2007 RetroSBK Ducati Monster S4R | Motorcycle Review

Custom Ducati Monster

Take a motorcycle club racer, competitive bodybuilder and martial artist whose heroes are Buddha, Michelangelo, and Chuck Yeager, and challenge him to perfect and personalize the world’s most exceptional motorcycles. The result is the mission statement of RetroSBK’s founder William Kenefick.

Tucked away in the hills west of Los Angeles, RetroSBK’s custom performance workshop is housed within the warehouse headquarters of respected aftermarket manufacturers Zero Gravity. Kenefick’s work has delighted Robb Report MotorCycling readers before—his Freddie Spencer Tribute Honda 1000RR roared off our November/ December 2005 cover. Spencer himself rode this declaration of menace and elegance at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway, his racing school’s home. Between wheelies, the former 500cc Grand Prix World Champion was exuberant in his praise of Kenefick’s self-styled gentleman’s superbike.

Citing Arlen Ness as the master of the custom motorcycle universe, Kenefick proceeds on his course with a total absence of hubris. Having won three of California’s annual Del Mar Concours D’Elegance, the Ducati Island Concours at Laguna Seca, and building bespoke bikes for a highly exclusive clientele, Kenefick is conscious of his audience’s exponential expectations. His current projects include a tribute World Champion Wayne Rainey based on a 2006 Kawasaki ZX-10R chassis and engine.

Ducati’s famed naked bike is exposed further at the hands of Will Kenefick. Photograph by Cordero Studios (Click image to enlarge)

Kenefick’s most recent accomplishment is the makeover of Ducati’s best-selling Monster. In S4R trim, this naked liter-engined streetfighter lights up road and track. But under his exigent gaze, whatever shortfalls the Monster’s pedigree concealed were bound to be exposed. Kenefick’s critical sense is the fruit of 12 years of intimacy and passion with desmodromic Italian beauties. His alchemy has been the transmutation of rough-edged head turning and loin-girding metal vixens into dazzling divas.

Ownership of a 1994 900SS-CR converted Kenefick to the cult of Borgo Panigale; his subsequent experience selling the brand and maintaining the private collections of local wealthy Ducatisti made him an indefatigable advocate. A track day meeting with Ducati Superbike champion Doug Polen cemented the bond and stoked the inspiration. Opening his own Ducati tech shop, Kenefick’s first modified machines, christened Natasha and Isabella, were soon gathering awards.

Photograph by Kevin Wing. (Click image to enlarge)

Watching him at his workbench, one imagines Kenefick’s ancestors from County Cork and Palermo hammering plowshares into swords and back again. Casting around his creative space, what looks like a 916 with yellow primer bodywork is undergoing Kenefick’s bionic treatment.  “It’s actually a 996 SPS for a doctor client,” he says. “We’re constantly modifying it back and forth, so he can take it to track days and then go canyon-carving. It’s like dressing up his date depending on where he wants to show her off.” He is fully aware of the anthropomorphic obsessions endemic to motorcycling’s Alpha males.

Kenefick’s bodybuilder background has served him well. “Just like humans, motor-cycles have a certain genetic aptitude for development,” he says. “My role is basically to put them on a training program to optimize their potential.” Kenefick’s view of the Monster S4R defined his task as “turning a hot, but overweight and out of shape housewife into a warrior queen.”  Given that the heavy breathing over this model has led some to characterize it as a “two-wheeled Shelby Cobra,” Kenefick’s assertions are bound to be regarded as slighting the original.On the contrary, this evaluation has its source in his relentless pursuit of perfection. “Some people buy a Ducati and think that bolting on an aftermarket can, swapping the tires and adding all the fashionable performance bits is enough,” Kenefick says, “but every modification needs to be done with a profound understanding that includes the machine’s purpose and the rider’s intent, and their combined capabilities. Having raced, I know where the limits are—and they are beyond what most of us can ever experience. My goal is to build a bike that inspires the most expert to explore those limits.” For those who sup with the gods of motor-cycling, Kenefick has constructed creatures some of his clients call “scary,” in the most complimentary sense of the word. Lust for this level of speed, power and handling is the edge of the sword that slices raindrops in two.

