November 1985. Flew to Sydney with a friend in order to buy 3 bikes that we would then ship home. I had a Ducati in mind, he too but with a BMW as a second choice. We would stay with respective friends who were domiciled in Sydney which meant that we would have to do some serious travelling around to join forces and scout for bikes.

We found a lot of shops with crashed Ducatis but not many for sale. I was surprised - how come so many bent ones when they were meant to be bestowed with legendary handling?

Apparently that was the problem - they handled so well that riders got no warning when they were about to exceed the envelope - so many came unstuck.

I finally found something that interested me. It had begun life as a Darmah SS, but had undergone a bodywork rebuild to make it a Mike Hailwood Replica replica. The price was ok so I bought it. It did not idle very well so I borrowed a couple of tools from the shop and tuned it before riding back to my digs.

Pretty bike.

Pictured there with a standard Darmah that I found and purchased for my friend the following day - whilst I was dealing with a blistering hangover..!

My friend also found himself a tidy BMW R100RS and we airfreighted the bikes home. They demanded we remove the batteries as they constituted dangerous goods. On the way back from the airfreight terminal I suddenly had a thought. Without acid the batteries would be inert - and therefore not dangerous. We poured the acid out on the lawn where we stayed the final night in Sydney. Next day we rocked up to fly home. We have these dry batteries - could we carry them on the plane.? Sure thing - would you like a box to put them in.? Sweet.

The bikes arrived the day after us. We had filled the batteries with new acid. Popped them in and rode home. All good.

We were living at the end of a very twisty road around a harbour. Great scratching road but not ideal for a fully-faired Ducati. I discovered that with the sides removed the bike felt a bit more agile, so I rode it like that for a while.

There was a problem with the performance of the bike. When you gave it full throttle it would start to pull hard then suddenly go flat on one cylinder. I pulled the head off the effected cylinder and found that someone had ground the end of the inlet valve stem down because the valve had been refaced rather low in the seat. What this had done was defeat the clearance on the closing shim for the desmo valve operation. I bought a new valve and genned up on the correct procedure for setting the operating clearances. The idea was to gradually grind the closing shim down until the valve stem could only just be turned by hand when the valve was fully closed. With all the fixing bolts removed this entire operation could be easily done by hand as the bevel drive all fitted together perfectly with zero effort and could be assembled and stripped repeatedly as the process required with no tools whatsoever. I spent an evening in front of the telly grinding the closing shim down using emery paper on a glass sheet until I got to the magic point.

Put it all back together and refitted the head. The bike ran perfectly and could also be tuned far more successfully. Result.!

I played with the Duke for a bit, but it was too dedicated to going fast on open roads - not adept at fast changes of direction such as NZ roads often demand. I decided to sell it. A young mechanic at my work was desperate to buy one. When he saw it he was besotted with the thing and engaged a finance company deal to allow him to buy it.

He wrote it off two weeks later, breaking his leg in the process. A shame for them both.