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Ducati 916

Our bikes – Ducati 916

(MT #346, updated July 2020)

Ducati 916

Quarter Century Seduction

by Guy 'Guido' Allen

Even after all this time, the charm hasn't worn off

Not sure how, but the Ducati 916 got seriously buried in the shed recently and, before you knew it, the thing hadn’t seen the light of day for months. It happens. It’s not as though I dislike it, but this is one of those toys you only dust off on a nice day.

With a race replica ride position that only the Italians could market and keep a straight face, it’s murder as a commuter, a special kind of torture as a touring bike and best suited to a quick squirt between coffees, or a proper gallop on your favourite set of corners.

Ducati 916

It doesn’t seem all that long ago that I was aboard one of these things around when they were first launched. We’re talking 1994, so over 25 years ago. It was part of a multi-missile comparo for a motorcycle mag and I distinctly remember firing it through a set of medium-speed turns and having a fantastic time. It tipped in easily enough, held its line very nicely and had that oh-so-sexy bark from the twin pipes on the exit as you cranked up the throttle. Brilliant stuff.

At the time, it really was a ground-shaking thing. Honda’s Fireblade had set the agenda for the super sports class just a couple of years earlier in 1992, and this was the new trend-setter. The Honda still had a significant edge in raw numbers – more horsepower and less weight – but the 916, through the work of Massimo Tamburini, showed you could make a sports bike stunningly beautiful.

The fact Ducati went out and started trouncing all comers in world superbike with a machine at least sharing some 916 DNA, particularly its good looks, was a spectacularly successful marketing tool. Which it desperately needed.

Ducati 916

In Australia, back in 1994, these things in Strada (or ‘cooking’ model) form cost a wallet-bruising $25,000. Holy snapping cash registers, Batman, that was 10 grand more than a Fireblade. Are they serious?

At the time I would have loved to have owned one, as they were a thoroughly beguiling motorcycle. You weren’t so much won over as seduced by it. But with little concerns such as a mortgage and children to feed, that wasn’t going to happen. Back then, it would have paid off a quarter of the house in one hit.

Over years and years you can’t help occasionally checking out the cost of 916s in the classifieds. There seems to be a surprisingly good supply of the things, so there must have been a fair number of people cashed up and determined enough to order one factory-fresh.

Ducati 916

Finally, just on seven years ago, I crack. There’s a bit of cash floating about and prices seem to be about as low as they’re likely to get. The model is nearing two decades old – so not quite aged enough to get the attention of would-be collectors, and much too ancient for anyone wanting something resembling a current sports bike.

One that catches my eye is a 1996 Strada in SP (one of the upmarket ‘hot’ variants) livery, priced by local dealer Peter Stevens at $13,000. It’s a used Japanese import, which is of no great concern for this era – it’s effectively a world model. I’m dithering a little over the price and, a week later, I see that very bike going somewhere on the back of a truck. Well, that’s gone.

What I hadn’t considered was the machine was maybe heading off to another branch of the same company and that it might return. Weeks later it reappears, priced at $11,000. Okay, that was too good to pass up. I marched in on a Saturday afternoon and put down a deposit.

Ducati 916

Now here’s the weird thing: moments after returning home, I get a call from Vince Chiodo, then one of the company owners. (He, sadly, is no longer with us.) The conversation starts with, “I hear you’ve bought a bike from us…” Wow – is there some sort of spy network in operation? No, Vince was simply in the habit of dropping in on Saturday afternoons and asking what was going on. We have a quick chat and I think no more of it.

Some time later, I call to arrange to collect the Ducati and the staffer on the speaking trumpet responds that they promised me they’d do an oil change first (true) and things have been flat-out, so they needed more time. No stress, as there were other bikes to play with in the shed.

The delay turns into weeks and I’m now starting to get restless. Finally, they’re prepared to release the toy. I jump on, deciding to head out to see Ms A junior (daughter number two) to show it off. Along the way I’m starting to realise this thing is in remarkable condition. Sure it looked okay in the showroom, but it’s far better than expected.

Ducati 916

At the next stop we take a closer look. New tyres, chain and sprockets. Right, so a bit more than an oil change, then. Add in the delay and I’m now suspecting someone has also been right through it, doing belts and desmodromics. When I finally corner Vince to thank him, he confesses that yes, he may have ordered a bit of a going over.

It was generous of him and saved me a bundle. I’m a big believer that when you get a ‘new’ used toy, you should go over it and at least shout it a proper service. That way you have a known starting point in the relationship, plus you begin with some idea of how the thing should feel in good condition. That in turn makes it more likely you’ll pick up any deterioration as it inevitably occurs.

I hadn’t got around to letting spouse Ms M senior know the joyous news, something which a reader did for me. While the 916 was slumbering under a cover back home in our shed, Ms M and I were at the annual Broadford Bonanza on other bikes. Bob the far-too-attentive reader bounds up and, recalling one of my recent columns, asks me, “How’s the Ducati going?”

Ducati 916

Ms M then spins round, grabs yours etcetera by the lapels and demands, “What bloody Ducati?” That was an awkward conversation. (Bob wisely retreated, admittedly with a pretty good story to tell his spouse.)

Madam’s attitude has softened over the years and she does admire it, though has no great desire to ride the monster. As for me, the big relief has been it’s been pretty easy to feed and care for. With an improvement in materials over time, belt change intervals are out to four years, and I don’t really ride it enough for the desmodromic valve adjustment to be a major cost issue. Pretty much every other aspect of maintenance is easy.

As hinted before, for me there are two kinds of rides on this thing: a proper head-clearing run through the hills; Or the short Sunday squirt to the nearest coffee bar or Italian classics show, because hearing and feeling it alive underneath you even for a short while is enough to awaken the senses.

A quarter century after these things were first launched, it still feels like the long wait to get one was well worthwhile.

See the contemporary road test from Classic Two Wheels

(The sexy styling of the 916 meant it appeared in numerous ads over the years, including this one from Pirelli - below.)

Pirelli Ducati ad



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