Fashions change, but riding a Ducati 916 remains a very special experience, whereas taking to the roads on other 1990s machinery can be a distinct disappointment. The focused riding position is uncomfortable at slow speed and the clutch horribly heavy, but up the pace and it all makes sense as your knees slot under the recesses in the tank, and hanging off for bends becomes second nature. The handling isn’t as razor-sharp as a modern sportsbike when it comes to initial turn-in, but get the Ducati over and it tracks beautifully and feels rock-solid mid-corner.
The lazy desmo engine delivers a wonderfully visceral riding experience and that is accompanied by the booming V-twin soundtrack that sums up motorcycling in the 1990s. Just add Termignonis for the ultimate aural accompaniment.
Ducati's of this era require careful looking after. Service every 4000 miles, replace cam belts every 10,000 miles and check for base gasket oil leaks. The dry clutch is a weak spot too.
After its launch in 1994 a mystique developed around the 916. It was picked up by the high rollers and it appeared in countless music videos, movies and perfume adverts – all of which helped create an exotic aura around the bike. Sex sells, and the 916 was a two-wheeled lothario.
You can never predict if the physical attractiveness of a vehicle will be a success (as the 916’s successor, the 999 demonstrated), but with the 916 its designer Massimo Tamburini certainly had a good start. Not only had Tamburini already created some beautiful Bimota models, he based the 916 on two surefire winning themes – sex and performance. Low mileage examples now command strong prices, expect to pay over £6k for one. If you're buying an SP or SPS version make sure it is one and not a tarted up standard model.
Viewed from above the 916 has the silhouette of a voluptuous lady with a thin waist and ample other proportions, which is no coincidence, and certain other design features were used purely for aesthetic appeal. Ducati had no plans to endurance race the 916, so the use of a single-sided swingarm was simple vanity. Where Tadao Baba refused an inverted fork on his FireBlade, Tamburini went for it. And that’s the difference between the Japanese and Italians when it comes to design – although the 916’s styling was heavily influenced by Japan.
People always attribute the late 1990s fascination with underseat pipes to the 916, but Tamburini admitted that it was the Honda NR750 that inspired him to choose this design feature. What people often forget about Tamburini was that as well as being a gifted designer, he was also a brilliant engineer – and that’s why the 916 looks good, goes well, and is very easy to work on.
The three-spoke 916 wheels were built by Brembo, the five-spoke 996 wheels of 2000 were by Marchesini – introduced the same year that Brembo bought Marchesini. The very first production run of 916 Strada models had their lower fairings secured with rivets and not removable fasteners. Early 916 bikes were painted Cagiva red, and carried the Cagiva elephant logo on the screen and fuel filler caps – a nod to the parent company.