The unlikely story of the 100,000-mile race bike…
EARNED: The Story of Keith Hale’s Ducati 750SS is a new documentary film directed by Roberto Serrini and produced by Peter Boggia of Moto Borgotaro. It’s the story of Keith Hale, a Northern California artist and schoolteacher who bought an ultra-rare “round case” 1974 Ducati 750 Super Sport in 1975, at the age of just 22, for $3600 — one of just 88 examples imported into the US — and has raced, ridden, and maintained the bike for nearly 50 years, putting more than 100,000 miles on the clock.
“While some 750 SS’s have remained with one owner for 45 years or more, few have been used like this one as the bike’s designer, the great Ing. Fabio Taglioni, would have intended.” —Ian Falloon, Motorcycle Author/Historian
As some of you may know, the ’74 Ducati Super Sport is one of the most iconic machines to emerge from the storied Bologna factory. It was a one-year-only machine, a race bike in street clothes built to replicate the Ducati 750 Imola Desmo that Paul Smart and Bruno Spaggiari rode to a 1-2 finish in the 1972 Imola 200.
“These early round case Super Sports are special for a number of reasons, they were essentially race bikes with few concessions made to keep them road legal. The 748cc V-twin was fitted with two-valve desmodromic heads with cams powered by a bevel gear drive, it had a 10.5:1 compression ratio, it was fitted with two 40mm carburettors, and the engine was capable of 72 hp at 9,500 rpm – a heady figure for the day particularly when coupled with the claimed dry weight of 151 kg (333 lb).” —Silodrome
Only 401 of these round-case 750 Super Sports were built, many of them have not survived, and it’s safe to say that none of them have raced, ridden, and truly lived a life like Keith’s bike.
It’s a testament to Keith himself — a humble, reserved, near Zen-like character who’s not only treasured this piece of history, but been unafraid to let it live in the world, outside of a museum or collection.
“To him his story is anything but special, but when you hear him talk about his experience as the owner of this piece of history you realize it’s very special. It transcends motorcycle culture and exemplifies what it means to really own something. To master one object for the pure reason to be the best at it.” —Roberto Serrini
If that story wasn’t rich enough, there’s more. This bike, to which Keith gave such love, respect, and care, will now be able to return the favor…
“A retired schoolteacher, no money, no pension (because we unfortunately treat educators like second rate citizens) and now out of a job. Here’s the beautiful twist; this guy takes such immaculate care of his machine that its unlike any other 750ss and will allow him to retire…
This is the unlikely story of the 100,000 mile race bike that one man took perfect care of for his entire life, so that it can take care of him for the rest of his life.” —Roberto Serrini
Below, we talk to filmmaker Roberto Serrini about the making of this gorgeous film, which we highly encourage you to watch — embedded below for your viewing pleasure.
EARNED: Filmmaker Interview
• Please tell us a bit about yourself, you’re history with motorcycles, and how you got into filmmaking.
My name is Roberto Serrini, originally from NYC, but have dedicated my life to travel and documentary film. I’m Italian, so I had a Vespa when I was a kid, and have always found myself on two wheels whenever I globetrot. I’ve also always been into storytelling, first as a writer, then photographer, then making the natural progression to film in University. I do mainly commercial direction and documentary films about people and places I find interesting — a large part of that is motorcycles and moto culture.
• You’ve got a long history with Peter Boggia of Moto Borgotaro – can you tell us a little about your history and collaborations together?
My first real bike I bought from some guy on the street in Harlem for 1200 bucks. It was a ratty BMW R65 that someone glued together an old leather jacket to repair the seat. After the first rain, the bike started to run like garbage, so I found Peter’s shop and rolled it in. He took one look at me and the bike and said “no.” … just “no.” (He’s a salty guy if you don’t know him.) I begged him to take a look (I didn’t understand a mechanic that didn’t want to work) and after pestering him he said, “you want to know what’s wrong with your bike?” and then kicked my thermal taped wrapped pipes, putting his boot through them. “You got no pipes,” he calmly said, and then he walked into the back of his shop. I knew then I was dealing with a mad genius. A few years later of intense friendship work and now he’s my best friend, and we pretty much travel round the world on two wheels eating and drinking. Took a sec to warm up but he’s an amazing guy.
