If you know a little bit about motorsports in the Middle East, it is really hard to overlook the Vendetta Racing team. Vendetta Racing UAE is a privately-owned motorcycle racing team, founded by Alan Boyter in 2007, competing in both national and international events, such as the prestigious Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge, the Manx GP on the famous Isle of Man, and the Dakar Rally. 13 years of hard-core racing and building bikes for both track and off-road, you sure learn a trick or two.
The Unusual Suspect
So, what does a racing team have to do with building custom bikes? Well, you may find the name of the founder of Vendetta Racing sounds familiar. In 2014, Alan built a Triumph Speed Triple Café Racer, dubbed ‘Project Trumpet’ under the guise of VR Customs. Since then, VR Customs has produced some interesting builds, including their latest bike, the ‘Project X’ Ducati 996 Café Racer. There aren’t many Ducati 916/996/998 café racers. And why would there, since messing with the great Massimo Tamburini’s design could be considered sacrilege by many motorcycle enthusiasts. A daring choice as one can imagine, which is why Alan chose this bike.
The UK connection
The idea was simple: create a café racer that looks great, but moves even better. It had to look old school, and it had to have a metal alloy body. Once the juices started flowing, the finer details began to form. VR Customs has a whole set of skills available, however, forming sheet metal for the body wasn’t one of them. Luckily a source in the UK was found that could create anything they wanted from alloy. They had a couple of fairing designs and seat units that could be modified, which saved a lot of time. The fuel tank, however, had to be created from scratch. Once that was completed it was time to start looking for a base bike. A clean Ducati 996 was found in the UK along with 1198S Öhlins forks, Brembo brake callipers, a 998R lower triple (56mm), Braketech full floating discs, Brembo brake and clutch master, and the sexiest wheels on the market by Kineo. All were thrown into a container and shipped to Dubai. This was back in 2015 already. So, what happened between 2015 and now?
Years in the making
Well, 5 years might seem like a long time for a build, but a lot has happened in the meantime. The bodywork from the UK got delayed which meant the project stalled and soon got pushed aside for other projects. The race team took priority as well, and the rest, well as the saying goes, is history. There are positives about having a long timeline on a build like this. Time can be taken to focus on all the minute details, such as re-wiring an STM 5-button GP style bar control to manage all the requirements of a roadbike or fabricating a clock surround that nods to the original cockpit but with made-to-order clocks, complete with LEDs, custom logos and a GPS Speedo. Both the exhaust and seat subframe were heavily reworked before they were called finished. Simply looking at things for two years changes your view, either by design or simply considering that it can be done better.
Fit and finish
There were parts that were an absolute must for this build, such as a FRAM race radiator, modified to sit farther back and to accept twin-Spal fans along with a matching oil cooler. The result meant added alloy to polish but, but more importantly, it kept the looks balanced as the original radiator is puny in comparison. Another important visual change was to not use belt covers. Backing covers were removed, along with machining the cam mounts, prior to powder-coat so the cam pulleys ‘float’ round the heads. Pulleys were chromed to ensure they catch the eye. Every single nut and bolt has been either polished or nickel plated. This includes the return springs on the throttle bodies, the coil outer housings, right down to M5 screws that hold the butterflies in the throttle bodies. The alloy body work was clear-coated for protection, and engine parts were either kept natural alloy, powder-coated in textured black (including the Öhlins fork lowers), or anodised red (to match the candy apple red frame). The mix of finishes were a nod to the late 50’s Ducati Elite.
The final shakedown was performed where the bike was always destined to be, at the race track. Looking over the wide-tinted screen and classic-style tank, the bike has a visual sense of being heavy, but this is soon forgotten as soon as you lean into the first corner. It has the familiar, agile handling of a 996 but with far superior braking ability and suspension that was never this good out of the factory in the late 90’s. Mission accomplished!
Photography: Tim Ansell
Special thanks to Mike Vosloo of Twist & Grip for the amazing pics and shoot location.