THE 916, AN IN­STANT CLAS­SIC

Classic Racer - - CLASSIC RACER DUCATI SUPERBIKE HISTORY -

Very few all-new mo­tor­cy­cles have re­ceived the adu­la­tion of Du­cati’s 916, re­leased in 1994. De­scribed by some as the most sig­nif­i­cant racing mo­tor­cy­cle since the ‘Featherbed’ Manx Nor­ton of the 1950s, the 916 set new stan­dards of de­sign and con­struc­tion. This time there were no rough pro­to­types like the early 851.The com­puter age had ar­rived and ev­ery­thing from the en­gine to the tubu­lar frame strength­ened by the air intake box had been mocked up on screen first. En­gine de­signer Mas­simo Bordi freely ad­mit­ted he had been in­flu­enced by some of the per­for­mance the­o­ries in cur­rent For­mula 1 car tech­nol­ogy, then us­ing small turbo-charged engines. What was in no doubt was that other in­no­va­tions, such as the ram-air-intake sys­tem, were adapted from Ca­giva’s two-stroke 500cc GP bike. Bordi made the de­sign guide­lines sound sim­ple: “An intake man­i­fold that is as straight as pos­si­ble, fuel in­jec­tion, care­ful study of the ex­haust sys­tem.” Al­though closely based on the now su­perceded 926, the 916cc en­gine was a thor­ough re­design. Its slightly lower ca­pac­ity was achieved by re­tain­ing the 888’s 94mm bore but adding a longer stroke of 66mm. Not only was the 916 more pow­er­ful than the 888, it was also 15kg lighter.the 90-de­gree V-twin en­gine was also very slightly tilted back in the frame to shorten the wheel­base and quicken up the steer­ing. The man head­ing the project was Ca­giva Re­search Cen­tre boss Mas­simo tam­burini, the for­mer co-founder of Bi­mota. He would go on to pen the MV Agusta F4. Noth­ing was spared in the quest for tech­no­log­i­cal ex­cel­lence. The steer­ing-head was ad­justable for rake and trail. A sin­gle-sided swingarm with stub axle, sim­i­lar to that first seen on the Honda Elf en­durance racer, al­lowed easy rear chain ad­just­ment and wheel changes.the road model came with a steer­ing damper as stan­dard and the racer had a slip­per clutch. The styling set new stan­dards with its dis­tinc­tive twin an­gu­lar head­lights and un­der­seat ex­haust. With phys­i­cal di­men­sions not much larger than a Grand Prix bike and a qual­ity of fin­ish not seen be­fore on a Du­cati, the 916 rocked the mo­tor­cy­cle world. And Carl Fog­a­rty took Du­cati back to the top of the world rid­ers’ cham­pi­onship, mak­ing Scott Rus­sell’s win for Kawasaki in 1993 ap­pear a glitch. Apart from John Kocin­ski’s win for Honda in 1997, Du­cati won ev­ery rid­ers’ and man­u­fac­tur­ers’ ti­tle for the rest of that decade.the only way Honda could break Du­cati’s stran­gle­hold was by build­ing its own V-twin in 2000, which Colin Ed­wards won the cham­pi­onship on.

Over the years, rules were re­vised sev­eral times to try to bring par­ity be­tween the big twins and their 750cc four-cylin­der ri­vals. But even weight penal­ties and re­strict­ing the fuel-in­jec­tion intake size did hob­ble Du­cati’s win­ning streak. True to form, Du­cati’s of­fi­cial race bike wasn’t 916 but punched out to 955cc for Foggy’s first year. Then it was en­larged to 996cc for 1995, the year Aussi­etroy Corser came sec­ond be­hind Fog­a­rty.the next year Corser won the ti­tle, with Fog­a­rty win­ning in 1998 and 1999. By now it had won more Su­per­bike rider and man­u­fac­turer ti­tles than all its ri­vals com­bined. Af­ter Fog­a­rty re­tired through in­jury part­way through 2000, Aussi­etroy Bayliss stepped in and fin­ished sixth in the points ta­ble. He won the ti­tle back for Du­cati in 2001, the 75th an­niver­sary of the com­pany’s found­ing. With both Honda and Aprilia now field­ing V-twins, Du­cati had pulled an­other rab­bit out of the hat in 2001 with thetes­tas­tretta en­gine. Largely de­signed by ex-ferrari F1 en­gi­neer An­gi­olino Marchetti, thetes­tas­tretta en­gine, named af­ter its nar­row valve an­gles in the head, was a rev­e­la­tion. Over-square with a 100mm bore and 63.5mm stroke, it boosted per­for­mance across the rev range with an ex­haust note like no pre­vi­ous Du­cati. Bordi, now Du­cati’s gen­eral man­ager, de­scribed the en­gine as “evo­lu­tion, not rev­o­lu­tion” but the next chap­ter of Du­cati’s Su­per­bike story would change all that.

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