‘The 851 is, quite literally, The Daddy’
Veteran road tester Phil West explains the booming essence of Bordi’s creation There’s no more classic, sporting machine, whether on two wheels or four, than one that’s red and Italian. And there’s no more sporting Italian motorcycle than a classic red Ducati.
For many that means the 916 but on the strength of the sheer allure of the bike before me here, there’s no doubt the 851 is, quite literally, The Daddy.
The bike I’m riding is a 1992, 20,000mile, K-reg Strada that’s been updated with later, sharper bodywork. But apart from slightly clunky mirrors and indicators, old-style switchgear and analogue clocks, there are few clues that this is a 25 year-old machine.
If a 916 is sharp and stylised with its underseat pipes and single-sided swingarm, an 851 immediately comes over as a less frivolous, more bluff and more serious machine. For me, the later bodywork is classic and timeless, macho and handsome. Its slightly larger proportions, compared to the svelte 916 are more suited to my 6ft 3in frame. I’m instantly at home.
On the move, it is more serious, too. Compared to the gossamer 916, the slightly older Ducati is more meaty and solid, yet is still comfortable and perfectly manageable. In short, the 851 is very much an Italian twin-cylinder riposte to the four-cylinder ZXR and GSX-R rivals of the era.
But those similarities end when you blip that throttle or barrel into a set of turns. From the outset there’s something familiar about the 851’s powerplant – and yet significantly more potent and
modern, too. There’s the V-twin rumble, the desmo ‘rhhumm-baaaa’ on the overrun. But there’s also a slick hunger for revs and a 100-plus horse potency. Barrel down a straight and you can’t resist holding the 851 wide both to hear that cacophony and revel in its drive. The ride, meanwhile, is firm, but stable and sure-footed.
Then you line up for a turn. A squeeze of the powerful but, by modern standards, dull twin Brembos; a shift of bodyweight (easy enough with these roomy ergos) notch down one with the heavy clutch and find joy in precision carving, like only a quality Ducati can do. Then you fire out on a wave of bassy exhaust and a flash of red that has everyone turning to look. Brilliant.
There was a time when an 851 seemed dated, now it seems like the respected head of the family. There was a time, too, when Stradas at least could be a snip for £3K or less. No more.
The 851, the Daddy of modern Ducatis, the savior of Bologna, is finally gaining the recognition it’s due. It’s nothing less than it deserves.
‘You find joy in precision, like only a Ducati gives’ MCN TESTER PHIL WEST
Admit it, you want one more than ever, don’t you?
Those rubber footrests isolate vibes
Period switchgear actually works
White-faced Veglia clocks are delicious