Tanshanomi's Snap Judgments

Ducati 500 Sport Desmo

Wed, April 7th, 2010

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1977–83 Ducati 500 Sport Desmo
The Ducati 500 parallel twin, introduced in 1975, was failing miserably in the marketplace when Ducati execs asked Fabio Taglioni (who had not been involved in the original design) to design a new, higher performance head employing the company's signature desmodromic valve gear. The Sport Desmo was the result. Unfortunately, while the new head did increase the power a fair bit, it only made it marginally competitive against the contemporary Japanese twins, rather than the utter embarrassment it had been previously. Furthermore, the head did nothing to correct the engine's notoriously weak crankshaft and excessive vibration.
Despite being a Ducati, the parallel twins didn't handle all that well. Steering was heavy, though the brakes were very good.
The '75 and '76 parallel twins shared horrid styling with the original 860 V-twin. The Sport Desmo thankfully arrived with redesigned bodywork created by Italjet. The funky, slab-sided, fat-bottomed engine still looked bizarre, but framed in a more reasonable chassis it managed to just look 'curious,' rather than out-and-out vomit inducing.
Even die-hard vintage Ducati enthusiasts, who are used to temperamental machinery, can't keep one running for long. The parallel twins suffer from severe electrical maladies, exacerbated by the severe shaking the engine gives everything.
There are no objective criteria on which to recommend this bike.
Perhaps Ducati's biggest failure. Just the concept of a Japanese-fighting Ducati parallel twin was really losing the plot...and the fact that they performed so poorly and were so unreliable (even by '70s Ducati standards!) made it even worse. Nobody really likes this bike. Even the Ducati guys dislike it. In fact, they perhaps hate it most of all.
It's like a two-wheeled Chevy Vega...built in Italy.