Photography by John Isaac / Magneto
Bologna has always been home to one of Italy’s most well known bike brand - Societa Scientifica Radio Brevetti Ducati. The early name is a clue to the company's humble beginnings. In the industry’s infancy Bologna was something of a leader in radio communications. The university produced a certain Sig. Marconi (who invented wireless telegraphy) and in 1922 a young physics student named Adriano Cavalieri Ducati, whilst studying radio communications, developed his own radio transmitters and condensers.
So successful were his products that this earliest incarnation of the Ducati business was soon enjoying spectacular growth. The Ducati factory's first motorised bicycle was a collaboration with a Turinese lawyer & designer Aldo Farinelli. His SIATA motor design was nicknamed the CUCCIOLO or Little Puppy – its build crammed in between the manufacture of everything from cameras, to radio parts and bicycle hubs. The design of this T1, and the T2 that came soon after, included a 48cc single engine and a handmade, super light steel frame.
These little machines proved economic, quick and easily maintained. Fitted to a variety of different cycle frames they sold quickly – perfect practical designs that proved the cheap reliable transport that post war Italians needed. The CUCCIOLO engine was to become the base for Ducati’s first branded motorcycles with new models such as the '48'. In 1950 capacity increased to 60cc & then finally to 65cc. This new 65cc T3 was capable of 200mpg and a top speed of 40mph - and it entered the record books in May 1951 at Monza where a rider averaged a speed of 66kmph over a period of 24 hrs. In the early 1950s meanwhile the Boselli Brothers’ company 'Modial' had been producing winning motorcycles thanks in large part to a young engineer named Fabio Taglioni.
Ducati Meccanica, which had been suffering difficulties as a result of a number of unsuccessful products and financial mismanagement, reached out to Taglioni. In 1954 the young mechanical wizard was tasked with building a motorbikes that could win the Moto Giro Italia & save the company from going under. The 'Taglioni' era was a real new beginning for Ducati as a performance motorbike manufacturer.
His first design for 1955 was the 98cc Gran Sports or 'Marianna' which came with a bevel driven, single overhead cammed engine (like those successfully raced by Norton for some time). The combination of a great engine with a well designed frame proved a winner.The biggest race in Italy at the time was the Moto Giro d'Italia , it was bigger than Grand Prix and as endurance as well as performance were the key winning factors a win meant instant commercial success for the Lightweight Ducatis.The team for the 1955 Giro were all riding the Gran Sports, with Gianni Antoni winning the Moto Giro outright on his Marianna.
The new Gran Sports were soon winning nearly every Italian race, outperforming much bigger machines. A Gran Sports again won the Moto Giro in 1956, this time in a DOHC 125cc version, ridden by Giuliano Maoggi. The Moto Giro has, with the support of Ducati been re-instated as a premier event. If your bike comes with less than 175 cubes of capacity and dates from before 1958, there isn’t a better event in which to compete.
With their low running costs and superb engineering, it’s little wonder that Lightweights have flowered in popularity.