The beautiful Ducati 916 is a dream bike for most people. It’s been compared to a Ferrari in terms of sheer noise, power and good looks, and deservedly so.
Massimo Tamburini´s original design has certainly stood the test of time, even if the engine has grown slightly in cubic capacity to keep up with the competition.
This lightweight, 150mph V-twin, with an ultra stiff chassis doesn´t look up to much on paper, but on the road, it really comes alive, in a way that only a classic Italian sports machine can.
It can never be described as the perfect all-rounder, with a demanding riding position, a harsh ride and plenty of vibration. But the Ducati 916 experience is one you´ll never forget, or never stop wanting to repeat. Maybe the last of the real, no compromise, motorbikes.
Keep the throttle open. My brain says do it, but I can’t bring myself to obey. The final fast section of Misano’s long, steadily unwinding left-hand bend must be possible flat-out on a bike with as much grip, handling ability and ground-clearance as Ducati’s 916. But keeping that throttle nailed, when a good drive out of the previous turn sends the next one rushing up at fearsome speed, is not easy. Every lap, the temptation to back off just a fraction is irresistible.
This time it’s different. Positioned on the right of the track and still crouching off the opposite side of the bike following the last left-hander, I run deep into the final turn and flick the 916 in with the twistgrip still wound back to the stop. Obeying instantly and without the slightest loss of stability, the Ducati arcs towards the apex, its suspension soaking up the cornering forces, its sticky Pirellis biting into the track.
Approaching mid-corner I have to lift my left knee slightly to avoid brushing the kerb, but the bike doesn’t move a millimetre off line. Moments later the rear tyre squirms slightly as it searches for traction, the outside of the track rushes up on the right, and I glance down to see the speedo needle moving past 200km/h (125mph) as the V-twin engine revs harder in fourth gear, spitting the bike out onto the main straight even faster than before.
If that burst of adrenalin-charged excitement proved anything, it was that finding the limits of the 916 is not easy, even on a grand prix racetrack. The reason for that is simple. Since its launch at the Milan Show, Ducati’s new star has been universally acclaimed as one of the most strikingly beautiful motorcycles ever built. A day at Misano was enough to suggest that the 916 is every bit as good as it looks.
For all its futuristic appearance, the 916 is essentially a blend of old and new. Our aim was to combine tradition with technology, by producing an advanced bike using Ducati’s tubular steel frame, says Massimo Tamburini, the former Bimota chief designer (the original Ta of Bimota and the architect of such legendary bikes as the SB2 and KB2). Tamburini now heads Cagiva’s research centre in San Marino, the famous football-playing principality just up the road from Misano on Italy’s Adriatic coast. The bike originated there, hence the initials CRC, standing for Centro Ricerche Cagiva, visible on the air-ducts.
Development of a replacement for the 851 sportster and its 888cc successor began as long ago as 1989, when CRC built an aluminium framed prototype. “We got as far as a static model without wheels or a fairing before that idea was abandoned,” says Massimo Parenti, chief of CRC’s Project Department. An aluminium chassis is not in the tradition of Ducati. Work stopped for a time, while CRC was engaged on other projects, but recommenced in earnest in 1991. Although the final frame layout is a chrome molybdenum ladder (with a tubular aluminium rear subframe), it differs significantly from the 888 trellis by using a second rear engine mount, making three in all. This not only gives the frame itself more rigidity, but also adds support where the swing-arm pivots in the crankcase in traditional Ducati fashion.
There’s nothing remotely traditional about the thick aluminium swing arm that curves out to the left, round the 190-section rear tyre (slightly wider than that used by recent Cagiva 500cc GP racers) before swooping back to anchor the three-spoke wheel. Tamburini accepts that the single-sider is not the purest engineering solution, but considers the compromise worthwhile for the boost it brings to the bike’s high-tech image. He also says that Elf and Honda patents on single-siders do not apply, because similar technology was used by firms including Moto Guzzi years ago.
More conventionally, the swing-arm works a vertical, multi-adjustable Showa shock via a rising-rate linkage. Showa also provides suspension up front, where 43mm upside-down forks hold a wheel which, like the rear, is 17 inches in diameter. Brakes, inevitably, are by Brembo, the 320mm rotors gripped by four-pot Gold Line calipers. There is more neat engineering at the steering head, where geometry is easily swapped from 24 to 25 degrees (and trail from 94 to 100mm) via an eccentric bearing. And where the horizontally mounted steering damper sits in an unconventional position alongside the ignition switch.
The eight-valve desmo motor is heavily based on that of last year’s 888, its 916cc capacity achieved by a 2mm increase in stroke that gives dimensions of 94 x 66mm. Internally the engine is otherwise unchanged, apart from some bottom-end mods such as a new neutral system and strengthened alternator. There’s a larger, curved radiator, an oil-cooler as fitted only to Sport Production 888s, and a revised Weber fuel-injection system.
Breathing is uprated using a new large-volume airbox fed by two intakes running back from the fairing nose. In combination with the 916’s new stainless steel exhaust system, which curves down, round and back up along the right of the bike before ending in twin aluminium silencers in the tailpiece, this helps raise peak output from the 888’s 100bhp to 114bhp at 9000rpm. (The 888’s figure is measured at the rear wheel and the 916’s at the crankshaft, so the power increase is actually quite small.)
Some 888 engine parts, including the crankcase and water pump cover on the left, have been made narrower, to allow the 916’s bodywork to be as slim as possible. More than just aerodynamic, Tamburini’s styling job is inspired.
