THE 916, AN INSTANT CLASSIC
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 Although closely based on the now superceded 926, the 916cc engine was a thorough redesign.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.