RIDING DIFFERENT BIKES. RACING SOME
We go from talking about our classic mini bike crush to a true vintage superbike. Let us introduce to you the Ducati 916 SPS. Not just big Ducati fans have heard of this beauty before. She will ring a bell to superbike fans in general as well. We will tell you all about this Italian Classic Crush of ours.
The Ducati 916 SPS is not ‘just’ another superbike of the Bologna brand. It is one of the most iconic motorcycles of all time. Why? First, there is the revolutionary styling. Can we point out that the styling of the 916 laid the basic for the Panigale of today?
The famous Ducati 916 was introduced in 1994. Our previous Classic Crushes were a bit older. And until the introduction of the 916, most other famous superbikes had the iconic round or square headlights. Think of the Honda RC30 or the Suzuki Slabby. But for the 916, Ducati did things differently. And gave it the ‘squinting’ headlights which are now mandatory for new motorcycles.
The creative mind behind the Ducati 916 was Massimo Tamburini. If you follow us closely, you have heard that name before, when we talked about the Bimota YB4. He was one of the founders of that brand. Tamburini was the one in charge of not only the aesthetic decisions for the 916, but also some technical ones. And with those choices, he made it stand out from everything else.
The original Ducati 916 was launched in monoposto, which means it came with a single seat. In 1995, the 916 Biposto was introduced. You might already got it, but this one came with a twin seat. So you could ride pillion on the red devil.
Engine: 90 degrees L twin cylinder four stroke engine (desmodromic valves)
Power: 123 hp (90.4 kW) @ 10.500 rpm
Seat height: 790 mm / 31.1 inches
Fuel tank: 17 litres / 4.4 gal
Dry weight: 190 kg / 419 lbs
Top speed: 167.3 mph / 269.3 kph
The Ducati 916 SPS version was launched to homologate the new 996 cc engine. Only then, the Ducati race teams could use that new engine in the Superbike World Championship. The previous engines used in the Ducati race bikes were know for stress fractures and cracking under heavy-duty racing conditions. Reinforced crankcases were needed. And there was a wish for a displacement that came closer to the 1000 cc limit for twins in the Superbike Championship. The homologated 916 SPS made that dream come true.
The Ducati 916 SPS had a lighter crank and rods. This made the motor spin quickly and thus build up revs faster than most were used to. But due to the lessened flywheel effect, it wasn’t actually much quicker than it used to. But that didn’t take away from the almost manical feeling the bike gave you when riding it. So it got a reputation as being one big chunk of thunder that felt way stronger and faster than the dyno numbers would suggest.
When riding on lower speeds, it almost felt like you were riding a bear. Almost any 916 rider will second that.
When launched in 1998, the SPS version of the Ducati 916 cost 24.000 USD. But fans didn’t mind the heavy price tag. The limited amount of 404 units that were produced almost immediately sold out. Just some where stored away and kept save by collectors.
The Ducati 916 SPS didn’t have much more power than the original 916 had. But it did have more torque. To the excitement of many bike testers and owners. The second gear power wheelies scared quite a few of those testers. Overall, the 916 was no bike for very heavy fisted riders. It could be almost murderous when ridden without the necessary respect.
How much torque the Ducati 916 SPS has exactly? 91Nm @ 6.900 rpm. To give you a bit of perspective; that’s more torque than the modern 2018 Yamaha MT-09 has. And you’re confronted with that power at lower rpm too.
Did you notice it? We said something about the homologated engine in one of the previous paragraphs. The homologation model was the Ducati 916 SPS, which followed right after the original 916, the 916 Biposto and the 916 SP.
The SPS followed to homologate the new 996 cc engine. All the previous Ducati 916’s had an 916 cc engine. But with that engine change, the name remained the same. Which is a bit misleading, we must admit.
Later on in 1999, Ducati changed the models into the 996, so the new model name matched its actual engine capacity.
While many successful brands in racing are often better known for their super populair road bikes (and mainly naked or adventure bikes), the brand name ‘Ducati’ always seems to go hand in hand with racing. Nowadays, when you say ‘Ducati’ one almost directly answers with ‘Panigale!’. And personally, I love Ducati for that.
I know the sport bikes on the road are a dying breed. Modern motorcyclists just tend to have a bigger preference for naked bikes and the big adventure and all road bikes. But I love how Ducati just keeps on producing the most extreme sport bikes in the game. Not just for track, like Yamaha and KTM are doing.
Don’t get me wrong, I understand the choice of making sport bikes solemnly for track use. But I do admire how Ducati just sticks to its roots. And personally, I think they are doing a bloody good job.
So with those racing roots, it doesn’t come as a surprise that the Ducati 916 had a pretty decent racing record. In the first year they produced the 916 and took it racing, the race version of it won the 1994 title with Carl Fogarty. We’ve got a Dutch saying that goes ‘You can’t stand on one leg’. And in that light, Carl Fogarty repeated the same thing the following year.
And in 1996, the infamous Troy Corser took the title also aboard a Ducati 916. The Honda RC45 stole the World Superbike Title in 1997, but in ’98 and ’99 the Ducati was back on the top step of the podium. Again in the hands of Fogarty. Only then it was renamed to the 996.
The ball went back to Honda in 2000, but Troy Bayliss stole it again in 2001. Bringing the trophy back to dreamy Italy aboard the 996R, which was the successor of the 916. Championship winning potential? Check, for the Ducati 916.
The Ducati 916 was revolutionary when it first launched. They broke the tradition of the round or square headlights. Sir Massimo Tamburini did a fantastic job designing this historical motorcycle. And with it, he created one of the most successful race bikes in history. Certainly one of the most memorable bikes with a twin engine.
The 916 feels like a maniac when you ride it. It’s one tough little pony and demands a certain respect. But that manical feeling is what made it extremely popular too. It was like this race bike came from a different world. And it proved to be very successful in the one thing it was designed for, with six World Championship titles in the bag.
Where other blogs pay tribute to true vintage motorcycles in their ‘an ode to the classics’-categories, we love to pay tribute to mainly classic racing icons. You will find other bikes in our Classic Crush-series as well. But the racing vibes is present. And due to that, we could not miss out on the Ducati 916.