The fairing’s sharp snout holds aggressive twin headlights. Elegant scarlet shapes are everywhere, from the petrol tank and fairing to the diminutive tailpiece with its outdated “Ducati Campione Del Mondo Superbike” logo. The exhaust system is gorgeous, the single-sided rear end undeniably trick. From the rider’s seat the view is of a short, curved screen and a red tank stretching away towards low clip-ons. Wide fork legs with multi-adjustable tops poke through the top yoke. Alongside the 300km/h speedo is the tacho, graduated to 11,000rpm but with no redline because for racing purposes the rev limit varies depending on engine spec, and on which chip is fitted in the engine-management box in the tailpiece.
The bike is small, with a wheelbase of 1410mm (10mm shorter than the 888’s, identical to that of Honda’s RC45) and a seat low enough to let most riders put both feet flat on the ground, but didn’t feel particularly cramped despite my long legs. There was no mistaking the 90-degree V-twin rumble when the motor fired up. Perhaps it was my imagination, but if anything the 916 seemed to sound slightly louder than its predecessor, though the watercooled motor was less raw and throaty than the air and oilcooled 900SS. Into gear and the 916 pulled away easily, the immediate impression being one of smoothness and abundant power at low and medium speeds. My first few laps were taken gently to scrub-in new tyres, and on the main straight I tried a top-gear roll-on from 3000rpm. The Ducati juddered slightly but responded promptly, smoothing at 4000rpm and accelerating from that point on with a step-free but constantly increasing force.
Midrange response was mighty strong, the 916 stomping happily out of corners with as little as five grand on the clock, and pushing me back in the seat as it headed for the rev-limiter, which on the standard roadster is set at just over 10,000rpm. Ducati says the bigger motor gives an increase at lower speeds, and that the 916’s improved breathing provides a little added punch at the top-end.
The 916 charged towards an indicated 140mph-plus on Misano’s fairly short straight, with another 20mph or so to come given more room. It was very smooth too, giving out just enough vibes to confirm it was a V-twin “as if the deep, droning exhaust note hadn’t made that clear already. On standard gearing the Ducati wouldn’t quite reach max revs in fifth, let alone in top, but this is one gorgeously tractable engine that will be as happy on the street as the racetrack.
My only slight criticism of the power train was that throttle response sometimes felt rather abrupt, especially at low revs. Trickling along the pit lane in first gear, the Ducati’s erratic progress suggested it wouldn’t be too happy in slow-moving traffic. And in a long, slow left-hand hairpin at Misano, even the slightest backing-off of the throttle in mid-bend made the bike jerk forward noticeably. Perhaps it was no coincidence that the day’s only two crashes came when the same rider lost the front end midway through that bend.
Traditional frame or not, though, the 916 handled well enough to banish any lingering doubts that steel tubes are a valid choice for a top-flight 1994 sports bike. On Misano’s fairly smooth curves it was simply brilliant, combining light weight (at 195kg dry it’s 7kg lighter than the 888, and 6kg heavier than the RC45) with unshakeable rigidity and high quality cycle parts to give an admirable blend of stability, flickability and neutral cornering feel.
The testbikes were set-up with the more conservative, road-biased 25 degree steering angle but were still delightfully easy to throw into a turn with the lightest pressure on the clip-ons. Once into the bend the fat Pirelli Dragons (Michelin Hi-Sports are an alternative) stuck hard, and the bike felt neutral and stable. Its suspension, developed by Showa in conjunction with CRC, handled the racetrack abuse superbly, giving a taut yet compliant ride. The only misbehaviour came when the bars waggled over ripples on the outside of one corner, but the steering damper never threatened to let that get out of control.
There was a slight question mark against the front brake, whose performance was marred during my first session by sponginess probably caused by the bike having been crashed immediately beforehand. Bleeding cured that, allowing the Brembos to display a forearm-pumping blend of power and feel. But a couple of other riders later complained of excessive lever travel in the heat of the racetrack action. Other minor gripes included the spring-loaded sidestand and the screen, which gives a slightly distorted view when your chin’s on the tank.
Those were some of the very few complaints, though, about a bike that seemed to leave all who rode it stunned by its combination of beauty, charisma and performance. Best of all, the 916, although it was never going to be cheap, is priced very competitively at £12,100 on the road, due partly to Ducati’s decision to build relatively large numbers of 2000 or more this year. I can’t see anybody who splashes out on one regretting it.
Get Ducati motorcycle insurance for the ducati 916.
Engine Water-cooled 90-degree V-twin
Claimed power (bhp)
Compression ratio 11:1
Transmission 6 speed
Front suspension 43mm inverted telescopic Showa, 127mm travel, adjustments for preload, compression and rebound damping
Rear suspension One Showa damper, 130mm wheel travel, adjustments for
preload, compression and rebound damping
Front brake 2, four-piston Brembo calipers, 320mm discs
Rear brake Double-action Brembo caliper, 220mm disc
Front wheel 3.50 x 17in; cast aluminium
Rear wheel 5.50 x 17in; cast aluminium
Front tyre 120/70 x 17in Pirelli MTR01 Dragon
Rear tyre 190/50 x 17in Pirelli MTR02 Dragon
Rake/trail 24-25 degrees/94-100mm
Seat height 790mm
Dry weight 195kg
Top speed 160
Fuel capacity 17 litres
Current price £12,100