A Custom Ducati Chopper and a New Lease on Life

After being diagnosed with cancer, one man turns to his shop and a salvaged Ducati chopper engine.

Ducati Chopper

Pictured here is Taff Baker's custom Ducati Chopper. The engine is a salvaged Ducati 900SS.

Photo Courtesy Veloce Publishing

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Italian Custom Motorcycles (Veloce Publishing, 2013), explores the world of custom Italian motorcycles, from speedsters to choppers. Through the testimonials of the custom engineers themselves, Uli Cloessen opens the doors to the world of custom motorcycles from the Italian peninsula. In this excerpt, Taff Baker tells of the creation of his custom Ducati chopper, and the life experience that brought about its genesis.

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Custom Ducati Chopper

Taff’s story: “One day, whilst sifting through piles of bike bits at Russ Taylor’s emporium I came across a wrecked Cagiva Gran Canyon. This bike had a newish Ducati 900SS motor and it seemed a bit rude not to buy it and stick it in the shed.

“Time passed, and, after a holiday, I was diagnosed with cancer. What was needed was a project to take my mind off the prospect of dying. We all have big ideas that we put off and off and off. But let’s face it, if not now, then when?

“After about five weeks of recovery, I was bored out of my wits and thought what I need now is to do some welding. A massive spending spree ensued. AC/DC TIG set. A small secondhand lathe and miller, and sundry other bits were shoehorned into a 9' feet x 18' garage, and I locked the door behind me.

“First task was to knock up a box section jig. Into this sturdy frame were clamped my first purchases, a spoked Harley sportster wheel at the front, and a Triumph T595 wheel at the back. The engine was mounted on angle iron mounts, to give a nice cool 4.5" ground clearance. A headstock turned up to accept the standard spindle and bearings, and was mounted at a rakish 40 degree angle.

“The key to the look of the bike was to build a thin tube frame, which appeared to be somewhat missing at the front end. It was also very important to make the frame higher above the engine than on a conventional Ducati, in order for the vertical cylinder to be clearly seen. The frame was fashioned using a plumber’s bender, some heat, and a lot of BFI (brute force and ignorance); tube is 1in diameter, 3mm wall CDS.

“Mating the T595 swingarm with the frame was a major pain, and took three attempts to get a working unit. The shock is a unit from a CBR 600, which was short enough to keep the rear end low, and the length-to-height ratio of the bike is about 1.6:1 (as are lots of other parts of the bike).

“I wanted to create a fork system that I had never seen before, and for this I used ‘schedule 30’ stainless steel tubes (6mm wall thickness). The lower pivots are turned in 316 stainless and have two roller bearings in each. Pivot arms and clamps are also 316, and suspension provided by good old C90 shocks.

“The front brake carrier is a milled ally plate, and the torque arm is a stainless bar with rose joints. This particular item had to be remade a couple of times due to the original torque arm position allowing too much rotation of the caliper (as with the rear suspension lots of trial and error).

“Slab yokes were milled out of billet on the new milling machine, and the original stem adapted to fit. Now that we had a basic bike structure the next problem was where to put all the fuel-injection gubbins? The original plan was to run the motor with a big ‘sod off’ Dellorto twin choke, however, I got advised by several guys that this was a non starter due to ... something or other. So gubbins it was, and quite a lot of it, too!

“Under the tank then ... In my original sketches the bike had a small coffin tank and clip-ons; however, by the time we had a 35mm void to house the gubbins, the tank would only hold enough fuel to get to the shops and back. As you can see, the small coffin tank remains, but on top of that are two things: A rounded shell-type thing, and a shark mouth thing as a homage to Chica, the best tank builder money can buy!

“All of this shape was raised using a hammer and dolly in 3mm ally plate, which I annealed with an oxy-propane torch.

“The tank is topped off with a Shaun Barley filler cap, a speedo off eBay, and some copper pipe, just because I love the look of it. As a tank it’s a bit weird, but seems to work (and holds 3.5 gallons)

“The rear mudguard is also hand formed. The handlebars and risers were made to suit the position of the tank, and also to be comfortable for long journeys. Master cylinders are taken from a V-Rod, and levers have been made from solid copper bar.

“The foot pegs and foot controls are all made to suit, using ally and stainless, and positioned again with comfort in mind. The exhausts are made from 2.5" food grade stainless pipe. Once all the bits were made we had a marathon polishing session (about two weeks solid). Anyone who has ever polished will know what it’s like to come in looking like a coal miner, it gets a bit tedious after day four.

“Paintwork was entrusted to the Mighty Dave and Al of Big Al’s Paint Shack, who without much prompting just came up with the goods.

“Soap box time now. Here we have a chopper, light, nimble, bloody fast, nice handling and pretty radical, but above all a MOTORCYCLE. Customs that arrive and depart in vans are NOT MOTORCYCLES they are paperweights.

“Thanks as ever to all the people who helped. It’s Sandy for constructive criticism. The Malpass, Toshy, and the marvelous Mr. Swaby for assemblage assistance. Last and by no means least the lovely Victoria, for tea and strength.

“I’m also much better now, and thanks for asking.”

Reprinted with permission from Italian Classic Motorcycles by Uli Cloessen and published by Vercoce Publishing, 2013. Buy this book from our store: Italian Classic Motorcycles.