The Ducati 200SS

Alan Chalke's chance encounter with a bevel-drive Ducati sparked a life-long love for the vintage Italian creations. Here Alan shares his Ducati 200SS, a maroon beauty called "The Jelly Mold" because of its oddly shaped fuel tank.

| March/April 2008

Ducati 200SS
Years produced:
Claimed power: 18hp @ 7,500rpm
Top speed: 87mph (est.)
Engine: 203.783cc OHC, air-cooled single
Weight (dry): 111kg (244.2lbs)
MPG: 55-75
Price then: N/A
Price now: $4,000 - $8,000

A life-long enthusiast, Alan Chalke built his own mini-bike when he was a kid — even getting pulled over by the police for riding it on the road. Years later and working in Southern California, he was hanging out at the Rock Store when he saw his first bevel-drive Ducati twin. “It was a 750 GT with round cases. I fell in love with it and went out and bought one,” Alan recalls.

That purchase sparked an interest in the marque, and Alan started collecting early Ducatis — which, as any Ducati fan will tell you, is not the easiest hobby to pursue. “The biggest drawback is the scarcity of parts, especially for vintage Ducatis,” Alan says. “There is a lack of people who know how to work on them, and parts are expensive when you can find them.” But early Ducatis weren’t always expensive. In fact, in their day, most small Ducatis were bought simply as transportation.

It’s important to appreciate that while today’s Ducati is renowned for producing championship-winning motorcycles with soul and power, there was a time when things didn’t look so promising for the Italian manufacturer. At the end of World War II, the Nazi retreat left Italy a mess. As Italians started putting their country back together, there was a pressing need for cheap transportation.

Many companies jumped into making small motorcycles, and Ducati was one of them. Located in Bologna, Ducati wasn’t originally a bike builder. The company started out in the 1920s making photographic and electrical equipment. During World War II, Ducati produced equipment for the war machine, and when the Allies invaded in 1944, the Ducati factory was destroyed.

Salvation came in 1946, when Ducati partnered with Italian company SIATA to build a small 48cc engine dubbed the Cucciolo (Little Pup). Designed to clip onto a standard bicycle, the engine was a hit with moto-hungry Italians, and by 1951 Ducati had bought out SIATA and was building complete motorcycles. In 1954 the company hired the legendary designer and engineer Fabio Taglioni with a plan to devise machines for the prestigious long distance races then held on Italian roads.

By 1955, Taglioni’s first offspring, the overhead-camshaft 98cc Gran Sport (later known as the Marianna), was embarrassing the competition. A 125cc racing single — the first Ducati with desmodromic valves, a technology that would become a signature of Ducati factory racers — came next. Ducati was on the move.

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