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Fast V-Twin

An Interview With Craig Echols

By Simon-Pierre Smith & Tom Mehren

Vintage Roadracing in the Northwest has always been polarized into two camps, friendly but distinct. There were the immaculate large bore English twins or high revving small displacement screamers from anywhere but England. True, there has been an occasional BMW, and eventually some old Honda 4 cylinder machines entered the fray. It was a rare delight when the bright yellow bike of Craig Echols showed up. Long, lean, purposeful, and distinctly Ducati. No part of it was flashy, but each part was there for a reason, and that reason was speed. Echols, new to the racing world, had some learning to do on his riding, but bike building he seemed to have under control.

What started you into racing?

I started street riding on British twins. I always liked the big, fast bikes. I spent some time with Pat O'Hara of Triumph learning to be a mechanic. Then I quit riding for a while when I went into photography. After about ten years away from bikes I was offered my old Norton back. I started riding again, and riding faster and faster. After three crashes on the street I knew I had to change something, but I still wanted to go fast. I figured racing would be a safer outlet. (He then takes an ironic glance at his right elbow, still stiff from the non-OEM replacement that has been installed). It took me about a year to put together my Ducati race bike once I'd decided to do it.

Your first race was in 2000. Now, at the start of the 2002 season you fulfilled the club racer's dream of going to Daytona. Tell me about the trip.

It was grueling, all about survival. I spent so little time on the bike. It was all about getting there with all my gear and the bike, and getting it all home. I had to drive the trip alone because the Rolls Royce (Tom Mellor's luxurious tow rig) was full. At about a third of the way I realized I wasn't going to make it at the pace I was going. I started skipping hotel stays and drinking gas station coffee. It can be hard to find a Starbuck's in some towns, but if you can find a Barnes and Noble bookstore, there's always a Starbuck's inside.

At the races I took ninth, which is good against the likes of Gary Nixon and Yvon Duhamel. I was planning on returning in 2003 with a faster rider, someone like Paul Smart, but I'm not fit enough to build a bike this winter. I do think we could win with a strong rider.

Above: Echols with the beautiful Vintage Racer he brought to Daytona and finished 7th with.  

Below: The aftermath of the same bike after chasing Mick Hart at Pacific Raceway. The tank doesn't look too bad in comparison to the beating his elbow took.

You recently suffered a rather spectacular crash at Pacific Raceway's turn seven. What caused it and what was the end result?

I was simply going a little too fast. I was chasing Mick Hart. I guess I'm not the first to pay the price for doing that. It was on the first lap, so my tires were a bit cold. In my head I was thinking, "Second place is not an option, once you've tasted victory." I got on the gas a bit too early and the back tire slid out. There's nowhere to go in that corner. I missed the air bale (crash padding) by about 20 feet. I'm told they moved them up the hill in my honor.

Now I have a new mechanical elbow. It isn't working too well. I can do a bit of wrenching and typing but there isn't a lot of strength or range of motion. I go in soon for an adjustment. In the end I do feel lucky. It could have been much worse.

At the last Italian Days in Portland you had a rather exotic looking street bike on display, the Veloce 904. What spurred this into creation?

Most of my business at Echols Specials is doing restorations, repairs, and a bit of hot rodding on vintage Ducatis. But I'd always wanted to create a cafe racer to offer for sale to people who just wanted to purchase a unique turn-key bike. The Veloce gives me a chance to apply all the things I'd learned with the racebike onto a street machine. It was good to be able to put some of my visual design experience to work on a motorcycle as well. It always draws a crowd, and lots of comments.

What led you to start modifying Ducatis?

I've been connected to Ducatis mechanically and emotionally all of my motorcycling life. So naturally that's what my repair and restoration business focuses on.

Are the modifications restricted to older models, or do you do current ones as well?

While the new Ducs are fabulous bikes, my real passion is the older bevel drive twins. So these are the ones I specialize in. Much of my work involves routine repairs and restorations. Anyone who has owned a vintage Ducati knows that they are wonderful rides, but also quirky and not especially reliable, at least by modern standards. But most Ducatis are also very open to modifying and personalizing their bikes, which is when the real fun begins. It's very satisfying to take a tired old 860GT or Dharma and turn it into something special that goes and stops like it was meant to.

How many bikes do you modify a year and what has been your favorite modification so far?

The ultimate expression of this is the bike I've developed over the last three years: the Echols Veloce 904 Ducati (seen above). These are highly modified vintage Ducs that I build and sell as a turn-key package with a new bike warranty. They're exclusive and expensive, so typically I only build a couple a year. But many of the special features such as four-pot brakes, digital ignition, or flat slide carbs can be installed on customers' bikes.

How long would someone have to wait in line before you can start in on their bike?

I'm happy to say that even with the soft economy business is good. But there's not a long waiting list for routine repairs. If you want to order a Veloce 904 though, build time is running about four months.

SPS & TM/Fall 02

CLICK HERE to email with Craig Echols Directly


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