Historic Motorcycle Brands
Ducati is a relative newcomer to the motorcycle scene, achieving little success from its early efforts. The first performance Ducati was the 1965 Mach 1, followed by legendary V-twins and trademark desmodromic valve gear.
In 1926 Antonio Cavalieri Ducati and his three sons, Adriano, Marcello and Bruno Cavalieri Ducati, founded Società Scientifica Radio Brevetti Ducati in Bologna to produce vacuum tubes, condensers and other radio components.
Ducati radio speaker – Phil Aynsley
In 1935 they had become successful enough to enable construction of a new factory in the Borgo Panigale area of the city. Production was maintained during World War II, until the Ducati factory was destroyed by Allied bombing in 1944.
Also in the late-1930s, the small Turinese firm SIATA (Societa Italiana per Applicazioni Tecniche Auto-Aviatorie) had acquired the design for a small engine for mounting on bicycles. Interestingly, it was a ‘pull-rod’ not a ‘push-rod’ engine for most of its life.
Barely a month after the official liberation of Italy in 1944, SIATA announced its intention to sell this engine as a DIY kit, called the ‘Cucciolo’ (Italian for ‘puppy’).
1950 Ducati Vilar Cucciolo – Yesterdays Antique Motorcycles
Enterprising companies bought the engines and fitted them to bicycles, then sold the completed vehicles.
Ducati took over Cucciolo production from SIATA in 1947, after 25,000 had been produced and having co-manufactured it from 1946.
Ducati continued building Cucciolo motors – more than 400,000 by the time it ended production.
When the market showed a preference for purpose-designed motorcycles, rather than converted bicycles, Ducati management decided to get serious about the bike business, but didn’t produce the first complete Ducati motorcycle until the 60 Sport of 1949/50.
1955 Ducati 65TS – Ian Falloon
After July 1949, the company started selling this bike, whose main feature was the frame designed by Gian Luigi Capellino. The engine was basically an updated, improved, 60cc version of the Cucciolo engine, with a three-speed gearbox with shift pedal and the rocker arms protected by an aluminium cover.
1952 Ducati Cruiser – Phil Aynsley
At the 1952 Milan show, Ducati introduced a 65TS motorcycle and a Cruiser four-stroke motor scooter. Despite being described as the most interesting new machine at the 1952 show, the Cruiser was not a great success and only a few thousand were made over a two-year period before the model ceased production.
In 1953, Ducati split into two separate entities, Ducati Meccanica SpA and Ducati Elettronica, separating its motorcycle and electronically product lines.
1958 Ducati 98TS – David Edmondson
Dr Giuseppe Montano took over as head of Ducati Meccanica SpA and the Borgo Panigale factory was modernised with government assistance. By 1954, Ducati Meccanica SpA had increased production to 120 bikes per day.
Mike Hailwood was third in the 125GP title in 1959.
1965 Ducati Mach1 – Phil Aynsley
In 1965, Ducati earned its place in motorcycling history by producing the fastest 250cc road bike then available, the Mach 1. The Ducati Mach 1’s single-cylinder, four-stroke engine produced 24bhp at a heady 8500rpm and was fitted with a five-speed gearbox, giving it a top speed of more than 100 160km/h.
Although factory-backed racing had been abandoned under the conditions of government support, many Mach 1s were converted for racing use. In the hands of Mike Rogers a Mach 1 Ducati won the 250cc class in the IoM Production TT.
1968 Ducati 250cc racer – Yesterdays Antique Motorcycles
In the 1970s Ducati began producing motorcycles with large-displacement V-twin engines, which Ducati branded ‘L-twins’ , because of a forward-tilt location in the frame and the V-angle of 90°. The Ducati engine, viewed side on, was indeed more an ‘L’ than a ‘V’.
Desmodromic valve operation – Phil Aynsley
The chief designer of most Ducati motorcycles from the 1950s was chief engineer, Fabio Taglioni (1920–2001). His designs ranged from the small single-cylinder machines that were successful in the Italian ‘street races’ to the large-capacity twins of the 1980s.
The first ‘desmo’ Ducati was the 125 GP bike that was released in 1956 and which almost won the 1958 125cc title.
