Tanshanomi's Snap Judgments

Ducati 900 Darmah

Wed, May 18th, 2011

1977-83 Duati SD900 Darmah
The legendary bevel-drive Ducati engine put out more power in other guises, but the SD was still delightfully usable, willing and entertaining at any engine speed. It's captivating personality largely disguised the fact that it was in reality generating well under 60 HP, an okay but not spectacular number for the time. A heavy, troublesome clutch and rough-shifting transmission in stock condition also knocks down its score, although aftermarket fixes are available.
The Darmah was lauded for its handling in its day, and is still great fun to ride today, but it's definitely an old-school ride. The suspension is stiff, the steering is heavy at low speeds and its legendary high-speed stability comes courtesy of a hydraulic steering damper, not engineered-in stiffness. The whole package is something worth experiencing, however.
The Darmah combines Ducati's classic, visually arresting bevel-drive top end configuration with graceful bodywork that was a huge relief after Ducati's awkward, squared-off styling experiments of the mid '70s. The squared-off engine covers remained, though, and while not terribly unattractive they are not nearly as timeless, elegant and sculptural as the early 'round case' twins.
The Darmah was a great improvement over older Ducs thanks to its Nippon Denso cockpit components and Bosch ignition, but stator, starter and clutch problems were still alarmingly common. Given enough miles, the crank big ends eventually go. Some years had brittle, failure-prone cast wheels.
Any 30-year-old Italian motorcycle will demand more patience and forgiveness from its owner than either a contemporary Japanese machine or a modern-day Ducati. Given that significant caveat, the SD was one of the more practical mounts to come out of Italy up to that time, with sporty but reasonably comfortable ergonomics. Ducati even offered a mid-sized accessory fairing and saddlebags for sport-touring duty.
The Darmah straddles the gap between the classic, original bevel-drive Ducatis and their more modern belt-drive cousins. I'm not a big enough Italophile to desire two different Ducati L-twins in my fantasy garage, so the SD is a nice compromise that would meet all my Ducati wishes.
Like many a middle child, the 900 Darmah doesn't get all the credit it deserves.