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Why the Ducati 916 Is Still a Motorcycle Icon

Ducati has often been called the Ferrari of motorcycles, and not just because both companies are Italian. Ducati’s bikes are genuinely shaped by motorsports technology. Even its touring bikes have a performance focus. And the Scrambler Desert Sled is about more than just looks. The bikemaker has also previewed trends. For example, the Sport 1000 was one of the earliest neo-classic café racers on the market. But it’s in sport bikes that Ducati’s had the most influence. Especially with one of the most beloved bikes ever made, the Ducati 916.

What is the Ducati 916?

In the early 90s, Motorcyclist reports, Ducati had experienced some measure of success. It had won multiple World Superbike Championships, partially due to its desmodromic engine design. However, as Revzilla explains, the Italian bikemaker was constantly under threat of bankruptcy. To help, when it was bought out by Cagiva in 1985, Ducati was asked to modernize its bikes.

1990 Ducati 851
1990 Ducati 851 | Bring a Trailer

This led to 1987’s 851, one of the first production bikes with electronic fuel injection. But Cagiva’s owner, Claudio Castiglioni, thought the bike needed some styling assistance. So, he turned to Massimo Tamburini, who designed bikes for MV Agusta and co-founded another Italian motorcycle company, Bimota.

Tamburini had already designed one Ducati, Cycle World reports, the 1986 750 Paso. And even after finishing it, he kept working on its chassis and styling for the next 6 years. However, his next creation, the 1994 Ducati 916, would become what many consider his masterpiece.

It’s not too much hyperbole, Robb Report and Motorcyclist explain, to call the Ducati 916 one of the most important bikes in the brand’s history. It was arguably this bike that kick-started the ‘Ferrari of motorcycles’ tagline.

What makes the Ducati 916 so beloved?

1997 Ducati 916S
1997 Ducati 916S | Bring a Trailer

Tamburini obsessed over making sure the Ducati 916 had perfect 50:50 weight distribution. That’s why its battery is right beside the engine’s front cylinder. And to help with handling, the 916 got Ducati’s trademark steel trellis frame.

He personally test-rode every single prototype. Once, Cycle World reports, he purposefully rode it in the rain so he could see where the bike’s fairing caused excessive turbulence. That’s also partially why the exhausts are underneath the seat. The other part? Styling

Even to this day, many call the Ducati 916 the most beautiful motorcycle in the world. It was even featured in the Guggenheim. San Francisco’s Museum of Modern Art still has one in its collection.

To be fair, Tamburini was influenced by Japanese bikes of the time. He freely admitted the 916’s single-sided swingarm was inspired by the Honda NR750. And the bike itself wouldn’t exist if Japanese motorcycles hadn’t forced Ducati to up its performance and quality.

On paper, the Ducati 916 wasn’t quite as powerful as some of its competition. Its 916cc L-twin produced 114 hp and 65 lb-ft, while the four-cylinder Yamaha YZF750 made 120 hp. However, the 916 could rev to 13,000 RPM, and had a broader torque curve, making it easier to ride, Hagerty reports. And with its 50:50 weight distribution, the bike was very agile. Also, on US-spec and SPS special edition models, it came with Ohlins rear suspension.

This made it extremely successful. During its 1994-1998 production run, the Ducati 916 won every single World Superbike Championship. Ducati used its design as the basis for its superbikes for the next decade. And even the latest Panigale V4 still pays homage to it.

Pricing and availability

To be sure, the Ducati 916 was designed as a racing machine. As such, Motorcycle News and Hagerty report, it can be very maintenance-heavy. Especially if they haven’t been ridden much. The cambelts, Bennetts reports, have to be changed every 2 years, regardless of mileage. In addition, the riding position isn’t really suited for long highway rides. However, as a performance bike, the 916 is still fun to ride. And it remains fairly affordable.

1997 Ducati 916S odometer detail
1997 Ducati 916S odometer detail | Bring a Trailer

Hagerty reports even the best Ducati 916 rarely goes for over $20,000. And except for the SPS, which had a larger engine, many 916 models go for $10,000-$13,000. Or even less. In 2019, for instance, a 1995 model went for $4950 on Bring a Trailer. And in 2018, a rare Biposto (2-seat) example went even less.

Today’s sport bikes may be faster and stiffer. But they still owe a lot to the Ducati 916.

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