Dave Hicks, Desmosedici, £55,000, 15,000 miles (8000 miles in 2015)
Ever wondered who buys the exotica that occasionally grace the pages of this very magazine? According to our research, the sad truth is that a huge number of Desmosedicis, H2s and MV Agusta F4s are squirreled away in immaculate garages, their tyres going slightly soft as they sit under dust covers awaiting the annual trip to get the service book stamped. At best they’re pieces of sculpture to be admired by mates from the merchant bank, at worst mere investments. But there are exceptions. There are a select band of riders who buy these bikes because they want to enjoy them – to thrash them, tour them, commute on them and generally use them as motorcycles. They find out stuff you never hear about – what goes wrong with £41,000 MVs, can you ride pillion for 2000 miles on a Norton 961, how do you service an H2 that’s done 600 miles at 200mph? And, to a man, they stick their fingers in their ears when you ask about depreciation. Gentlemen, we salute you...
Bought it in 2012, new. It was the last one, bought from the boss of Ducati Glasgow who bought it in 2008, kept it in the showroom and didn’t register it. That last fact is important because it meant it came with the Ducati three year warranty and free servicing. I paid £55,000 including the GP7 exhaust (a £7000 option), which was perhaps a bit over the odds, but I thought it was worth it because of the warranty and free servicing – the way I looked at it, I had three years free riding. By the end of 2014 I’d been all over Europe – on track at the Nürburgring, Misano, Portimao, Almeria and Mugello, and done about 7000 miles. I had another year of free servicing left, and the 15,000 mile service is really big – an engine-out job that can take 60 hours and require new valves. So I thought I’d try and get it up to 15,000 in one year to claim that one for free, which I did – that’s 8000 miles in 2015. I used it for everything.
I’ve done various modifications to make it practical. The first thing I did was get some fibreglass bodywork made and painted because an original fairing panel is about £5000. Then I found I was getting 60 miles to a tank, and the standard tyres weren’t good – the wheels are 16.5in so you can only get Bridgestone BT01s. One of my first trips was up to Scotland from where I live in Somerset. I rode back in torrential rain and almost lost the back end because of tyres. Also, I made 29 fuel stops that weekend. It was getting silly. I met someone on the trip who had his Desmo’s tank enlarged, and he knew someone with a damaged spare tank. So I bought that, got it enlarged and now the range is 100 miles before you start looking, which is tolerable. Then I fitted 17in BST carbon wheels so I could fit more suitable tyres. I also had the springs changed because the original ones are so, so hard. I took it to the TT a couple of years ago and experimented with various throwover panniers – I went for Oxford ones in the end, with a tailpack. I made some heat shielding and it was fine – it looked like a grand tourer.
I love riding it. Below 6000rpm it’s a pussycat – much more manageable than some of Ducati’s big twins around town. Then from 6-12,000rpm it’s absolutely mad and from 12-16,000rpm it’s like Armageddon. It’s an astonishing bike. It did pick me up a three month ban though – on the way to Poole bike night I got caught doing 115mph on a dual carriageway. The GP7 exhaust doesn’t get as hot as the standard one, which will burn you in traffic. One thing I can’t do anything about is oil consumption – it drinks it and I have to take a bottle of oil with me on all long trips. Also, sometimes if it gets hot the clutch starts slipping so you have to take a spanner with you to bleed it. I was never tempted to put it in a glass cabinet. It’s all about riding it. I didn’t buy it with the intention of selling it, and I’ll keep it as long as I can still ride it.
Richard Pearce, Norton 961, £20,000, 8500 miles in ten weeks
I’d always wanted to go across America and I was looking at sensible bikes for the trip, then I saw the Norton and bought that instead. I got it with every extra – the short stubby pipes, polished frame and engine – which meant it came to over £20,000. My favourite bike when I was growing up was an RD250, and with those you would just add bits to make it a café racer, or a cruiser or whatever. So I took this idea and adapted the Commando to how I wanted it to work. I got a local fabricator to put a Ducati Multistrada rack on the back so I had a good platform for some Givi enduro panniers. I didn’t have any frames to keep them off the back wheel but the indicators did that. Then I just used two Kreiga tailpacks and a Givi tankbag. Apart from that it had some handlebar risers and that was it. Off I went for ten weeks.