In 1973, Ducati introduced its trademark desmodromic valve design to the V-Twin lineup. The launch was preceded by a race victory for Paul Smart, on the Ducati 750 Imola Desmo at Imola, in 1972.
Imola Desmo (fairing removed) – Phil Aynsley
Fabio Taglioni had been working on this ‘springless’ valve system system for years.
Desmodromic valves are closed by a separate, dedicated cam lobe and lifter instead of the coil valve springs used in most internal combustion engines. This allows the cams to have a more radical profile, thus opening and closing the valves more quickly, without the risk of valve bounce or ‘float’.
1999 Ducati 996RS engine – Phil Aynsley
Early ‘Desmo’ engines had bevel-gear, shaft-drive to the overhead camshaft and were produced with round, square and Mille crankcases. In the 1980s, these gave way to the belt-drive-camshaft engines that continue, in air-cooled and liquid-cooled form. The Mille used a plain-bearing crank, like the belt-drive-camshaft models.
While most other manufacturers retained wet, oil-bath clutches Ducati used multi-plate, dry clutches in many of its motorcycles, after the mid-1980s. A dry clutch eliminates the power loss from oil-viscosity-drag on the engine, but engagement is difficult to make as smooth in operation as oil-bath versions. Also, the clutch plates can wear more rapidly.
1980 Ducati Pantah 500SL – Phil Aynsley
Ducati is also known for its use of trellis frame on many models, although Ducati’s MotoGP project broke with this tradition by introducing a revolutionary carbon fibre frame for the Ducati Desmosedici GP9.
Ducati introduced the Pantah in 1979 and that engine (left) was updated in the 1990s in the Ducati SuperSport (SS) series.
All modern Ducati engines owe their heritage to the Pantah, which used a toothed-belt-drive-camshaft.
In 1985, the Castiglioni brothers at Cagiva bought Ducati and planned to rebadge Ducati motorcycles with the ‘Cagiva’ name, however, common sense prevailed and Cagiva kept the ‘Ducati’ name on Ducati-origin motorcycles.
The brothers decided to invest in a new powerful engine, to compete with Japanese bikes. Ducati’s technical department offered a choice of two solutions: the Bipantah, a stillborn, 994cc, air-cooled V4 and the Desmoquattro, liquid-cooled, multi-valve, fuel-injected evolution of the 750cc V-twin.
After extensive technical discussions, they preferred Desmoquattro over Bipantah, because the first could be easily installed inside the cradle of the existing models.
Massimo Bordi had designed a 4V Desmo in 1973 for his thesis at the University of Bologna and, with Cagiva in 1985, saw his updated ideas come into production as the Desmoquattro.
1988 Ducati 851 Superbike kit – Phil Aynlsey
Based on the Pantah motor, but with liquid cooling, fuel injection and desmodromic four-valve heads, with an included valve angle of 40 degrees, the 851 made Ducati once again competitive in motorcycle racing.
The water-cooled Ducati Desmoquattro engine that has been very successful in World Superbike racing was introduced in 1986, with the Ducati 748 IE racers ridden by Virginio Ferrari, Juan Garriga and Marco Lucchinelli at the Bol d’Or.
1990 Ducati 851 SP2 – Phil Aynsley
The basic engine was transferred to series production in 1987, in Ducati 851 form and, with subtle changes and increases in capacity, from 851, to 888, 916 and then 996cc, remaining true to the 851 motor designed by Massimo Bordi.
Fabio Taglioni, the designer of earlier Ducati V-twins, had experimented with four-valve heads, but stuck to his 80-degree included valve angle, not realising that a much lower included valve angle was needed for the benefits of the layout to become apparent.
Incidentally, the 40-degree included angle was compromise, because, with valve springs it would have been possible to reduce it to around 30 degrees. However, Bordi stuck with the Ducati trademark desmodromic valve actuation.
1993 Ducati 888 – Phil Aynsley
The rise of the World SBK championship was an ideal venue to showcase the potential of the bikes.The championship was won for the first time in 1990 by Raymond Roche on a further developed model of the same motorcycle, the 888. The same bike also won the following two years with Doug Polen.
