Funny Front Brakes and Satisfied Minds: The Ducati 175, Phil Shilling, and Obsessions

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Some time in my early teens I came home from school and my mother told me she got me a magazine subscription from a door-to-door salesman.  We had a lot of magazine subscriptions in my house, and this one was for Cycle Magazine.  I wasn’t familiar with the magazine, but I was looking forward to thumbing through the pages of this new and intriguing thing.  Motorcycles. So much cooler than the Stewart kid’s minibikes.  I noticed it was for something like 10 years (well over an Eternity for a 13 year old boy) and my mother said, “Oh, really?  Well he was a very nice young man, and trying to work his way through college…”  Fair enough.

In the middle of summer, 1972, just about the time I got my motorcycle permit for my Honda CL100 and rode about as far as I could – around the entire perimeter of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, (a story in it’s own right), Cycle Magazine landed on the doorstep and I saw this story.

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Satisfied Mind, by Phil Shilling.  For the last few years, since the Dawn of the Internets, I’ve been trying to find that story again, and yesterday , for some strange reason, my search for “Ducati 175 roadracer” paid off, and I did.  I found this story on MotorcycleClassics.com about the story, the bike, Phil Shilling and the author’s tribute to the remarkable work Shilling did.  It didn’t take too much time to find the original story, reprinted here, in CycleWorld.  The bike was the 1959 Ducati 175 F3.

The story was the Holy Grail of all that was motorcycling for me, as well as my friends, The Perica Brothers.  I hung out with the Perica brothers – George, Robert and Steve, long after my infatuation with their sister, Sharon faded to distanced affection and was replaced by obsession with all things motorcycles, and in particular, Italian roadracing motorcycles.  They had a house with a 5-bay carriage house which they filled with every manner of free, to crazy-cheap two-wheeled vehicle, but most notably, three or four Ducati (Diana) 250 singles, a Ducati 450, and even a Guazzoni 50, sans expansion chamber.  (EuroSpares site here.)

Robert decided to blueprint and build one of the 250s, and, like any rational teenage boy, figured the best way to do that was to tackle the project over the winter, in his bedroom.  One Spring afternoon I rode up, and all three brothers – all over 6′ tall, were fairly out of breath, standing in the yard around the Ducati.   Apparently, getting the completed bike down the stairs was a little more of a task than they’d considered in the Fall.  Robert asked me if I wanted to take the bike out on it’s first test ride – around “the loop”, another remarkable feature of this particular house.  It was sitting on some of the sweetest roads in New England, complete with hairpin turn, hills, narrow twisties and jumpable bumps.  Prospect Hill Road to Depot Road, Under Pin Hill Road to a short burst onto Still River Road to Madigan Lane…  and then a final slam back onto Prospect Hill Road, carefully avoiding the sand at the corner…  unless brother Steve had been out that morning, sweeping.

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I did.  Reluctantly, but Robert insisted.  As I tooled back into the yard, the three brothers’ faces dropped.  The entire side of the crankcase was covered with oil, and had covered most of my leg as well.  Robert shrugged, and proceded to tear it down…  again, to find the errant seal.

The Ducati with the Funny Brake and Shilling’s story of his restoration was the cornerstone of everything that motorcycling and a motorcycle should be.  That idea later became what we started calling a “Cafe” bike. Cafe bikes – at least what we considered Cafe bikes – had nothing to do with anything British, Rockers, Japan or American motorcycles…  they were pure Italian design.  (I only heard the term “ton up” a few years ago.)  Triumphs and BSAs in the early and mid-’70s were bikes that you bought (or got free) in a crate.  Hardly serious motorcycles.  Certainly nothing you’d bother to try to ride.  (This was borne out to me when I inherited one of the Perica Brother’s bikes – a Triumph Trophy Trail 500.  Pretty, yes, but nicknamed “the toilet”, because you just couldn’t get it to stop leaking…  even after a complete crankcase re-working with aircraft sealant.  That’s assuming you got it started…)

There’s really very little about Phil Shilling on the web, just that he was inducted into the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame in 2011.  As a dewey-faced 13-year-old walking home from school one day, I had no idea that my mother, at the behest of a door-to-door magazine salesman would open up a world of Phil Shilling, “motor journalism’s finest editor, and its finest writer…” and others, notably, Gordon Jennings, author of The Two-Stroke Tuners Handbook, also an editor at Cycle Magazine in the late ’60s.  To quote the AMA story:

“Phil Schilling joined Cycle magazine in 1970, and for 18 years — nine as editor-in-chief — served as our magazine’s foundation and its conscience,” Neilson said. “During that rich and extraordinary two-decade span, when Cycle grew to be the largest-circulation motorcycle magazine on the planet, Phil found time to teach young racers how to race, and young writers how to write. He provided the racers with wisdom, patience and fast equipment, and the writers with fluency and grace and perspective. …

“To this day, Phil remains motor journalism’s finest editor, and its finest writer,” Neilson added. “I’ve known him now for more than 40 years. He’s been my best friend through all of it. I know he’s honored to join the Hall of Fame. All those whose lives Phil has touched — riders, racers, writers, readers — should feel honored too.”

Yes.  Honored is the word.

Phil’s bike is now a resident of the Vintage Motos Motorcycle Museum.  So yeah…  there’s a road trip coming up.  I don’t care if I get thrown out of the museum.  I want to lay my hand on that tank.

Oh. hey.  Want to see the bike running?  Here you go.

 

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3 responses to “Funny Front Brakes and Satisfied Minds: The Ducati 175, Phil Shilling, and Obsessions

  1. Pingback: “The Loop”: The Prospect Hill Run | The Electric Chronicles·

  2. An article that changed my youth and an article partially responsible for an affair with rare sporting and racing Ducatis that has lasted to this day from several factory racers to the first V twin desmos.

  3. I am fortunate to be able to call Phil Schilling my mentor. The man is truly more amazing than his writing suggests. He has given freely of himself to better others, with motorcycles as the thread that runs through every one who had their lives enriched through their relationship with Phil.
    – Mark Homchick

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