Friday, 27 December 2013

Motorcycle diary 1987: the Ducati Dharma 900

This is only the second time I've written about my old Ducati Dharma 900 on this blog, which tells you something about how I feel about the thing. The first time was about six years ago. And the reason for revisiting the subject is because later today I'll be visiting an old girlfriend, let's call her Holly, from back in those days. I haven't seen her for 25 years, and thinking about Holly lets me better date my ownership of the Dharma, which must have been in around 1987. I had left university and had started working in various jobs and I was back living in Glebe and I had started hanging out with Gary, an Englishman who was a bit of a hippy but had a way about him that was attractive. Gary's friend Cyren had a Ducati SS 750 and also lived in Glebe. My first bike at the time was a Suzuki GS 450 which I learned how to ride on a parking lot in Glebe that is now a huge government housing complex, near the shopping centre. Gary had a Japanese bike as well but the sound of Cyren's bike and the aura of sophistication that Cyren himself possessed made it too attractive to resist buying a Ducati.

Getting the bike involved, as buying any vehicle did in those days, checking the classified ads in the Sydney Morning Herald, then driving out west to a suburb past Parramatta and doing the deal. I had my rider license by this time, of course, thanks to the Suzuki, but I fell in love with the Ducati in a way that Japanese bike could not merit. I was in love with the aura of riding an Italian bike, and anyway my friend Cyren had had an SS 750 (which was smaller but better suited his frame: the Dharma was a bit big for him but fine for me). I brought the bike back home and grooved to its mystique. For some reason no photos of the bike survive though I know some were taken: I remember Holly's mechanic friend helping me strip the bike inside my Glebe unit so that the frame could be taken away to be straightened. (It wasn't my fault the frame was bent, it was bent when I bought it but I didn't find out until later when I measured the gap between the horizontal cylinder head (see pic) and the front mud-guard, and compared that measurement to the gap on other exemplars of the Dharma I found.)

The Ducati Dharma is a long-wheelbase bike unsuited to city riding but ideal for longer trips on roads outside the metropolis and I frequently took the bike out along the Bells Line of Road into the mountains west of Sydney or up on the Old Pacific Highway to the north. These twisty routes suited the Dharma perfectly. I remember one time on the Old Pacific Highway when I was riding alone and I went past the wall into the Zone where you achieve a truly intimate synergy with your machine. In this place you feel as though you and the bike are a single entity and the bends in the road flow through you as you negotiate them - you don't have to go fast - and proceed unflappably toward the next one. Your field of vision narrows and you enter a meditative state. It's a natural high and it's impossible to get there in the city.

It wasn't all plain sailing of course. There was one long trip Holly and I did into the Blue Mountains when it rained and we found ourselves getting off the bike at rest stops feeling like zombie icicles: you ease your leg over the bike's body and slowly put it on the ground as you feel the vibrations of the ride vacating your aching body. My hands were frozen into grips from the rain and the cold even though I wore gloves.

On another occasion I neglected to refill the tank. I was out in a suburb past Gladesville and it was night and it was raining. Water was getting into the engine via the air intakes. I rode precariously up the massive slope of the Gladesville Bridge, heading home to Glebe, with the bike hammering away unhappily beneath me and the petrol gauge indicator knocking on empty. Fortunately there was at that time a petrol station located at the opposite foot of the bridge so I was able to coast down the bridge's eastern slope - the bike stopped running just as I hit the apex of the bridge - refill, and continue home without having to push the heavy bike in the dark and in the rain on a major city thoroughfare for 10 kilometres.

While I loved the bike it was a problem in the city with its long wheelbase, and city car drivers also made me unhappy so eventually I sold the Ducati and bought a Holden V8 Kingswood ute - gold in colour - from Holly's brother. The ute like the bike had a certain mystique about it and a tendency to roar a bit when prodded, also like the bike. It could also accelerate pretty fast. I appreciated the speed and the sound - as I had done with the Dharma - but I also liked the feeling of safety. Riding bikes can be spacey and fun but it only takes one moron in a car to ruin everything. I got out before I came across that idiot.

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