I flew into Halifax Nova Scotia in Canada and met my son half way through in Chicago. We did Route 66 together in 14 days – he squeezed on the back, and even though we were fully loaded the bike was fine. I had it serviced twice out there. Before I went I got talking to some people on the Norton forum who turned out to be Norton dealers so I dropped in at their workshop at Niagara Falls for a service. I didn’t know, but they were friendly with the CEO of Norton Canada and he came over to meet me while they serviced the bike – all for free. They also did some upgrades which they had developed to cope with the extreme conditions – they put a Bosch ignition coil and racing leads and iridium plugs in. Also, they put a vent kit on the gearbox which Norton don’t use yet – lots of people get a pressurised gearbox when it gets hot and it blows the seal on the starter. They also raised the handlebars. I also had it serviced at Chicago Norton, which was only $250 for a 6000 miler. A few days before I was chatting to a bloke outside a hotel about the trip and he noticed that my back tyre was pretty worn. I told him I was getting it changed at Chicago Norton and he said he might be able to help and gave me his business card – he was the vice president of Dunlop America! So the tyres were free.
We went through some very hot areas – it was 41°C at six in the morning – but the bike was fine. The worst niggle was on the first day when I rode out of the airport and filled it with diesel – the nozzles are green. So I had to take the tank off and tip it out. But that was it. Apart from a lightbulb blowing twice the bike was fine. Riding across the States was like being in a film, living the dream for ten weeks. Everyone was friendly and asking about the bike because they’d never seen one before and didn’t know Norton were making bikes again. I had a couple of 400 mile days, but it wasn’t too bad. It did 140 miles before the fuel light came on, getting 45mpg. I went through some awful weather – rain storms – and the bike didn’t miss a beat. I wanted a bike to ride, so I didn’t mind about the loss in value. I bought it to keep and to use I took a lot of stick when I said I was going to do the trip on it with people saying it wouldn’t be reliable, but it’s proved them all wrong.
Bob Clegg, Kawasaki H2, £22,000, 1,900 miles - an estimated 650 of them at over 200mph
"It was 41°C at six in the morning, but the bike was fine."
I got one of the first H2s in the country, ran it in, then went to a speed event at Elvington with my ZZR1400 (Bob’s top speed competition bike), leaving the H2 at home. But all the people at the meet were asking about the H2, wanting to see it, so I said I’d bring it next time if there was room in the van. The next month I took it and then people wanted me to run it, but I couldn’t see the point – it had the limiter on so I’d pay the £120 entry fee to do 186mph. But then the organiser asked me to do a run on it, saying he’d waive the entry fee. So I gave it a go.
You have to remember that up until then I’d just ridden it on the road so I didn’t have any idea what it would be like on a full throttle. I eased it off the line then gave it full throttle and the front came up so I short shifted up to second, it was still wheelying so I went to third, still wheelying, fourth, still going. In the end I dropped the front wheel down in fifth because I’m no wheelie master. But it was doing 160mph by then. I sent the ECU to Brocks in the USA to be reflashed (to get rid of the limiter and improve the fuelling). Physically getting to the ECU is difficult – you have to take the whole top fairing off and then get past anti-tamper screws on the cage around the ECU. The ECU came back after two weeks and the bike made 220bhp on the dyno compared with 209bhp stock, so I took it to the next event. It immediately cracked 200mph – the first H2 in the world to do it. The most I’ve done is 205.7mph.
To increase this I could have had the rev limiter moved to the same level as the H2R but this affects the service life so I decided not to. Despite all the speed runs I haven’t done any special servicing to it – just changed the oil every six months. Interestingly, I was among some owners invited to meet the H2’s designers when they came to the UK and I told them what I was doing with the bike. There were no raised eyebrows – the bike has clearly been designed to be used hard.The designers asked what problems we had and I mentioned the heavy clutch (which changed on the 2016 version) and the harsh throttle response (which seems to be a product of the supercharger). The only thing they were surprised by was that I was critical of the aerodynamics. At 200mph it is impossible to get your head out of the wind, even with your chin on the tank. Other riders hadn’t noticed, but then they hadn’t been doing lots of 200mph runs! Will what I’m doing with the bike affect its value? I don’t think so. Being the first H2 to do 200mph adds to its history and people will probably pay more for it.
