When you think about the World Superbike Championship in the '90s it's impossible not to think of the all conquering Ducati 916.
From the moment the Ducati 916 entered the series in 1994 the Ducati 916 was the motorcycle to beat, the target for frantic development teams in Japan and the stuff of dreams to a whole generation of motorcycle riders the world over.
The Ducati 916 is a motorcycle that not only looked stunning, it also performed, scooping the title in its very first year and dominating the field for the next decade. Ducati made the World Superbike Championship series their own, and the race motorcycle's success played a major part in the company's fortunes as Ducati ruthlessly exploited its successes to promote sales.
When you sit on a Ducati 916 you're instantly reminded of its racing background. The Ducati 916 feels narrow, low, and fairly uncomfortable. The seat padding is minimal, the handlebars low and the pegs high. The Ducati 916 is a proper head down, bum up, riding position and is akin to a form of torture at anything under 50km/h. But there's a reason for this, and it becomes apparent when you ride it fast. As soon as your speed increases, the Ducati 916 enters its element. The riding position, which before was crippling, morphs into the ideal platform on which to move around, and handing off becomes natural and unforced as the narrow fuel tank provides the perfect hook for your outside leg while your knee skims the tarmac.
At slow speeds the Ducati 916 feels ponderous to turn, which is slightly disconcerting when you're used to Japanese motorcycles that are usually eager to turn in, but this is just a Ducati trait caused by the length of the 90-degree engine. Give the Ducati 916 a little bit more input into the corner and, once on its side, it's superbly stable and willing to lean forever, plus some.
With the success of Ducati 916 on our mind we find it extra sad that we will not see Ducati as a factory team in the next season of the World Superbike Championship.