In 1993, Miguel Angel Galluzzi introduced the Ducati Monster naked bike, with exposed trellis and engine. The Monster variants still account for almost half of the company’s worldwide sales and the Monster has undergone the most changes of any motorcycle that Ducati has ever produced.
2008 Ducati Monster 696
At the opposite end of the marketing scale, Pierre Terblanche, Massimo Bordi and Claudio Domenicali designed the Ducati Supermono 550cc single-cylinder lightweight ‘Catalog Racer’. Only 67 were built between 1993 and 1997.
In 1994, the company introduced the Ducati 916 model, designed by Massimo Tamburini, with striking new bodywork that had competition lines, under-seat exhausts and a single-sided swing arm. Liquid-cooling version allowed for higher output levels.
1993 Ducati 907ie – Breganzebike
Ducati later replaced the 916 and its successors, the 748, 996 and 998, with the 749 and 999.
In 1996, Cagiva accepted an offer from Texas Pacific Group to sell a 51-percent stake in the company and, two years later, bought the remainder, to become the sole owner of Ducati.
For 1999, the Ducati 996 competed against Honda’s (VT1000) Firestorm, Suzuki’s TL1000S and TL1000R, and the Aprilia RSV Mille and Mille R.
The 996cc engine had the larger pistons, larger valves, stronger crankshaft and crankcases from the 916 SPS and output was 112bhp, compared with the SPS’s 124bhp.
In 1999, TPG issued an initial public offering of Ducati shares, but remained the majority shareholder.
Aussie Troy Bayliss won the World SBK championship in 2001 and in 2006. After a less happy time in MotoGP and a series of injuries, Troy returned to WSBK on a Ducati and picked up his third WSBK title in 2008.
Troy Bayliss’ son, Oli, scored his first Australian Superbike win in June 2021 – on a Desmosport Ducati V4R, of course.
In December 2005, Ducati returned to Italian ownership in the hands of Investindustrial Holdings, the investment fund of Carlo and Andrea Bonomi.
For Ducati, the major racing challenge was MotoGP, the top-shelf two-wheeler championship. The MotoGP regulations had changed in 2002, from 500cc two-stroke power to four-stroke, 1000cc engines and this move convinced Ducati to make a much-awaited return to the track in the new MotoGP class.
Initially, Ducati considered the possibility of taking advantage of the MotoGP regulations that give twin-cylinder machines a considerable weight reduction over four, five or six-cylinder bikes. However, analysis indicated that a twin-cylinder engine would not have been able to produce the required amount of power, without increasing engine revs excessively.
Ducati V4 engine from above
Fairly simple horsepower calculations showed that a one-litre, V-twin would have had to rev at over 17,000rpm and employ a very short stroke and a very large bore, and that posed many combustion chamber issues. Halving the size of the cylinders was the answer.
The ‘Desmosedici’ (Desmodromic, 16-valve) V4 engine therefore was two Ducati L-twin designs next to each other, making a Double L-twin with two-cylinder stroking at the same time. Dual, desmodromic, overhead camshafts operated four valves per cylinder.
Design had started in 2001 and the bike was unveiled at the 2002 Italian GP at Mugello. Ducati’s moment of glory arrived in 2007, when Ducati won its first world championship, with Casey Stoner in the saddle. (Interestingly, when world championship winning rider, American Nicky Hayden, joined the Ducati Team and tested the MotoGP bike he reportedly said: “Whatever you’re paying Casey; you should double it!”)
Casey Stoner – Phil Aynsley
Nobody mastered the 2000-2010 racing Ducatis like Troy Bayliss and Casey Stoner could.
In 2006, Ducati ran a limited number of 1500 detuned MotoGP engines in a production bike called the Desmosedici RR.
In 2012, Volkswagen Group’s Audi subsidiary took over ownership of Ducati and, in 2017, the detuned, 1100cc Desmosedici V4 was made available in several Ducati models.
May the Ducati classic bikes keep coming!
Ducati Multistrada 950S, Scrambler Desert Sled, Multistrada 1260 Enduro – Artem Lepesin