Ducati 916 Senna: had you forgotten how much you wanted one of these?

Published: 06 November 2015

The special edition Duke that started out as a charity project but became a rolling memorial to an F1 car racing legend.

o matter what you do in life, your work can usually be identified somehow. Everyone works in a particular way, and leaves their signature in some form or another, even if it’s very subtle. The Castiglioni family’s work can be traced through a proliferation of limited models. From Mitos to MV Agustas, every brand they’ve owned has churned out a few lightly-tweaked ‘special’ editions. One of the most memorable series is the 916 Senna, named after F1 driver Ayrton, who lost his life in 1994 at the San Marino Grand Prix. Naming a sportsbike after a late car driver is outwardly a bit odd, but you have to understand the context.

The Cagiva group is very much a touchy-feely family concern, and is a bit like motorcycling mafioso (without the crime, obviously). Once you’re on their side, you’re a friend for life. Claudio Castiglioni was known for his generous acts towards those who helped the company – Pirelli’s wet-weather Grand Prix tyre development rider was invited to the factory to receive a brand-new Elefant 900 (wrapped in a big ribbon) after his work helped Randy Mamola to Cagiva’s first podium at the wet 1988 Belgian GP.


Ayrton Senna was a personal friend of the Castiglioni family (partially, no doubt, because he was a repeat high-profile Ducati customer), and had actually personally agreed to the first run of 200 bikes named in his honour before his demise. Profits from the reps went to the Senna Foundation, to provide Brazilian kids with free sports facilities, as long as they went to school. The first run arrived in 1995 – silver with red wheels, with a Strada-spec engine (minus the posh Pankl rods) with an SP chassis (Öhlins shock, cast-iron, fully-floating Brembo discs and braided brake hoses).

To Ducati’s delight the series sold out in no time, and a second run was planned. Typical Italian production issues meant they didn’t appear until 1997. The Senna II was more or less identical to the first batch. Yet another edition was sold in 1998, and the bike here is one of those. The body colour switched to black, and a carbon mudguard and airbox were added to the already comprehensive spec sheet.

Their appeal is evidence red isn’t the must-have Ducati colour you’d think, based on values. This from The Bike Specialists was up for £11,980 and is a 9000-mile machine bearing signs of use. Fine by us – it’s a crying shame for something like the 916 to stand unused.

The Duke has an uncompromising reputation, and it’s true everything is geared for fast riding, ideally on a track. The riding position puts a lot of weight on your wrists, and you need the clutch lever height perfectly adjusted or the heavy hydraulic action will soon give you arm pump. It could be a real nightmare on miserable roads in town – but it’s not. In fact, adjust your riding a little and it’s a decent all-weather ride. How so? Well, that track-developed chassis still generates grip and provides detailed feedback on what’s going on underneath. The Senna digs its tired D207s into slimy tarmac and feels more secure than it has any right to be.

The cast-iron floating discs and Brembo Goldline calipers have even more feel than the stock 916’s stainless disc set-up, and it’s easy to apply as much or as little power as you think is safe. Not that you need much – knock the throttle off and the high-compression motor provides as much speed reduction as some drum brakes muster. The 916’s advantage in the dry over inline fours is the way it puts power down out of corners. Big twins are effective at laying drive down in a tyre-friendly way, and the way it punches out of bends is what makes Ducati ownership addictive. 

 Of course, you get all this with a standard 916 – the SP chassis just makes it a little nicer. But it's the exclusive club-within-club feel of Senna ownership – not to mention the association with the sainted driver – that lends it the nagging needfulness provoked by all special Ducatis.  

1998 Ducati 916 Senna 3

ENGINE

TRANSMISSION

Type liquid-cooled, dohc, Desmo, 8-valve, 90° L-twin Primary/final drive gear/chain
Capacity 916cc Clutch dry, multiplate
Bore x stroke 94 x 66mm Gearbox 6-speed
Compression ratio 11:1  
Ignition Weber-Marelli digital  
Fuel system Weber electronic fuel injection  
   

CHASSIS

DIMENSIONS

Frame tubular-steel trellis Dry weight 187kg (412.3lb)
Front suspension 42mm usd Showa forks, preload, compression and rebound damping adjustment Wheelbase 1410mm (55in)
Rear suspension rising rate Öhlins monoshock, adjustable ride height, preload, compression and rebound damping adjustment Seat height 790mm (31.1in)
Front brake 2 x 320mm fully-floating cast iron discs, 4-piston Brembo calipers Fuel capacity 17 litres (3.7 gal)
Rear brake 1 x 220mm disc, opposed-piston Brembo caliper  
Wheels 3-spoke cast aluminium  
Front tyre 120/70-17   
Rear tyre 190/50-17  
   

PERFORMANCE

 
Top speed 160mph
  
Fuel consumption 38mpg        
Power 109bhp@10,000rpm (claimed)
 
Price new £14,500
Torque 65.1lb.ft@7000rpm (claimed)
 
 


Words:
Chris Newbigging Pics: Mark Manning