Featured: This Forgotten Ducati Darmah Is A Mighty Canyon Carver

This Forgotten Ducati Darmah Is A Mighty Canyon Carver

By Michael Banovsky
March 28, 2016

Friend of Petrolicious Jose Gallina recently sent over these stunning photos of a rarely-seen Ducati, the Darmah. Turns out that the bike is owned by Shaik Ridzwan, not only a passionate fan of motorcycles but also the founder of The Mighty Motor, a collective of creatives, producers, and designers who are passionate about motorcycles and the people who ride them.

So why ride a Ducati 900 Sport Desmo Darmah?

Michael Banovsky: From what I’ve been reading on it, [the Darmah] wasn’t an incredibly popular bike.

Shaik Ridzwan: It’s a beautiful bike, [but] it wasn’t raced, and all that—the Darmah was kind of a street bike that came from [racing]. Maybe it was the original naked bike, kind of thing.

MB: Right.

SR: I got the bike from a friend, and brought it back to California and continued to work and ride it. I liked it, it grew on me. I like the design language. The designer in me liked all that, the period font and styling. I like it. The bike is pretty much the way I picked it up, except the original electronics—people that know Ducatis know that’s the first thing that people replace.

MB: Is it the ignition system that you switch out?

SR: Yeah, everything, the ignition, coils, pickups; the Bosch pickups were the same pickups that we use on the BMW R100, but the Germans were smart enough to put it in a way that it was not in a hot oil bath the way Ducati did. After thirty years, or so, those pickups were cooked. Those are the kind of thing that will probably not be a problem until now.

You got to love they way Italians do it, because they just do it because they want to save space. They want to make it look and sound good.

I had the bike and it was…I wanted to make it to the point that I could ride. I have some older bikes, the Darmah was kind of my in-between. I have some newer bikes and some older bikes. The older bikes are not that fun to ride if you want to go fast and go up in the canyons. The Darmah was the in-between. It has disc brakes, dual disc brakes in the front and a single one out back, it has 900 CC, so it can get up to speed. It’s not fast by modern standards, but it can get up to speed and even more fun to ride. I put some sticky tires on it and I pretty much learned to ride it when I moved to LA, riding it up on the hills, getting to know the bike.

It’s got a long wheelbase, it’s relatively heavy, it doesn’t have huge power, so it’s kind of like anything vintage you know: you just ride it because you like it ride it.

MB: You were mentioning before that it’s sort of your in-between bike, how much of an adjustment is it from riding a really modern bike?

SR: Modern bikes to me—and when I’m saying modern bikes these days are over 140 horsepower, full of electronics, you know, traction control and all that kind of stuff.

When I grew up riding, and what I still have to ride, it’s what’s between your ears and your right hand. That’s it, that’s your ABS and your traction control. Sometimes, we go up in the canyons and we switch bikes, and I will ride a friends bike and let him ride the Darmah down the canyon, and you have to think so far ahead compared to the newer bikes because it doesn’t give you that same kind of instant reaction, braking, accelerating, keeping the res up. In the modern bikes you don’t even have to worry about that. You are not within the same revs, it’s fine, you have enough power to just carry you out of the turn, with these bikes you have to go back to the basics of the engine. Where is the sweet spot? Learning and all that, that was a learning curve for me with the Darmah.

I have older bikes where you kind of already knew, ’60s Triumphs and BSAs, were you kind of knew “Okay, it’s kind of like a wild horse, everything is crazy and raw.” You knew it. This is like the in-between.

MB: What would be the perfect road for the Darmah? The perfect cruise on that bike?

SR: The sweet spot for the Darmah is around 5-6,000 RPM, and that’s when you start to hear the engine being really happy, and you can hear those bevel gears winding, and when I hear that wind of the bevel gears I know that it’s at that point where the engine is at it’s power band. For some roads it’s too tight, it’s got this long wheelbase and it doesn’t really like to do that, going really slow—and no Ducati I have likes to go slow.

MB: How you learn the nature of a machine that you buy or that you acquire? Is it a process that you really enjoy and look forward to?

SR: I do, it’s like the The Mighty Motor, the reason why I did The Mighty Motor is because of the process of telling the stories. That’s what I’m addicted to. My dad, everyone in my family is kind of a storyteller, you know? That’s what I love when I go see a bike, it adds more to the whole package. That’s the reason why I don’t really restore any of my bikes. The Darmah and Triumph that I bought, it was a ’66 and it was all original, rus spots here and there, I wasn’t bothered with it. Because that was my story, I went out there and bought it.

