Custom Ducati 900 GTS

It’s a Ducati 900 GTS all right; just not one the factory ever made.

| July/August 2010

Although he’s lived the greater part of his life in the U.S. and Canada, Rene Waters’ early years growing up in England left an indelible mark on him. He still has a strong British accent, and he is impeccably polite, but the real mark life in England left on Rene is his continuing love of café racer bikes, a love that produced the custom Ducati 900 GTS you see here.

“I grew up in England in the Seventies,” Rene says, “and one of my early bikes was a Honda 400 Four with a Rickman fairing; the café style has always been in my mind.” In the 1980s Rene moved to Chicago, where he found little to remind him of his motorcycling days in England. “There was little in North America that was the sort of bike I was used to, they were all cruiser-style bikes,” he recalls. “So I ended up customizing whatever bikes I owned, trying to make them into bikes that I recognized as being café racers.”

A fascination with Ducati motorcycles came about the same time as Rene’s move to the U.S., following a visit to a Chicago Italian sports car shop. “They had two 900SS Ducatis sitting there, a silver one and a black one, and I was just so captivated,” Rene says. “I don’t remember what cars were in there, I just remember the two bikes.”

Some years later, now married and living in Canada, Rene was putting the café racer touch to a Honda CB750 when his wife, Sue, asked him why he was always messing with his bikes. “I showed her a picture of a vintage Ducati motorcycle and she said, ‘Oh, that explains it; everything you’re making is like that.’” With Rene’s 40th birthday looming on the horizon, Sue suggested it was time he got a vintage Ducati, so Rene started looking in earnest. Calgary was never exactly Ducati central, but a few weeks later a friend directed Rene to an auto trader ad that said simply, “Ducati for sale.” Rene called, and all the seller could tell him was that it was a red Ducati.

What Rene found languishing in the back of liquor store in Calgary was a very unloved and oddly modified 1978 Ducati 900GTS. “It had an Egli front end, with mud flaps from a Dodge truck zip-tied on,” Rene recalls. “It was in terrible shape.”

Rene bought it anyhow, and launched into a comprehensive rebuild. He traded the Egli front end for a complete front end off a Ducati 851 and a set of 16-inch wheels off a Ducati Paso. An earlier 750GT gas tank replaced the 900GTS unit, replica 900SS side covers replaced the stock units, and he fitted up a fairing sourced from Phil Hitchcock at Road & Race Ducati in Australia.

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