Gareth Roberts’ Ducati MH900e Superlite cafe racer
We’re suckers for fast, classic Italian machinery, and it doesn’t get much better than this: a sleek Ducati MH900e worked on by the best names in the business. It belongs to London-based film director Gareth Roberts, who knows a thing or two about bikes.
Gareth was one of the founders of the Bike Shed Motorcycle Club, and he’s spent the past couple of years shooting the definitive record of the modern day custom scene, Oil In The Blood. (Keep an eye out for it in Spring 2018.)
The build was three years in the making. It all started when Gareth spotted a lovely Pierre Terblanche-designed MH900e parked outside the Brooklyn invitational in 2014. “It was for sale,” Gareth recalls. “I enquired. The price tag was punchy and far more than I could afford at the time.”
“But I was also rapidly approaching the big 5-0, and wanted to give myself a special present. I decided to do a special build to celebrate 35 years of riding bikes.”
“It had to echo the one bike I loved above all others, my 1998 Ducati 916 SPS—the reason I didn’t buy an MH900e when it was released. It also had to give a nod to my wholly unremarkable racing career on lightweight two-stroke GP bikes, and it needed to be a cafe racer of sorts.”
Gareth spent months combing eBay for parts, and then sourced a tidy very low mileage 900ss ie from Mint Customs, run by friend (and fellow ex-BSMC luminary) Ali Latimer.
The build got serious when Gareth stumbled across Stradafab of Kansas, USA, on one of his many late night net searches. “I started talking to owner and titanium guru Randy Martin, and started scheming,” says Gareth.
“Randy agreed to build me a one-off frame and a complete race exhaust system, but he ended up fabricating a further load of lovely trick bits. We became great mates in the process.”
The original plan was to modify a secondhand titanium SportClassic frame, but then Randy decided it’d be better to build a new frame from scratch—even though it involved extensive research and the building of a new jig.
“Randy is incredibly thorough in his research. He specializes in Ducati, and had a 900ss engine to hand. We had to make sure the triple trees fitted and also an S2R swingarm,” says Gareth. “It was all in the planning: The frame he made was perfect, and needed no retrospective adjustments.”
The next port of call for the MH900e was Giles Harwood at HPS—based in Derbyshire, England and much closer to Gareth’s London home. “Giles helped me marry the Panigale 899 forks and the S2R trellis swinging arm with specially ordered Kineo wheels.”
The rear is suspended by an Öhlins DU106 piggyback shock, custom anodized black by Reactive Suspension. “I got it back two weeks before Öhlins announced they were going to make stock black shocks. I could have saved myself a fortune!”
The wheels are 3.5×17 front and 6×17 rear, aluminum, and running Pirelli Phantom rubber. Performance Parts in Germany CNC’d a one-off set of yokes/triple trees to get the Showa big piston forks to fit, and HPS slotted in a set of their own carbon clip-ons, along with a Domino adjustable throttle mechanism.
Stopping power comes from a raft of top-shelf Brembo components: A radial RCS front brake master cylinder and matching clutch master cylinder, monobloc M4 radial calipers and fully floating twin discs.
Two years passed, as they do with complex builds. Gareth had now a mountain of bits in boxes in his garage, and he figured he was most of the way towards his MH900e. So he ferried everything down to Steve Hillary at the famous Red Max Speed Shop in picturesque Devon.
“Steve gutted the 900ss, leaving just the engine, which he stripped and rebuilt. The injection system is stock, but we liberated the air box—it was blasted and then stove enameled.” Before going back into the frame, the engine was fitted with a vented clutch cover from Ducabike, who also supplied high performance clutch pressure plates and springs.
Motogadget’s finest handle the electronics: a tacho (customised by Buz Ras at Seattle Speedometer) with bespoke brackets, mini bar controls, a keyless ignition system, bar end indicators, and everything running into an m.unit control box.
Carbon fiber replica bodywork captures the MH900e look at a fraction of the weight, coated with a delicious blue metallic applied by the Somerset firm Paint Monkey. It’s not your classic Ducati red, but that just makes this incredible machine stand out even more.
As far as 50th birthday presents go, we’d take this Ducati over heli-skiing at Gstaad, a bottle of Ardbeg 1815 single malt, or a week at Chateau Marmont. Even though it’s probably more life-threatening than all of those combined.
What about you?
Gareth’s upcoming film ‘Oil In The Blood’ is a feature-length documentary that explores the growing subculture of custom bike building. It focuses on the people who drive custom culture—the builders, the riders, the artists, the photographers and the curators. Here’s a sneak, rough-cut preview ahead of the Spring 2018 global release.