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Riding a 1980 Ducati 900SD Darmah vs 1981 Moto Guzzi CX100 Le Mans

Last week I was down in PA, belatedly celebrating a bday, and my buddy Alex asked if I wanted to try riding a couple of his vintage Italian motorcycles.  Now I've long lusted after the 1980 Ducati 900SD Darmah and 1981 Moto Guzzi CX100 Le Mans that sat in his garage, so I grabbed my GoPro and headed over to Giegertown. 

Alas, my GoPro batteries were dead after a recent trip to NYST, so I decided to just take a few photographs and mental notes to compare these two classic Italian machines, as we toured around Southeastern Pennsylvania in search of a biker brunch. 
This 1981 Moto Guzzi CX100 Le Mans (do not believe the original 850 Le Mans on the sidepanel ;) ) is a true cafe racer. 
Alex bought this bike in a box for a few thousand dollars, and though he needed to cobble a few pieces together, the bike also sports some tremendously rare bits as well, like this Giacomo Agostini tail. 
The signature engine is 90' V-Twin that sits under your knees instead of in-line with your body; perpendicularly situated instead of sitting within the frame like a Ducati L-Twin. 
There is a signature wobble at idle and low speeds, when the bike literally oscillates from side to side. 
The bike is unquestionably beautiful, and I could imagine racing around some Italian hills from cafe to cafe, though you are hunched up over the tank while riding, and let's just say the suspension isn't the most forgiving on your wrists and your rear. 
At probably around 75hp, this 450lb beast really pulls, but you really need to be sensitive (and engage the clutch in fully) to find a gear.  The idle on this bike was set too low, so I found myself needing to start to rev the bike anytime we happened upon a stoplight, where squeezing tightly on the brakes eventually got me slowed down. 
Our destination for the afternoon was a British-style pub for the horsey, Chester County bourgeois called the The Whip Tavern
And after a couple of pints and scotch eggs, Alex and I switched bikes, and I got a chance to take a tour on the Darmah. 
"Darmah" actually translates (I was told) to "man-eating tiger," and the first thing you notice starting this predator up is the sound.
I've owned a bunch of Ducatis, each louder than the last, but this bike arguably sounds the best, as the Ducati V-Twin roars, 

and then the engine pops like a mofo when letting off the throttle a bit. 
The riding position is far more upright than the Guzzi, and thus way, way more comfortable.  The seat and suspension were plush and responsive, and I pictured myself touring on this bike more than riding to the cafe.

Although a similar displacement (864cc vs 849cc), the claimed horsepower by each manufacturer was similar, though the Duc pulled far harder at 5-6,000 RPMs, something I've grown accustomed to on these Italian machines.
Shifting gears on the Darmah 900SD was like clockwork as well, compared to the Le Mans.
And for a 40 year old bike, the suspension, brakes, ride-feel and general maneuverability just felt quite a bit better on the Darmah,
though tires, brakes, suspensions and just about everything else has gotten light years better since then..
Although these two-machines are roughly comparable in terms of performance, age and likely price (the Guzzi sold far more than the Duc).  I think I'd take the Ducati 10 times out of ten (even knowing I'm biased).
The black and gold styling of the Darmah is a classic, and the beveled Desmo is a feat of engineering still revered today.
Alex tells me me most people took off the stock pipes and replaced them with Contis. 
But most of all I was just happy to ride both bikes, then hop on my own Ducati 996 and head back home to New York City. 

© 2017 Tigh Loughhead


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