"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’"
Chris Baglin made his own Ducati
The beautiful things of the earth become more dear as they elude pursuit. Thomas Hardy.
Chris Baglin, the builder of the gorgeous Ducati Bevel, can remember exactly what it was that ignited the flame inside him that eventually led to this exquisite, elegant creation you see before you. He was 15 or 16 years old when someone bought him one of those coffee table encyclopedia type books. In this case, the subject was custom motorcycles. Amongst the pages of this book was a Ducati 900SS cafe racer. Chris was spellbound by the simplicity of the bike and the delicate design of the Ducati base motorcycle. From this moment Chris has been a fan of Italian engineering. “They dare to be different and they put so much effort in to making things look nice” he said.
Chris owns Merlin Engineers, a company based in Bedfordshire UK, who specialise in traditional metal fabrication, restoration and repair of light aircraft and historic race cars. He has fabrication skills that most of us can only dream of and there’s never a dull day in the day job. For example, he currently has two Pitts specials stunt planes, a 1940s Russian Yakovlev Yak-11 aeroplane, and a very early 3.8L series 1 Jaguar E-Type coupe in his workshop.
His journey has included many bikes and cars of note and currently his collection includes a mildly cafed Matchless, a Honda XR400, a quad for the kids and some other bits and pieces, oh, and the Bevel of course.
Talking of the Ducati Bevel, there’s an interesting story behind this bike.
In the mid-’60s, a Swiss former motorcycle racer called Fritz Egli started building innovative and strong custom motorcycle frames withs Cloud Nine Developments. He became a legend in the bike world and, amongst many famed designs, built 25 Egli frames for the Laverda 750SF. Very rare and very beautiful and one of these bikes was the inspiration for what you see here.
As it happens one of Chris’s mates had an Egli Laverda and a spare Egli frame and Chris happened to have a Ducati Bevel engine sitting around. You can see where this is going. Unfortunately, the Bevel engine wouldn’t fit the Egli frame, so Chris decided to utilise his extensive fabrication expertise and make his own frame.
Based on the Egli frames of the ’70s, Chris’s frame is a work of art. He’s used 4130N aircraft grade chromoly seamless tube, commonly used in motorsport fabrication.
The frame is absolutely flawless, but Chris plays down the incredible fabrication saying “the frame was quite straightforward”. Spindles, headstock and swing arm pivot points provided one of the biggest challenges, soaking up a large amount of fabrication time. All of the bushes, spacers and spindles in these four points alone took longer to fabricate than the rest of the frame.
One easily-overlooked feature of the bike is the right hand gear shifter. Up until the early ‘70s the gear lever position on motorcycles hadn’t been standardised. British bike manufacturers and some other European manufacturers typically had the shifter on the right, American manufacturers put theirs on the left. Early Ducatis had theirs on the right so when manufacturers started to standardise the gear shifter on the left, Ducati cobbled together a linkage that repositioned the shifter to the left. It wasn’t very good, added slack to the shifter and because the linkage was routed behind the engine, added unwanted length to an already long package.
The last thing Chris needed was unnecessary length so he removed the right to left linkage, returning the shifter to the right hand side which meant he could shorten the wheelbase by 1”, improving handling.
Geometry on this Bevel is based on the iconic Ducati 916 and this bike really works, it’s no show queen. Mid corner, leant over on the gas it’s rock steady yet agile. Hit a cat’s eye or bump in the road while you’re cranked over and it remains predictable and stable, no bucking or weaving.
Chris wanted high level exhausts but that brings its own challenges, like managing the heat it generates.
He had to think outside the box to find the perfect solution, or inside the frame! Every inch of the exhaust has been handmade, painstakingly hand-fabricated using a selection of bends and straights, expertly welded, finished and finally nickel plated. The megaphone-style silencers have been fabricated by hand, rolled from flat sheets with machined end caps. Chris could have used off the shelf parts, but that’s just not how Chris does things.
Rear sets, top yoke, disc carrier and engine frame are yet more examples of Chris’s expert fabrication skills, all made in-house by his own fair hands.
Continuing with the ’70s theme, Chris hand-formed a tank using 1050A alloy, following cues from the Imola race bikes of that time and the seat unit is handmade using glass fibre.
A lot of time and effort has been spent ensuring the beautiful lines of the bike have been kept as pure as possible. Motogadget electronics have been used due to their high quality and compact dimensions.
At the beginning of the story we mentioned Chris had a spare Ducati Bevel engine lying around and this provided the beating heart, or maybe thumping heart would be more appropriate, for this build. It’s a heavily modified 900GTS 863cc ‘bevel’ L-twin. The ‘square case’ short stroke engine gets its name from the overhead cams, driven by a set of bevel gears and it uses valve springs for closing (non-desmo). It also has distinctive ‘Ital’ designed outer engine covers by Giorgetto Giugiaro of Studio Italdesign.
His Bevel engine is fitted with a race crank, Carrillo rods, big valves and lumpy cams to ensure this old school Ducati engine has the go to back up its show.
There’s a pair of ported heads with big Dellorto 40mm carbs bolted to to them and to top it off ts running on Hektik ignition.
Hanging off the front is a pair of USD WP forks with an Ohlins shock bringing up the rear and the icing on the cake is a pair of lightweight, period-looking Dymag CH3 wheels.
One of the key things about this bike is the balance. It’s a collection of parts, WP forks, Dyman wheels, hand fabricated frame, 900GTS Bevel motor but thanks to Chris’s engineering expertise, the bike has a balance that so many custom builds don’t have. Components work in harmony in the way a factory build bike work.
It’s staggering how much work has gone into the build. The man hours alone are incalculable. The quality of the fabrication and engineering is breathtaking. Chris says after a nine year journey it’s finally finished and is up for sale. If you are serious and want to talk to him, click on the link to his website; http://www.merlinengineers.co.uk/ We’ve got to send a shout out to Gareth Squance for the awesome images.
So what’s next for Chris? He’s always had a thing for a Japanese-engined board tracker. Thanks to knee injury from some moto-x shenanigans years ago, he says the Bevel is a little too sporty for him these days so a boardtracker might be just the job.
Whatever he builds I can’t wait to hear about it, and I’m sure it will be drop dead gorgeous.
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