HISTORY IS a funny thing. Sometimes you find yourself looking back on historical events, and then realize that you were there when that history was made. You may have only just been there, but you were there at the start. Take my mate Lindsay Apartheid (he originally came from South Africa). On a late ’70s visit back to his homeland to see his folks, he was petrified he’d be conscripted into the army and have to go fight some grubby little rebel name Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe. Luckily, Lindsay snuck in and out without having to fight rebels, but near on three decades later, history has proved that someone should’ve stopped the bastard Mugabe from doing the scandalous things he is still doing today.
Not long after Lindsay arrived back in Australia, he found himself embroiled in another scandalous episode: The Infamous Collapsing Ducati Magnesium Wheel (I.C.D.M.W.) affair. And I was there too, for the genesis of that tawdry period of Australian Ducatidom. While the I.C.D.M.W. affair might not rate up there with tragedies like Zimbabwe, or Bill Clinton spilling special sauce on Monica Lewinski’s blue dress, it did occupy a large amount of column space in the Aussie motorcycle press for a few years. The ensuing years have seen the I.C.D.M.W. affair diluted; some people closely involved even playing down the effects, falsely claiming that while yes, some Ducati wheels cracked, none failed or caused a crash. ‘Bulla-shitta’ is what an Italian concreter would say to that preposterous assumption and Lindsay Apartheid can attest to that.
Let me set the scene: Lindsay had bought himself a brand new Ducati Darmah. It was one of the first landed in the country and he’d traded his old Triumph Bonneville to get the gleaming red and white Duke.
Darmah is Italian for Tiger, but the Eye-Tie marketers must’ve known as soon as they hit the Australian streets, it’d be called the Ducati Drama. (Type ‘Darmah’ into a Microsoft Word Spellcheck and its first suggestion is ‘Drama’).
As a model, it was the right thing for the time—the brilliant 900 cc Desmo engine and triple disc brakes from the way-too-sexy Super Sport SS-900 in a touring bike package that was a bit more rider-friendly. It rolled on these sexy-looking and gold painted magnesium wheels, and featured electric start and Japanese electrics— way-hey!
The new Duke was mere weeks old; one Saturday night, Lindsay and I were motoring around the Northern Beaches of Sydney, performing all our pub-visiting and party-attending duties. We were at the last Northern Beaches stop, a party at Blossie’s place at Beacon Hill, when we decided we’d have to go to a party in Disgusting Darlinghurst, Lindsay Apartheid’s own stamping ground.
Just as we were leaving Blossie’s place, the lights on my AJS single gave up the ghost. It was disappointing for sure, as I thought I’d finally fixed the lighting problem by fitting an alternator from a Bridgestone 350 to the front of the Ajay motor. It was pure simplicity: chain driven from the Ajay engine sprocket and featuring a battery eliminator. Normally reliable, but the small drive chain broke and lights became darks. That wasn’t going to stand between us and a party, though, and the decision was made to ditch my bike at my place and continue on two-up on the new Ducati.
It was only a few miles to my place via my special ‘back ways’ but it involved some grass tracking and a creek crossing or two. I fully understood Lindsay baulking at the creek crossing on the as-yet unscratched machine, but why couldn’t he keep up across the paddocks and down the behind houses? I mean—he had lights, didn’t he?
With the Ajay safely parked, I jumped on the pillion of the Drama and southward we ventured. We went real fast, too, flashing across the Harbour Bridge and down around the Cahill Expressway, Darlinghurst bound. I might’ve been me egging him on, but for whatever reason, we went through the Cahill Expressway tunnel as fast as a two-up Ducati Drama would go. Maybe it had something to do with the way the sound of a Desmo V-Twin with Conti megaphones bounces off the tiled walls of the tunnel.
Exploding out of the tunnel, we were confronted with the confronting sight of wall-to wall bumper-bars—it was a bloody traffic jam in Woolloomooloo! We both prayed to Brembo, the Latin deity in charge of idiots not watching, and Lindsay slammed everything available on full.
Miraculously (and no doubt aided by my dragging desert boots) the Drama had slowed almost to a stop when we hit the towbar on the back of one of the stopped cars. No so much a scrreeEEEEE-KERASH sound, more of a scree… thump!
There was no damage to the car but you wouldn’t have thought so from the reaction of the driver.
“Yoddle woddle croy dodder may,” was all we heard the driver yell.
Luckily for us, Lindsay Apartheid is about 6’ 3’’, and with his long legs, paddled us backwards and away from there.
“You shouldn’t have been stopped in the middle of the road,” Lindsay yelled in his humorous Seth Effrikan accent as we zapped off down the grassy median strip. Lucky he’d just had recent grass-tracking practice.
We got to the party and it was a dud but at least we got to check out the magnesium front wheel for any damage. There was none… or so we thought…
A couple of weeks later, Lindsay Apartheid was motoring along on his shiny Ducati Drama, hurling into a downhill corner on Campbell Parade, alongside the most famous beach in the world—Bondi—when some brain-dead dingbat pulled out from a side street right in front of him.
“Oh you PRICK,” Lindsay began to utter as he grabbed a fistful of front Brembo brake.
He only got as far as the ‘Oh you…’ and was moving onto the ‘PRICK’ when the Infamous Collapsing Ducati Magnesium Wheel syndrome first reared its ugly melon. The front wheel simply exploded underneath him, the bike dropped and rolled, and poor old Lindsay Apartheid came tumbling after, doing a collarbone and removing a fair bit of bark from his person.
Although he never hit the car, he swore he was close enough to hear the driver yell: “I didn’t do that!”
The bike was trashed, sure enough; the remains of the wheel consisted of two disc brake rotors still bolted to the hub, a few stubby spokes and a still fully inflated tyre and tube bulging ridiculously within the bent Marzocchi forks! The rest of the wheel consisted of lots and lots of small and easy-to-handle portions; they all came home in a plastic bucket.
As Lindsay and I discussed the unbelievable damage over a beer a few days later, he suggested the tiny thump against a tow bar may have caused a lot more trauma to the structural integrity of the mag wheel than we first thought.
In this litigious day and age, Lindsay would’ve been sitting pat with a million-dollar product liability collarbone, but back then, the reality was a bit different. Because he never hit the car, it was deemed under law that it wasn’t the car driver’s fault, and given that were two people involved and one of them wasn’t legally at fault, that left poor old Lindsay…
It was a case of: Get up, you bikie scumbag sookie-boy, or we’ll book you for negligent driving and littering.”
I know it’s not much of a claim to fame, but I know one thing: When that first innocent incident occurred—Lindsay Apartheid bumping his mag wheel into a towbar at Woolloomooloo—thereby setting in motion the chain of events which culminated in the Infamous Collapsing Ducati Magnesium Wheel Affair, I was there…
By Kelly Ashton