Our bikes: Richard Newland's Ducati 996
There’s something exceptionally pleasing about big V-twins. The flatness of their delivery, their deceptive speed and gluttonous dollops of torque. The way they build power with a surging tide that isn’t dulled by gradients or caught out by being a gear too low for that quickly stolen B-road overtake. They’re addictive. There are those who love the buzzing hedonism of a screaming inline-four at its crank-spinning climax – but I’m not one of them.
I’d already owned a ‘fake 900SS’ (Yamaha’s parallel twin TRX850) and a real 900SS (God, I love the sound 2-valve Ducatis make) so there was only one logical choice for my next purchase: I needed a 916. The search began with hours of online trawling and asking trade friends to keep an eye out for a bargain, but the insurmountable problem appeared to be the obvious gap between my finances and the price of a good bike.
The last thing I wanted – or could afford – was an immaculate garage queen that I’d be terrified of using, but even seriously tatty examples were selling for £4000. So I put an appeal out on social media, and a reader contacted me saying he had a 996 that he needed to let go. I was on the hook, but it looked a bit too good for my thin wallet. When he revealed that three grand would seal the deal, I nipped to the bank for some folding readies and jumped in a van. After giving his 996 a very careful check-over I pulled my best serious face, made my case for why I couldn’t hand over the full asking price (there were some very good reasons) and offered £2500. I was actually a bit shocked when he said yes. His 996 was now my 996.
- Related: The history of the Ducati 996 engine
The service history was great for the first few years of its life, but scant thereafter, but it had a very genuine feeling patina and wasn’t a frighteningly low-mileage example that was likely to start revealing all its problems. If it had any, they’d have appeared already. After a full belts and braces service and check over, it was time to ride it. A perverse part of me didn’t care if I was disappointed, I’d just keep it in the garage as a beautiful ornament – but I needn’t have worried.
That first ride was awkward, but euphoric. I headed out from home, feeling my way on new tyres and that as-yet unfamiliar taught chassis, threaded my way to my favourite weekend roads, took a deep breath and let it off the leash. Like any Ducati – they reward input. Pootle around like you’re driving Miss Daisy and you won’t feel their magic.
- Related: Honda SP-1 takes on Ducati 996
Mine may only be the most basic Biposto version, but it’s still exotic and the feeling of carnal indulgence swept through me as the orchestra from the SilMoto carbon cans played ever louder, the 996’s nose eagerly sniffing for every apex, willing me to increase my moral speed limiter. I could have stayed out there forever.
A copy of Performance Bikes that I’d had on the shelf since 1999 provided a great suspension set-up guide and while it’s no modern superbike, that’s actually part of the appeal. I adore the latest Panigales but they’re too frenetic on the road. The character – and the love affair – is heightened by knowing the bike implicitly, its quirks, imperfections and limits, and learning how to get the best from it while it brings out the best in you. The fact that everything is so pure, so analogue, is a massive part of that appeal.
Big needles sweeping circular clock faces, uncomplicated suspension, no traction control, ABS, fly-by-wire or rider modes; nothing to distract you from the binary finery of rider and machine. I’m no luddite, I love all that stuff, but here the 996’s base simplicity is also a cleansing antidote to complication, modernity and distraction. If it’s running, you’re in the right mode.
Everything about owning this design icon feeds my love for it. I never tire of seeing it in the garage, of the lazy churn as those big pistons pulse into life and that thunderous burst of ignition on start-up, of how dense, taut and compact it feels, how at home it is mid-corner, or how its rhythms and sonorous tones get inside your brain. Riding it feels excitingly illicit, like having an affair, without actually being unfaithful. Every ride feels like falling in love again.
Would an S or R model be better? Would I sell a kidney to have a 998R as well? Yes, probably. But I love my Biposto’s lack of show, it’s subtle cuteness, it’s demure confidence. I can’t imagine ever letting it go.
The bike: 1998 Ducati 996 Biposto spec
- Claimed weight: 198kg
- Seat Height: 790mm
- Mileage: 34,035
- Bought for: £2500 in October 2011
- Servicing work to date: £2100
- What’s different? SilMoto exhausts from new, colour-coded mirrors – all originals present
Four fun facts: Ducati 996
- Keeping it fresh
The 996 had a problem with the chroming on the rocker arms, which would peel away and float around in your engine oil getting up to no good – and mine has finally succumbed. It’s currently at GTEC Performance having one set replaced, along with a few other servicing and fettling jobs to get it fully fit again.
- It’s not right, but I like it
There were just four non-standard parts on my 996 when I bought it: the SilMoto cans, colour-coded mirrors, a massive single-bubble screen, and a carbon fibre hugger. The screen looked odd, so I replaced it with the original, but the other three mods have stayed. I’d like to upgrade the nasty cheap hugger, though.
- It’s a timeless looker
It’s hard to believe that my 996 is now 22 years old. Yes, those curvaceous lines don’t match today’s razor-sharp edges, but they’re timelessly classy – not outdated. Every time I whip the covers off it, I smile. That demure face, pert rear-end and curvaceous waist are so well proportioned – it’s as beautiful to look at as it is to ride.
- Clocking off
The 996’s three-clock dash, set in foam and clearly prioritising your view of the tacho, with its different coloured needles, no clock, LCD, TFT, fuels gauge or scrolling endless mode functions and personalisation is a design classic, and a breath of fresh air. They’re more than functional, they’re part of its beauty.