Some motorcycles are designed with pure financial gain in mind, but that cynical observation could never be leveled at Ducati creator general Pierre Terblache’s latest mechanical vision.
The Ducati MH900e is a strictly limited production run (2,000) special which evokes all the passion and glory of Mike ‘The Bike´ Hailwood´s 1978 TT-winning NCR machine.
It simply oozes style, but the substance is also amazingly usable on the road as Kevin Ash discovers in Bologna, Italy when he tested one of the rarest bikes on the planet.
Hold on to your Termignonis as insidebikes takes a trip back in time on a thoroughly modern motorcycle.
It’s really quite astonishing that the MH900e happened at all when you think about it. The bike is, after all, the personal whim of Ducati’s chief designer Pierre Terblanche rather than the usual product of relentless market research. And it’s come from a factory only recently taken over by a venture capital group, a type of company usually notorious for maximising productivity and perceived value of the concerns it buys into, with the minimum of real investment in order to move on again after a few years with big financial gains.
Ah, but we’re talking motorcycles here and Italians, a mix of passions even the hard-nosed Americans couldn’t help getting caught up in. And the MHe, or Mike Hailwood evoluzione, evokes some of the strongest emotions in motorcycling history, borrowing styling cues and ideas from the 1978 900SS Ducati on which Hailwood made the most astounding comeback, winning the Senior TT after an 11 year break from bikes.
Yet it’s the MHe’s detailing which impresses the most: the cross-section of the spokes on the cast aluminium wheels is the same as that of the Campagnolo magnesium alloys fitted to Hailwood’s bike, while the large, finned aluminium sump (in imitation of the old Ducati V-twins’) is really just a dummy housing various electrical components (which, in a break with tradition, work perfectly…)
There are neat touches everywhere, such as the machined aluminium housings for the hydraulic fluid master reservoirs, the pylons attaching the screen to the fairing, the cast aluminium used for the headlight surround and the plate atop the fuel tank. The dashboard is a visual feast, the central white-faced tachometer sitting above a panel on which the speed is displayed digitally, the two being separated by tiny (and hard to read, but who cares?) warning lights.
The swingarm is a unique single-sided item formed from tubular steel , while the high-rise exhausts complete the unmistakable rear aspect. There’s a welcome return to chrome on components such as indicators and engine covers, while the red and silver colour scheme reflects the livery of the works NCR Ducati team of the late 1970s. Hailwood’s machine was similar although in the red and green of sponsor Castrol, but Terblanche felt the bike needed to honour Ducati instead. He also points out how he’s confounded Ducati’s corporate policy of exclusively using its latest logo by “getting away with” the 1970s badge on the fairing – just as well, as it finishes the bike to perfection.
Most of the bike’s attraction is visual and tactile, but that’s not to say there’s anything wrong with it to ride. But the fact it’s very much Terblanche’s own creation shows as soon as you swing a leg over it, as the seat is unusually high – well, he’s six feet four inches tall, and it’s HIS bike! It also shares the generic Ducati stretched out riding position with very low handlebars, so a good length of limb is a definite advantage.
The engine is the old-fashioned two desmodromic valves per cylinder 904 cc air-cooled V-twin, updated with fuel-injection, as fitted to the 900SS and Monster 900. Despite its gentle 74bhp output it’s surprisingly punchy thanks to the MHe weighing less than the 900SS and having the lower overall gearing of the Monster – the bike readily pops up the front wheel at the twist of the throttle. The lower gearing and fuel injection also mean that Ducati’s infamous low rev snatchiness is no longer a problem.
Spin the engine hard and the power does tail off too much to make it worthwhile, but there’s sufficient urge in the midrange and a slick gear change to make the pace exciting, while the chassis is perfectly capable too.
The handling has, unsurprisingly, a typical Ducati feel to it, with slow steering matched to exceptional stability. You do notice the relative lack of weight over the front wheel (compared with a fully faired 900SS) as a slightly choppy motion from the forks on bumpy surfaces, although the chilling late December cold in Bologna was enough to thicken the suspension’s damping oil and add some harshness to the ride quality, otherwise it’s all security and stability.
All in all its effective if unremarkable to ride, flawed only by that riding position (if you’re not tall enough) and mirrors which don’t even come close to displaying any useful portion of the road behind you. But those lucky enthusiasts who have already accounted for the 2000 bike production run are buying into Pierre Terblanche’s vision of a piece of history more than anything else – the fact the bike’s a pleasant ride is a bonus.
If you want a slice of that too, chances are you’ll simply have to go without. Originally just 1000 were to be made, but when the bike went on sale on January 1st 2000, solely on Ducati’s web site (no dealer sales) it sold out within a couple of hours. The figure was doubled to 2000 but the bike’s exclusivity assured when Ducati said definitely no more would be made.
Some will still have to wait for up to two years, as it will take that long to complete the orders from the area of the factory – away from the production lines – assigned to the team which hand builds the bikes. Put your name on the reserve list and you might get lucky, or check out the classifieds over the next few years.
But don’t hold your breath…
Get Ducati motorcycle insurance for the Ducati mh900e.
Engine Air/oil-cooled 90-degree V-twin
Claimed power (bhp)
Compression ratio 9.2:1
Transmission 6 speed
Front suspension: 43mm inverted telescopic, 120mm travel, adjustment for rebound damping
Rear suspension: One Paioli damper, 130mm travel, adjustments for preload,compression and rebound damping
Front brake: 2, four-piston Brembo calipers, 320mm discs
Rear brake: Double-action Brembo caliper, 220mm disc
Front tyre: 120/65 x 17in Michelin Pilot Sport
Rear tyre: 170/60 x 17in Michelin Pilot Sport
Rake/trail: 23.5 degrees/110mm
Seat height: 825mm
Dry weight: 186kg
Instruments: Tachometer, digital speedometer, digital clock,
lights for turn signals, neutral, high beam, low oil pressure, low fuel level
Top speed 150mph
Fuel capacity 18.5 litres