• You’ve been credited with reinventing the genre of motorcycle films, raising “a middle finger towards the clichéd style of today’s short docs.” Was that something you intended to do, or did it just come about naturally?
I’m from NYC so raising middle fingers is natural to me I guess. I get bored real easy, so when it comes to filmmaking, I definitely try not to bore anyone. I think if you watch any of my films, regardless if it’s about a chocolate factory or a moto builder, you’ll see they aren’t your typical doc. Motorcycle films tend to suffer more than other genres with the grinder sparks and the immense gravitas they slop on. There’s only so much of that you can watch, and if you want to stand out and be an individual, which I think is a huge part of motorcycle culture, than you have to break convention.
• EARNED is the story of Keith Hale and his singular, continuous ownership of a 1974 Ducati 750 Super Sport. How did you come across Hale’s story?
Peter, besides being a master mechanic, is quietly one of the foremost curators of classic bikes, especially regarding the golden age of motorcycles, which the 1974 Ducati 750ss is probably the height of. When he read about Keith’s bike and its singular history, he called me immediately and said we have to make a film about this, because the story was simply too rich, too unique not to tell. The way he explained Keith and the kind of dedication and skill it took to maintain this bike, I knew we had an amazing story on our hands. This was far beyond a motorcycle film, this was a story about perseverance, about mastering a craft, and a proof of concept of the excellence of engineering. I get goosebumps still now talking about it.
• What was your favorite part of making this film?
Finding an authentic story and watching it unfold in front of the camera was a truly beautiful experience. I watch a lot of documentary film and I can always tell when they are trying to push the narrative to make it extra. Keith is, if anything, quiet, reserved, and humble — to him his story is anything but special, but when you hear him talk about his experience as the owner of this piece of history you realize it’s very special. It transcends motorcycle culture and exemplifies what it means to really own something. To master one object for the pure reason to be the best at it. It’s something that I think we all strive for or envy in people that are able to do such amazing things, and it’s something that I think everyone tries to emulate in film to various degrees of success. To me Keith embodies both the Japanese concepts of Kaizen and Wabi Sabi in perfect harmony, and when you find it occurring naturally without any trace amount of flex, it’s truly humbling and beautiful.
• What was the most challenging?
Like all my documentary work, staying true to the story. I didn’t want to present the film as anything other than what it was, because that is the beauty of Keith and what he and his bike represent. This wasn’t a commercial piece, and it wasn’t supposed to be flashy. It needed to be as humble as Keith which is surprisingly difficult to do when you’re making a film. Everything always feels like it needs to be more to even stand out in the noise online, but I had to trust the story, and let it play out.
Most of my short docs come in around the 12 minute mark, which is about the maximum attention span for an online audience. This is nearly triple that, so letting the story play out felt uncomfortable in the edit room, but after releasing it and seeing its reception, it turned out to be the right choice.
• What’s the current status of Keith’s Ducati 750 Super Sport – is it for sale? Or going to auction?
Keith never thought he could ever retire as a schoolteacher; they simply don’t provide a proper pension for educators. When he found out that because he took such otherworldly care of his now extremely rare bike he was over the moon that he could sell it and not have to wither away at some mandatory job. After hearing this story Peter is helping Keith find the right buyer to take on this singular machine. If you want more information about it you can visit www.motoborgotaro.com.
• What’s next for Roberto M Serrini in terms of motorcycle films – have you got another project in the works?
I live and breathe for moto films. Peter and I just shot a super rare Black MV Agusta while in Italy — it’s the only black one every built in the world. We’re also working on a series called Driven where we explore subversive culture around the world through motorcycles. If there is a way to make motorcycling more dangerous this would be it. Beyond that I’m always doing bits of branded fun for companies like Honda, Indian and REV’IT. I love working with motorcycle brands, they tend to get my style, and always have creative souls.
Watch the Film
You can check out EARNED: Keith Hale’s Ducati 750ss at www.ducati750ss.com and see more of my work at www.robertoserrini.com. My travel adventures are documented on my YouTube channel TravelClast and on Instagram @serrini.
Keith Hale’s 750SS: A Visual History
A selection of photographs from Keith’s albums.