’t worry about what others might think. Anyhow, if you appreciate it, someone else always will.
- Pay attention to details. If you cut down a bolt, file the end. Same if you cut out alloy, smooth the edges. Then that way you won’t curse your laziness every time you scratch yourself on something.
- Wiring and cabling always require particular attention on a special. Get routing right to minimise flex and avoid chafing. When setting out the loom, arrange it so that the position of the components is optimised for function, for example to keep the reg/rec clean and cool, and for accessibility.
Paul decided there were a couple of things he couldn’t live with; one being the Celtic engraving someone had applied to the frame, the other being the 888 engine, the second being because the liquid-cooled motor is not the prettiest for a naked or semi-naked bike.
Paul had a 1994 900SS engine he’d been learning the arcane mysteries of Ducati engineering on and that was deemed a better fit aesthetically. Don’t be fooled by the Pantah belt covers, it’s an SS alright
– Paul cutting and shutting a couple of pairs of 600/750 Pantah covers to get the look he preferred, and to make them fit the longer-stroke 900 engine.To make it a fit physically, the swingarm pivot on the engine had to be trimmed down by 11mm, Paul measuring the width from the 888 .
Engine which had been chopped in this area as required by the Sports MCs/ Spondon frames. Gearbox and rear sprocket alignment were confirmed with a laser from B&Q.The unwanted 888 motor was sold a week or so later for a grand, recouping most of Paul’s outlay. In designing the Spondon frame, SteveWynne abandoned the Ducati practice of having the swingarm pivot on the crankcases, feeling that this led to wallowing under race conditions as well as failure of the cases. Instead the swingarm spindle is supported by the frame while still passing through the back of the cases.
The subframe had already been modified by Spondon so the race seat could be replaced by one from a Monster (also the donor of the tank).The seat was further modified by Paul for comfort and reupholstered by PremierAutoTrim in Bolton.And he commissioned an aluminium seat cowl with little wings to hide the square ends of the subframe’s tubes. Rear light is from a 1098.The fairing is a pattern of a 900SS bevel type from Ricambi-Weiss on a belt-cam SS subframe modified by Paul with a fabricated trellis carrying the headlight.The clocks reside in a custom stainless binnacle placing the tacho most prominently in the rider’s eyeline.A Monster ignition switch mounted sideways-on also carries the idiot lights. Battery box is a repurposed cutlery tray from a commercial dishwasher rescued from a skip.
Front mudguard is a broken carbon unit made for a Monster reshaped by Paul and topped off with an aluminium blade made by Unity Equipe and intended for a BSA.
Paul decided on the Manx Norton paint job, as a salute to Manx GP racer Drew Robertson who taught Paul mechanics as a kid. “Drew’s still around,” says Paul. “He was really patient with us as kids, teaching us how to use tools properly and always free with his knowledge. Plus I’ve always wanted a Manx Norton.”
Monster exhausts (traded with Ducati Club president Martin Edwards for the carbon stubbies fitted to the bike when it came to Paul) are mounted on Spondon hangers. Rearsets are Spondon too. Brakes are Brembo Goldline at the front while Paul had to make a floating mount for the rear caliper to replace the missing Spondon carrier for the rear.
Spondon made around 30 frames for Sports Motorcycles to mount Ducati motors in and this is one of the earlier ones as denoted by its double-sided swingarm and narrow double beams on either side of the frame where the later type had the single-sided swingarm and beefier single beams running from headstock to swingarm pivot.
Wynne’s name will ever be synonymous with that of Ducati of course as the man behind Mike Hailwood’s 1978 TT comeback victory. Sports Motorcycles Spondon Ducatis also won the Battle of the Twins championship in 1988 and the European BoTT series in 1993.
Arguably, Wynne’s race successes and innovations suggest he was better at Ducati R&D than Ducati themselves. Indeed there is evidence of this in relation to Wynne’s work with Spondon on the bikes that used these frames. Later in the run a single-sided swing arm was adopted. Ducati’s Massimo Bordi was particularly interested in this and discussed its merits with Wynne. It’s something less than coincidence that this was the rear-end style adopted for the 916, although Ducati stuck with their trademark trellis frame rather than take Wynne’s lead on the aluminium beam format. Like the Sports MC Spondon, the 916 also got an adjustable geometry steering head.
On Dave’s bike that Paul built, these adjustable yokes carry a pair of 888 forks. With the rake set at 24°, Paul reports that the bike handles like a dream. Rear wheel is also 888 and the front is a Tecnomagnesio, both 17-inch and better options than the 16s the original racers used. “You can just about get your little finger between the rear tyre and the front of the swingarm,” says Paul.The swingarm carries an alloy chain guard made for a 916 and modified to fit. Kais Suspension reworked the original fit Öhlins shock to suit Paul’s 12.5-stone and machined the frame slightly to clear the spring better.
So after all that, and with an award for Best Ducati at the Stafford Classic Show in the bag, why on earth would Paul sell the bike to Dave. “Basically he made me an offer I couldn’t refuse,” says Paul. “Plus I pestered him about it for years,” says inveterate Ducati collector Dave. “And I’ve vowed that if I ever sell it, Paul gets first refusal,” he adds.
Whichever way, this Sports Motorcycles Spondon Special has gone from one good home to another.
1994 Ducati 900SS, standard Mikuni BDST38 carbs with Stage 2 jet kit and K&N pod filters. Modified Pantah cam belt covers. Monster M900 exhaust.
Sports Motorcycles/ Spondon dual beam aluminium frame. Spondon double- sided swingarm. Spondon adjustable yokes. Spondon rearsets 888 rear wheel, Tecnomagnesio front, both 17-inch. Monster tank and seat unit. 900SS bevel pattern fairing. Öhlins monoshock. 888 forks. Brembo Goldline brakes.