Photograph by Cordero Studios (Click image to enlarge)

Being presented to the goddess Kenefick has made, what was raw lust becomes the immortal beloved. Compared with the stock S4R, his “Full Tilt Boogie” has the power and polish that comes only from the touch of a single-minded artist and craftsman. The once-effete silhouette has given way to proud sinews. This is a lioness ready to lunge.

“Full Tilt Boogie” references both the appearance and performance of the RetroSBK Monster. Photograph by Kevin Wing.
Shoei X-Eleven Norick 5 TC-1
Jacket: Arlen Ness Old School
Gloves: Spidi Penta
Pants: Icon Anthem
Boots: Sidi Doha. (Click image to enlarge)

Where carbon fiber panels masked passable welds, and wayward wiring marred classic lines, Kenefick trimmed and tucked, smoothing the shapes and discarding the unnecessary. “By reducing weight and unsprung mass, we allow the bike to turn better, stop quicker and accelerate harder,” he explains, pointing to a plastic tub filled with parts removed—over 60 lbs worth. “The beautiful body was there. I just gave it the chance to show itself.”

A forensic examination of Kenefick’s method and result confirms his respect for the source material. The Monster as street brawler has been disciplined. As Kenefick’s study of Arnis Balite, the Filipino art of fighting, has taught him, “There is no place for a ruffian … refinement in character is important.”

SpeedyMoto clutch cover. Photograph by Cordero Studios/  (Click image to enlarge)

The key issue in transforming the bike was matching the balance of engine and chassis to the upgraded performance. “The stock Monster can’t get significant weight over the front wheel, so there is not enough front-end grip under acceleration,” he notes. “Usually people jack up the rear end, which creates spin. Our solution was to lengthen and stiffen the swingarm, increasing the angle of lift in the back of the bike. The wheelbase was also lengthened and the trail reduced. The bike now steers quicker and with less effort, the suspension is more controlled, and the overall ride is more composed.”.

A stem-to-stern review evidences Kenefick’s skill in the sourcing and application of best-in-class components. Starting where the rubber meets the road, the originals have been superseded by one-off BT002 MotoGP compound race-quality tires with hand cut treads, custom made in Japan for the bike by Bridgestone, courtesy of Little Big Racing.

The wheels are bold, black and beautiful—forged magnesium from Germany’s PVM. They are five pounds lighter than stock, yet add the visual heft missing from the factory edition.The gunmetal-finish hard-anodized forks are rebuilt by Race Tech to perform better than the original Showa unit. The new triple clamps from SpeedyMoto with a wider offset, are eye-catching and efficient: the lower clamp, in particular, increases stiffness, giving the steering greater stability. The forks’ diamond-like coating (actually a carbonized titanium nitride) is “super hard and creates very little friction,” Kenefick says. The gunmetal color is a visual cue that unites the shapes throughout. “We wanted to give it a ‘works’ look, like a racer or prototype,” he adds.

AirTrix paint. Photograph by Cordero Studios (Click image to enlarge)

The Monster’s bikini fairing is perfunctory, at best. Zero Gravity’s jet fighter canopy Lexan replacement is aero-dynamically sculpted, mounted with titanium brackets that are rock solid at the high speeds this bike will inevitably achieve. The Ducati bars, grips and Magneti Marelli instruments have been retained. Robust Honda CBR600RR brake master cylinder and VFR800 clutch master cylinder with Honda levers assume those duties. Turn signals and the horn have been removed, and a single grip-mounted mirror offers the bare minimum rear view. Upgrading the brakes to a Honda CBR1000RR unit (similar to the Spencer bike) with Tokico calipers, he has added custom-made superbike-quality stainless steel lines, pads and rotors from Galfer USA.

 The legendary trellis frame presented a challenge worthy of Kenefick’s skills. The frame was blasted with metal buckshot to relax the metal and relieve residual stress. After he polished the frame and roll-polished the welds, Applied Powder Coat in nearby Oxnard added a two-stage powdercoat with a chrome base and a translucent candy-apple red clear. The tank, refinished by Airtrix in 16 coats of clear red lacquer, and seat are carried over from the original. The passenger grab handles were removed, and LED turn signals are being considered.  The side stand is sourced from the 916.

