Italian design is going back to the future. Ducati's Sport 1000 returns Seventies' glamour to the roads

Price: Sport 1000: £7,995 Limited Edition: £9,500
Engine: Twin cylinder, air-cooled, fuel-injected 992cc
Max power: 92bhp @ 8,000rpm
Max Torque: 91.1Nm @ 6,000rpm
Brakes: Front twin 320mm semi-floating discs. Rear single 245mm disc.
Weight: 179kg (Sport Classic 1000 only)

The most frequently quoted line from The Third Man is Harry Lime's condemnation of Switzerland for enjoying 500 years of democracy but producing only the cuckoo clock. Actually, that speech begins by congratulating Italy for enduring 30 years of terror under the Borgias and still managing to turn out Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci.

Recent Italian motorcycle design has left me wondering whether a new era of conflict might be required to raise aesthetic standards. The ambition has too often been to make angular, ultra modern designs that work well, but neglect tradition. Moto Guzzi bucked that trend earlier this year with the gorgeous Griso. Now, with the introduction of Ducati's new Sport Classics, Bologna has caught up with Milan.

The Sport 1000 is modelled on the 1973 Ducati 750 Sport, one of the most attractive café-racers of the era. It is retro-chic at its most appealing. One big headlight and clip-on handlebars have the impact on the eye of a catwalk model. The sculpted solo racing saddle and race-striped fuel tank augment the glamour. Stylish wire-spoke wheels and a chrome instrument binnacle proclaim that this looker wants to have fun. It is not teasing. The Sport 1000 loves to be thrashed.

All the advantages of modern Ducatis are here. The gearbox is crisp and the bike handles gloriously. Braking power is ample and standard suspension settings are firm enough for serious cornering.

Oceans of mid-range torque make for excellent manners. I rode for miles in third gear, engine braking into bends and rocketing out of them. The Ducati attracted many approving stares. A lorry driver celebrated being overtaken with a merry blast on his air horn. This machine is pretty enough to appeal to people who have never ridden.

Of course, the Sport 1000 is an indulgence. It will not carry luggage, the riding position is too sporty for extended journeys and weather protection is non-existent. But these are characteristics not flaws. This motorcycle is for riding in jeans and leather jacket on sunny Saturdays. Ride it to impress. Ride it to remind the owners of sports coupés that four wheels can never be as much fun as two. Ride it to the gallery. But do not ride it on a wet British motorway. It would be as out of place as a prima ballerina in a rugby scrum. Motorcyclists who consider their machines a primary means of transport will not be interested. This is a motorcycle for recreational riders or a second bike for lovers of classic Italian style.

If you fall into that category you might want to consider the Paul Smart Limited Edition. Modelled on the Super Sport 750 English racer Paul Smart rode to victory at the 1974 Imola 200 this is a Sport 1000 with a racing fairing and Ohlins suspension (the standard Sports 1000 has Marzocchi forks and rear monoshock). Its handlebars are set a fraction further forward.

Thirty years ago Smart's race bike gave birth to the first generation of Ducati superbikes. To own an original Super Sport 750 would be glorious. I was less enthralled by the replica. With its rounded, silver fairing and flowing lines it is visually stunning, but not as much fun as the standard version. The suspension feels hard and the bike is less willing to turn in to corners. Engine performance is, of course, identical and both bikes use specially fabricated tube-type tyres that grip the road like glue. But I would be reluctant to subject the Paul Smart Limited Edition to regular use.

It is the sort of bike you buy to tuck up in a neatly ordered garage with its paintwork protected by spotless dust covers. But it is collectable enough to make such tender treatment worthwhile and the retro look is so convincing that it will cause some real surprises next summer.

I expect several road users will be astonished to discover that this ostensibly David Cassidy-era beauty is really a modern, fuel-injected 92 horsepower sports bike with handling to match. The potential to surprise almost makes me want one but I really do prefer the standard Sport 1000.

It is almost equally nostalgia inducing, but just too much fun to simply ogle. It sticks to corners beautifully, rewards adventurous riding and sounds sumptuous. Actually, the black-finish, stainless steel exhaust system emits a roar that sounds as good as it looks. If I could afford to keep a second bike purely for fun I would be seriously tempted by the Sport 1000. This is a bike that has everything required to give Harley Davidson real competition in the retro market. It looks as classic as the American company's Sportster model, but delivers a lot more power.

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