I looked at the whole title on the Darmah and it’s from New Mexico, and I’m sure someone knows who owned it before—if you wanted to find out. I [first] saw it in his warehouse just leaned over, covered in dust. I usually just start riding my bikes; it will break, I’ve broken a lot of bikes. That’s my process of learning about the machine. I love that kind of stuff, opening it up, and getting either excited or frustrated of what you find inside.

Because I’ve broken down multiple times on the Darmah, I know exactly if there is any problem that happens to it now, I would probably know what’s wrong with it. You can send it to a mechanic and it will come back and you have no idea, it drives perfectly, of course, and then something breaks again—on vintage bikes and vintage cars it will in a matter of time, something will go. Then you go into this whole spiral of always sending it back to someone because you don’t know what the hell has been going on in the first place.

Thanks to Jose Gallina and Shaik Ridzwan for their help in getting this interview and feature together; you can follow Jose online and on Instagram; Shaik is @shaikridzwan at Instagram and The Mighty Motor.

Photography by Jose Gallina

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Marc (@santacaferacer)
5 years ago

I had one – better looking in person. Those wheels are dangerous – known to disintegrate so best to swap em out for later versions. The Conti pipes sound great. Not a bad handling bike for the era compared to comparable japanese bikes and, it came with a damper. Some folks ditch the bodywork and make SS replicas.

5 years ago

Well I just got a 1980 Darmah SSD and I’ve always disliked the styling of 80’s bikes including this one with the cast wheels and the whale tail. But jump on a bike with a 900cc square case bevel drive motor and it doesn’t matter what it looks like. British bikes simply don’t have the soul of a classic Ducati with their loping exhaust notes, long wheel bases and torquey motors. They are made for and are pure joy in the sweepers and the open road. Will it keep up with a modern sport bike in the canyons? Of course not. try riding a 916 for more than 45 minutes or try riding a desmosedici beyond second gear. Maybe better looking and more mechanically worthy but they are not as much fun to ride. So you could buy a 70’s era round case sport for $50k+ or an 80’s era 900SS square case for almost the same money. Or you can get the same riding experience on Darmah for a quarter the cost. One of the best values out there for my money.

Linda N Brian Schick
Linda N Brian Schick(@sparkey60)
5 years ago

Guitar Slinger’s response on the Darmah was spot on.

5 years ago

I must concur. A lovely bike in its own right, but it’s not what the article make it out to be.

Guitar Slinger
Guitar Slinger(@gtrslngr)
5 years ago

Ugh ! OK .. I get it … its SR’s machine … he’s trying .. by ignoring the facts and history about the bike … to elevate the Darmah’s existence because he loves it .. but lets get real here . Without going into a ton of details the Darmah never had much Karma when it comes to Ducati’s history and line up . Suffice it to say the Darmah was Ducati’s attempt at creating a populist ‘ fashion accessory ‘ that would appeal to owners of Japanese bikes * … minus the Japanese bikes reliability of course .. with just enough performance and handling to justify it being a Ducati …. barely … seeing as how its now looked upon as one of Ducati’s ill conceived b***ard children [ the ‘ Indiana being the worst ] … as proven by the abject lack of sales which then led to its removal from Ducati’s lineup … not to mention the utter lack of acceptance by Ducati riders and collectors worldwide today ……..not to mention the pundits as well . So in truth … though again I get it … its SR’s toy .. he loves it … but this article is trying to turn the insignificant … into the profound .. .e.g trying to make a silk purse out of a sows ear ..

* Source ; Mick Walker

Guitar Slinger
Guitar Slinger(@gtrslngr)
5 years ago
Reply to  Guitar Slinger

PS; In response to the header … the Darmah was and still is on the best of days a mediocre canyon ….. ‘ Cruiser ‘

Dave Brimson
Dave Brimson(@brimo368)
5 years ago
Reply to  Guitar Slinger

Struth, what a rant! It’s his bike, and he enjoys it. I owned two Dramasn in the days when they were relatively current; they are very nice bikes to ride and a big improvement (in my opinion)on the roadster which preceded it, the 860GT. It was a better proposition than an SS two-up and better on rough or tight mountain roads. It might not have been as fast as an SS, but for most riding I found it a better bike than its slip-on and rear-set equipped siblings. On smooth dirt roads or in wet weather, it was superb. Different strokes for different folks, I guess. Incidentally, I’ve also owned an ’81 SS, 600 Pants and ’74 Sport. The Sport is a beautiful thing, but the Drama was a better bike for all round riding.