Sole Mio: A Ducati Chopper

Real-World Custom: Love Italian Style

You don't often catch a glimpse of Italian cruisers on the boulevard. Andy Italian motorcycles that have been seriously modified American-style are about as common as Marushos these days. The occasional Moto Guzzi qualifies more as a standard bike than a flat-out boulevard troller, and few of them have seen more than the addition of some fringe. Suggest to a group of Italian bike owners that it might be cool to make a chopper from one of their bikes, and you're likely to be immediately tried for heresy and summarily lynched.

What we've dug up here, however, is a hand-built, Italian-flavored custom that's anything but standard. The sight of a Ducati engine nestled in a chopper frame is something rare indeed. Owner Matthew Zabas wanted to create the epitome of a personal motorcycling statement. To him that meant a simple, primal, powerful machine composed of borrowed parts and modified to create a unique whole. But performance was important too, so Zabas ripped the air-cooled V-twin powerplant out of a perfectly healthy Ducati 900SS. Ducati's 90-degree engines offer a nice look and distinct, solid cadence that appeals to the chopper aesthetic, and although they're simple in form, they're very exciting in function. And unlike your chopped Harley or Intruder, you can be pretty sure you won't see anything even a little like it at the next motorcycle gathering you attend.

Money actually was an object; Zabas wanted to keep costs minimal while using as many high-performance parts as possible, and that meant salvaging some goodies from the well-appointed Ducati donor bike. An inverted 41mm Showa fork, for instance, complete with attached Brembo dual disc brakes and aluminum rim, was retained for the front end. The chopper's frame however, was designed from scratch, using a scanned photo of the Ducati. The resulting mild-steel skeleton was strong yet lightweight, incorporating geometry Zabas developed from years of drag racing. Once frame points were established, Zabas repositioned parts on the computer screen, deciding on a 34-degree fork angle and a 65-inch wheelbase. He then shoehorned the engine into the backbone, using polyurethane motor mounts for lighter weight and less vibration. "Then, it was just a matter of connecting the dots," he says.

A Sportster tank was used to keep the chopper looking appropriately lean. Naturally the swingarm was modified to lengthen the wheelbase--standard cruiser practice. Zabas also craved that old Triumph hardtail vibe, but wanted comfort, so in went the salvaged Marzocchi rear shock and Brembo rear wheel and brake assembly from the Duke. The stock wiring harness had to be snaked around the new frame to fit. Zabas then welded a steel trailer fender to fit the 180-width rear wheel, and concocted a funky, compact steel exhaust he dubbed "the street sweeper." This ingenious system utilized a spiral baffle design that allows the mixture inhaled through the Keihin 41mm flatslide carbs to be expelled more efficiently.

Zabas reworked a Custom Chrome dragbar to fit the Ducati controls. A seat pan was made from sheet metal and covered with NASA foam--the stuff used on the Space Shuttle. The leather skin was laced on by Norton's Customs of Escondido, California. For comfort, Zabas framed a pair of floorboards in steel, topping them with plated aluminum. The modest paint job is courtesy of Krylon spray paint, with a hand painted logo.

Seven thousand bucks later, Matthew Zabas's Ducati hot rod has the old-school look of a classic hardtail chopper, the power of a decent sportbike (Zabas claims that his chopper will turn in an 11.3-second time through the standing-start quarter-mile). He even maintains that it's actually sort of comfortable!

For more articles on custom bikes and articles about how to customize and modify your motorcycle, see the Custom section of