## Michael Smith, Ariel Ace, £31,000, 11,500 miles in 11 weeks
I wanted to do a trip across the States but I’ve never liked Harleys – I preferred to do it on something interesting. I planned the trip with my son – he was going on his Street Triple – and before we went I did about 1500 miles running the Ace in and getting to know it. I’d got the one with the biggest tank so we could do 120 miles or so between fill-ups, which turned out to be about right. It had no flyscreen, so we planned to cruise at about 70mph – we were in no rush. I had a Hepco and Becker luggage system for my S1000RR so I took that down to Ariel and they had a look. I think they did a brilliant job of making a rack for panniers and a tailpack.
The next problem was getting the Ace insured for America because they’d never heard of it. Eventually we got that sorted and started from Washington DC. We went north, through Pennsylvania, New York, across the Brooklyn Bridge, up round Lake Ontario then back down through Chicago, down to Route 66 (that was boring) then across to Los Angeles and then up to San Francisco on Highway 1. It was 54oC in Death Valley, which is so hot you can’t open the visor or it feels like your skin is being scorched off your face. The heat sucks the energy out of you but the bike was fine. We were doing 240-350 miles a day, trying to keep off the Interstates. But after a couple of days I noticed the front tyre was wearing oddly so at 6000 miles I got both tyres changed. It was ok after that. The bike was serviced in Albuquerque – I told them I was bringing in a VFR1200. They were a bit surprised when they saw the Ace – ‘that’s not a Honda!’ – but just got on and did it. There’s no real difference apart from the chassis.
It’s comfy. You sit in it rather than on it, and when you buy the bike you get the footpegs set to the exact position you want them so comfort wasn’t a problem. I used to ride Eddie Lawson reps back in the day so the upright riding position suits me. I love every minute on this bike. It makes me grin. You’re never going to see another on the road and it makes every ride feel special. And I love the torque – I don’t think I bothered going into the upper third of the rev range during the entire trip. The girder forks take a bit of getting used to though. Just thinking about turning makes my S1000RR dive into a corner but the Ace isn’t like that – more effort is required. I played around with the front suspension until I got it how I liked it – I wanted plenty of stability with all the luggage on the back, and wanted it soft enough to avoid any harshness. If the girder fork bikes are set-up stiff they sometimes judder.
When I came back the bike went to Ariel for a service – we’d ridden through a lot of dust and sand so I wanted it checked. It was fine. The only thing they found was corrosion on a ring on the headstock, which was a faulty batch. The service cost £220. I believe mechanical devices should be used. My car is an Aston Martin Vantage and I’ve done 188,000 miles in it but I love the freedom of bikes and the idea of the Ace just sitting around doesn’t make sense to me.
## Brain Easton, MV F4 RC, £41,000, 8,600 miles in 18 months
Another problem has been with the wiring. The ABS warning light came on down a bumpy road, then went off again, then back on. I checked to see where the wires were coming out of the dash and found a wire to the plug for the warning light had snapped off. By then MV were having all sorts of financial troubles and it took three months for the part to arrive. But everything is top quality – every bolt is titanium – and it’s a work of art. When you buy it, it comes with a massive box of goodies – a race Power Commander, race exhaust, and various other bits. You have to run it with the standard stuff until 1500 miles, then you can put all the gubbins on it, which takes it from
"Everything is top quality - every bolt is titanium - and it's a work of art"
195bhp to 212bhp at the back wheel. You can really feel it and it sounds incredible. When I get on it I feel like Agostini. The only other things I’ve done are cosmetic – a red sprocket and a gold chain and a tinted screen with a touring winglet on top to stop buffeting. Also, you’ve nowhere to keep anything, so I’ve got one of those tankbags that clip onto the filler cap for my cigars and lighter. My biggest mileage day is the north coast run, which is 385 miles. After that I feel fabulous – seriously. The first ten miles are hard work but after that you feel better and it gets more comfortable. She’s even alright in town – the only thing that bothers me in the height of summer is the heat. She runs hot.
It was horrendous finding insurance. The quotes I was getting were stupid – I’ve been riding since I was 16 (I’m now 61) and they wanted £7000. It was ridiculous. After a lot of searching I got it for £800 in the first year from a small broker, and now it’s £650. I paid £41,000 for it but I’m not worried about the value dropping – I don’t think it will because it’s such an iconic bike. I’ve had eight verbal offers to buy it and one German lad at the TT gave me a cheque for £50,000 but I gave it back to him. Also, I’m fastidious about cleaning – after every ride I spend about five hours cleaning it. It’s cleaner now than when it came out of the factory. And yes, I’ll freely admit I’m a nutcase!