Ducati 900 Superlight

Red, raw and unashamedly single-minded, Ducati’s 900 Superlight proved conclusively that a sports bike could provide high performance – not with excessive horsepower but through simplicity, light weight and agile handling. By modern standards the Superlight was only moderately powerful – but it was rapid, exciting and every last millimeter a pure-bred Ducati sportster.
The Superlight was launched in 1992 as a racier, more aggressive relative of the 900SS, which had been introduced in 1989 and revamped to good effect two years later. Essentially the new model was a hard-charging, single-seat version of the SS, complete with reduced weight and numerous other changes intended to cash in on Ducati’s early-’90s domination of the World Superbike race series.

Most of the Superlight’s 90-degree V-twin engine was derived from the 900SS, which meant it was a 904cc, single overhead camshaft unit with two valves per cylinder and desmodromic valve operation (valves closed positively, instead of by springs). The gearbox remained a six speed unit; the only transmission difference was a ventilated cover for the Superlight’s dry clutch.
The 900SS’s pair of 38mm downdraft Mikunis was retained, which helped give an identical claimed peak output of 73 bhp at 7000rpm. The Superlight’s lack of a pillion seat allowed the free-breathing exhaust pipes to sit higher. At the other end, the new bike gained a front mudguard of lightweight carbon-fiber, instead of the conventional plastic.
In Ducati tradition the Superlight’s chassis was based around a tubular steel ladder frame, and featured low-set clip-on handbrakes and rearset footrests. Most of the chassis was shared with the 900SS; including the study 41mm upside-down front forks form Showa, and the same Japanese firm’s multi-adjustable rear shock, working directly on a cantilever swing-arm.
To that Successful format the Superlight added composite wheels with aluminium rims and lightweight magnesium spokes, wearing Michelin’s Hi-Sport radical tyres in suitably broad sizes. Brakes were Brembo’s finest: twin 320mm disc up front, gripped by front-piston Gold Line caliper. As much as its pure performance, it was the Superlight’s purposeful attitude and uncompromisingly sporty feel that made the bike so additive. Its racy styling, aggressive riding position and rich exhaust note gave a sporty, unmistakably V-twin feel, and the Ducati’s blend of gusty midrange torque, light weight and crisp throttle response made for a wonderfully eager and easy-to-ride machine.

That 73 bhp peak output resulted in a top speed of almost 140mph, which could be bettered by several Japanese 750s. But the Ducati’s combination of superlightness and board power delivery meant the V-twin could stay with almost any competition on all but an arrow-straight road. Given a crack of the throttle the Superlight thundered off, remaining reasonably smooth all the way to its 9000rpm redline.
Handling was excellent too, thanks to the Superlight’s rigid frame and its collection of top quality cycle parts. Steering was light and neutral, giving the 388lbs Ducati the feel of a genuine middleweight. The adjustable forks gave a ride that was firm without being harsh, and the firmly sprung rear end was superbly well-controlled, even when being worked hard by the aggressive cornering encouraged by the grip of the fat and sticky rear Hi Sports tyre.
Whether the Superlight’s 15lbs weight advantages, compared to the 900SS, was strictly noticeable was debatable, and the two models were certainly very closely related in performance, as well as specification. The new bike’s price was considerably higher, too. But for riders addicted to the speed, style and simplicity of Ducati’s two-valves-per-cylinder V-twins, the 900 Superlight was second to none.

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Ducati 916

To many, Ducati’s 916 is not merely a Superbike, but the Superbike. Part motorcycle, part fantasy, part erotic art, few motorcycles of the past 20 years has aroused such passion amongst the motorcycling public.
Just look at it. Is there such thing as Repetitive Strain Injury of the desire muscles? There is now. Within nanoseconds of its UK launch in late 1993, a whole generation of bikes had instantly put the 916 top of their list. Practically overnight, every one of the 200 destined for Britain in 1994 were sold, and the first 100 due in ’95. Even at $11,800 apiece, it seemed cheap.

Not only does the 916 have looks in abundance, it has pedigree. Essentially, it is a racer, with almost desultory addition of lights and a number plate. It is more than a spin-off from World Superbike regulations which insist that if you can’t find the same frame, engine castings and induction system in the shops, you can’t put them on the track, either. For this reason, Honda would probably never have built their RC45 were it not for their Superbike racing ambitions. Ducati, on the other hand, almost certainly would have built the 916 – because they are Italian and Italians are into that sort of thing.
The 916’s predecessor, the 888, had already won the World Superbike crown in 1990, ’91, ’92. Hot off the drawing board, the 916 followed suit, taking Carl Fogarty to memorable victory in the 1994 title chase. By the time you read this, he will probably have won it again. And if Fogarty doesn’t, another 916 almost certainly will.
Despite the leanness of its lines, the 916 is an extraordinarily complex box of tricks. That slim fairing hides an engine which may ‘only’ be a twin, the latest in a line of Ducati V-twin dating back to 1972. But the latest Dukes have four valves per cylinder, four camshafts, six gears, liquid-cooling, computer-controlled electronic fuel injection and desmodromic valvegear.

All this advance technology makes the 916 quite unlike most racing engines. Instead of a diet of pure, giddy revs, the twin pours out irrepressible, visceral urge almost from tickover. Solid, hard power begins as low as 3000 rpm, and from 6000 upwards the universe is thrown into reserve. Top speed is a blistering 160 mph.
In 955cc Superbike racing trim, the ‘916’ develops the thick end of 150 bhp. As a roadster it claims 114 bhp at 9000 rpm, but feels even stronger, more usable. The spread of power is so immense that almost any gear will do. And the booming roar when downshifting into corners is one of the joys of motorcycling.
The Ducati’s chassis, too, is of the highest class. Compared to the 888, the 916 is shorter, more agile, and more racer-like. The Japanese Showa suspension offers a huge array of setting, but there is very little wrong with the Duke straight out of the crate. With its short wheelbase and its lively geometry, it is in its element through turns – blindingly fast sweepers and hairpins alike.

Anyone buying the 916 takes custody of a dream as much as reality. As a practical street bike it has its faults, not the least of which is comfort. In a racing crouch – what it was designed for, all – it fits like a glove. As a tourer, it makes a good plank. This is not a practical motorcycle, and every red-blooded rider in the world should want one.