Factory ignition and fuel delivery were retained, but velocity stacks replace the airbox. The stacks, two-stage powdercoated in candy-apple red, provide a visual accent inside the frame. “We don’t need to ‘find’ more power,” Kenefick says. “By optimizing the engine and fitting Ducati SPS performance cams, we’ve achieved an increase from 118 to 132 horsepower.”

Leo Vince carbon fiber mufflers. Photograph by Cordero Studios (Click image to enlarge)

The RetroSBK Monster’s powerplant is a focal point of Kenefick’s virtuosity. The first step was to eliminate the unsightly electrical cables that invaded the engine space. He cut the wiring in half, splitting the harnesses into two sections running down each side of the frame. The belts and hoses are now Superbike-class quality and ultra-light titanium clamps keep things neat and tight. An example of the attention to detail is the reconfigured coolant overflow hose, inspired by Kenefick’s racing experience—it directs excess coolant onto the exhaust header, where it evaporates rather than drip dangerously into the rear wheel’s path.

The engine was stripped down and all components given a proprietary blackout paint treatment increasing toughness and durability, while emphasizing a techno-industrial look. The SpeedyMoto water pump and crankshaft covers are anodized gunmetal. Zero Gravity’s Lexan belt covers draw the eye to the seductive movement of the powerplant in motion. The SpeedyMoto billet pressure pate has been finished in candy apple, with clutch springs in gunmetal as an accent. A SpeedyMoto billet cover, caps the unit with scalloped vents, fusing cool form with cooling function.

A gaggle of carbon fiber panels has been jettisoned. “Carbon fiber is the chrome of the sportbike set, and in this case, purely decorative,” Kenefick admits. “For example, we replaced the front fender with a Honda unit that actually makes the bike look more aggressive and is more aerodynamic.” 

Foot controls from Sato Racing are an organic design in silver billet that tie in to the look of the exhaust, and the rear sets have linear bearings with virtually no friction in the movement of the shifter and brake lever. Galfer produced a custom brake line specifically to accommodate this arrangement.The exhaust is a sculpture unto itself—a sexy, snake-like, two-into-one stainless steel system with one crossover tube to achieve optimal swingarm clearance. The steel was heated to bring out the gold hues in the welds, and match the swingarm’s look as well. The pipes meet in a LeoVince muffler from Italy, with a carbon fiber canister that is set to match the frame angle. The header is from Ducati Performance.

A handmade swingarm is the pezzo forte of Kenefick’s neo-Monster. “A single-sided swingarm tends to flex laterally and most noticeably during application of the throttle, while leaned over,” he says. Gregg’s Customs worked with Kenefick to devise a curved horseshoe-like shape with a main lower tube and trellises that mimic the frame. It is lighter and stiffer, delivering better high-speed stability. Careful heat management in the welding process produced a rainbow look around the seams. It is, by itself, simply spectacular.

Photograph by Cordero Studios (Click image to enlarge)

The Race Tech-revised stock rear shock has been anodized, re-valved and re-sprung. The spring is painted in candy-apple red, adding visual interest. The rear hub is stock with a quick-change rear sprocket drive; all the bolts are safety wired to preempt loosening through customary engine and chain vibration.

“It has to be remembered that the Monster isn’t really a sportbike,” Kenefick says. “But with this set of modifications, it can take on just about anything on the street. It’s a refined ‘hooligan’ ride with a unique look, sound, feel and real exclusivity. While cruisers pretty much provoke a yawn nowadays, this bike is two-wheeled Viagra.” Contemplating the hourglass shape of the RetroSBK Monster, wicked thoughts take hold.

Ready for her turn on the catwalk, Full Tilt Boogie exhibits her hindquarters with a haughty invitation to a high-speed tango. She is wheeled out of the warehouse and into the sun, where her colors can be best appreciated. The candy-apple red and gunmetal sing in concert with the blacked-out engine parts and billet aluminum.

Kenefick turns the key and presses the starter. The Desmo’s baritone growl is now a wall of sound that could crumble the Roman Colosseum. Full Tilt Boogie resounds from Palo Alto to Palermo. And Ducatisti everywhere can rejoice.

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