How far? On a what?!

&ldquot;You go touring. On a Ducati? — so where’s the tow truck?&rdquot; — if I’d had a quid (Eng. coll: unit of currency) for every time I’d heard that from fellow bikers, I’d be at least a couple of dozen cappucinos to the good. So here’ we are, three years and 31,000 miles down the line, and me and the Stealth Bomber are not only still hanging around together, but doing very well — I haven’t even managed to drop it yet, despite one panic-fuelled deadlift of 210kg — a strained muscle was self-healing, fairings aren’t. So, 31,000 miles in three years, on a Ducati. Without a support vehicle? (remembering that the average annual mileage of a Ducati in the UK is 2,500) Er, yes actually, so it’s probably worth a review of the score so far — let’s see just how temperamental these ‘fragile’ Italian beasts really are. First, the vital statistics:

Number of breakdowns: 0.
Number of no-starts: 0.
Number of not-quite starts: 1 (cold day and dodgy battery – replaced under warranty).
Number of stops on-the-road: 0 (although a worn-out wheel bearing discovered at the Nurburgring caused some nervous twitching).

Looking good so far, so here’s what’s been done to the bike from new:

  • 400 miles: Clutch slave cylinder leaking slightly, replaced under warranty @ 600 mile service.
  • 1,200 miles: fitted carbon fairing inserts and heelplates.
  • 7,000 miles: Had CNC ride height adjuster made and fitted, for ease of adjustment (too many shredded knuckles on the stock item).
  • 8,200 miles: Replaced gearbox sprocket retaining plate.
  • 10,000 miles: Dash cover: One of the locating tabs was broken by a ham-fisted refit — mine.
  • 14,775 miles: One front wheel bearing replaced at service, under warranty.
  • 14,775 miles: Battery overcome by the demands of a high compression v-twin: replaced under warranty at service.
  • 18,000 miles: LH seat cowl mounting point sheared, replaced under warranty.
  • Pannier frame bolt: one fell out, replaced for £3.
  • 20,000 miles: Screen cracked mysteriously, replaced under warranty.
  • 22,000 miles: Clutch cover gasket: damaged, replaced for £4.
  • 24,000 miles: One of the exhaust tapping screws came loose: fortunately I’m wise to this from my 748 and caught it on a normal bolt check.
  • 25,000 miles: Hydraulic preload mounting bracket cracked through fatigue failure — Ducati wanted £50 for a new one: my neighbour CNC’d me a new one for a pint.
  • Remote adjuster knob dropped off: £5.40 to replace.
  • Fitted CNC chain adjuster plates, from DesmoTimes: makes chain alignment sooo much easier.
  • 27,000 miles: Rear wheel bearings: both replaced.
  • 29,000 miles: Front wheel bearing: one failed, both replaced.
  • 31,000 miles: Pannier frames rusted heavily: one was replaced and one repainted under warranty (Ducati couldn’t manage to supply two new ones, after being ordered for nearly a year) — it was starting to look like I’d a couple of old bits of old rail track bolted to the back of my otherwise elegant steed.

Now for the lasting of the finish, on a bike used all year round, in all weathers and probably not washed as often as it could have been — a couple of months ago, I stripped all the bodywork off and gave it a good going over — here’s what I found:

  • Fork lowers: mottling to the lacquer.
  • Front axle: rust on end.
  • Mudguard bolts: surface rust.
  • Hugger bolts: surface rust.
  • Caliper bolts: surface rust.
  • Fairing wellnuts: several of these had seized and needed replacing — poor design.
  • Some polishing to paintwork on tank from my knees.
  • Swing arm finish: poor laquer – minor corrosion under the surface.
  • Sump: bad lacquering.
  • LH engine case: lacquer failed.
  • Front cylinder head: lacquer failed.
  • V-piece attachment bracket on front rocker cover sheared.

And of course, I’ve been through a few wear and tear items along the way, along with the general wear and tear of existence:

  • Minor scuffs on seat & panniers: from misplaced bike boots and overly enthusiastic commuting manoeuvres. I even managed to collect some paintwork from a bullying Aston Martin.
  • Front mudguard paint wear: the brake pipe jumped its guide and rubbed on the paintwork.
  • Stone chips: minor chipping to the front of the fairing.
  • Chain and sprockets replaced at 14,000miles. The second chain & sprockets have lasted 16,000 miles so far (without an automatic oiler).
  • Clutch: unbelievably, I am still on the original clutch pack – sticking a micrometer on ’em shows that the friction plates are down to 2.5-2.7mm, so I’m figuring on a new pack any time now.
  • Oil: it uses about half a litre in 3,000 miles: trivial.
  • Tyres: I’ve done a separate review of tyres over here, but I’m getting typically 4500miles from a rear Pirelli Diablo Corse and twice that from a front.

So, in my 31,000 miles, there’s only be one thing that’s come even remotely close to causing a hold-up on the road —  a rusted, shagged-out wheel bearing. And this I discovered whilst having lunch at the Nurburgring, six hundred miles from home. The symptom? About 3mm of lateral play at the wheel rim and a perceptible click as I rode across the billiard-table smoothness of the ‘Ring car park… Still, it got us home just fine, and was replaced for the princely sum of £15,

Big deal, eh? I’d say so, as that’s the nearest I’ve come to an on-the-road mechanical failure in 30,000 miles on this particular Ducati, in a smidgeon under three years.

Right now though, there’s another thing on the horizon – since an amphibious trip home the other week through the South London flash floods, which entailed running for considerable distances with the front cylinder head completely submerged, clouds of steam enveloping the world around, it’s developed a clonk from the front suspension, which can be felt on low-speed bumps and manifests as severe chatter under braking. It’s likely to be either the steering head bearings or the Showa fork bushes. Although I can’t feel any lateral play in the steering head, it’s my first port of call, as Ducati do have a reputation for not greasing them up properly from the factory, so I suspect t hat the immersion the other week has washed out whatever remaining grease was holding them together. I haven’t heard of any other cases of fork bushes wearing out, so that’ll be the second level of investigation, along with the seized LH front compression damping adjuster. (Update: Neither of the above, as it turned out — read on here).

One last thing: deeply fashionable though it may be to bitch about the “customer-contempt” attitude of corporations, I can say that I’ve had not the slightest quibble from Ducati over any warranty item — the only problem has been the year-long non-delivery of replacement pannier rails, not the agreeing to them in the first place. When I finally did remind them of the fact, they immediately offered to have the existing ones stripped and repainted. Good service. Good attitude. Good bike.

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